Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 398
The reported facts of Fay Weldon’s biography vary among sources, apparently depending on Weldon’s motive in providing the information. Her life story echoes a theme of her fiction—the power of and extent to which women can re-create themselves as a form of control over their lives. Despite the uncertainties, most sources agree on a few facts about Weldon’s life.
Fay Weldon was born in 1931 in the village of Alvechurch in Worcestershire, England, and was named Franklin Birkinshaw, a name apparently selected by her mother based on numerology. The family moved to New Zealand while Weldon was young, and her parents divorced when she was five years old. Weldon has claimed that living in New Zealand allowed her to experience a less class-conscious society than England’s, an experience that has influenced her thinking and her writing. Because of her parents’ divorce, she grew up surrounded by women: Her mother, grandmother, and sister made up the rest of the household. Weldon has said that she was around men so little until she went to college that she did not realize that most of the world was not run by women. The focus on communities of women is clear in her drama. Weldon grew up in a family of writers. Her mother wrote fiction under the pen name Pearl Bellairs; her grandfather wrote articles for Vanity Fair and published adventure novels. She was a voracious reader from childhood.
Weldon moved to London with her mother when she was a teenager. After high school, she attended St. Andrews University in Scotland, where she claims she was admitted and allowed to study economics only because the administration thought she was a man because of her name. After graduation, she returned to, London where she held various writing jobs, married briefly, and gave birth to a son. Whether the son was born before or during the marriage is uncertain based on various biographical accounts. Weldon’s experience as a single mother supporting herself and her child through low-paying jobs influenced her politics and her later writing.
In the early 1960’s, she married Ronald Weldon, with whom she had three sons. After working as an advertising copywriter, she began publishing plays and novels in the mid-1960’s. Weldon separated from Ronald Weldon in the late 1970’s; he died during their divorce proceedings, and Weldon married Nicholas Fox in the 1990’s.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 284
No doubt Fay Weldon’s life has influenced her work, which often contains autobiographical elements. Her characteristic subjects—the lives of contemporary women and relations between women and men—reflect the extremes of her early life, spent almost exclusively among females, and her adult life, spent mostly in the company of males.
Born Franklin Birkinshaw, Weldon grew up in Britain and New Zealand, where her parents emigrated when she was an infant and then divorced when she was six. When Weldon was fourteen, her mother took her and her sister back to London, where they lived in an all-female household with her grandmother. There, Weldon attended Hampstead High, a girls’ school. In 1949 Weldon received a scholarship to attend Scotland’s coeducational St. Andrews University, from which she received an M.A. in economics and psychology in 1952. By 1955 she had had a child (Nicholas) and was struggling to earn a living. Her assortment of jobs included writing propaganda for the British Foreign Office and later writing copy for advertising firms, a career in which she gradually moved up and prospered. She also visited a psychoanalyst, which suggested the scene for a number of her stories.
In 1960 she married Ronald Weldon, an antiques dealer, and became a suburban wife and mother in Primrose Hill, outside London. The Weldons had three sons, Daniel (1963), Thomas (1970), and Samuel (1977). The last pregnancy, when Weldon was forty-six, was difficult, and she thought she might die. The Weldons had moved to beautiful but distant Somerset in 1976, to an old country house where Weldon felt isolated—another familiar scene in some of her stories. Eventually the marriage broke up, and Weldon returned to London to preside as the literary lioness she had become.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
Fay Weldon was born Franklin Birkinshaw in the village of Alvechurch, England, in 1931. Her mother, who wrote under the name Pearl Bellairs, her maternal grandfather, Edwin Jepson, and one of her uncles were all novelists. While still a child, Weldon emigrated with her family to New Zealand, where her father worked as a doctor. When she was six years old, her parents divorced, and Weldon eventually returned to England with her mother and sister to live with her grandmother. This experience of being reared by a single mother in an era that did not easily accommodate single-parent families gave Weldon early insight into the lot of women living beyond the pale of the nuclear family; she was able to observe, at first hand, both the trials women faced and the importance of family and of humor in overcoming these difficulties.
In 1949, Weldon earned a scholarship to St. Andrews University in Scotland, and in 1952 she graduated with an M.A. in economics and psychology. Her first marriage, to Ronald Bateman, a man twenty years her senior, lasted less than two years, leaving her to support her son, Nicholas, as a single mother. She drifted through a series of jobs involving writing of various sorts: writing propaganda for the Foreign Office, answering problem letters for a newspaper, and, finally, composing advertising copy. In this last career she was quite successful, producing many jingles and slogans—a few of which stuck in the memory beyond their use in specific campaigns—and honing her talent for concision, wit, and catchy, memorable phrasing.
In 1960, she married Ronald Weldon, a London antiques dealer; they settled in a North London suburb, where they had three children: Daniel (born 1963), Thomas (born 1970), and Samuel (born 1977). Beginning in the mid-1960’s, Weldon combined professional and family responsibilities with a burgeoning career as a writer. Her first efforts were directed toward writing plays. Her one-act play Permanence was produced in London in 1969 and was followed by many successes. For British television, Weldon wrote more than fifty screenplays, including an award-winning episode of the series Upstairs, Downstairs. Writing for television led to fiction: Weldon’s first novel, The Fat Woman’s Joke, in 1967, began life as a television play. Her third novel, Female Friends, solidified her reputation, and Weldon quit her job in advertising. She earned further acclaim for Praxis and The President’s Child, but The Life and Loves of a She-Devil proved a breakthrough work, introducing her work to a mass audience when it was made into a motion picture, She-Devil (1989), starring Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr.
Her eventual divorce from Ronald Weldon in 1994 caused a certain amount of bitterness, which she expressed in some of her subsequent fiction. She later married poet Nicholas Fox; they lived briefly in Hampstead before moving to Shaftesbury in Dorset. Weldon seemed to mellow after her marriage to Fox, and she experienced something of an existential break when she had a vision of “the gates of paradise” (or possibly Hell) during a near-death experience suffered in 2005 when an allergic reaction caused her heart to stop. Even though the gates in question seemed hideously tacky and vulgar, she subsequently had herself baptized after being a committed atheist for most of her life. She had already begun to suggest in both her fiction and her nonfiction that she had recanted some of her earlier views, although she sacrificed none of her acerbic sarcasm in making the point. Her widely quoted opinion that men had gotten a rough deal as a result of the advancement of feminism seemed to some of her former admirers a particularly painful item of moral treason. Her combative “advice book,” What Makes Women Happy—a title that suggests, perhaps presumptuously, that she now knows the answer—argues that the apparent reply is sex, chocolate, and shopping but that slightly deeper analysis would suggest a more refined alliterative triad of family, friends, and food.
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