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The constructions of Fay Weldon, woman of letters
h [electronic resource] /
by Harriet Blymiller.
[Tampa, Fla] :
b University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: Contemporary British novelist Fay Weldon negotiates the postmodern "culture industry" as the self-conscious heir to a traditon of women writers dating back to the Middle Ages. Like her predecessors, Weldon defensively and offensively negotiates ideological constructions of womanhood, including injunctions to chastity, modesty, and silence; prohibitions against formal education for women; disdain for the literary production and commercial success of women writers; and the application of double standards in the critical reception of their works. Modernizing the strategies traditionally deployed by women writers, Weldon engages with the advertising industry and the mass-oriented literature of radio and television, using them to construct a career and a public identity for herself while advancing an alternative history of women in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. She exploits the distinctions between high culture, popular culture and mass culture in order to provoke critical reflection; partly for this reason, her work deliberately resists academic criticism. The novels Praxis, Puffball, The Cloning of Joanna May, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, and The Bulgari Connection explore the phenomenon Walter Benjamin described as the nullification of "aura" in the age of mechanical reproduction; they interrogate the connections between several kinds of reproduction associated with human gestation, women's bodies and social identities, and language and literature. Weldon's interrogative fictions experiment with the novel form, and their reception has been mixed, often splitting along gender lines. Feminists have not always embraced Weldon because she questions everything. Because her prolific output is ongoing, Weldon's achievement as Woman of Letters cannot yet be fully assessed.
Dissertation (Ph. D.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic dissertation) in PDF format.
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Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 160 pages.
Adviser: Elizabeth A. Hirsh, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
The Constructions of Fay Weldon, Woman of Letters by Harriet Blymiller A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Elizabeth A. Hirsh, Ph.D. John H. Fleming, Ph.D. Marilyn Myerson, Ph.D. Pat Rogers, Ph.D. Date of Approval: March 28, 2007 Keywords: British literature, culture industry, Fay Weldon, feminism, mass culture Copyright 2007, Harriet Blymiller
Dedication To Leila Pearl Â“They cainÂ’t take Â‘at away from me.Â” And to Uncle Jerry, my olÂ’ UncaÂ’ Pooge, from your professional student. Â“YouÂ’ll get it.Â” I wish I could have finished before you had to go. To Claire and Michael With all good hope for the future.
Acknowledgments Thank you, committee members. Pat Rogers, for introducing me to Fay when I really needed her. John Fleming, for taking on my dissertation and me, sight unseen. Marilyn Myerson, for your kind, generous, and inspirational feminist practice. Bets y Hirsh, for your brilliant and demanding advising, your generous sharing of ideas. I knew youÂ’d make me do a good job. To kith, kin, and colleagues, thank you for your always-positive support. To Fay, like others of your readers, IÂ’m struck by Â“morality tends to be w hat you can afford.Â” I too thank you for being able to afford to share so much of yourself w ith us. To my True Believer, Bill, who brought the music into my life. IÂ’d never have begun, persevered, or finished without you. Now you can stop keying and start playin g again!
i Table of Contents Abstract iii Chapter 1: The Woman of Letters and the Cultural Construction of Womanhood 1 Introduction: The Ties that Bind 1 Strategies of Cultural Negotiation 3 Secrecy: Anonymity and Pseudonymity 7 Splitting Consciousness: Distancing Self from Work 11 Concealing or Revealing Sexuality 13 Autodidacticism 19 Forming Literature from Personal ExperienceÂ—Alternate Paths 21 Offensive Strategies by Exceptional Women 24 High Productivity 29 Conclusion 31 Chapter 2: Fay WeldonÂ’s Self Constructions as Woman Writer 35 Introduction 35 Negotiating the Cultures 37 Literary Antecedents 45 Education and Autodidacticism 48 Doing and Writing in the Workforce 49 Offensive Strategy by an Exceptional Woman 53 Splitting Consciousness: Distancing Self from Work 54 Concealing and Revealing Sexuality 55 High Productivity 57 Forming Literature From Personal ExperienceÂ—Alternate Paths 59 Offensive Novel Strategies 63 Conclusion 66 Chapter 3: Critical Constructions of Fay Weldon as Woman Writer 70 Introduction 70 Readerly Constructions 73 Construction of a Woman WriterÂ’s Life 77 Difficulties of Critical Construction of the New Woman of Letters 81 Ahead of Her Time 85 Television Literature 86 Negotiating Cultural Adaptations 89 Literary Criticism 92 Non-Feminist Critical Constructions 98
ii Serious Humor 101 Conclusion 104 Chapter 4: Reproduction in Fay WeldonÂ’s Fictions 106 Introduction 106 Puffball 108 Praxis 114 The Cloning of Joanna May 119 The Life and Loves of a She Devil 123 The Bulgari Connection : A Brouhaha 129 Conclusion 139 Afterword 141 Bibliography 147
iii The Constructions of Fay Weldon, Woman of Letters Harriet Blymiller ABSTRACT Contemporary British novelist Fay Weldon negotiates the postmodern "culture industry" as the self-conscious heir to a tradition of women writers dating back t o the Middle Ages. Like her predecessors, Weldon defensively and offensively negotia tes ideological constructions of womanhood, including injunctions to chastity, modesty, and silence; prohibitions against formal education for women; disdain for the literar y production and commercial success of women writers; and the application of double standards in the critical reception of their works. Modernizing the strategie s traditionally deployed by women writers, Weldon engages with the advertising industry and the m assoriented literature of radio and television, using them to construct a career and a publ ic identity for herself while advancing an alternative history of women in the t wentieth and early twenty-first century. She exploits the distinctions between high cultur e, popular culture, and mass culture in order to provoke critical reflection; partly for this r eason, her work deliberately resists academic criticism. The novels Praxis Puffball The Cloning of Joanna May The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, and The Bulgari Connection explore the phenomenon Walter Benjamin described as the nullification of "aura" in the age of mechanical reproduction; they interrogate the connections between several kinds of reproduction associated with human gestation, womenÂ’s bodies and social identities, a nd language and literature. Weldon's interrogative fictions experiment wi th the novel form,
iv and their reception has been mixed, often splitting along gender lines. Feminists ha ve not always embraced Weldon because she questions everything. Because her proli fic output is ongoing, Weldon's achievement as Woman of Letters cannot yet be fully ass essed.
