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Centering around the arrival of a mysterious woman hoping to break into London’s society, this was Wilde’s first great stage success. Lady Windermere learns from a friend that Lord Windermere is spending a great deal of time with a Mrs. Erlynne, and fearing that he is being unfaithful to her, she decides that their marriage is at an end. Then, in an act of striking generosity, Mrs. Erlynne protects Lady Windermere’s reputation and the truth about trust and loyalty is ironically revealed.
78 pages, with a reading time of ~2.5 hours (19,624 words), and first published in 1893. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2021.
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Morning–room of Lord Windermere’s house in Carlton House Terrace. Doors C. and R. Bureau with books and papers R. Sofa with small tea–table L. Window opening on to terrace L. Table R.
[LADY WINDERMERE is at table R., arranging roses in a blue bowl.]
PARKER. Is your ladyship at home this afternoon?
LADY WINDERMERE. Yes—who has called?
PARKER. Lord Darlington, my lady.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Hesitates for a moment.] Show him up—and I’m at home to any one who calls.
PARKER. Yes, my lady.
LADY WINDERMERE. It’s best for me to see him before to–night. I’m glad he’s come.
[Enter PARKER C.]
PARKER. Lord Darlington,
[Enter LORD DARLINGTON C.]
LORD DARLINGTON. How do you do, Lady Windermere?
LADY WINDERMERE. How do you do, Lord Darlington? No, I can’t shake hands with you. My hands are all wet with these roses. Aren’t they lovely? They came up from Selby this morning.
LORD DARLINGTON. They are quite perfect. [Sees a fan lying on the table.] And what a wonderful fan! May I look at it?
LADY WINDERMERE. Do. Pretty, isn’t it! It’s got my name on it, and everything. I have only just seen it myself. It’s my husband’s birthday present to me. You know to–day is my birthday?
LORD DARLINGTON. No? Is it really?
LADY WINDERMERE. Yes, I’m of age to–day. Quite an important day in my life, isn’t it? That is why I am giving this party to–night. Do sit down. [Still arranging flowers.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [Sitting down.] I wish I had known it was your birthday, Lady Windermere. I would have covered the whole street in front of your house with flowers for you to walk on. They are made for you.
[A short pause.]
LADY WINDERMERE. Lord Darlington, you annoyed me last night at the Foreign Office. I am afraid you are going to annoy me again.
LORD DARLINGTON. I, Lady Windermere?
[Enter PARKER and FOOTMAN C., with tray and tea things.]
LADY WINDERMERE. Put it there, Parker. That will do. [Wipes her hands with her pocket–handkerchief, goes to tea–table, and sits down.] Won’t you come over, Lord Darlington?
[Exit PARKER C.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [Takes chair and goes across L.C.] I am quite miserable, Lady Windermere. You must tell me what I did. [Sits down at table L.]
LADY WINDERMERE. Well, you kept paying me elaborate compliments the whole evening.
LORD DARLINGTON. [Smiling.] Ah, nowadays we are all of us so hard up, that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They’re the only things we can pay.
LADY WINDERMERE. [Shaking her head.] No, I am talking very seriously. You mustn’t laugh, I am quite serious. I don’t like compliments, and I don’t see why a man should think he is pleasing a woman enormously when he says to her a whole heap of things that he doesn’t mean.
LORD DARLINGTON. Ah, but I did mean them. [Takes tea which she offers him.]
LADY WINDERMERE. [Gravely.] I hope not. I should be sorry to have to quarrel with you, Lord Darlington. I like you very much, you know that. But I shouldn’t like you at all if I thought you were what most other men are. Believe me, you are better than most other men, and I sometimes think you pretend to be worse.
LORD DARLINGTON. We all have our little vanities, Lady Windermere.
LADY WINDERMERE. Why do you make that your special one? [Still seated at table L.]
LORD DARLINGTON. [Still seated L.C.] Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad. Besides, there is this to be said. If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
LADY WINDERMERE. Don’t you want the world to take you seriously then, Lord Darlington?
LORD DARLINGTON. No, not the world. Who are the people the world takes seriously? All the dull people one can think of, from the Bishops down to the bores. I should like you to take me very seriously, Lady Windermere, you more than any one else in life.
LADY WINDERMERE. Why—why me?
LORD DARLINGTON. [After a slight hesitation.] Because I think we might be great friends. Let us be great friends. You may want a friend some day.
LADY WINDERMERE. Why do you say that?
LORD DARLINGTON. Oh!—we all want friends at times.
LADY WINDERMERE. I think we’re very good friends already, Lord Darlington. We can always remain so as long as you don’t—
LORD DARLINGTON. Don’t what?
LADY WINDERMERE. Don’t spoil it by saying extravagant silly things to me. You think I am a Puritan, I suppose? Well, I have something of the Puritan in me. I was brought up like that. I am glad of it. My mother died when I was a mere child”