Fanning the Flames of Victorian Desire

The language of the fanIn Victorian society—including that of Oscar Wilde and the dramatis personæ of Lady Windermere’s Fan— it was said that fans were used to communicate silently across a room. Some claim it was merely a myth made up by advertisers to sell fans, like what De Beers did with engagement rings and, less romantically, what Campbell’s did with green-bean casserole. Regardless, it’s a lovely idea, not unlike the language of flowers, a more ancient form of wordless-yet-poetical communication that also saw a rise in popularity during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Here are just a few unspoken sentiments one could convey with this useful accessory. When you take in our production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, see if you can find any hidden meanings in the actors’ fan choreography!

  • The fan placed near the heart: “You have won my love.”
  • Resting the fan on her lips: “I don’t trust you”
  • A closed fan touched to the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
  • Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes.”
  • Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No.”
  • The lady fans herself with her left hand: “Don’t flirt with that woman.”
  • Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret.”
  • Fan opened wide: “Wait for me.”
  • Running her fingers through the fan’s ribs: “I want to talk to you.”

Read more about the Victorians’ secret language of fans—regardless of its actual, factual existence—at the following websites:

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