1 Chapter 1: The Woman of Letters and the Cultural Construction of Womanhood Introduction: The Ties that Bind Till some household cares me tie, My books and pen I will apply Â—Isabella Whitney Placing the constructions of Fay Weldon (1933) among those of her predecessors is the purpose of this research. As a woman writer and public intel lectual, Weldon has consciously constructed her career, but despite her knowledge of postmodern, media-dominated culture, certain views of women that plagued her literar y foremothers have also plagued her conditions of production and reception. 1 Weldon came of age as a writer during the second wave of the WomenÂ’s Movement; her earl y novels privilege the lives of women without adhering to any one feminist party line. Increasingly foregrounded in WeldonÂ’s later novels is human life restricted by the institutionalized constructs of late capitalism. WeldonÂ’s critique of modernity reiterates fictionally the theories of certain philosophers of the Frankfurt school: Max Horkhei mer and Theodor Adorno theorize a culture industry with the purpose of forming citizen-consumers; Walter Benjamin theorizes that mechanical reproduction enervate s culture with its inexpensive copies of works of art. Weldon works within these theories to 1 Conditions of production are defined as the releva nt context out of which the text was produced, incl uding social and cultural history, the authorÂ’s biography and experience, the literary climate, and any spec ial circumstances relating to the writing of the work. Conditions of reception are the conditions under w hich the work was originally and is contemporarily read.
2 interrogate and exploit the culture industry. In so doing, she has in some feature s of her career and literary production pushed beyond the accomplishments of her predecess ors, whose conditions of production and reception must be established for comparison. A web-like complexity has existed from the Middle Ages to the present among the self-constructions of the British woman of letters, the conditions of economic production, the culture industry, and the practice of literature. In a society whe re men controlled public language and the conditions and means of production, literary production and intellectual pursuits were identified with men. The intellectual wom an of letters was nonexistent, invisible, or dispensable. Regardless of her genius or artistry, she was foremost a woman, the sex, passive receptor, virgin, (potential) mother, Madonna, angel (in the house), whore, and inferior beingÂ—physically, morally, psychologica lly, and intellectually. By the very act of writing, but especially by writi ng or speaking publicly, the womanÂ—no matter the direction of her intellectual pursuitsÂ—dragged wi th her the baggage of contemporary constructions of womanhood and thus provoked myriad negative reactions. Society had particular, sometimes peculiar, requirement s for the woman of letters, often conflating judgment of her personal life with the forms themes, reception, and ongoing critical evaluation of her literary production and public voice Â— this held true even into the late twentieth century when Fay Weldon emerged as a professional woman writer, and later, a woman of letters. To place Weldon among her predecessors the figure of the British woman of letters must be defined both operationally and historically. The term Â“woman of lettersÂ” is used here to mean a professional (i.e., paid) woman writer who has attained the stature of a public intellectual. A woman of letters participates actively in public i ntellectual
3 forums, speaking and writing through various media to interpret, influence, and contribute to contemporary culture. She may be a professional critic, scholar, or f iction writer (e.g., novelist, playwright, or poet) whose work has gained public accla imÂ—or notorietyÂ—and who has used that opportunity to engage openly and publicly in intellectual discourse. As for historical definition, too much recuperative work has been accomplished in literature by women to do other than select samplings from lit erary history, both representative and illustrative, for analysis of Fay WeldonÂ’s c areer. Thus to place Weldon among her antecedents, this research relies on the works of respect ed, late twentieth-century literary historians and critics: Sandra Gilbert, Susan G ubar, Mary Poovey, Elaine Showalter, Dale Spender, and Jane Spencer, among others. The most distressing finding of my research for this project is the historical pauci ty of womenÂ’s knowledge of one anotherÂ’s work. This situation has negatively affected the emergenc e of many British women writers, Fay Weldon included, and it has repeatedly inter rupted the overall advance of literature by women. This chapter explores the conditions of literary production and reception as well as certain strategies of negotiation adopted by British woman writers bef ore Fay Weldon. The chapter will also briefly summarize how those same conditions and strategie s have affected WeldonÂ’s career; Chapter 2 will elucidate the effects of those condi tions and strategies in some detail. Strategies of Cultural Negotiation British literature during the Middle Ages and early modern period was gen erally constructed by court and Church. These institutions discouraged composition by women, but after the rapid spread of print technologies, the growth of the middle classes, and the
