Fay Weldon Drama Analysis
Fay Weldon’s drama is notable more for its political content than for formal innovations. Her plays focus on women characters and their lives. They are feminist in that they explore issues that concern women and the ways that women communicate with other women and with men; however, despite raising awareness of women’s problems, they do not suggest major political change and, in fact, usually affirm the status quo. For example, one of Weldon’s major themes is the sexual politics of marriage, yet she repeatedly reaffirms that institution, ending her plays with marriage or with couples reunited after solving their problems. So while Weldon’s work contains feminist content, it is not politically radical.
Weldon’s drama contains humorous situations and dialogue, which make the plays enjoyable and the content palatable to a wide audience. Her characters speak in realistic, non-stylized language. Many plays contain scenes in which the dialogue or action concerns the ability of the characters to communicate; the words themselves become subject matter for the plays. The plays do not require elaborate sets, allowing the attention to focus on the interactions between the characters.
Permanance was Weldon’s contribution to a series of short plays by various playwrights performed and published together under the title Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage. Weldon was the only female playwright of the nine who wrote for the production, simultaneously pointing to the barriers to women’s success as playwrights and to the mainstream quality of Weldon’s work in that her play does not stand out politically in the middle of a production written mainly by male playwrights.
The sequence begins with a play about a bride and groom and ends with one about an elderly couple contemplating headstones in a cemetary; Weldon’s play, in the middle, presents a forty-year-old man and woman vacationing for the first time without their only child. The transition to the next stage of life offers an opportunity to explore what middle age means for men and women and what the sexes want from marriage.
Throughout the play, the characters sit in a tent. The tent, which they have vacationed in together for many years, serves as a symbol for their marriage thus far. The couple’s ability to communicate is a crucial theme. Although the husband seems cold at first, not wanting to stop reading to have a conversation and being unsympathetic about his wife’s wasp sting and broken glasses, by the end he is the one who affirms the importance of the marriage. At the end of the play, he suggests a villa in Italy for their next vacation; their marriage will change to meet the needs of both.
Action Replay borrows a technique from sports-casting—the replay. However, as the scenes are replayed, lines are changed and the outcomes differ in the various versions. In one scene, the characters discuss whether what happens to them is fate or the result of turns their conversations...
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Fay Weldon Short Fiction Analysis
Fay Weldon could be called the contemporary Jane Austen, an entertaining, satiric chronicler of today’s rude manners centered around sex and self. As befits an admirer of Jane Austen, Weldon focuses on the matings of women and men, almost always from the women’s point of view. In keeping with the contemporary world, the matings are often shallow, insecure, and unhappy. Awful events occur in Weldon’s short fiction: seductive women break up marriages, pregnant women are abandoned, babies are abused, and ghosts rattle through old houses. Yet, for the most part, Weldon maintains a comic tone, though again her black comedy is consistent with the times.
Weldon is able to deal with awful events and still maintain a comic tone through manipulation of narrative technique and voice. She experiments with discontinuous and fragmented narration, making sudden leaps in her characters’ lives. To attain this out-of-breath pace, she sometimes sacrifices depth of characterization, especially of the male characters. What else is an author to do in an age of shallow people? The shallowness of her characters may be seen as another symptom of the times. Her narrative techniques also reflect her background in writing advertising copy—the transfer of sound bite technology to short fiction. Her stories would probably not be convincing enough to entertain if they were not also narrated in highly believable human voices, the colloquial, confused voices of single mothers, suburban housewives, daughters, and feminists.
Since the voices in Weldon’s writing are almost always female, she has sometimes been claimed as a feminist writer. Her writing does not, however, express a consistent feminist ideology or agenda. There is no shortage of oppressive men in Weldon’s writing, but neither is there a shortage of wicked women. In fact, some of the targets of Weldon’s satire are misguided women who have constructed their identity around feminist ideology and who behave accordingly. Weldon’s work does not so much express an ideology as, in the classic mode, hold a mirror up to nature.
“Watching Me, Watching You”
“Watching Me, Watching You,” which gives its title to Weldon’s first collection of short fiction, is ostensibly a ghost story, the first of several stories set in old houses where strange noises and happenings occur. The ghost here is rather lethargic, mostly reacting to stranger happenings among the house’s living inhabitants. Echoing stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, curtains rustle, wine glasses tip, walls sweat and cry, and mirrors crash to the floor only to comment on human behavior. The real story is of how Vanessa steals Anne’s husband Maurice and marries him, only to have Audrey steal Maurice from her in the end, as if some crude sense of cosmic justice operates in the old house cursed by human failings. Meanwhile, two children are born to suffer, and Maurice does not make a good impression himself. The gothic conventions are used to justify the narration, which covers fifteen years, since presumably the ghost can see the past, present, and future all at once. The story’s comic tone is rather tentative, except in the characterization of the ghost and in a little satire at the end, in which Anne and Vanessa are communing with each other amid posters “calling on women to live, to be free, to protest, to re-claim the right, demand wages for housework, to do anything in the world but love.”
Moon Over Minneapolis
Perhaps Weldon’s most popular collection of short fiction, Moon Over Minneapolis represents the...
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Fay Weldon Long Fiction Analysis
Fay Weldon’s fiction explores women’s lives with wit and humor in the cause of a determined opposition to the clichés of romantic fiction. Weldon is caustic in her implicit condemnation of injustice but avoids preaching by satirizing both sides of every issue and by revealing the gulf between what characters say and what they do. Despite their realistic settings, her novels blend fable, myth, and the fantastic with satire, farce, and outlandish coincidence; the combination produces highly distinctive tragicomedies of manners.
Weldon’s admiration for writers such as Jane Austen (whose work she has adapted for television) is expressed openly in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen, but it is also...
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Weldon, Fay (Vol. 11)
Weldon, Fay 1933–
Weldon is a British novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter who writes about the problems of contemporary women. Her humanist approach transcends radical feminism, exploring the frailties and insecurities which plague both sexes. (See also CLC, Vols. 6, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
Fay Weldon has a dashing, unconventional way of writing a novel; but there is something familiar about Female Friends. "Female friends" is a favourite locution of Thackeray's. I took down Philip, to check, and found much else in common…. Both authors are fond of the present tense, of chatting to the reader, of offering little homilies. Thackeray also sometimes puts his dialogue in the form of a dramatic script, just as Fay Weldon does. Their subject-matter is similar, too: the sufferings of women, particularly at the hands of other women, their mothers and their female friends. This has been an enjoyable theme for certain male writers since Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women.
In Female Friends, the women who need to beware of each other are called Grace, Marjorie and Chloe (the narrator). Girls of very different backgrounds with very different—and most interesting—mothers, they come together in a country village during the 1940 evacuation. The narrative hops back and forth in time, as the three girls, grow up, meet disagreeable men, and become mothers in unusual ways….
Chloe's vision of the males in this book is somewhat blurred. Although she sharply observes the bad things they say or do to women, she becomes implausible when she tries to guess about their motives, to report their political conversation, to describe their activities in their pubs and businesses. Males are frequently seen as a breed of large, hard-to-handle but covetable pets….
[It is said that] "female friends are not to be trusted". Chloe is inclined to agree:
Fine citizens, we make, fine sisters! Our loyalties are to men, not to each other. We are divided amongst ourselves. We have to be, for survival's sake.
The main idea—an exhortation to women to pull together—is put over very well, even if one feels that there is more female unity around than Chloe supposes.
D.A.N. Jones, "Warnings for Women," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), February 28, 1975, p. 213.
