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
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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...
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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 somewhat guarded critical approval of such flawed novels as Alix Shulman's Memories of an Ex-Prom Queen, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, Susan Schaeffer's Anya, and Lisa Alther's Kinflicks. A more important result of such curiosity is the increasingly serious attention paid to writers like Lessing, Drabble, and Atwood, who have revealed the lives of women in major contemporary novels.
Because fears persist that a writer deeply committed to exploring the problems of women will produce fiction "contaminated" by sociology, political rhetoric, self-pity, or autobiography, one must show that while a new writer may be a feminist she is also an artist, and that while she understands and sympathizes with women,...
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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 Woman's Joke. Here and there in the short stories Miss Weldon offers wry versions of yesterday's feelings. (During the Battle of Britain, a wife remembers, "quite a lot of women claimed that air-raids were preferable to their husbands' attentions.") In one or two pieces ghosts walk, breaking china in trendy vicarages. Mostly, though, the writer concentrates on hard-eyed, mushy-headed specimens collected from the contemporary media world—and they're a grotesque lot on the whole.
In "Christmas Tree" we meet Brian, a money-making, working-class TV dramatist retreating from Hollywood to Devon in hopelessly self-deceived pursuit of an honest rural mate. "Holy Stones" is about a fortyish atheistical newspaper columnist named...
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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 middle-class respectability in Camden Town. But as news coverage of the Primaries increase, people begin to notice the resemblance between Isabel's son and his real father: Isabel herself is seen by the candidate's campaign managers as a potential menace, and various moves, entirely credible, are made to dispose of her.
On this level, the invention is powerful and sustained. But it is not at this level that the gravity of the book is made manifest. Mrs Weldon has in the past been a devastating but partial protagonist in the familiar argument of man's inhumanity to woman. Here she breaks free of her own propaganda, and in one of the most lyrical passages written by a woman for many years, she acknowledges the primacy, the absolute...
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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 Makeshift, oafish but agreeable, will deliver the Wellington lecture; Bella Morthampton, his secretary in title but his mistress in fact, will devour the tough caribou patties from a 1794 Canadian recipe; Mew Whittaker will be mistaken for a Times of London correspondent when, in reality, she represents the ferociously feminist Women's Times. Fold in, among others, an idiot savant who makes his living selling deadly weapons, an overage secret agent, a dithering married couple and two frightened faculty members—a human sampler of the old Empire in accelerated decline.
Imagine Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, Joan Greenwood, Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas and Sir Alec Guinness at one table; discover they have hidden...
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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. Nearly aborted by a panicking mother, she survives to become a Christmas Day baby, attended by astrological omens that give her an uncanny ability to attract dangerous events and nasty people into her benevolent orbit, but from infancy, she shines like a good deed in a naughty world.
Her mother, Helen, is a nice, sensible, pretty young thing, whose apparently fey character grows well in strength throughout the book, triumphing over the adversity of some unfortunate marriages, until years later, she blossoms as a prominent dress designer, hardened by the early experience of divorce from Nell's father, Clifford.
From the outset, Clifford is destined to be a celebrity, a London art dealer rapidly on the rise,...
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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 was referring to the fact that Hearts and Lives originally appeared in the British weekly magazine Woman and that it was written piece by piece for serial publication. Perhaps she believed it less "literary" than some of her other works. Perhaps she was concerned that new readers would find her too frivolous, too glib. When asked why she decided to write a serial novel, she answered that Woman had approached her agent to see whether she would write a short story for them. "Being an agent," Weldon continued, "he said 'why not one a week?' and that's how it started."
Fortunately, Hearts and Lives does not suffer from the problems of disjointedness or frivolity that worried Weldon: It is a...
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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 enormities open to enterprising operators. The story is this: Joanna May's husband Carl May, without her knowledge and with the co-operation of a Dr Holly, has imposed a novel means of reproduction on his thirty-year-old wife. An egg is removed from her womb, split into four and implanted elsewhere, and with the resulting births new versions of the original are obtained. This outrageous multiplication is supposed to have taken place in the 1950s, and it's thirty years before the prototype gets to hear about the copies. In the meantime, Carl May has divorced her for infidelity with an Egyptologist, relegated her to a house on the banks of the Thames, near Maidenhead, and dealt with the man, the culprit, by having him run over.