4 burgeoning of capitalism, it slowly, often painfully, became possible, and sometim es necessary, for women to compose and market literary works. This centuries-long process entailed mixed and changing circumstances in which women enlarged their liter ary and intellectual endeavors. In fits and starts, more women gradually succeeded in wielding a pen to earn a living; as a crucial adjunct, many also developed business negotiation s kills. Some, tiring of efforts to share literature equitably with men, eventually be gan constructing literary spaceÂ—only a room perhapsÂ—clearly their own. Partial and intermittent as the contributions of Mary Wollstonecraft, George Eliot, Virgini a Woolf, and Rebecca West may have been, they eventually fostered an intellectual, lite rary tradition for and by women. Indeed, in the late 1960s, many intellectual women, writing in a wide range of disciplines and genres, entered into a great project of locating a nd recuperating the published and unpublished works and lives of their lost literary foremothers. Much brilliant critical work has been done in the last forty years to (re)locate women writersÂ—their personal lives, public careers, literar y production. The emergence of the professional woman writer who openly sought monetary reward, publication, and the fame that may follow is often dated from the later seventeenth century. But from the earliest days of womenÂ’s writing, it has bee n Â“womenÂ’s workÂ” to negotiate methods of infiltrating the phallologocentric wor ld of pen(is) and ink. Since women have been seen as physically, spiritually, and intelle ctually inferiorÂ—a construction in part enforced by barring them from formal education Â—a woman taking up the pen flouted Â“received notions of womanhoodÂ” and invaded territory reserved exclusively for men (Spencer x). However, the issues women faced a fter the seventeenth century, and their strategies in dealing with those issues, are disma yingly
5 akin to those faced by women writing during the Middle Ages and early modern period. Further, such historical similarities reveal the lack of continuity in womenÂ’ s literary tradition that has been lamented by manyÂ— Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Vir ginia Woolf among them. While writers after the twentieth century may suffer from an anxiety of influence, as Gilbert and Gubar suggest in No ManÂ’s Land (1:167), worse for many British women writers has been the anxiety of no influence. In the groundbreaking A Literature of Their Own (1977), Elaine Showalter analyzes the emergence of the professional woman writer, that is, a woman who w rites for remunerated publicationÂ—fame and fortune. At first, Showalter theorizes, professional women writers imitate and internalize not only the prevailing conve ntions but also the prevailing artistic standards and social ideologies. Eventually t he writers come to protest these conventions, declare their independence, and claim autonomy. Finally, Showalter says, they turn inward from rebellion, away from Â“the depe ndency of opposition,Â” and initiate the search for self-defined individuality (12-13). For women of letters as defined here, a fourth phase of professionalization must be added: ente ring a sphere of shared intellect with the assumption of the role of public intellectual, spe aking for and to society in a range of media. Even with the addition of this fourth phase, however, ShowalterÂ’s point that the phases may not occur in chronological order still obtains. Showalter cites Â“per iods of crisis when a shift of literary values occurredÂ” (13). To ShowalterÂ’s focus on l iterary values must be added shifts in the ideology of womanhood: what it means to be a woman during a certain period of time dictates what social role(s) a woman may acc eptably claim at that time. The four phases, then, often recur or overlap, sometimes within a woma nÂ’s
6 career, according to shifts in literary values, contemporary definitions of w omanhood, and individual experiences of living at a particular time. However, while such a progression of career phases may be loosely applicable to women, even the starting point, imitation, is problematic, for they were general ly barred from the institutionalized venues of literature and the tools its of production. Well i nto the twentieth century, women had to imitate or protest prevailing standards in intellectual pursuits because of double standards in education, politics, law, and finance. At the same time, women persisted in writing and speaking as they could, often prolifically Thus, the definitions Showalter terms phases can also be viewed nondevelopmentally as strategies of negotiation that British women of letters used in different ways for 900 years. Therefore, despite this chapterÂ’s historical content, its general organi zation will be not chronological but analytical, discussing methods of negotiation used by women writ ers and intellectuals. These methods concern six identifiable issues: the secrec y surrounding their writings, the split consciousness they developed, their lack of institutiona lized educational opportunity leading to auto-didacticism, the literature they create d from personal experience, some offensive strategies by exceptional women, and thei r high productivity. I discuss each of these in turn for the remainder of this chapter Despite early discouragement and the anxiety of no (or little) influence, Bri tish women have persisted in writing for centuries, using various defensiveÂ—and occasiona lly offensiveÂ—methods of negotiating the phallologocentric world in order to construc t themselves as women of letters in a largely misogynisticÂ—occasionally philogynisticÂ— literary field.