The majority of novel-readers, one is told, are women; it would be interesting to know what proportion, and what kind of women, prefer fantasy—daydreams of an impossibly different life—to stories which reflect everywoman's lot. Fay Weldon's Remember Me is in the second category. Not only does the reader learn what style and colour are the clothes worn by the [characters],… but where they bought them…. Food, furniture and household linens are given the same attention. Fay Weldon is a successful television playwright, which may account for her eye for settings and for setpieces: breakfast, a dinner party, moments in the day crosscut between three households….
Role-playing is emphasized by a persistent Happy Families technique: "Up gets Margot, the doctor's wife…." Proper names are reiterated as in a game….
Reading Remember Me is rather like gossiping about friends of friends. The characters are real, in that one knows the most intimate things about them; and yet they are schematic, reduced, as are people known only through an informant—or through the television screen. Only Madeleine's teenage daughter—fat, graceless, addicted to Sugar Puffs—seems properly solid; but in the end she too bursts into a cacophony of self-definitions: "I am Hilary, daughter of a dead mother, child of a lost father…."
Those who are not alienated by these inner incantations may be so by the banality of some of the authorial comments…. Some insights, less global, are on that account more interesting: many married men, for example, must secretly feel like the doctor, about money, that his wife "did not quite realize the difficulty with which it was earned, nor her good fortune in being allowed to spend what was by rights his and his alone".
"Oh I am the doctor's wife, mother of the doctor's children, feeder of the doctor's cat." Oh I am the reviewer, and I can see that this is an intelligent but not a first-class novel; and oh I am a woman novel-reader, and for all my critical remarks I read about these people and their stereotyped conflicts and their sex-lives and their lifestyles with an avidity way beyond the call of duty.
Victoria Glendinning, "The Muswell Hill Mob," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), September 24, 1976, p. 1199.
Fay Weldon's novels have so far moved pretty confidently up the social scale. From the girls-together scruffiness of "The Fat Woman's Joke" and "Down Among the Women," she has progressed via the TV-executive and career-person stratum of "Female Friends" to the stockbrokers suburbia of "Remember Me." In ["Words of Advice"] Miss Weldon finally strikes it rich, and is ushered into the presence of her first millionaire.
Her first millionairess, too, naturally. Miss Weldon's world has always been assertively, almost parodistically, matriarchal; she writes as if men had the hormones; when things happen, you may be sure that women make them do so. (p. 13)
Gemma is the chief puppeteer. She is also the chief monologist in this generally rather garrulous novel, punctuating the maneuvers with a detailed account of her formative years. (You feel, during these speeches, that Weldon is writing flat out for Gemma: they certainly share a taste for didacticism and the epic simile.) Gemma's history is directed at the long-suffering ear of Elsa, whose socio-sexual prospects it is clearly meant to allegorize and, ultimately, to define. Yes, the Weldon woman still carries the same albatross: the Weldon man. He will either be a pitiful lapdog—who will at least look after you, and defray your infidelities—or an arty maverick—who will awaken you, then break your heart and very possibly your back too. "Sex," says Weldon, who has plainly mused thoroughly on this topic, "is not for procreation; it is for the sharing out of privilege."
What, then, has privilege done to Miss Weldon's world? Most obviously, it has stylized it. Miss Weldon has never been much of a socially "concerned" writer (for which many thanks) and although her eye for the hardware of status remains unblinking, she is not particularly interested in the moral...
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As Fay Weldon debatably remarks (to extract [a phrase from Little Sisters] from the hail of marmoreal aphorisms that rattle across each page): "Sexual passion, requited, invigorates the parties concerned and enhances rather than diminishes the response to the outside world … romantic love, on the other hand, seems to work as a slow poison". Eventually all this knowingness dulls the edge of intelligence. There are entertaining cameos [in her novel] … but they are only bubbles on the glassy surface. Though Fay Weldon's tool is the engraver's, after a while it cuts no ice.
Eric Korn, "Blowing Bubbles," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), February 24, 1978, p. 227.
Fay Weldon's myth-making and mannerisms are curiously unsatisfactory, like walking on to a step which is not there. She juggles many a spinning word around a slight tale of trendy beautiful people and swinging 'sixties beautiful objects….
Somewhere [in Little Sisters] there is a moral or two about the inevitable interchangeability of People and Things when Sex is around, but the convolutions of style get in the way, or anyway my way, of any desire to work it all out. There is a crudity of tone underlying the archness and Mrs Weldon fails to distance herself from the dross she derides. (p. 24)
Mary Hope, in The Spectator (© 1978 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), March 4, 1978.
"Praxis," we are informed, means turning point, culmination, action, even orgasm. It is also the given name of Praxis Duveen, a blowsy Everywoman….
[She is] an extravagant failure as a wife and mother [who] eventually commits a celebrated murder from which she emerges both an apostle and a victim of the women's movement.
The story of her various rises and falls makes a witty commentary on fifty years' worth of changing notions about women's place. Praxis is not merely a feminist fable, however. This tough and enjoyable novel is, at bottom, a celebration of the modern art of survival. (p. 94)
Amanda Heller, in The Atlantic Monthly...
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Weldon, Fay (Vol. 122)
Fay Weldon 1931–
English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, and scriptwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Weldon's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 6, 9, 11, 19, 36, and 59.
Considered by many to be one of the finest contemporary English satirists, Weldon has focused in her novels and short stories on the state of women's lives in modern culture. Weldon finds the prescribed positions of women in social institutions oppressive, and skewers not only institutions, but both male and female behavior within them.
Weldon was born in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, England, and spent her early childhood in New Zealand. She returned to England to attend Hampstead Girls' High School in London. Weldon then went to the University of St. Andrews, earning her master's degree in economics and psychology in 1952; in 1988 she received a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Bath and a subsequent doctoral degree in literature from the University of St. Andrews in 1992. In the late 1950s she worked as a writer for the Foreign Office and the Daily Mirror in London before moving on to work as an advertising copywriter. In 1960 she married Ron Weldon, an antiques dealer; the couple divorced in 1994. In addition to novels and short stories, Weldon is an accomplished playwright, scriptwriter, and writer of children's stories. Her awards include a Writers Guild award, a Giles Cooper award, a Society of Authors traveling scholarship, and a Los Angeles Times award for fiction.
Weldon is known for infusing her works of social commentary with biting wit and grotesque imagery. But while she usually presents a dark picture of the female condition and the state of gender relations, she also frequently ends her books on a hopeful note. Esther, the heroine of her first novel The Fat Woman's Joke (1967) regains her self-respect and her husband's appreciation during a separation from him in which she succumbs to an eating disorder. In Down among the Women (1972) Weldon portrayed three generations of oppressed women; but rebellion and hope for independence are embodied in the third generation, rep-resented by the protagonist's illegitimate daughter. Although she depicts women as oppressed and exploited, Weldon analyzes the ways in which they are responsible for their own problems and the unfortunate situations of other women. Women betraying each other is one of her major themes. In The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) a large, unattractive woman named Ruth, disillusioned by romance novels, is rejected by her husband in favor of a beautiful romance writer. Ruth exacts revenge by transforming herself through plastic surgery into the exact double of the writer, destroying both her husband and his mistress but also losing her entire identity. In many of Weldon's works both male and female infidelity are responsible for the dissolution of marriages. In The Cloning of Joanna May (1989), an examination of the nature versus nurture question, Joanna's husband Carl has her cloned, then divorces her for having an affair. Thirty years later Joanna and the clones—none characterized as sympathetic or successful people—meet, and Carl and his new mistress end up falling into a nuclear reactor. In Life Force (1992) the lives of four women are disrupted when the man they all have slept with returns after a twenty-year absence; all four of them fall into self-destruction and chaos because of their obsession with the man's enormous phallus—the "life force" of the title. In Trouble (1994; published as Affliction in England) Weldon took on modern psychotherapy, as two new-age therapists seem to deliberately ruin the marriage of a man who seeks their help to deal with his massive insecurities about his wife's sudden success. Wicked Women (1995), a collection of short stories written since 1972, features a cast of characters who all, male and female, come off poorly, despite the title. Worst Fears (1996) concerns a woman dealing with unexpected revelations after her husband's sudden death. Believing she had the perfect marriage, Alexandra Ludd discovers that her husband has been sleeping with her best friends for years, and after his death she is snubbed by everyone including the family dog.
