Victorian melodrama not only served as a literary genre, but it was used to define and reflect on the values of society. Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan takes the expectation of contemporary melodrama, as defined by Peter Brooks. Though the play is based on melodrama and, at times, overly dramatizes certain elements, it refuses to adhere to the traditional connotations associated with the genre. Throughout the play, elements are paradoxically overly emphasized while others are completely ignored. As Wilde refuses to adhere to the expectations of society and literature, he essentially rewrites Victorian melodrama through his creation of Lady Windermere's Fan.
In order to fully comprehend Lady Windermere's Fan as an unwritten Victorian melodrama, one must first examine Brooks' The Melodramatic Imagination as he examines the connotations associated with this genre of literature. Brooks outlines specific characteristics of melodramatic literature that are consistently adhered to, including the indulgence of strong emotionalism; moral polarization and schematization; extreme states of being, situations, actions, overt villainy, persecution of the good, and final reward of virtue; inflated and extravagant expression; dark plottings, suspense, [and] breathtaking peripety (Brooks 12). Though Wilde's play is often thought of as a melodrama, the elements of the genre that Brooks describes are only sporadically applied with varying intensities throughout Lady Windermere's Fan. By taking charge of the elements of melodrama in present Wilde's play, he essentially rewrites the work and severs ties of Victorian standards.
[...] Erlynne's negation of motherly tendencies and refusal to act out the stereotypical feminine role that Victorian society sets up for her, Wilde restructures his melodrama and defies all expectations. As Wilde reworks his play and further complicates notions of Victorian melodrama, the persecution of evil and the characters that it embodies is not present in this play. In typical melodramatic literature, individuals who do wrong have to pay the price of their transgression, yet this notion does not hold true in Lady Windermere's Fan. [...]
[...] The version of melodrama that Oscar Wilde creates in Lady Windermere's Fan is one that challenges literary expectations and questions society's Victorian ideals. By eliminating or re-contextualizing certain other elements that Brooks outlines in his theory of melodrama, Wilde recreates the genre and strays from conventional mentalities. The polarization of morality throughout the play is one element that is completely abandoned. Instead of having characters fall into extremes of opposing moralities, Wilde makes it difficult to categorize individuals as completely virtuous or completely immoral. [...]
[...] As Wilde weakens the distinctions of good and evil, the overriding virtue that is present in the play at the end is also confused and debatable. In typical Victorian literature and melodrama, works are created to clearly state the values that society must strive for, carving out a certain category of “virtuous” behaviors and values. As Wilde chooses to complicate the notions of good and evil in Lady Windermere's Fan, it only makes sense that the sense of virtue to be found at the end of the play would be in contrast to other Victorian melodramas, as well. [...]
[...] Wilde presents this concept clearly as he sets up a supposed duality between Lady Windermere and Mrs. Erlynne. As the play begins, Mrs. Erlynne is cast as the villain through her mysterious past, the desertion of her daughter, and her threats to Lord Windermere. Her classification as villain, however, gets complicated as she convinces Lady Windermere to stay with her husband and allows her to escape Lord Darlington's chambers unnoticed, selflessly claiming, “I'll face them” (Wilde 40). Furthermore, her decision to keep her identity a secret saves Lord and Lady Windermere from social ruin. [...]
[...] In true melodramatic fashion, it is impossible for Lady Isabel to remain unknown to her child, as she chooses to reveal her identity through an overly emotional scene of unrealistic and overly dramatic confession. Instead of following Brooks' melodramatic outline, Wilde rewrites this scene and challenges the expectations of Victorian society. Mrs. Erlynne refuses to have pathetic scene with claiming that she has ambition to play the part of a mother” (Wilde 54). The feelings that Wilde associates with motherhood in this scene are so undesirable that Mrs. [...]
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