7 Secrecy: Anonymity and Pseudonymity The safety of secrecy . Create a space for myself . Secrecy is power Â—A-man-da Cross A persistent defensive negotiation adopted by literary women is secrecy. Secr ecy took many forms with often unfortunate results, but as Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) pointed out in 1929, male-dominated society valued the chastity of women, seeking to control human reproduction in order to preserve ownership of the grounds of production. To effect control, men (and women) guarded certain sitesÂ—the female body (chas tity) and the female public voice: education, reading, writing, and publication were seen by male-dominated society as endangering chastity and thus the grounds of production. Women wrote secretly or discretely to avoid upsetting the familial and/or soci al order and, reflexively, themselves. As Woolf famously remarked, Â“I would venture to gue ss that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a womanÂ” ( Room 49). Indeed into the late eighteenth century, having no room of her own, Jane Austen (1775-1817) wrote discreetly in the common sitting room, taking care to conceal her manuscript under a blotter when others entered. She published anonymously, and for little pay, novels that have been compared in literary excellence to Shakespe areÂ’s writing. Her contemporary Fanny Burney (1776-1828) wrote secretly at night, and published anonymously or refrained from having her comedies performed because of her fath erÂ’s objections. In the latter twentieth century, Fay Weldon composed in longhand because the noise of a typewriter disturbed her husband; she wrote while pretending to read or sitting out of sight on the stairs. Arising before the rest of the family, Weld on composed crouched on the kitchen floor by the coal stove. Although Weldon did not publish anonymously, she downplayed her work in the interests of marital harmony. At a dinn er
8 party Fay and Ron Weldon attended in the early 1970s, the hosts insisted on viewing the pilot episode of Upstairs Downstairs Ron reacted to the Â“trashy, popular, down-marketÂ” program with fury while Fay sat in Â“apologetic discomfitureÂ” ( Mantrapped 213). To preserve marital peace, Weldon disabled the family television set when the Life and Loves of a She-Devil aired in 1986. Woolf observed that women had viewed anonymity as a Â“refugeÂ” to be sought as Â“a relic of the sense of chastity that dictated anonymity to women even so lat e as the nineteenth centuryÂ” ( Room 50). Although the use of Â“Mrs.Â” and substituting the husbandÂ’s first name for the wifeÂ’s was a widespread social practice, ce rtainly not limited to authorship, Gilbert and Gubar assert that some Victorians Â“established their allegiance to marital respectability by acquiescing in the couvertureÂ”: Mrs. Gaske ll (1810-1865), Mrs. Braddon (1835-1915), Mrs. Oliphant (1828-1897), and Mrs. Humphrey Ward (1851-1920) (1: 241). Although Fay Weldon did not sign herself professionally as Mrs. Ronald Weldon, she seemed to acquiesce in couverture by maintaining a seemingly conventional home with her husband and children in a north London suburb. She was assumed to maintain a conservative, antifeminist viewpoint. In the late twentieth century, Carolyn Heilbrun speculates revealingly that the practice of anonymous reviews at the Times Literary Supplement enhanced Virginia WoolfÂ’s comfort: Â“[Woolf] must have liked the anonymous role at first; anonymit y eases womenÂ’s pains, alleviates the anxiety about the appropriateness of genderÂ” ( Writing 40). HeilbrunÂ’s 1988 speculation may reveal more about her own attitude than about WoolfÂ’s; however, that a late twentieth-century woman of letters would so speculate it self adds to the evidence of anonymity as a refuge. Moreover, womenÂ’s supposed lack of intelle ctual
9 and literary abilities became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy when re viewers knew the writer to be a woman. To make it more likely their work would be accepted for publication and to earn a living, women writers used either patently male pseudonym s or androgynous pseudonyms. Charlotte Bront (1816-1855) thus justifies the androgynous choice of names by herself and her sisters in the Â“Biographical Notice of Ell is and Acton Bell,Â” which preceded the 1850 preface to Wuthering Heights : Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; . we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise. (viii-ix) Despite the Â“dream of one day becoming authorsÂ” (C. Bront viii), in such isolated situations as that of the Bront sisters, women writers were unlikely to become women of letters as defined here. As Gilbert and Gubar note in Volume I of No ManÂ’s Land, eventually Â“the womanÂ’s pseudonym began to function more prominently as a name of power, the mark of a private christening into a second self, a rebirth into linguistic primacyÂ” (241). In other words, the defensive strategy may transform itself into an offensive on e. Gilbert and Gubar cite the example of Olive Schreiner (1855-1920), a British woman of lett ers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her husband, Samuel Cron Cronwright, a lawyer and a member of the Cape Colony Parliament, adopted her surna me Schreiner as his own to honor her wishes. Beyond that, Schreiner published her most popular and best remembered work, The Story of an African Farm (1883), under the