Critics find Weldon's satires on gender relations and contemporary issues, such as cloning and nuclear terror, witty and scathing. Some reviewers have commented on the increasing bitterness of her later works, finding them too hopeless and grim to offer any kind of satisfying resolution to readers; others believe her characterizations of men are shallow and overly negative. Still, Weldon's astute social observations and outrageously inventive plots have earned her both critical praise and a loyal popular readership.
The Fat Woman's Joke (novel) 1967
Down among the Women (novel) 1971
Female Friends (novel) 1975
Remember Me (novel) 1976
Words of Advice (novel) 1977
Praxis (novel) 1978
Puffball (novel) 1980
Watching Me, Watching You (short stories) 1981
The President's Child (novel) 1983
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (novel) 1983
Polaris and Other Stories (short stories) 1985
The Shrapnel Academy (novel) 1986
The Heart of the Country (novel) 1987
The Hearts and Lives of Men (novel) 1987
Leader of the Band (novel) 1988
The Cloning of Joanna May (novel) 1989
Darcy's Utopia (novel) 1990
Moon over Minneapolis (short stories) 1991
Life Force (novel) 1992
Trouble (novel) 1994
Splitting (novel) 1994
Wicked Women (short stories) 1995
Worst Fears (novel) 1996
SOURCE: "Soft Machines," in New Statesman and Society, Vol. 95, No. 2449, February 24, 1978, p. 258.
[In the following review, Clapp calls Little Sisters "glittering" and "witty."]
Fay Weldon's latest novel [Little Sisters] is by turns hectoring, funny, astute and artificial. Full of dreadful warnings relating to the 'black pool of desire and destiny' awash in women, it delivers its moral messages with a depersonalised urgency, variously shrinking or swelling its characters into embodiments of fairy-tale oppositions: they are chiefly distinguished by being either old or young, rich or poor, barren or fertile; all use sex for the 'sharing out of privilege'.
The interest of Little Sisters lies not in its components but in the cleverness with which these are manouvered. An exotically grisly account of Sixties London kookery, in which men wore toupees woven from pubic hair, manufacture navel gems and send ugly sisters hurtling from windows, is pitted against a supposedly authentic, non-fantastic story in which a shriveled millionaire (whose fortune comes from plastic flowerpots) and his crippled wife entertain a balding antique dealer and his luscious young girl friend—planning, amid an abundance of bad taste, to impregnate the girl and acquire an heir.
The first of these tales is presented as a fictional unweaving of the past: a cautionary tale told to the voluptuously nodding young girl who 'blushes and grinds her tiny teeth' while patronised. Its force as moral fable, urging the girl's escape to (presumably) her very own fecundity, is dubious; and since both narratives interweave the mundane and the bizarre in almost equal proportions, the distinction which labels only the first as fantasy is made (perhaps intentionally) to seem arbitrary. Nevertheless, by providing an alternative version of what in retrospect seems inevitable it makes future escape appear more possible—and this makes the interjections of worldly wisdom, delivered throughout in admonitory present-tense gasps, more palatable because less definitive. Faced with the basically inert ingredients of the main narrative, the exuberant inventiveness of the fantasy becomes a requirement; in using it, Fay Weldon has manufactured a glittering, witty piece of machinery without a center.
SOURCE: "Feminism and Art in Fay Weldon's Novels," in Critique, Vol. XX, No. 2, 1979, pp. 5-20.
[In the following essay, Krouse contends that Weldon's novels contain both artistic value and a feminist consciousness without resorting to didacticism.]
Recent interest in women writers and women's experience has helped establish some literary reputations and revive others. While many women writers are being ignored, several have gained prominence because they seem to speak for authentic female experience. Certainly a healthy curiosity about women's lives—too often falsified or ignored in contemporary fiction—has been responsible for the popular success and only...
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SOURCE: "Stories and a Novel," in New York Times Book Review, December 27, 1981, pp. 8-9.
[In the following review, DeMott offers praise for Weldon's collection of short stories in Watching Me, Watching You, but notes her evolution from overly depressing subjects in her first novel, The Fat Woman's Joke, to less bleak resolutions in later works.]
American admirers of Fay Weldon, the English playwright, novelist and short story writer, will especially welcome Watching Me, Watching You because it contains, in addition to 11 short stories, a reissue of her out-of-print first book, a novel that appears under its original English title The Fat...
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SOURCE: "Passion," in London Review of Books, October 7-20, 1982, p. 11.
[In the following review, Brookner finds The President's Child more compassionate and less heavy-handed ideologically than Weldon's earlier works.]
The President's Child works, effortlessly, on many levels. First, it is a political thriller. Isabel Rust, a television producer and former hack reporter, once had an affair with a man who is supposedly being groomed as Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Her apparently spotless marriage was hastily contrived by her to provide a home for herself and the child of that previous union. On the surface, all is...
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SOURCE: A review of The Shrapnel Academy, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 19, 1987, pp. 2, 8.
[In the following review, Seidenbaum offers reserved praise for The Shrapnel Academy, noting that because of the novel's extreme violence and cynicism it is for those with "strong stomachs."]
This [The Shrapnel Academy] is an explosive little novel, to English drawing room comedy what the Hindenburg was to zeppelin flight.
Shrapnel Academy, a well-endowed mythic military school named after the man who invented the exploding cannon-ball, gathers a sort of numskulls' Noah's Ark for the annual Eve-of-Waterloo dinner. Gen. Leo...
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SOURCE: "Love-Child Conquers All," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 10, 1988, p. 6.
[In the following review, Bell finds The Hearts and Minds of Men somewhat heavy-handed initially but adds that the novel is redeemed in its second half.]
Little Nell, in this grown-up fairy tale [The Hearts and Minds of Men], is a love child in the genuine sense of the word, conceived at the first glance exchanged by her parents at a party in 1960s London. As the prompt result of a blissful consummation, she preserves, through the ups and (more usually) downs of her parents' marriage, something of the radiant happiness of their first moments of mutual discovery....
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SOURCE: "At Last, Laughs," in Belles Lettres, Vol. 4, No. 1, Fall 1988, p. 2.
[In the following review, Barreca finds the comic elements and happy endings of The Hearts and Lives of Men and The Heart of the Country a welcome change from Weldon's earlier novels, noting that Weldon does not compromise her artistry to effect a positive outcome for her characters.]
When Fay Weldon was asked what she thought about the magnificent public response to The Hearts and Lives of Men, the first of her novels truly to capture the attention of the American reading (and critical) audience, she said, "It's all very nice, but it's for the wrong book." I think Weldon...
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SOURCE: "All Our Dog Days," in Time Literary Supplement, No. 4493, May 12-18, 1989, p. 518.
[In the following review, Craig considers The Cloning of Joanna May not up to Weldon's usual high standards.]
Fay Weldon's current practice is to take some exorbitant facet of modern life—political intrigue, television stardom, plastic surgery—and incorporate it into one of her colourful little analyses of the drive towards misbehaviour and the clashing interests of men and women. In The Cloning of Joanna May, her fourteenth novel, it is genetic engineering that set things going. "Fiddling around with women's eggs", as a character puts it, is one of the...
