Zoë (Ann) Fairbairns Victoria Glendinning - Essay

Victoria Glendinning

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Benefits] is a feminist novel: it is about the women. It is complex and ambitious, and in some of its aspects has nothing to do with imaginative literature. It is a short novel that is remembered as a long one, because it is jampacked and because it covers a period of thirty years from 1976—ie it is a projection of what could happen to women, and therefore to all society, in the immediate future…. In Benefits, the intimacy of personal stories meshes grindingly with the exposition of ideas. But for all that it should be read.

The central theme emerges only gradually from dialectic, incident, reports of legislation and robust cinematic set-pieces…. Nearly every female type, the home-maker, the uncommitted, the lesbian, the bisexual, the power-hungry, the good, the bad, the boring and the mad, are represented in the course of this thirty years' war; you could make this book mean what you want it to, since everyone can find her own position stated, and without irony, by somebody.

But what it begins to be about—and was about all along, one realises—is the attitude of women to childbearing. Not to be allowed to have a baby is as monstrous as not being allowed to prevent one. The 'Benefit' of the title is the state wage paid to women who have children—a social measure many would now be in favour of. But the post-1984 government find they can control the population by denying Benefit to women...

(The entire section is 439 words.)