10 given name Ralph to honor Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the surname Iron Â“as a signifier of an invulnerable new spirit achieved in the forge of changeÂ” (241). Although Fay Weldon did not adopt a pen name, her given name of Franklin, by concealing her gender, bestowed upon her the linguistic primacy that empowered her to study economics at the University of St. Andrews. 2 Late into the twentieth century, the concepts of chastity and modesty overdetermined womenÂ’s literary production. In Writing a WomanÂ’s Life (1988), Carolyn Heilbrun (1926-2003) confesses that she wrote detective novels, or formula fiction, under the female pseudonym Amanda Cross because Â“abandoning oneÂ’s womanhood fictionally meant exposing oneself to terrible accusations and suspicions, far too risky for one working as hard as I was to maintain a proper wife, mother, role-playing maskÂ” ( 115). As Heilbrun notes, during the 1950s and 1960s, Â“one did not create detectives . wholly without sexual thoughts or experience,Â” so HeilbrunÂ’s pseudonym enabled her to participate in a literary form that would otherwise have compromised her per sonal reputation. Heilbrun also recalls writing under a pseudonym as an offensive st rategy: Â“As I now perceive, the secrecy itself was wonderfully attractiveÂ” (116) Like Heilbrun, Weldon has been attracted to secrecy for the immunity it seemed to bestow. For over thirty years she felt impelled to conceal or obfuscate from public view certai n facts of her life, especially those concerning sexual activity and the birth of her firs t child. 2 This assertion I viewed askance until 2005. Then t he furor broke over Harvard President Lawrence H. SummersÂ’ speech explaining low numbers of women in science careers according to gender differences in mathematical ability and womenÂ’s hesitation to comb ine family life with a demanding professional life. Subsequently, Stanford University professor Myra H. Strober wrote an article that recalled her 1960s interview with a prominent Harvard professor to dis cuss studying for a doctorate in economics. The professor asked first if she were Â“normalÂ” and then since she was married, why she would want a doctorate. Harvard rejected her for the doctoral p rogram in economics. (Â“Can Harvard Ever Plan a Positive Role for Women in Higher Education?Â” Chronicle of Higher Education 4 Feb. 2005 B14.)
11 Splitting Consciousness: Distancing Self from Work Capturing hidden lives is indeed an admirable quest, as Woolf articulated so clearly, but internalizing hiddenness and anonymity can have disastrous results Â—anger, rage, despair. For instance in Daniel Deronda (1876), George Eliot (1819-1880) protests: Â“You can never imagine what it is to have a manÂ’s force of genius in you, and yet to suffer the slavery of being a girl. To have a pattern cut out . a womanÂ’s he art must be of such a size and no larger, else it must be pressed small, like Chinese fee tÂ” (573). As late as 1929, Rebecca West (1892-1983) was criticizing women novelists for Â“their tendency to be what the public thinks they should be instead of being true to themselvesÂ” (Â“WestÂ”). In WeldonÂ’s case, this situation first manifested itself through technology. D uring her early career in television advertising, she assumed that only knowledge of the new technologies, which seemed to belong only to men, privileged one to write television scripts. Later, WeldonÂ’s novel writing nearly succumbed to male criticism ba sed on modernist principles and disdain for stories of domesticity. Secret and secret ive conditions of production forced by social mores often resulted in women writersÂ’ isolation, hunger for intellectual stimulation, resentment, anger, and feelings of Â“storylessness,Â” as well as a literary tradition truncated repeatedl y into the twentieth century. Weldon experienced these feelings acutely during her ill-advised m arriage of convenience to Ronald Bateman. After an early screenplay and novel were rejected, s he felt intellectually suffocated as a stay-at-home, suburban mother and fled t he marriage despite its economic advantages.