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SOURCE: Review of Polaris and Other Stories and Leader of the Band, in New York Times Book Review, June 4, 1989, pp. 1, 26.
[In the following review, Ward offers praise for Polaris and Other Stories but finds Leader of the Band unsatisfying.]
Fay Weldon, a risky, engaged writer, is an ardent feminist, a novelist of characters and ideas. In an age where much fiction is cut-rate minimalist, or cocaine chic, Ms. Weldon shows us another path. She is complex, smart and political without cheating us on esthetics. And she is profoundly funny. Her Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a small masterpiece of invective, the ultimate feminist revenge...
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SOURCE: "Losing to Despair," in New Republic, Vol. 203, Nos. 8-9, August 20-27, 1990, pp. 40-42.
[In the following review, Dunford contends that Weldon's trademark anger has become tired and mechanical in The Cloning of Joanna May and Leader of the Band.]
The twentieth century has made it easy for writers to see humans as nothing but poor creatures in a disordered universe. Fay Weldon has produced a line of witty, ironic books out of her prevailing sense of how unfairly the odds are stacked and how little can be done to redress the balance. Her characters dangle on strings held by some mad marioneteer, their lives pulled this way and that by cosmic spite,...
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SOURCE: "Her Sisters, Herself," in New York Times Book Review, Vol. 95, March 25, 1990, p. 7.
[In the following review, Houston praises Weldon's "quirky" humor in The Cloning of Joanna May.]
In a recent interview about the filming of her novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, Fay Weldon said, "My idea of morality isn't about women becoming strong and forceful, competent or whatever: it's about having a good time." And so, in fact, is the idea of The Cloning of Joanna May. In her latest novel, Ms. Weldon manages to boot the archenemy, boredom, out of her characters' lives as handily as she does from her readers', and it's a reasonable bet that she's had...
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SOURCE: "The Fuzzy Vision of a True Believer," in New York Times, March 3, 1991, p. 9.
[In the following review, Krist calls Darcy's Utopia one of Weldon's "most ambitious books," noting that she achieves even her unlikely conclusion "with aplomb."]
Some writers chronicle the War Between Men and Women. Fay Weldon, a subtler observer by half, reports on a more elusive conflict—the War Among Men and Women. She understands that the battle lines of this other war seldom run along gender boundaries, but rather cut across the sexes to pit spouses against lovers, first wives against second wives, children against the parents who abandon or torment them. And in...
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SOURCE: "Fay Weldon Delivers a Tale of Sexual Hijinks and Some Lively Stories," in Chicago Tribune Books, March 8, 1992, pp. 4-5.
[In the following review, Jersild calls Weldon's writing in Life Force and Moon over Minneapolis "intimate … passionate, and funny."]
Fay Weldon's 19th work of fiction is as loopy as one might hope for, and as funny and satirical as one has come to expect from this irreverent, energetic British writer. Narrated by Nora, whose job at Accord Realtors leaves her plenty of time to "get on with writing this unpublishable work" (it's 1991, and there's a recession), Life Force has the gossip and intrigue of a good soap opera,...
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SOURCE: "The Life Force Has a Headache," in New York Times, April 26, 1992, p. 11.
[In the following review, Malone favorably evaluates Life Force and Moon over Minneapolis.]
Fay Weldon is a satirist who casts a kind eye on the human comedy as she passes by. And she passes by at a brisk pace. In a distinguished body of work (16 novels, as well as short-story collections, plays, television dramas and several volumes of nonfiction), she has proved to be a shrewd spectator of manners and mores, both upstairs and downstairs (she wrote episodes of the Masterpiece Theater series). In her fiction, the cast of characters moves easily between public and private...
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SOURCE: "Wise Wickedness," in Belles Lettres, Vol. 7, No. 4, Summer 1992, p. 18.
[In the following review, Barreca asserts that both Life Force and Moon over Minneapolis will add significantly to Weldon's canon of feminist literature.]
When Fay Weldon was finishing the manuscript of Life Force, she felt, paradoxically, at a loss for words.
"When the critics ask what the new book is about, what can I say?" she wondered. "I can't very well tell them it's about a man with a ten-inch dong, can I?" I suggested that she remind them that they always complained that she never fleshed out her male characters, and that here she does so with...
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SOURCE: Review of Life Force, in World Literature Today, Vol. 66, No. 4, Autumn 1992, p. 723.
[In the following review, Neilen states that Weldon's satire in Life Force "leaves us laughing through our tears."]
Fay Weldon's latest novel, Life Force, announces its intention pictorially on the jacket; a photo of part of Michelangelo's David meets the reader's gaze. However, unlike most of the partial depictions of the work which concentrate on the torso, this one concentrates on the phallus. The publishers seem as squeamish as Victorians, since they provide a paper wrapper to hide the offending part until presumably the reader gets the book...
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SOURCE: "Weldon's The Life and Loves of a She-Devil," in The Explicator, Vol. 51, No. 4, Summer 1993, pp. 255-57.
[In the following essay, Smith examines the "self-defeating and self-erasing strategy" of the character Ruth in her attempt to free herself from the illusory expectations offered to women by the romance novel genre.]
The conclusion of Fay Weldon's The Life and Loves of a She-Devil presents what a grammarian more concerned with form than content might perceive as a problematic tense shift:
I am a lady of six foot two, who had tucks taken in her legs. A comic turn, turned serious.
(The entire section is 947 words.)
SOURCE: "The Cure of the Married Therapists," in New York Times, October 17, 1993, p. 14.
[In the following review, Janowitz finds Trouble a unique mix of humor and painful examinations of the unraveling of a marriage.]
Not a great deal of really humorous fiction has been written in the latter half of the 20th century. Humorous or satirical fiction by men often involves the reader's identification with a bad boy—a drunkard, a lout, a glutton, a womanizer. The Ginger Man, Portnoy's Complaint, A Confederacy of Dunces most quickly come to mind. Of course there are exceptions, as there are to the generalization that humorous books by women often involve the...
(The entire section is 945 words.)
SOURCE: "The Weldon Manifesto," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 28, 1993, pp. 2, 9.
[In the following review, Harris offers a negative assessment of Trouble, noting that the novel fails to live up to Weldon's usual standards.]
What differentiates the ferocious satires of British author Fay Weldon from the typical bed-hopping, feminist sex comedy is their harsh determinism. For most of her female characters, holy matrimony, far from being full of connubial bliss and the attendant pleasure of the pitter-patter of little feet, is about as consensual as being clubbed by a cave man and dragged back to a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. Weldon's women are swept...
(The entire section is 1235 words.)
SOURCE: "My Husband Became a Zombie," in The Spectator, Vol. 272, No. 8640, February 12, 1994, pp. 29-30.
[In the following review, Brookner finds Affliction—published as Trouble in the United States—topical but less than satisfying.]
To lose one's husband to another woman is bad, to lose one's husband to another man may be slightly worse, but to lose one's husband to a pair of therapists, one of each sex, is arguably the worst blow of all. Of course the husband in question has to be singularly disturbed for this to happen, and therefore axiomatically in need of a therapist. So the unsupervised practice continues. Something of this fate seems to have...
(The entire section is 960 words.)
SOURCE: "One Woman at One Time Plays Many Parts," in The Spectator, Vol. 274, No. 8705, May 13, 1995, pp. 39-40.
[In the following review, Chisholm describes Splitting as somewhat flimsy, but "vintage Weldon."]
Fay Weldon's novels, including this one [Splitting], are not as weird as they at first appear. For some time now—this is her 28th book—she has been taking the ordinary events of women's lives, the small change of marriage, adultery, motherhood, friendship and betrayal and, with the skills of an alchemist or an amiable witch, transforming the dull, familiar stuff into something rich and strange. Her fiction is not for the literal-minded; she...
