Lady Windermere's Fan

by Oscar Wilde

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Student Question

How are conflict and confrontation depicted in Lady Windermere's Fan and Betrayal?

Quick answer:

Both Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan and Harold Pinter's Betrayal depict how not to respond to conflict and confrontation. Lord Windermere keeps secrets and deliberately goes against his wife's wishes, while Lady Windermere loses trust in her husband and becomes hysterical. Emma and Robert are merely indifferent to each other and to their feelings and stand mostly aloof from the situation.

Expert Answers

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Conflict and confrontation are a part of human life. We can rarely avoid them, but we can learn over time how to best respond to them...and not to respond to them. Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan and Harold Pinter's play Betrayal both depict conflict and confrontation, and they both show us how not to behave when we encounter them.

Let's look at Lady Windermere's Fan first. When Lady Windermere discovers that her husband has been visiting the scandalous Mrs. Erlynne frequently and for long periods of time, she automatically thinks the worst. She confronts her husband immediately. Lord Windermere assures his wife that he is doing nothing wrong, that his relationship with Mrs. Erlynne is not at all inappropriate, but he refuses to offer any further details. He will not say why he is visiting her. This secrecy, of course, makes Lady Windermere think the worse and only escalates the conflict because she now feels that she cannot trust or believe her husband if he will not completely confide in her. To make matters even worse, Lord Windermere insists that his wife invite Mrs. Erlynne to the party the couple is throwing that evening. When Lady Windermere refuses, he goes ahead and sends the invitation himself, completely ignoring his wife's objections.

Neither Lord nor Lady Windermere has managed this conflict well. He has not been truthful or forthcoming, and he has escalated matters by deliberately acting against his wife's wishes. She has refused to trust her husband and gets quite hysterical (which never helps anything). Here is a textbook description of how not to handle conflict and confrontation!

Now let's turn our attention to Betrayal. Again, we discover exactly how not to properly react to conflict and confrontation. The play depicts a conflict between Emma and Robert in the summer of 1973. They are on vacation in Venice, and Emma has just received a letter from Jerry (with whom she has been having an affair for several years). Robert is suspicious, but he doesn't exactly confront Emma about the letter. He merely asks if Jerry has any message for him. Then, right out of the blue, Emma proclaims, “We're lovers.” Robert does not get angry or yell, but the conversation between him and his wife is strained at best. They speak to each other in short sentences or even one word, and in fact, they say very little to each other. Emma provides the barest of details and merely assures Robert that Ned is truly his son. Robert asks a few questions. He hardly responds to Emma's clipped answers. The two seem indifferent to each other, like neither of them really cares that Emma is having an affair or that Robert has just found out. The scene ends with a single scathing remark from Robert: “I've always liked Jerry. To be honest, I've always liked him rather more than I've liked you.” There is no conversation about what the couple will do next. There is no thought toward the future. There is no attempt to solve anything. There are no apologies. There is just silence.

Again, this is a prime example of how not to respond to conflict and confrontation. Emma and Robert act like they simply don't care about each other. Neither of them speaks much about their feelings or how they will deal with the issue. They are both closed and aloof as if they hardly know each other, and their marriage suffers greatly for it.

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