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“The times were against Assia, as against Sylvia. … In those pre-Feminist days, women saw their lives in terms of being loved or not loved by a man. It was terrible to be abandoned, death was better than rejection.”—Novelist Fay Weldon, referring to the tragic suicides of Ted Hughes’ wife Sylvia Plath and his mistress Assia Wevill.
“Worst fears: That God was not good. That the earth you stood upon shifted, and chasms yawned; that people, falling, clutched one another for help and none was forthcoming. That the basis of all things was evil. That the beauty of the evening, now settling in a yellow glow on the stone of The Cottage barns, the swallows dipping and soaring, a sudden host of butterflies in the long grasses in the foreground, was a lie; a deceitful sheen on which hopeful visions flitted momentarily, and that long, long ago evil had won against good, death over life... in the glow of the sun against the stone walls, as well as in the dancing of butterflies- that in this she had been mocked.”—Fay Weldon
Fay Weldon was a pioneer in the feminist movement. But now she believes feminism has gone too far. She told a literature festival that while the sexual revolution of the sixties ended requirements for women to provide ‘sexual, childcare and cooking services’, the ‘downside’ of feminism was a new breed of women. As for feminism, Weldon said, “Life is much better, because you are not dependent on the goodwill of men. But the trouble is, the battle became too fierce, and the whole culture encouraged women to believe that men are stupid, useless creatures who are the enemy.”
P&P and Letters to Alice: Tension between context and text
Both texts engage with the tension between the author’s personal values and those of their society.How has your exploration of this connection between the texts enhanced your understanding of the values and contexts of each text?
. Both Jane Austen and Fay Weldon write against the values of their respective contexts. Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, and Weldon’s epistolary text Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen epitomise the opposing values each had to her own society, and express similar opinions on the topic of education for women; similarly each writes in a style that undermines her own form in the hopes of morally educating readers. These connections between the two texts highlight the values and contexts of each text, as well as exposing the tension between each author’s personal values and those of their society.
In Advanced English for the HSC, we have to study Pride and Prejudice in conjunction with Fay Weldon’s Letters to Alice which is a postmodern feminist book about the importance of women reading Literature like Austen to develop morally etc etc.
But the narrator, Fay, is a bit of a dick.
Like, she’s a total bitch to her niece Alice for no reason.
I’ve written up a list of reasons about why Aunt Fay needs to be less of a wanker.
Letters to Alice: Why Aunt Fay is an Idiot (Part II)
Let’s introduce Alice as a character. Not Alice as in Fay’s niece, but Alice as Alice.
· She’s eighteen – our age.
· She dyed her hair because dying your hair is fun and she felt like it get over it you’re such a drag bet your mum dresses you.
· She believes in equal rights for women, but she wasn’t old enough to wear bras to burn during the previous decade.*
· She wants to write a book.
· She’s got a boyfriend, and he’s pretty cool and stuff. They hate Maggie Thatcher together.
· She’s doing a course in English Literature.
· Her parents are very conservative, and they probably think a degree in English Lit will be a good backbone for the workforce or something like that.
· She has to read a heap of Austen for her course, and conveniently she doesn’t want to because it’s dull and out-dated in her eyes.^
· She writes to her mad, literary auntie for advice on literature, and in return receives an unasked, syllabus-worthy book of deeply intellectual word vomit that all goes straight over her head.
· She fails her English Literature course.
· She becomes a bestselling author, but her auntie tells her that the book isn’t Literature.
· Aunt Fay stops sending her letters, hopefully because Alice told her where she could get off.
* This is somehow a bad thing to Aunt ‘you’re only a feminist if you’ve covered yourself in mud and cried Virginia Woolf’s weight in tears’ Fay.
^ Most of us were more than happy – excited even – the read Austen. If Alice had been the same, her auntie wouldn’t have sneezed out that book.
READ OH MY GOD ALICE YOU MUST READ OR YOU’ RE EMOTIONALLY DUMB LOLOLOLOLOL
FEMINISM IS PRETTY RADICAL I GET ALL THE SUPPORT I NEED FROM FEMINISM I HAVE NO NEED OF YOU, BRA!