(The entire section is 706 words.)
SOURCE: "A Woman Scorned," in New York Times, June 11, 1995, p. 48.
[In the following review, Harris applauds Weldon's ability to "unsentimentally" further the cause of "oppressed" heroines.]
Fay Weldon's latest beleaguered heroine hears voices in her head. Over the years since the publication of her first novel, The Fat Woman's Joke, in 1967, Ms. Weldon has given her abandoned, impoverished wives some extraordinary weapons to employ against the husbands who have left them for someone nicer, younger, prettier or more suitable. To be effective, all of these weapons (which have included witchcraft and chocolate cake) have required brains, imagination and a...
(The entire section is 1040 words.)
SOURCE: "So Witty or So Wise," in The Spectator, December 9, 1995, p. 41.
[In the following review, Crosland praises some stories in Wicked Women, but finds fault with what she considers Weldon's reliance on static, "cartoon" characters.]
Don't worry. When the seesaw swings up, Fay Weldon is on form: sparkling, sharply observing, insights delivered with a light touch that puts us in a good mood, however dark the comedy. And one of the great things about short stories is you can pick and choose. Most of these [in Wicked Women] have appeared over the past four years in publications as various as the Literary Review and Cosmopolitan, or been...
(The entire section is 736 words.)
SOURCE: "Love Fails Again," in New York Times Book Review, Vol. 101, June 9, 1996, p. 19.
[In the following review, Karbo finds in Worst Fears an unexpected compassion, which, she writes, "makes it one of her best novels yet."]
If you want the truth about the man-woman thing, forget all those cloying self-help books and read Fay Weldon. Her 20 novels,—Worst Fears is her 21st—are the literary equivalent of a stiff drink, a dip in the Atlantic in January, a pep talk by a mildly sadistic coach.
Ms. Weldon's work will never inspire a compact disk of love songs or a cookbook filled with goopy treats. The author of the diabolical best...
(The entire section is 699 words.)
SOURCE: "More Lecherous than Loamshire," in The Spectator, Vol. 277, No. 8780, November 2, 1996, pp. 45-46.
[In the following review, Gardam discusses Weldon's humorous examination of sin and evil in Worst Fears.]
As usual, Fay Weldon has written a very moral book [Worst Fears]; that is to say a book that takes a good look at sin and then satirises the moraliser along with everybody else. 'Look,' she says, 'how excited we get about our immorality, how we enjoy judging and deploring each other's vices. How deluded we are if we don't analyse what passes for fidelity and success and love and friendship and loyalty.' 'Is it not better,' she asks, 'to be on the watch...
(The entire section is 1199 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Wicked Women, in Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1997, p. 417.
[In the following review, the anonymous critic offers praise for Wicked Women.]
The antagonists who populate these 20 stories [in Wicked Women] are indeed very wicked (no surprise to readers of Weldon's 21 novels, including Worst Fears, 1996), but they're not always women. Both sexes and all ages come in for some merry tweaking by this master of sexual satire—making this outing a familiar pleasure for old fans and a thoroughly satisfying introduction for newcomers.
When Defoe Desmond's middle-aged wife confronts him about his affair in "End of the...
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SOURCE: "Divine Justice," in New York Times Book Review, June 29, 1997, p. 29.
[In the following review, Mason calls Weldon "one of the most cunning moral satirists of our time."]
Fay Weldon has never been content merely to play God with her characters: she would rather be the avenging Yahweh. Her justice is unblinking, her wrath is boundless—most often directed against faithless husbands and their scheming lovers—and her punishments are indecently satisfying. She is a Yahweh with a profound appreciation of irony. Weldon, after all, is the creator of the wronged and lumpish wife in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil who inflicts a fiendishly comic, years-long...
(The entire section is 950 words.)
SOURCE: "After the Devil—A Little Horror," in Times Educational Supplement, No. 4227, July 4, 1997, p. 7.
[In the following review, Weldon and Treneman discuss Weldon's children's book, Nobody Likes Me!]
Everything has a colour in Nobody Likes Me!, Fay Weldon's book for children. Sleep is brown and red and purple round the edges, a cry is pale blue, a roar black, a yelp white. I wonder, as the author sits on the green and gold sofa at her home in Hampstead, north London, what colour this conversation might be.
She is wearing a black dress and gold slippers and her voice is high and light. At first it seems hard to believe this is the same...
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Buckley, Christopher. "Misery Loves Company." Washington Post Book World XXIII, No. 46, (November 14, 1993): 2.
A review in which Buckley appreciates Weldon's wit and intelligence in Trouble, but ultimately finds the book overwhelmingly depressing.
Cumming, Laura. A review of Wicked Women. The Observer 10651 (December 10, 1995): 16.
A review of Wicked Women in which Cumming finds the novel to be didactic and journalistic, with little human interest or character development.
Maddocks, Melvin. "Mothers and...
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Weldon, Fay (Vol. 19)
If one is curious about the lives of women, one can do no better than read Weldon. Her major subject is the experience of women…. But she is not tedious about the rich texture of everyday female existence she creates…. Weldon's [fictional world] exists because she most often selects the telling and the funny, the absurd and the horrifying. (pp. 5-6)
Instead of relying on a single minutely analyzed protagonist, she creates numerous vividly individualized women within the same work whose lives intertwine. Weldon's fiction often mirrors the insights of feminist theorists about the nature and situation of women: love does not last, marriage is not happy, motherhood is not serene. Her multiple female characters function particularly well to make convincing a fictional world which indirectly questions many traditional assumptions. The experiences of her characters complement each other and, therefore, validate each other as well….
Yet Weldon does not heavy-handedly use her female characters to hammer out a simplistic thesis about nasty men and victimized women. Through point of view and tone, her vision of women's relationships with men is more satisfyingly complex. (p. 6)
Weldon's women are not by nature monogamous, irrevocably attached to the one man who makes them suffer. If they are—as Helen and Y. in Down Among the Women or Midge in Female Friends, they eventually die at their own hand. Victims of an obsession that life without a particular man is impossible, these characters suggest symbolically that such obsession is self-destructive. Perhaps since the whole stereotypical pattern of monogamous women and polygamous men is very much alive in contemporary fiction in spite of feminist theory and biological fact to the contrary, Weldon does not undercut her own radical insight by varied incidents suggesting a different minor pattern. The theme of women's capacity for more relationships than the double standard would allow, made convincing by her multiple characters, is not insisted upon by rhetoric nor repetition. Rather, it emerges as one possible underlying pattern.
Weldon's multiple characters are also part of her most modern and most profoundly feminist theme: the significance of women's friendships. (p. 7)
Unlike [Doris] Lessing, however, who explains women's primary loyalty to men as unalterably rooted in psychology and biology, Weldon has a much clearer feminist perception of the social causes—the very fact that her women can be friends or make amends to each other is hopeful. (p. 8)
Weldon's novels are appealing even if one does not share her feminist insights. Their structure, narrative techniques, point of view, style, and humor place them among the finest achievements in recent fiction by women. (p. 9)
[The point of view] gives Down Among the Women a clean and unified shape. The first-person narrator provides a frame for the incidents presented since all of them seem available to a central intelligence. Weldon does not, however, limit the scenes to those at which Jocelyn is present…. Since, in one sense, the whole narrative is a meditation Jocelyn has on the park bench, the events form a unified whole. The complex chronology, which includes changes in society and in individual lives from 1950 to 1970, is thus contained by a woman thinking. In addition, Weldon develops some of her most poignant effects by having Jocelyn range freely between past and present. (pp. 10-11)
The point of view is also an indication of the profundity of Weldon's feminism. To create individual incidents or characters who will exemplify some feminist tenet is probably less difficult than to create a work whose very structure is feminist. Weldon may be unique among the new feminist novelists in developing such a structure…. [Her] decision to leave the narrator unnamed until the next-to-last page is one of her most brilliant strokes, unifying content and form perfectly.
