Fay Weldon

by Franklin Birkinshaw

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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.)

D. A. N. Jones

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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.

Victoria Glendinning

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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...

(This entire section contains 384 words.)

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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.

Martin Amis

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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 significance of wealth. Rather, she sees the moneyed life as being suspended, freed from the banal contingencies of our own daily huff-and-puff. It is, as they say, no accident that the most naturalistic scene in the book is a glimpse of Victor's abandoned wife, chugging enjoyably along in middle-class obliviousness—a milieu much closer, one suspects, to Miss Weldon's natural habitat. As a result of this spry distancing, anyway, "Words of Advice" is a raffish, open-ended novel, in which all kinds of cockeyed notions, crooked parallels and unassimilated themes can be harmlessly let out to play. (pp. 13, 52)

Stylization, however, inevitably puts style under the limelight, and Weldon's prose—normally a crisp and functional performer—makes a somewhat bashful leading lady. As she aspires more and more identifiably to the wise, otherworldly manner of Muriel Spark, it becomes clear that Miss Weldon's intention is to flirt quite candidly with cliché, to let language reflect the dutifully trite ponderings of her characters. But whose clichés are they?… Naïve people often have naïve thoughts—but aren't they often vividly naïve? I suppose Miss Weldon should know, since she is ever-ready to dispense timely adages whenever the action pauses to catch its breath: "The good we do lives after us … what are good times without the bad?…"… These strides toward the lectern are curiously out of place among Miss Weldon's devil-may-care ironies, and point to larger flaws.

Cliché spreads inward from the language of the book to its heart. Cliché always does. Miss Weldon may have climbed the social scale, but she now seems absurdly remote from its lowlier representatives. Even when it is your intention to show people pathetically conditioned by their experience, you can't have dumb secretaries saying things like "I'll look it up under 'superstitions' in Occult Weekly" and "Everything can be filed. It said so in Lesson Six, Office Routine." Unsurprisingly, when Miss Weldon chooses to gouge some "real" emotion out of these mock-ups, she starkly announces that this is what she is doing—we get "real sorrow" and "real affection" within a few lines. Similarly, in a novel where the heroine is a psychosomatic cripple (all she has to do is "want" to walk, etc.) the last thing you expect, outside pulp fiction, is that she will actually get up and walk. But that's what Gemma actually does—in an attempt to join Elsa in the customary dash from the menfolk which supplies Miss Weldon with her codes. "'Run!' cries Gemma … 'You must. You must run for me and all of us.'" Social mobility should of course, be available to all but, as we've seen, it remains a risky business. (p. 52)

Martin Amis, "Prose is the Leading Lady," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 2, 1977, pp. 13, 52.

Eric Korn

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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.

Mary Hope

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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.

Amanda Heller

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"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 (copyright © 1978 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), December, 1978.


Fay Weldon Long Fiction Analysis


Weldon, Fay (Vol. 122)