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‘When did good woman play bad woman well?’ Is Mrs. Erlynne a good woman or a bad woman?

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Chris Vernon 'When did good woman play bad woman well?' Is Mrs. Erlynne a good woman or a bad woman? To classify a person as 'good' or 'bad' is a very general and dangerous action. Oscar Wilde however poses the question 'what makes a good and a bad person?' throughout his play 'Lady Windermere's Fan'. Each of the characters displays their good and bad behaviour but more importantly their opinions of whom they believe are good or bad. Wilde develops this by using the story of a 'woman with a past' namely Mrs. Erlynne. There is much scandal surrounding her past and the number of male visitors that she entertains. During the very first act both the Duchess of Berwick and Lord Darlington take up the issue of who are good people and who are bad people. They present their ideas to Lady Windermere who has very sure and 'puritan' viewpoints on this subject. She immediately deems Mrs. Erlynne as a bad person, which is hugely ironic as it is her who has to judge Mrs. Erlynne later on in the play. Mrs. Erlynne is first introduced to the play when Lady Windermere discovers payments made to her by Lord Windermere. In a fit of rage from Lady Windermere, Mrs. Erlynne is immediately described as an 'infamous woman'. ...read more.


It would appear that she has adopted this persona in order to accumulate funds and to work her way back into society. It becomes extremely obvious during the ball scene that Mrs. Erlynne is a very manipulative woman, especially with regards to the men of the society. She says to Lord Windermere early on in act two, 'the men I can always manage'. This shows that her flirtatious and so-called 'outrageous' behaviour is merely the means by which she has tried to re-enter society. Unfortunately for Mrs. Erlynne the women are not weakened by her flattery and tend to relish more on scandal than the men, this is why Mrs. Erlynne is afraid of the women. The women also would naturally feel threatened by Mrs. Erlynne, as she is accompanied by a history and is also particularly attractive and strong-willed. All the way up until the point she finds the letter, Mrs. Erlynne is looked upon as a bad, selfish woman. From this point on the argument in favour of Mrs. Erlynne as a good woman lies strongly in the belief that she carries out a selfless act by sacrificing her honour a second time for the sake of Lady Windermere. Clearly, her motives excluded, the heroism displayed in the third act by Mrs. Erlynne is commendable. It is debatable however, whether Mrs. ...read more.


It is almost that Mrs. Erlynne tries to convince herself that she has no heart in order to prevent herself from suffering. This could be interpreted as selfish, but it is more likely that an audience would sympathise with Mrs Erlynne, the woman who made a mistake. In conclusion, there are many ways in which it is easy to label Mrs. Erlynne as a bad woman, her selfish actions, her rude remarks, her eventful past and her ruthless stubbornness. Her faults of character, I believe have all been brought about from the punishment she received for leaving society. She is truly sorry for abandoning her child and is just trying to salvage what she can of a respectable life. She does care for Lady Windermere, enough to sacrifice herself again and to prevent her from making the same mistake she did. She is also not willing to blacken Lady Windermere's name by revealing the truth. It is impossible to label someone as a good or a bad person, but that the majority of people are somewhere in between. Mrs. Erlynne is far from perfect but does have a heart, which in many ways is surprising considering her punishment from society over the years. She cares for others as well as herself but has a hardened exterior that she displays to other people. Mrs. Erlynne is somewhere between good and bad but in my opinion is leaning quite strongly towards the good end of the spectrum. ...read more.

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