When we learn the narrator's identity, the way we regard individual scenes does not significantly change. Jocelyn is neither more perceptive nor...
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[Praxis] is an out-and-out feminist hard-hitter, addressed to, and about, women, and we can see that it tries to say: "Learn to be honest, independent, charitable; men or women, we are all in a bad way." But as generally in feminist propaganda, the message at times gets so clogged by overstatement, self-pity, and bias that personal reactions (irritation, in my case, but approval would be just as distracting) get in the way of direct imaginative response. Polemic spells death to the novel, and neither of these two is quite free of a moral mission that can tiresomely separate out, like a streak of oil in water.
[Praxis Duveen] has a bad, bad time; so monstrously and confusedly bad as fortunately does not happen to most of us, though Praxis seems intended to represent the female condition—all her women friends go through the same inexorable mincing-machine. The monstrousness happens in her childhood, through no fault of her own; the confusion in her adulthood, when she scurries from disaster to disaster, from betraying to betrayal, because of her neediness…. No wonder she feels "that pain in the heart, the soul and the mind—those three majestic seats of female sorrow—which seems to be our daily lot." (Where are the three majestic seats of male sorrow?)
Weldon's style is not always as bad as this. There are sparks of wit…. But the briskness of the pace—laconic dialogue, one-sentence paragraphs—disguises a vacuum where there should be substance. Statements are made, either in the body of the story or in the interleaved chapters where Praxis meditates on her life, which the narrative is too bloodless to support…. Men, conventionally, are said to be as much "victims of a crazy culture" as women—but there is hardly a male action that is not made to look mean or ugly.
Toward the end a diagnosis is thrown casually in: Praxis's trouble, after all, is not that men have beaten the shit out of her but that she cannot feel, cannot love. Nothing that goes before has made this clear: she has just been bounced from disaster to disaster, crying buckets all the way. (pp. 21-2)
Rosemary Dinnage, "The Corruption of Love," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1979 Nyrev, Inc.), Vol. XXVI, No. 1, February 8, 1979, pp. 20-2.∗
[Overt] feminist fiction is beginning to move beyond the stage of realism and protest to a point where it can accommodate the personal and idiosyncratic. Fay Weldon is certainly among the novelists who are imposing a style upon the flux of feminine experience….
[The] eponymous heroine of Praxis is a late convert to feminism and briefly an enthusiast….
'A mad mother, a loony sister, an absent father. Enough, after all, to upset anyone,' Praxis muses, at a time when she is still trying to believe that the causes of her discontent are personal, not social. The line is an instance of the humour that works by classic understatement, and in the novel it is placed in effective juxtaposition with ironic exaggeration: all the horrors of female imaginings are recorded in one form or another, along with all the murky, underhand complications in women's lives. (p. 260)
Inevitably, perhaps, the theme is centred on mothers and sisters, no matter whose…. Hilda, the bad sister, the ill-wisher, the scholar, the professional spinster, represents one option open to intelligent females, but she is one of the least plausible figures in the book. The claim that her madness enables her 'to function as a man might do' is simply not convincing: to flaunt obsessions which focus, in turn, on rats, stars and anti-static is not a way to prosper in the Civil Service.
Occasionally, the outrageously appropriate event or fate becomes glib in the telling; the joke loses its sharp edge or the bitterness loses its undertone of humour. But these are minor defects in a novel that never descends to crass introspection; it increases the significance of its characters, in the manner of the fable, by keeping them at a proper distance, and presents its social observations in a form that is both eccentric and diverting. (pp. 260-61)
Patricia Craig, "Anti-Static," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2501, February 23, 1979, pp. 260-61.∗
[Fay Weldon], hatcher of the famous slogan 'Go to work on an egg', was once an advertising copywriter. Designed to promote her brand of feminism, the novels and stories she has since produced carry all the trade-marks of this background. Puffball, her new book, is no exception. Its format consists of prose broken into easy little units—as if in response to some market-research survey on attention-spans. The line it pushes is the importance of eggs—this time, human ones.
Charting the tribulations of an ovum that has lodged low in the womb, the book regularly slides its narrative into the heroine's interior…. The prose teems with gynaecological vocabulary…. (p. 254)
[There are, however,] external obstacles to a peaceful parturition. One of them is Liffey's husband, whose unsatisfactory nature is held up to scorn…. A monster pack of male inadequacies, Richard rapidly emerges as a wash-out…. In Female Friends, Mrs Weldon clucked impatiently at the spectacle of a wife having to soap the stains of promiscuity from her husband's clothes. In Puffball, Liffey's loyal launderings offer an immaculate contrast to her husband's grubby infidelities…. (pp. 254-55)
[The] greatest threat to Liffey's little one comes from her neighbour, envious Mabs Tucker. The female urge for impregnation demonstrates itself in Puffball as a formidable thing…. Mabs's unfertilised state...
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That old alliance, that old conspiracy of women against men, is … as likely to shatter at a touch of sexual rivalry as it was in the dangerous days before sisterhood was officially established. In that area, nothing has changed.
No one knows this better than Fay Weldon whose archetypal heroine is innocent, helpful, a child bride, sexually active, eager to please, easily hurt, puzzled and valiant, burdened with an unsatisfactory mother and an absent father, and above all endowed with friends whom she has known all her life and who have been doing her down for as long as she can remember…. Fay Weldon's heroine is not liberated; her friends are. And although Mrs. Weldon is on the side of the...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
There are women novelists and novelists who happen to be women. Fay Weldon belongs in the first of these categories…. I have nothing against women novelists … [but] I prefer novels about the human predicament to ones exclusively about the female one.
In Puffball there are a number of chapters headed 'Inside Liffey'…. These chapters are full of … gynaecological details…. It would be unjust to declare pages of such information to be irrelevant, since Miss Weldon's theme is clearly the tyranny of women's biological functions.
Among the majority of women of the world—as among the majority of the men—this tyranny is, of course, chiefly one of the stomach…. But even...
(The entire section is 293 words.)
At first Puffball will remind you of Rosemary's Baby. Liffey Lee-Fox talks her pompous husband Richard into moving to the country …; in exchange she will become pregnant…. [One of the neighbors] Mabs is—a witch. When Liffey becomes pregnant, Mabs jealously tries first to induce a miscarriage and finally to kill her. But here the book's resemblance to a superficial thriller ceases, for Liffey's baby, in utero, becomes a force for Good and manages to blunt Mabs's schemes. Still the pregnancy is touch-and-go 'til the very end, and Weldon treats the reader to a deliciously exasperating scene as Liffey's labor begins. The characters are every bit as good as the plot. Weldon manages to present,...
(The entire section is 321 words.)
Weldon, Fay (Vol. 6)
Weldon, Fay 1933–
A British playwright and novelist, Weldon has written radio, stage, and television plays, including part of the popular series Upstairs Downstairs. Her feminist novel Down among the Women won critical praise. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 23-24.)
Fay Weldon is known as the author of extremely acid television plays: her second novel [Down among the Women] is also sour. Its thesis is that women are helpless in relation to men, against whom they retaliate by manipulating them: the general condition is wretched, but some are more wretched than others…. The novel is often very funny indeed, partly because the people in it are so rude to each other. It's a splendid way of conveying the nature of the tensions involved without actually describing them twitch by twitch. Its manner owes something to [Stevie Smith's] Novel on Yellow Paper: a spirit of lugubrious levity, whoops, asides, and leadings of the reader to the water and then kicking him in, but much more self-consciously done and less winningly. (p. 342)
Mary Sullivan, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1971; reprinted by permission of Mary Sullivan), September 9, 1971.