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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 novel, but one so truly amusing and consistently intelligent that even a guilt-ridden male chauvinist can't resist it.
The publication of even one Weldon book is a cause for celebration; this time out we are fortunate to have two, Polaris and Other Stories and Leader of the Band, a quirky, jazzy novel. Both books show us an artist who is attempting to deepen her talent, who is taking serious artistic risks.
The 12 stories that make up Polaris are widely varied in tone, ranging from lyrical, straight-ahead dramatic to almost Gothic horror. All of Ms. Weldon's familiar concerns—sex, sexual politics, the joys and agonies of family and adultery and an obsession with the horrors of...
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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, coincidence, the mandates of biology, the darker demands of society.
Weldon is like a hornet, buzzing angrily with topics, ready to be politically shrill about almost anything that comes up in the chaos of contemporary events. The more she writes, it seems, the more she wants to write. Her last two novels have come out in less than a year. In the most recent, The Cloning of Joanna May, Weldon takes up the ancient question of nature and nurture. Her villain is Carl May, who has risen, through his own talents, from a horrifying childhood—his parents kept him chained around the neck in a dog's kennel—to become head of the British nuclear power industry and a member of the Board of Directors of practically everything...
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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 a good time it. Her book is part satire, part social commentary, part comedy of manners, part fantasy, but its true charm is that it ultimately refuses to be anything but itself—which is surely welcome relief to readers who might have begun to fear that dreary minimalist clones would lurk behind every book jacket forever.
Throughout most of The Cloning of Joanna May, the fallout from Chernobyl is being blown over England. But it is emotional fallout that immediately concerns Ms. Weldon's heroine. Joanna May is the childless, sixtyish, spurned former wife of Carl May, an old-style baron of a new-style industry, nuclear power, a man who had the misfortune to spend a good deal of his childhood chained in a dog...
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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 more than a score of novels, story collections and plays, she has never let us forget the ruinous consequences of this war—the state of perpetual heartache we call Modern Life.
In her latest novel, Darcy's Utopia, Ms. Weldon introduces us to a character with a plan to end the hostilities, or at least to lessen the carnage. Eleanor Darcy, a strong-willed woman with a flair for provocation (both sexual and intellectual), finds herself an instant media sensation in England after her second husband, a high Government adviser, is jailed for misappropriation of public funds. Taking advantage of her celebrity, she consents to a series of interviews to set forth her vision of the future—the utopia of the book's title,...
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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, the sexual adventure of True Confessions and the far-fetched but somehow satisfying coincidence of a novel by Charles Dickens.
Realistic as its surface tends to be, Life Force is hardly an old-fashioned novel. Weldon's comic, self-reflective, postmodern perspective turns the whole melange into subversive social commentary.
Nora tells the story of four female friends whose lives are turned upside down by the return of their lover-in-common, Leslie Beck, now a widower whose vigor, after 20 years, is undiminished. He possesses the Life Force of the title, being endowed with astonishing sexual prowess, though his energy is "not so much of sexual desire as of sexual discontent: the urge to find...
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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 stages, from posh gatherings and day-care centers to the intimacies of bedrooms. Like so many of her fellow ironists—Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark come to mind—Ms. Weldon can lay waste the pretensions of a decade in the sketch of a single dinner party. And, like her greatest predecessor, Jane Austen, she specializes in that particularly risible comedy of errors that exists between those incompatible creatures, men and women.
In this battle, Ms. Weldon stands, as the title of one of her novels has it, Down Among the Women. Hers is a fictional world populated by women of all ages and classes: women with their lovers and babies, their friends and enemies; women who experience a full range of fears, jealousies and...
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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 a vengeance.
The book does indeed deal with Leslie Beck "The Magnificent," as he is usually known, who is a catalyst in much the same way that Ruth from Lives and Loves of a She-Devil was. "Things happen because of Leslie and his sense of energy; he is slightly unholy, lower-class, ready to take on challenges in order to mount/surmount his destiny." Leslie is remarkable because "he likes women. And women never forgot him." Weldon had described a character from an earlier novel as someone who did not "regard women as sex objects, but thought of himself as one," and the same applies to this hero. The most seductive thing he says to women is "Tell me about why you are unhappy", and this is what draws them. The...