12 The most ambiguous result of secrecy is the concealment and repression of one self; this serves as both a strategy for overcoming confinement within a si ngle, narrow story and a symptom of a sort of illness of split consciousness. For instance, Â“When Matthew Arnold disliked Villette [C. Bront, 1853] because it was so full of hunger, rebellion, rage, he was at the same time identifying its strengths, but these were unbearably presumptuous in a woman writer,Â” Heilbrun writes (111). In the nineteenth century, paying Mary Anne Evans for essaying her critical intelligence i n her writings seemed acceptable partially because she did not fit ideological standards for female beauty. However, to distinguish herself from writers of frivolous romances and to ensur e that her psychologically perceptive, realistic fiction was taken serious ly, she adopted the male nom de plume George Eliot. But after Adam Bede gained her literary renown, her identity as the unmarried Mary Anne Â“Lewes,Â” scandalously living with the ma rried George Henry Lewes, was discovered. Thereafter, despite her success as a woman of letters, she endured much painful personal criticism. No wonder then that women write rs and intellectuals, including Fay Weldon, manifest a persistent split consciousnes s that informs how they negotiate their personal and public lives, their individual conditions of production, and even their literary production among the contemporary cultural constructions of womanhood. Eventually early women writers helped form an ideology of the woman writer a nd the beginnings of an ideology of the woman of letters. Even so, they still often distanc ed their personal lives from their work or suffered the consequences. Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), who gained fame in England after 1650, seems to embody the results of failing to split her consciousness as a strategy of negotiation. Violating t he ideology of
13 woman as modest and silent, Cavendish took the offensive by openly, insistently questioning contemporary ideology and pursuing fame in a literary career. She asks, Â“Shall only men live by Fame, and women dy in Oblivion?Â” (qtd. in Spencer 24). Her open ambition, lack of self-consciousness, and unfettered writings aroused accusati ons of madness. Similarly, WeldonÂ’s lack of self-consciousness and her unfettered, outrage d writings have drawn accusations of hysteria. But, overall, her darkly comic, ent ertaining fictions have found a willing readership. Weldon has continued deconstructing the culture industryÂ’s process of citizen-consumers being Â“sold a notion or normalityÂ” (qt d. in Kenyon, Women Writers 195). Concealing or Revealing Sexuality Punk and Poetess agree so pat You cannot well be this and not be that. Â—Robert Gould A little too loosely she writ Â—Anne Finch Women negotiated among contemporary and changing ideologies that conflated the expression of sexuality in literary production with sexual behavior in their per sonal lives. Women writers who did not construct their lives as Â“proper ladies,Â” according to Â“high moral standardsÂ” suffered from what Mary Poovey calls critical mom ents when ideologies shift (xiv). Although PooveyÂ’s text, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer, treats ideology in the works of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), her daughter Mary Shelley (1797-1851), and Jane Austen (1775-1817), women writers and intellectuals have suffered such devastating critical moments both before and after the late eighte enth and early nineteenth centuries.
14 In the seventeenth century, womenÂ’s emerging wit was identified with beauty their bold act of writing with romance heroines, and their proper subject with love. Â“Warmth,Â” or the overt treatment of erotic love, was especially popular and lucrat ive on the late seventeenth-century stage, which opened careers for several women of l etters, but that same warmth became disreputable when the emphasis of literature began to shi ft to moral utility at the beginning of the eighteenth century. For example, Aphra B ehn (16401689), Eliza Haywood (c.1693-1756), and Delariviere Manley (1663-1724) were eventually repudiated not only by the reading public and critics, but also by the litera ry daughters who were afraid to emulate them. Spencer sees the changes to Eliza HaywoodÂ’s reputation in particular as Â“a paradigm for that of the eighteenth-c entury woman novelist generally: at first praised as amorous, then castigated as im moral, and finally accepted on new, and limiting, terms [of] a Â‘naturalÂ’ style that expr essed feeling simply and apparently spontaneously, an evident moral aim, and a degree of diffidence Â” (i.e., modesty) (76-7). Although Behn was known to have lovers, she overtly resisted conflation of her life and, sometimes erotic, writing. Manley, however, embrace d this conflation by declaring love to be a womanÂ’s subject and basing her authority on her womanhood Â“conceived of as eroticismÂ” (Spencer 53). Manley lived by her pen after her marriage to her guardian and cousin was found to be bigamous. But in spite of her protestations of innocence, her reputation was forever ruined. In spite of increased emphasis on literatureÂ’s moral utility, it was during the eighteenth century that womenÂ’s writing seemed to come into its own in partnership with social, legal, and cultural changes in womenÂ’s lives. Grounding her work in the ideas of the American and French Revolutions, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the
15 Rights of Woman (1792), pointing out how revolutionary democratic principles, if applied to womenÂ’s lives, would improve the entire social structure. WollstonecraftÂ’s work, i n spite of its flaws, was both reviled and praised as only one of many flashpoints for conflicting views on women writers and intellectuals. Elaine Showalter argu es that William GodwinÂ’s precipitous and candid Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft (1798), which depicted their unconventional life together, Â“alienated other women and frighte ned feminists of her time and after, who kept their distance from Wollstonecraft a s a precursorÂ” ( Inventing 38). In 1911, Cicily Fairfield opened a seventy-year career as a woman of letter s by declaring in her first essay for the Freewoman a suffragist weekly: Â“There are two kinds of imperialistsÂ—imperialists and bloody imperialistsÂ” (Â“WestÂ”). Soon aft er, Fairfield reversed the practice of women writers taking male or androgynous pseudonyms by adopting the female pseudonym Rebecca West, a radical feminist character in Henrik IbsenÂ’s play Rosmersholm This choice gave notice of an intellectual offensive penned by a raw, powerful literary voice. In spite of that, West consented to give birth se cretly to the child of H.G. Wells in obscure Hunstanton, and to continue a decade-long love affair by meeting him covertly both in her residences and in London. Gilbert and Gubar, as well as other critics 3 believe that Â“WestÂ’s part in the journalistic radicalism preceding World War I has been obscured in literary history by the attention paid to her te n-year affair with H.G. Wells and by her son Anthony WestÂ’s recent attacks on herÂ” ( Literature 1577). 3 e.g., Marina Mackay, Bernard Schweizer.