Chloe, the narrator of [Female Friends] speaks for all women who believe that their intellects will never free them from their biology. To her credit, Author Weldon sees high comedy in this complaint. Her characters—Chloe, Marjorie and Grace—do indeed twitch to nature's rhythms, but the thralldom of their bodies is endlessly amusing to their unfettered minds. (p. 101)
[The] novel's breathless pace discourages dawdling over flaws. Its humor is wicked, in the manner of Waugh, whose comedy was also of matters as well as manners. The characters' resiliency is not less heroic for taking wacky forms. As Weldon proved in Down among the Women (1973), she loves her sex because, not in spite of itself. (p. 102)
Paul Gray, "Among the Ruins," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), October 28, 1974, pp. 101-02.
Many readers—and quite justifiably, no doubt—will consider [Female Friends] to be yet another bible for the Sisterhood; a huge and bitter complaint against the injustice and barbarism of the Brothers. I don't see it like that. Fay Weldon is a rare writer, for a start. She has written an immensely complex, extremely skillful and deeply felt novel about people. True, most of those people are women; true, the men in their lives are pretty abominable (except for those who are conveniently dead). But there is more than a hint that jailers, however brutal or insensitive, are not responsible for the crimes of their prisoners; that the emotional and psychological looting and manslaughter committed by women does inevitably lead to punishment—punishment meted out, more often than not, by men and children, who are both arbiters and victims. The fact that most of these crimes are committed through ignorance and deprivation is undeniable. They are crimes, nevertheless, and in no way mitigated because they also happen to be committed by men. Up until the very end of this lengthy novel Fay Weldon manages to maintain the difficult balance between justice and prejudice—and then, in the last pages, topples….
[The ending is] a cheat, Ms. Weldon.
Penelope Mortimer, "Ephemeral Triangle," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), November 3, 1974, p. 2.
In two novels …, Fay Weldon has created a remarkable assembly of women, rampant against a field of the exasperating parents they rebelled against but learned too well from, and the husbands and lovers whom they allow to make their lives a kind of unbearable yet marvelous madhouse. Their vintage is preliberation, but the fact that Weldon women are often passive victims of their femaleness is never the defining element of their characters: they are insistently, even riotously, alive.
"Down among the Women" … spans 20 years in the lives of three generations of women whose identities keep getting submerged in their relationships with a memorable gallery of men. Weldon men are usually less sympathetic than women, sometimes even grotesque, but only because their own characters have been so forced into the obsessive anxiety for achievement that they can see women only as tools toward success.
The main characters of "Female Friends" are three women, now in their forties, who became friends as children during the evacuation of wartime London. In a simultaneous unreeling of past and present, we watch them go about their lives with a great deal of pain, guilt, self-deception, self-irony and considerable grandeur….
There is a major fault. Weldon is not always in control of her material, not always certain of her own perspective: we can feel her vacillate sometimes between empathy and irritation, like one of her own characters, uncertain whether these sometimes infuriating people don't, perhaps, deserve to suffer as a result of their devotion to their particular demons. At its worst, this wavering perspective could lead to a misreading of the novel—to interpretations of man-hating on one hand, or anti-feminism on the other.
The narrative itself, delicately managed in many layers, is terse, clean and so witty as often to be epigrammatic. Sometimes the dialogue is telescoped into script form, a non-intrusive device which admirably matches the pace and the structure of the plotting. And so much does the language glitter that it's possible, I guess, to read all of this as surface dazzle, brilliant gossip about love, friendship, death. But be not so deceived. This, in a way that snaps national, racial and class barriers for millions of women around the world, is the way it is. (p. 18)
Sara Blackburn, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 10, 1974.
This strong second novel by Fay Weldon ["Female Friends"] is written with the shock and pain of a woman picking through the carnage of intersexual warfare and coming upon her own corpse….
With a pathologist's eye Weldon explores her unhappy women to determine the cause of female bondage. Is it biology? No. Male chauvinism? No. What then? "Men don't make women unhappy," observes narrator Chloe. "Women make themselves unhappy." Weldon shares Mary McCarthy's rare talent for dissecting complex relationships as well as McCarthy's misanthropic bitchiness. In "Female Friends" she has penetrated the semidarkness of the semi-liberated and shown that only truth and self-awareness can set them free. (p. 115)
Arthur Cooper, in Newsweek (copyright 1974 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), November 11, 1974.
In "Female Friends"…, Fay Weldon … has made a statement about the female condition which deals touchingly and freshly with its age-old subject. The most radical feminist could not possibly equal the picture of injustice she paints with wry, cool, concise words. Her characters rival Ivy Compton-Burnett's in perversity and even monstrosity, yet every one of them is all too humanly believable. The plot moves in sympathy with a cruel and antic fate that, like Hardy's and Waugh's, falls as though it were a hawk on the heads of its unsuspecting victims. Despite all this, "Female Friends" amuses while it horrifies. (p. 96)
[The] real triumph of "Female Friends" is the gritty replication of the gross texture of everyday life, placed in perspective and made universal; the perfectly recorded dialogue, precisely differentiated for each character; the shocking progression of events that, however rude, seem real; and the flat matter-of-factness in reporting disasters that makes them both funny and appalling. Fay Weldon has added an important volume to the short shelf of good writing about women. (pp. 96-7)
L. E. Sissman, "Woman's Lot," in The New Yorker (© 1975 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), March 3, 1975, pp. 96-7.
Weldon, Fay (Vol. 9)
Weldon, Fay 1933–
A British playwright and novelist, Weldon is also a successful screenwriter of television dramas. Weldon's fiction, reflecting a concern for women in contemporary society, consistently refuses an ideological stance. In her sensitive and often witty portraits of modern marriage, Weldon lends an air of universality to the domestic dramas she creates. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
Considering how much I enjoyed reading Remember Me, it may seem churlish to begin by carping at the shortcomings that still disquality Fay Weldon from the league into which her publishers have promoted her—'one of Britain's major novelists'. But her new book is so much better than her last, Female Friends, that such claims look no longer merely wishful; and it would be at least insulting, therefore, to gloss over the blemishes.
The chief trouble is that Mrs Weldon has found no settled style of her own as a novelist. Where Female Friends seemed to be made up out of left-over television scripts, Remember Me reflects a crash course in the kind of diluted experimentalism that has made some people think that Kurt Vonnegut is the greatest living American writer. There is a lot of Under Milk-and-Water Wood…. Then there are patches of play-script dialogue, sometimes preceded and followed by kindergartenish directions ('Listen to Jamie and Judy now …'; 'Poor little grey, badly-behaved Judy. Poor smarting Jamie …'), sometimes with the speeches numbered to match a similarly-numbered 'translation' from which you are to learn what the speakers really mean by their clichés….
[The book] is very entertaining as black farce, often cruelly shrewd about the intimate relations of near relations, sometimes coming close to articulating the large conclusions about the meaning of life that these messy lives are meant to signify. Yet never quite articulating them: the supernaturalism is a cop-out, the mark of unwillingness, or worse, to try to make real sense of the fresh wounds and old scars collected in those dangerous games. That is why, notwith-standing her best performance yet, Fay Weldon will have to wait for that promotion. (p. 486)
Neil Hepburn, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1976; reprinted by permission of Neil Hepburn), October 14, 1976.