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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 home. Weldon no doubt is laughing at this cat-and-mouse game. Her novel, after all, wants to shed light on this symbol of male power and female desire. She intends not to cover up any of the myths surrounding it, and she has a great deal of fun puncturing society's presumptions about it.
The novel follows the lives of four middle-class couples about twenty years after all four of the women had sex with Leslie Beck. Leslie has one claim to fame, his "10-inch dong," which all the women find magnificent and irresistible. As Nora, the narrator, says, "Women are too kind to men … Forever telling them that size makes no difference." Without this size, Leslie would be the sum of all his other parts, and the women recognize him as...
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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.
Why would Ruth Patchett, the eponymous protagonist, say, "I am a lady of six foot two," when she had already "had tucks taken in her legs" and was therefore only five foot eight? Grammatically speaking, we could read the subject complement "a lady of six foot two" and the dependent phrase that follows as a unit indicating that Ruth's final state is, unquestionably, an altered one. Yet I would also suggest that Weldon's use of "I am" in her protagonist's closing statement is indicative of the ontological problem the text requires the reader to confront: Exactly who, by the end of her narrative, is Ruth Patchett?
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil chronicles the process by which the ugly duckling Ruth achieves...
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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 reader's identification with the heroine as victim. After Claude, Fear of Flying, Kinflicks, The Dud Avocado—in these books, women are seduced and abandoned by various men, kicked out of hearth and home, and so forth.
Fay Weldon's latest novel, Trouble, is not only funny but extremely painful; the pain is like the pleasure to be found in scratching a mosquito bite. Perhaps her humor can be categorized as women's humor: certainly among various women acquaintances of mine many are fans, yet I have not found a man who picks up her novels for entertainment. And Trouble is entertaining, in a way that is not—at least by me—to be found in most novels that slice open and dissect the intricate patterns...
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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 up in a sort of marital Darwinism, a brutal process of natural selection in which secretaries continually usurp their boss's wives, who, in turn, often retaliate with creative forms of psychological torture. The vindictive heroine of her masterpiece The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, for instance, systematically sabotages her husband's newfound happiness with a writer of treacly romances by transforming herself through plastic surgery from a sexless frump into a voluptuous centerfold. In such bitingly satiric cautionary tales, divorce frequently proves to be an unexpected boon for the forsaken wife, who experiences both romantic and economic rebirth after being summarily dumped, as in the short story "Redundant! or the Wife's...
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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 been visited upon Fay Weldon, one of the most independent and vigorous writers of contemporary fiction, and her new novel [Affliction] chronicles the sinister takeover that wrested an amiable but credulous man from the bosom of his family and turned him into a zombie, spouting idiot-speak, and eventually into a criminal who despoils his wife and children and who is prevented from feeling a scintilla of remorse by the gurus who control his life, his property, and what remains of his brain.
But revenge is a dish best served cold, as is novel writing. In a book composed largely of dialogue and fairly bristling with rage, Fay Weldon contrives to be both brutal and indelicate, in ways which do her argument no favour. Her...
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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 never writes proper stories with plots and resolution at the end, and her characters seldom behave like real people. However, for all the tricks she plays, her books are well grounded in her own hard-earned wisdom and her sad, shrewd observation of the ways of the world.
Her new novel concerns a contemporary commonplace, an impending divorce. A woman is living alone in a London hotel while she struggles to come to terms with the fact that her husband wants to marry someone else. Lady Rice, before she married into the landed gentry, was a pop star, Angelica, rich and famous on account of a song entitled 'Kinky Virgin'. She gave away her success and her money for love; now, as her marriage disintegrates, her personality also...
(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 single-minded, self-serving capacity for revenge and vindication. None have ever been so exotic or so marvelously contrived as the multiple personality with which Ms. Weldon has endowed Angelica White in her 20th novel, Splitting.
At 17 years of age, the lovely Angelica is about to become compliant, docile, passive: she wants to be a wife, married to Sir Edwin Rice. Angelica used to be a rock-and-roll star, Kinky Virgin. Hence, she is rich, not the least of her attractions, because young Sir Edwin, who is fat and lazy and does drugs, is not. Edwin's mother died a raving drunk, but appears as a ghost at her son's wedding, still raving drunk: his mad father passes the time by knocking his own front teeth out with a rusty...