16 Although Weldon too bore an illegitimate child in 1956, she avoided WestÂ’s situation, partially because she concealed or obscured the facts of the birth and her subsequent marriage of convenience to Ronald Bateman. She concealed not only her early irresponsible sexual activity but also at least one serious love affair But with the 2002 publication of Auto da Fay: A Memoir Weldon helped ensure that her literary reputation would not suffer as WestÂ’s did, for she revealed and interpreted the facts herself. In the early critical moments of an ideological shift, Rebecca West underw ent psychoanalysis, beginning in 1927. Virginia Woolf was also affected by Sigmund FreudÂ’s increasingly prominent theories. Woolf recognized her workÂ’s psyc hologically therapeutic dimension: Â“It is only by putting [the pain] into words that I make it whol e; this wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt meÂ” ( Moments 72). Rebecca West explored amnesia induced by shell-shock in The Return of the Soldier (1918), published a popular biography, Â“St. AugustineÂ” (1933), based on psychological rather than spiritual principles, and sought out the psychological characteristics of World War II tr aitors in The Meaning of Treason (1947). By the time WeldonÂ’s career began, psychological principles had become common discourse. Her career and oeuvre twine interestingly with psychology. Alon g with economics, she studied psychology at St. Andrews and later underwent eight yea rs of Freudian psychoanalysis. In 1985, she credited the process with providing her the self knowledge to believe that she was capable of writing: Â“I was thirty, inadequat e and depressed and ignorant, and knew it. Analysis was dreadfully painful and interesting . and necessary . .Â” (qtd. in Haffenden 310). Similarly to Woolf, Weldon found that she
17 could consider her own issues by objectifying them into the thoughts and feelings of fictional characters. By age sixty, however, Weldon had repudiated analysis: Â“Talk never cured anybodyÂ” (qtd. in Rountree 105). Her husband Ron had moved in with his therapist, he and Weldon divorced, and in reply, Weldon wrote the novel Affliction about therapistsÂ’ power to destroy marriages. Affliction was roundly criticized and caused a furor. Turning from what West and Woolf had embraced, Weldon rejected the powerful and dangerous Â“therapy industryÂ” ( Mantrapped 192). Despite this, Weldon continues to construct psychological motivations for her charactersÂ’ feelings and acti ons. However, after situating them, she emphasizes morality even though Â“her moral fram ework is based on the concept of situational morality, validating the multiplicity of experie nce against a drive for a unified visionÂ” (Barreca, Â“ItÂ’s the EndÂ” 181). The widespread adoption of certain Freudian psychology became yet another ideological barrier to womenÂ’s intellectual pursuits: in the mid-twentieth c entury FreudÂ’s theories about Oedipal issues, penis envy, and womenÂ’s roles, especially the mothe r role, were privileged as a way of viewing gender. For instance, John Bowlby found that during World War II in Britain, evacuee children suffered not bombings, poverty, and paternal deprivation of their soldier fathers, but maternal deprivation. Crit ic Elaine Tuttle Hansen categorizes WeldonÂ’s novels through 1997 into mother-blaming, motherhood affirming, and an Â“uneven and unsettledÂ” impasse (185). Weldon has suffered the working motherÂ’s guilt and received much criticism for unorthodox fictional treat ment of mothers and children. Negotiation of the socio-sexual dilemma for women writers gave rise to a certain pragmatic double standard: in novels and conduct books, women desperate to earn a
18 living advised other women not to do as they did. Beginning in the seventeenth century, women novelists, especially, carved a marketable public niche for themselves by recommending the private, domestic life for their heroines; thus was born the ma rriage plot, the boon of pulp romances and the bane of, among others, Eliot, Woolf, and Weldon. Throughout womenÂ’s writings, the marriage plot has remained popular and lucrative, but later writers have interrogated its ideological dominance; fo r example: Eliot in Middlemarch (1871) and elsewhere, Woolf in The Voyage Out (1915), and Weldon most notably in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983). Indeed, Weldon has dedicated much of her fictional oeuvre to illustrating the gritty reality subsequent to r omantic love and marriage. Beginning in the seventeenth century, conduct books for women became both popular and lucrative sources of income for writers. Valerie Wayne says that w omen who wrote conduct books Â“disseminated the dominant ideology but also modified received opinion in order to reflect their own interests and concernsÂ” (72). WayneÂ’ s observations, however, pertain also to other genres, for instance, to the evolving for m of the novel and to contemporary self-help books: The contradictory nature of the texts and those who wrote them reminds one that conduct books are sites of social dispute within a culture . as evidence of how [women] were told they should live and sometimes refused, or just did something else, or appeared to comply with ideological pressures but preserved a private space from which they resisted appropriation (Emphasis added 72)
