Fay Weldon

by Franklin Birkinshaw

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Weldon, Fay (Vol. 6)

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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...

(This entire section contains 1252 words.)

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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. 19)


Weldon, Fay (Vol. 9)