Fear of Flying is one of the first novels identified with the women’s liberation movement, as the women’s movement was known in the early 1970’s. Erica Jong became famous (or infamous) as the author of fiction about sexuality, written from a woman’s perspective. She had previously published poetry that had attracted attention for its sexual themes.
Fear of Flying, published in 1973, was widely reviewed. Some critics considered the novel tasteless and even mildly pornographic, a brazen affront to a more genteel female literary tradition. Other reviewers, largely feminist women but including many men, welcomed her honest and realistic portrayals. Some reviewers even said her work taught them much about female sexuality. Jong became a celebrity, and her book became an international best seller.
Much had been written at the time the novel was released about Jong’s frank sexual vocabulary, a vocabulary that underlines her contention that women are sexual beings and are far from being sexless childlike figures. Jong was a pioneering voice in what came to be known as a women’s sexual revolution. Some have claimed that Fear of Flying is a parody of the language used by “bad-boy” writers, including Henry Miller.
In this novel, Jong introduces the phrase “zipless fu—” (a phrase that has followed her through her career and which, she has joked, may well appear on her tombstone). In this ultimate sexual experience, Jong explains, two strangers enjoy a spontaneous sexual encounter. The pleasure and excitement is mutual and beyond the realm of the “power game” that usually accompanies sex. In itself the concept is a comment on the oppressive social conditions that surround sex in society. However, the protagonist, Isadora Wing, knows that such an encounter is merely a fantasy and that a meaningful and enduring love relationship is something else entirely. Indeed the concept is mocked and undercut by the disappointments of the affair with Adrian Goodlove. Isadora is in touch with her own sexual...
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