Throughout the play the audience’s responses to the character of Mrs. Erlynne change as the play progresses. Our feelings change from hate and disgust, at her supposed promiscuity, to understanding and mercy, when we realise who she really is, till the end of the play when her mothering instincts are shown making us admire and respect her. Wilde manipulates our feelings for Mrs. Erlynne by involving us in her and other people’s private conversations and gossip. His methods are very effective as for the audience the play is full of judgements and opinions. Wilde’s order of mastering our opinions of Mrs.
Erlynne is not typical to most books or plays. Most story lines would follow the pattern of we meet her, we hate her and then we learn to appreciate or even love her. Wilde has done this differently. In this play we first hate her then meet her and the admire her. First we hear about Mrs. Erlynne from The Duchess of Berwick in her “report” to Lady Windermere about her husband’s affair with the lady in question and this makes us hate her. We then meet her at the ball where amongst all the gossip and conversation she makes an entrance, which demands the attention of all the people in the room.
Her daring and self-sacrifice to help Lady Windermere escape Lord Darlington’s rooms undetected makes us appreciate her character. Near the end of Act 1 (pgs 435-437) The Duchess of Berwick has just left after telling Lady Windermere of her husbands supposed affair with Mrs. Erlynne. In disbelief she searches her husbands chequebook and finds that he has is in deeded been spending large sums of money on a Mrs. Erlynne. Lord Windermere returns home to find her looking at the chequebook and an argument ensues. Lady Windermere says “You think it wrong that you are found out, don’t you? to which Lord Windermere replies “I think it wrong that a wife should spy on her husband. ” Here he seems to be avoiding something. “And it is I who feels degraded! You don’t feel anything.
” Lady Windermere’s sorrow and devastation makes us hate Mrs. Erlynne and Lord Windermere. His avoidance of giving a real answer to what his infatuation with Mrs. Erlynne is about makes the affair seem all the more real and very devastating to Lady Windermere. Lord Windermere then asks his hurt wife to invite the very person who we think hurt her to the ball so as to help her get back into society. If she comes here once she will have a chance of a happier, a surer life than she has had. ” Lord Windermere seems to be trying to make the two women friends by inviting Mrs. Erlynne to the ball. We the audience think he is doing this so as to get away with the affair. To Lady Windermere this must sound very similar to the warnings given to her by The Duchess of Berwick earlier. The way Mrs. Erlynne acts towards people and the way people act towards her affect her. This is mainly seen at the ball. When she entered everyone turned and watched her.
But the most profound movement was from Lady Windermere who clutches her fan that her husband gave her and then lets it drop. It is as though she is letting her husband go after she has seen the beautiful woman she is trying to keep her husband from. Mrs Erlynne demands the attention of all the men in the room and this makes her image of a promiscuous woman more believable. In the beginning of Act 3 (pgs 458-460) we find Lady Windermere in Lord Darlington’s chambers after deciding to run away with him. Mrs Erlynne confronts her, advising her not to leave her husband whom, she assures Lady Windermere, still loves her.
To Lady Windermere this must seem like the worst advise she has ever received considering it comes from some one who she thinks is her husband’s lover. “You talk as if you have a heart. Women like you have no hearts. ” We, the audience, now know that Mrs. Erlynne is not her husband’s lover but Lady Windermere’s mother. This makes her advice seem more valuable to us. Mrs. Erlynne warns that she once made the same mistake and warns of the pain it causes. “You don’t know what it is like to fall into the pit, to be despised, mocked, abandoned, sneered at- to be an out cast!
We realise that these mothering instincts are true and full of real feelings. We admire Mrs. Erlynne now and in a way she becomes a hero to us especially when Lady Windermere goes back to her husband. Wilde would have manipulated a Victorian Audience more profoundly than a modern audience as the cool, calm and confident Mrs. Erlynne, who can command almost any mans attention, was a very uncommon characteristic of a woman of that time. But our opinions are also greatly affected by the way Wilde uses his characters opinions to influence our opinion of Mrs. Erlynne.