(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 written for well-intended bodies from the British Council to Teenage Trust.
The selection opens with far the longest tale, a new offering, 'End of the Line'. It concerns a redundant nuclear scientist, married of course, assailed (not unwillingly) by a beautiful New Age journalist called Weena. I shall get it out of the way and then move on to the wonderful upswings that follow and justify having this book on your bedside table. The faults of this main offering—and they are pretty relentless—are imposed, I think, on Weldon-the-writer by a massive wound she has suffered.
In order to air it yet again, she has a cast of static cartoons—even the odious Weena unseriously odious because she is a cut-out. We...
(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 seller The Life and Loves of a She-Devil calls it as she sees it—not a popular approach when dealing with our most cherished state of self-delusion, romantic love.
Alexandra Ludd is a minor actress who lives happily in the West Country of England in a historic hovel called the Cottage, along with her husband. Ned, an Ibsen scholar, their 4 year-old son, Sascha; and Diamond, an ill-tempered Labrador retriever. Worst Fears opens with the untimely death of Ned, at 49, of an apparent heart attack, suffered while Alexandra was up in London starring as Nora in A Doll's House and Ned was home alone watching a tape of Casablanca. Also apparently.
What follows is a snappy whodunit of the heart....
(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 against the illusions of these things rather than to swan along smiling and imagining that we are happy?'
It's a stringent, almost puritan, almost Old Testament code. 'When the moment of reckoning comes,' she says, 'beware'! Only Job's comforters will come knocking at the door and if you happen to be someone like Job, someone in the public eye, beware even more, for there will be no comforters at all, only a photographer from the Sun lurking in the vegetable patch.
Then must the poor widow barricade herself inside her lovely country house alone and brood on why the corpse of her marvellous husband ('She will never see his like again') was not found in bed, why her best friends were present at the...
(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 Line," she's covered with white ash (she happens to be cleaning the fireplace), and when she kisses him she leaves the ashy mark of death on his cheek. What better indicator that it's time for Defoe to bail out with the fiendishly seductive Weena Dodds, a New Age Times journalist itching to move into the manor house? Weena is certainly evil (she specializes in married men, taking pleasure in ruining their lives and leaving them begging as she moves on to greener pastures), but there comes a day when even the cleverest siren racks up one too many enemies. On the other hand, it's sometimes the man who turns out to be cold-blooded, as in "Wasted Lives," whose film-executive narrator casually dumps his Eastern European mistress the moment he...
(The entire section is 347 words.)
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 revenge on her accountant husband and his romance-novelist lover by turning their own conceits against them. Exploiting the husband's financial arrogance and his mistress's fantasy of the invincibility of love, Weldon's heroine siphons off their bank accounts, their fizzy champagne romance and, finally, their sanity.
With 21 novels and three story collections, Weldon has reigned as the champion of the discarded wife, the embryonic woman who grows up by default and becomes shrewd by suffering. Her genius is to portray all this heroic self discovery not with sermonizing but with deft satire.
In Wicked Women, Weldon's bristling new collection of stories, she broadens her targets. Attuned to the...
(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 woman whose nearly 30 books include The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. And then her glance falls on the lighthouse on the back of her new book. "That really is very phallic," she murmurs, and laughs. It was the first of many small shocks.
Her book tells the story of a small boy called Rex, who has temper tantrums and rips up his yellow and mauve party invitation. He crawls into the black under his bed and pretends to be a bear. In his fantastical dreams he is always the odd one out. But he awakes to his mother's new-found attentions and promises that the party will be fine. The language is poetic and the storyline as finely drawn as Claudio Munoz's illustrations.
The title seems not to fit, though....
(The entire section is 716 words.)
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 Masochists." Time (February 26, 1973): 91.
A review in which Maddocks discusses feminist elements in Down among the Women.
Skow, John. "Elsa Undone." Time 110, No. 8, (August 22, 1977): 72-3.
A review in which Skow finds Words of Advice superficial but a worthy summer read.
(The entire section is 161 words.)