Considering Mrs. Erlyne

I loved the way the men’s club in Lady Windermere’s Fan explains gossip as the sensational bits of history, basically a selective reading, while scandal is the addition of biased judgment to this incomplete reading.

Mrs Erlyne withholds information throughout the book, placing herself in the position of agency in that she allows gossip to formulate around her since nothing about her is transparent. Even at the play’s close, she leaves possibility for gossip in her wake. Scandal, however, takes initiative on the people’s part, granting limited agency to the rest of the play’s cast as well. However, it is difficult for those in the web of gossip to realize that they are deluded and only know half of the story, while the only one in control throughout is the originator, Mrs. Erlyne.

Why does she create this vacuum for gossip? Perhaps as a veil to protect herself? Clearly she isn’t helping to improve her own reputation… Maybe she feels that it is better to let society know incorrect negative information rather than risk them stumbling on the truth, since the falsely negative information does not hurt the way that revelation of truth does.

At the end of the play, my lingering impression of Mrs. Erlyne is that I really don’t know or get her. She seems much more complicated (and therefore intriguing) than the rest of the entertaining but flat cast. She comes in like a storm, in this shroud of mystery, generating gossip and scandal (since who doesn’t judge?) and she leaves in the same manner, not fully revealed before anyone except Lord Windermere.

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