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.