A typical Oscar Wilde play, this is one of the wittiest works imaginable, and is the origin of many famous quotes such as “I can resist everything except temptation” and “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.” Although this play might not be as famous as The Importance of Being Earnest, and it might not have as sophisticated a plot, it is most certainly as witty, and has also more social commentary.
LORD WINDERMERE: Ah, Margaret, only trust me! A wife should trust her husband!
LADY WINDERMERE: London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognise them. They look so thoroughly unhappy. I am not going to be one of them.
Here is another awesome passage, this time on superficiality:
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? […] I am quite miserable, Lady Windermere. You must tell me what I did.
LADY WINDERMERE: Well, you kept paying me elaborate compliments the whole evening.
LORD DARLINGTON: 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: 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 he doesn’t mean.
LORD DARLINGTON: Ah, but I did mean them.
LADY WINDERMERE: 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?
LORD DARLINGTON: 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.
It is Lady Windermere’s very dislike of compliments that leads to the farcical temptation quote:
LORD DARLINGTON: Ah. what a fascinating Puritan you are, Lady Windermere!
LADY WINDERMERE: The adjective was unnecessary, Lord Darlington.
LORD DARLINGTON: I couldn’t help it. I can resist everything except temptation.
Another charming line is Lord Darlington’s speech on good and bad:
LORD DARLINGTON: Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in the world. Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such extraordinary importance. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. I take the side of charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can’t help belonging to them.
Also, near the end of Act 3 are three now-very-famous quotes, quite close together:
DUMBY: I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy! But I am interested to hear she does not love you,. How long could you love a woman who didn’t love you, Cecil?
CECIL GRAHAM: A woman who didn’t love me? Oh, all my life!
DUMBY: So could I. But it’s so much different to meet one.
LORD DARLINGTON: How can you be so conceited, Dumby?
DUMBY: I didn’t say it was a matter of conceit. I said it as a matter of regret. I have been wildly, madly adored. I am sorry I have. It has been an immense nuisance. I should like to be allowed a little time to myself now and then.
LORD AUGUSTUS: Time to educate yourself, I suppose.
DUMBY: No, time to forget all I have learned. That is much more important, dear Tuppy.
LORD DARLINGTON: What cynics you fellows are!
CECIL GRAHAM: What is a cynic?
LORD DARLINGTON: A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
CECIL GRAHAM: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market price of any single thing.
LORD DARLINGTON: You always amuse me, Cecil. You talk as if you were a man of experience.
CECIL GRAHAM: I am.
LORD DARLINGTON: You are far too young!
CECIL GRAHAM: That is a great error. Experience is a question of instinct about life. I have got it. Tuppy hasn’t. Experience is the name Tuppy gives to his mistakes. That is all.
DUMBY: Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.
I had certainly known of all three quotes before, but I never thought they were all located within a page of one another. Now, here are two more Wilde quotes, both located on the page before the previous passage:
DUMBY: Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man! It’s just as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive.
LORD DARLINGTON: No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
That makes for five infamous quotes in the span of two pages.
By the way, the title Lady Windermere’s Fan is actually a sort of pun, as the fan could refer to both her physical fan, which Lord Windermere gave to her as a present, and Lord Darlington, who likes her. Again, it is maybe not as funny a pun as The Importance of Being Earnest, but the content is just as clever.