OH MY GOSH ALICE YOU’RE SO CONSERVATIVE HERE EAT MY WORDS MMMMM TASTES OF HYPOCRISY AND 1980s FEMINIST BACKLASH
YOU’RE RUBBISH ALICE AND SO’S YOUR WRITING
PROBS BECAUSE YOUR DAD’S A WIENER
I AM THE MODERN DAY AUSTEN
It’s very self-righteous; Fay’s relentless outpourings of “moral development is necessary” reinforce her absence of faith in Alice, which shows a lack of empathy. So perhaps she hasn’t read as much Capital L Literature as she’s made out to have. She may even have read some Capital M Magazines, and possibly a Capital N Newspaper to learn more about the Capital W World in her Capital Nine 1980s context.
Here is what I believe Alice’s initial letter to Aunt Fay would have been:
Dear Aunt Fay,
It has been quite a while since we last spoke – how’s everything going? Is Australia nice? I hear the weather down there is perfect every day, which I guess makes up for the fact that every creature wants to kill you.
I was actually hoping you could give me some advice – I have invested in an English Literature course for university, and have subsequently doomed myself to a year of reading Jane Austen. I’m five chapters into P&P, and find myself wanting to injure the greater percentage of the vapid characters that mope about the place; to add to that, I honestly do not understand why we should have to read something so out-dated and dull.
Please tell me how to make this course survivable, because otherwise I may end up crying in the foetal position on my dorm floor during finals week.
In response, Alice got a book of condescension telling her to grow up and that her bestselling book was a pile of Stephenie Meyer. And then Aunt Fay published the book to make herself seem smarter. ALL SHE WANTED WAS SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO READ AUSTEN, GOSH AUNT FAY YOU’RE SO TACTLESS.
A conversation between Weldon and Austen (with a little poetic license)
Weldon: And that’s why I burnt my favourite bra.
Austen: I’m sorry, but I do not quite understand what relevance that story had to my question.
W: What question’s that?
A: Do you have the time?
W: What? No! I don’t adhere to the normal perception of time, I am Fay Weldon, I am a woman!
A: But women need some kind of order, and structure. All people do.
W: Sorry, what did you say your name was?
A: I am not sure I did introduce myself. My name is Jane, but I would prefer it if you addressed me as Miss Austen.
W: Wait. Jane Austen?
W: The writer?
W: OH MY GOD I AM YOUR BIGGEST FAN OKAY OKAY CAN I HAVE AN AUTOGRAPH NO WAIT alright you basically taught me everything about how women should be treated, your books are just an inspiration, they really are.
A: Thankyou. I appreciate your comments. But what do you mean when you say I inspired your opinions on women? From what I’ve heard your unorthodox approach to society hinders your ability to function properly.
W: What are you insinuating?
A: Your insistence at asserting your standing in society through elaborate metaphor and impossible circumstance does nothing for your true abilities as a person. Women are far better off asserting themselves through their actions than through direct accusations that only mar their reputation.
W: Look, you demented harpy, I don’t know what’s happened to the Austen I analysed by myself because I don’t like traditional education systems, but you are most certainly not her. I grew up in the seventies. My niece has green hair. I’m hip. Women shouldn’t passively assert their abilities! Women need encouragement through writings such as yours or mine to take a leap of faith and really show those callous men who’s boss.
A: Neither men nor women are ‘boss’. Decisions should be based on rational thought which is attained through experience –not on which gender you fall under.
W: So experience is how women learn, is that what you think?
A: Experience and a rich education.
W: Ha! Education schmeducation. My niece got a ‘proper education’ at a ‘fancy university’ that ‘accepted her without questioning her sanity’ – and look where that got her! She wrote a stupid book that doesn’t enlighten. It doesn’t even use a city as a metaphor.
A: My work was originally written as entertainment, Miss Weldon. Keep in mind that only through the amusing and preposterous characters could I-
W: How dare you address me as ‘Miss’ Weldon. Do I look like someone who relies on conventional titles? I will be known only as Fay.
A: If, Miss Weldon, you cannot answer a simple question without criticising the constructs of another’s opinions, I do not feel we can converse any longer.
W: Wait, no! I love you!
A: So tell me, Fay, have you learned from this experience?
A: And thus I rest my case. Education through experience reaches even the most difficult of women. Notwithstanding that obviously you have learned little of the nuances of polite society through my Literature with its Capital L.
W: I guess. Well, I’ll leave now before this conversation gets any more meta (looks to audience and winks).
A: As shall I.