seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

First Performance of Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”

lady-windermeres-fanOscar Wilde‘s four-act comedy Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman is first produced on February 22, 1892 at the St. James’s Theatre in London. The play is first published in 1893. Like many of Wilde’s comedies, it bitingly satirizes the morals of society.

The story concerns Lady Windermere, who suspects that her husband is having an affair with another woman. She confronts him with it but although he denies it, he invites the other woman, Mrs. Erlynne, to his wife’s birthday ball. Angered by her husband’s supposed unfaithfulness, Lady Windermere decides to leave her husband for another lover. After discovering what has transpired, Mrs. Erlynne follows Lady Windermere and attempts to persuade her to return to her husband and in the course of this, Mrs. Erlynne is discovered in a compromising position. It is then revealed Mrs. Erlynne is Lady Windermere’s mother, who abandoned her family twenty years before the time the play is set. Mrs. Erlynne sacrifices herself and her reputation to save her daughter’s marriage.

By the summer of 1891 Wilde has already written three plays, Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua find little success, and Salome is censored. Unperturbed, he decides to write another play but turns from tragedy to comedy. He goes to the Lake District in the north of England, where he stays with a friend and later meets Robert Ross. Numerous characters in the play appear to draw their names from the north of England: Lady Windermere from the lake and nearby town Windermere (though Wilde had used “Windermere” earlier in Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime), the Duchess of Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lord Darlington from Darlington. Wilde begins writing the play at the prodding of Sir George Alexander, the actor manager of St. James’s Theatre. The play is finished by October 1891. Alexander likes the play, and offers him an advance of £1,000 for it. Wilde, impressed by his confidence, opts to take a percentage instead, from which he earns £7,000 in the first year alone.

Alexander is a meticulous manager and he and Wilde begin exhaustive revisions and rehearsals of the play. Both are talented artists with strong ideas about their art. Wilde, for instance, emphasises attention to aesthetic minutiae rather than realism. He resists Alexander’s suggested broad stage movements, quipping that “Details are of no importance in life, but in art details are vital.” These continue after the opening night, when at the suggestion of both friends and Alexander, Wilde makes changes to reveal Mrs. Erylnne’s relationship with Lady Windermere gradually throughout the play, rather than reserving the secret for the final act. Despite these artistic differences, both are professional and their collaboration is a fruitful one.

There exists an extant manuscript of the play and it is held in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Novelist Anna Maria Hall

anna-maria-hallAnna Maria Hall (nee Fielding), Irish novelist who often publishes as “Mrs. S. C. Hall,” is born in Dublin on January 6, 1800. She lives with her mother, a widow named Sarah Elizabeth Fielding, and stepfather, George Carr of Graigie, Wexford, until 1815. She goes to England with her mother in 1815, and on September 20, 1824, marries Samuel Carter Hall. Her mother lives with her in London until she dies.

Hall’s first recorded contribution to literature is an Irish sketch called “Master Ben,” which appears in The Spirit and Manners of the Age, January 1829. Other tales follow. Eventually they are collected into a volume entitled Sketches of Irish Character (1829), and henceforth she becomes “an author by profession.” The following year she issues a little volume for children, Chronicles of a School-Room, consisting of a series of simple tales.

In 1831, she publishes a second series of Sketches of Irish Character fully equal to the first, which is well received. The first of her nine novels, The Buccaneer (1832), is a story of the time of The Protectorate, and Oliver Cromwell is among the characters. To The New Monthly Magazine, which her husband is editing, she contributes Lights and Shadows of Irish Life, articles which are republished in three volumes in 1838. The principal tale in this collection, “The Groves of Blarney,” is dramatised with considerable success by the author with the object of supplying a character for Tyrone Power, and runs for a whole season at the Adelphi Theatre in 1838. Hall also writes “The French Refugee,” produced at the St. James’s Theatre in 1836, where it runs ninety nights, and for the same theatre Mabel’s Curse, in which John Pritt Harley sustains the leading part.

Another of her dramas, of which she has neglected to keep a copy, is Who’s Who? which is in the possession of Tyrone Power when he is lost in the President in April 1841. In 1840, she issues what has been called the best of her novels, Marian, or a Young Maid’s Fortunes, in which her knowledge of Irish character is again displayed in a style equal to anything written by Maria Edgeworth. Her next work is a series of “Stories of the Irish Peasantry,” contributed to Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, and afterwards published in a collected form. In 1840 she aids her husband in a book chiefly composed by him, “Ireland, its Scenery, Characters, &c.” She edits the St. James’s Magazine from 1862 to 1863.

In the Art Journal, edited by her husband, she brings out Pilgrimages to English Shrines in 1849, and here the most beautiful of all her books, Midsummer Eve, a Fairy Tale of Love, first appears. One of her last works, Boons and Blessings (1875), dedicated to the Earl of Shaftesbury, is a collection of temperance tales, illustrated by the best artists.

Hall’s sketches of her native land bear a closer resemblance to the tales of Miss Mitford than to the Irish stories of John Banim or Gerald Griffin. They contain fine rural descriptions, and are animated by a healthy tone of moral feeling and a vein of delicate humour. Her books are never popular in Ireland, as she sees in each party much to praise and much to blame, so that she fails to please either the Orange Order or the Roman Catholics.

On December 10, 1868, she is granted a civil list pension of £100 a year. She is instrumental in founding the Hospital for Consumption at Brompton, the Governesses’ Institute, the Home for Decayed Gentlewomen, and the Nightingale Fund. Her benevolence is of the most practical nature. She works for the temperance cause, for women’s rights, and for the friendless and fallen. She is a friend to street musicians, and a thorough believer in spiritualism, but this belief does not prevent her from remaining, as she ever was, a devout Christian. She dies at Devon Lodge, East Moulsey, January 30, 1881, and is buried in Addlestone churchyard on February 5.