Agate Nesaule Krouse
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...
(The entire section is 1715 words.)