The troubled and confused characters in ["Remember Me"] are Londoners of a fairly ordinary sort, and by the time they are through leaping over the obstacles and dealing with the bizarre problems Mrs. Weldon invents for them, they are a bedraggled lot indeed. Rather like people in a breathless, ongoing comic opera, they speak to the reader directly, introducing themselves in the least imaginative of ways, defining themselves almost exclusively in terms of two or three other people. (p. 7)
While writers with the patience and sensitivity of Margaret Drabble or Penelope Mortimer can still make us respond to the plight of the oppressed housewife, the theme itself has become a very familiar one. The startling revelations of one decade become, all too frequently, the shopworn clichés of the next.
Mrs. Weldon's scorn for her characters is expressed in frequent authorial intrusions; she cannot resist patting her characters on the head and saying, patronizingly, "Good Lily!" "Kind Lily!" "Oh Jarvis!" "Disloyal, disconnected Margot!" The effect is that the reader soon loses sympathy with them, for if an author is contemptuous of his or her characters, how can the reader feel otherwise?
"Remember Me" has the breathlessness of an Iris Murdoch novel, and some of its inventiveness. But it lacks depth and resonance, and it resolves itself as glibly as any situation comedy, despite the seriousness of the issues involved. Is it possible that feminist concerns with the exploitation of women by men, while still painfully relevant to our lives, are no longer viable as subjects for serious fiction? By denying subtlety and humanity to roughly one-half the population, and by delineating Maleness in place of specific human beings who happen to be male, the writer with feminist interests severely jeopardizes her power to create imaginative literature. (p. 54)
Joyce Carol Oates, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 21, 1976.
Having enjoyed and admired Fay Weldon's Female Friends enormously, I looked forward with keen anticipation to her latest novel, Remember Me. I expected to be shocked. I expected to learn something about women which I didn't know before. Quite simply, I expected what I don't often get from a straight novelist—a good read. I wasn't disappointed.
For Mrs. Weldon is a natural novelist. That is her proper medium. She can sustain a narrative and she can create characters. And she possesses that very rare quality, a sardonic, earthy, disenchanted, slightly bitter but never cruel sense of humour. She is wholly feminine—and I mean this as a compliment. She is the Great Earth Mother who has seen it all. For her the male is a biological interlude. The world of the women is the only real world. (I hasten to add that I speak of Mrs. Weldon only in her novelist's persona.) And this is her great attraction as a writer. She admits the male into a world which is otherwise barred to him.
It is—and this is very important—a heterosexual world. There is a Lesbian character in Remember Me, who hangs around hoping to enlist casualties from the sex war on her side. But her only success is brief and will not last. No matter how hellish their relationships with men may be, no matter how much better their own sex may understand them, for Mrs. Weldon's women sex means men….
[It's] extremely refreshing to come across a novelist who gives children their proper place in the scheme of things, and who doesn't regard them as mere appendages. In fact, Mrs. Weldon's children are genuine individual children. They aren't miniature adults and they aren't fantastic puppets dancing on Freudian strings.
And that is yet another virtue of Mrs. Weldon. She is never vague. She never leaves the reader wondering how old a character is, what they look like, what specifically they are doing. We are told what her characters eat and drink, how they earn their living, how their houses are furnished. She doesn't overload the narrative with detail; she understands what few novelists understand, that physical details are not embellishments on the story, but the bricks from which the story is made….
The details [in Remember Me] make the story, Jarvis's face, the skin loose from dieting, the honey-and-orange-juice at breakfast, the eggs from the health-food shop, the soft and silky down on Lily's arms, Jonathon's silver spoon, polished every day so that it's becoming dangerously sharp: all these aspects of the material world are the consequences of what we are and also make us what we are…. [All] the details are unerringly right. Miss Weldon never puts a foot wrong.
Yes, she is a very good writer. Yes, Remember Me is a very good novel. But I do have one reservation. I wish that either she hadn't used the question-and-answer technique or that she'd devised some way of formalising it and filling it out. When I'm asked to accept two words, 'Who's asleep?' as a whole line of narrative, I can't help feeling rather cheated. And I think that numbering certain lines of dialogue is rather pretentious. It adds nothing to the story. And the extra spaces between question and answer infuriate me….
Having said this, I must make it clear that I'm sure that Mrs. Weldon's sole reason for using this technique was that it seemed to her to be the one best suited to her material. She is a dedicated artist, which means that with each book she tries harder, that she's never content simply to do what she's done before. In this case, I think that she's tried too hard, that the book succeeds in spite of its techniques not because of it.
John Braine, "A Natural Novelist," in Books and Bookmen (© copyright John Braine 1977; reprinted with permission), January, 1977, p. 28.
Remember Me manages to be so many books simultaneously that one is briskly, delightedly swept along, only to wonder breathlessly at the end whether the stunning impact comes from a Grimm fairy tale/ghost story, or from a witty excursion into contemporary London mores and marriage, or from a rich, soothing, old-fashioned English comedy of manners. It comes, of course, from all three. Weldon … writes with unrelenting clearsightedness about the wasted, but not hopeless, lives of women, and the men they cling to. Her book accomplishes more than a dozen polemics and is entertaining besides.
At its most superficial, Remember Me is a not-unfamiliar urbane tale of middle-class marital reshuffling, proliferating guilt, resentment, awkward dinner parties, and leftover children …
Fay Weldon is one of the most accomplished fabulists around. Her fable is replete with the requisite cast of characters: scorned Queen turned Witch; selfish, vain younger Queen; Ugly Duckling Princess denied her rightful place by Wicked Stepmother; confused King ruled by Female Powers behind the throne; modest Lady-in-Waiting who steals the Princess for safekeeping. (No ogres, however. In Female Friends the male characters were uniformly disgusting; in Remember Me they are merely emotionally weak.) All are influenced unawares by the ghost of the mutilated Madeleine, who refuses to rest in peace until her child is removed from the hateful clutches of the stepmother, Lily.
Madeleine's ghost, in all its invisibility, is an extraordinarily effective fictional creation, literally surging through the novel, giving it impetus and breadth.
Remember Me may appear, mistakenly, to be a creaking-door type of chiller. Quite the contrary. In texture, it has the warmth and comfort of the traditional realistic novel of social relations, in which we rest assured that the author will take good care of us. In the past, this care meant supplying abundant supportive detail and family background, connecting plot links and snipping straggly ends, and, best of all, offering a sturdy framework of accepted belief in which bizarre events might be set in balance and proportion. Weldon, like her forbears in the long line of efficient English novelists, does all this. Meticulous data on the paraphernalia of contemporary life … are given with the tongue-in-cheek wit expected of an already proven satirist. More remarkable is the brief, vivid portraiture of mothers, fathers, social classes, and childhood traumas belonging to the characters. None has the orphaned quality often found in current fiction; all have documented personal heritages that bring them, variously, through the crucial days of the story.
As for the framework: What holds this hybrid book together? Weldon's wry, occasionally expatiating voice, for one thing. So refreshingly willing is she to intrude her viewpoint that one almost expects her to break out with "Dear Reader" (she would get away with it, too). With enviable conviction, the authorial voice claims that the visceral tie between mother and child is the most unbreakable living bond; more generally, that the nature of human contact is molecular and circumstantial, yet meaningful, obscurely and at random:
Almost nothing is wasted. Old friends … old enemies … old emotions, made sense of and transmuted into energy;… all the material flotsam washed up by the storms of our experience—all these have implication, and all lead us to the comforting notion that almost nothing in this world goes unnoticed; more, that almost nothing is unplanned.
As truth, perhaps difficult to accept. But, as the basis of a novel, it works wonderfully well.
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, "Quartet Plus Ghost," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © by The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), January 3, 1977, p. 58.