19 That private space from which women resisted appropriation is where Fay Weldon began her career as a novelist. Unlike the authors who prescribed womanhood in conduct books, Weldon explores myriad iterations of womanhood in her novels, which have been called survival manuals for women. In addressing a wide range of subjec ts, but always courtship, marriage, and maternity, Weldon explodes ideology by at once privileging and revealing the underside of domestic life. Having suffered from an e ating disorder herself, she addresses bingeing in The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke (1967), thus capturing a previously hidden life and openly questioning ideologyÂ—in this case, thinness as privileged. Auto-didacticism For centuries, women have lacked literacy; formal schooling in the classics, languages, sciences, and other subjects; books; and sometimes even writing impl ements, ink, and that expensive commodity, paper. Inequities in education were explored and lamented by such women of letters as Aphra Behn (1640-1689) and Mary Astell (1668-1731) in the seventeenth century, Catherine Macaulay (1731-1791) and Mary Wollstonecraft in the eighteenth, George Eliot in the nineteenth, and Virginia Woolf in the twentieth. But intellectual women often educated themselves, as did Margare t Cavendish in the seventeenth century, Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) in the eighteenth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), and George Eliot (1819-1880) in the nineteenth, and/or lived intellectually isolated or repressed lives, as did the Br ont sisters in the nineteenth. Young Mary Anne Evans received a lengthy, privileged education and enjoyed learning and books; even after she left school at age nineteen, her father helped he r
20 continue her studies, including German and Italian, by purchasing books for her. Even so, she well understood the effects on women of prohibiting their education. In the 1856 essay Â“Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,Â” Eliot calls for high litera ry standards among women writers and decries the danger of too little education: If . a very great amount of instruction will not make a wise man, still less will a very mediocre amount of instruction make a wise woman. And the most mischievous form of feminine silliness is the literary form, because it tends to confirm the popular prejudice against the more solid education of women. ( Essays 315-316) In this essay, Eliot delineates methods, techniques, and standards of literary pr oduction; she also worries about supercilious, confused fiction undermining a high-culture tra dition of literary and intellectual pursuits by women. Also in 1856, George Eliot both lamented and rejoiced, Â“No educational restrictions can shut women out from the materials of fiction, and there is no speci es of art which is so free from rigid requirementsÂ” ( Essays 324). The novel, or prose narrative, offered a form in which women writers could both record authentic experience and loose flights of imagination. In Three Guineas (1938), Woolf writes that women create unpaidfor culture by speaking in their own tongue. As critic Marina MacKay observes, W oolf Â“extols throughout the book the cheapness of ink and the accessibility of public libraries : the former is what allows women to write, but it is the latter that enables them to poach the high culture that has hitherto been prohibitively priced.Â” WoolfÂ’s emphasis on the financial aspects of womenÂ’s literary production resonates with WeldonÂ’s conti nual
21 articulation of the financial conditions obtaining in womenÂ’s lives and the culture industry. During her early school years Weldon learned to love language through the study of Latin and reading the forbidden King James Version of the Bible. Her memories of early reading, as listed in Auto da Fay do not include works by women. Like Macaulay, Wollstonecraft, and Woolf, Weldon interrogates the construction of education, both in terms of socialization and formal schooling. Unlike Eliot and Woolf, however, Weldon embraces popular culture while advocating high literary standards. Her novels seek to popularize intellectual issues. One of myriad examples is WeldonÂ’s treatment of mirrorstage theory and the formation of subject position in The Cloning of Joanna May (1989). Overall, Weldon treats the novel form freely, speaking decidedly in her own tongue both to create and deconstruct paid-for culture. Forming Literature from Personal ExperienceÂ—Alternate Paths Women could write when they were prohibited from doing Â—Olive Schreniner Of all women writers, only Jane Austen found a sentence to fit her Â—Virginia Woolf As Dale Spender observes, Â“Oppressive ideology excluding women from writing has been neither consistent nor entirely successfulÂ” (xi). Lack of access to the full range of literary tools necessitated that the mothers of literary invention adapt and create forms to express the range of experience available to them. Women writers wrote w hat they could and sometimes entered into the woman of letters phase, becoming active as publi c intellectuals. In Poems and Fancies for instance, Cavendish speculates about atomist theory, entering Â“new areas of investigation . [and] other possible knowledgeÂ” (Pri ce
22 119). She experimented with content and form, combining Â“metaphysical poetry with scientific speculation, philosophical meditation with fanciful fantasizingÂ” ( Gilbert and Gubar, Literature 93). For these efforts Cavendish was much criticized. So was Weldon in 1978 for including medically detailed chapters on human gestation in the novel Puffball which sought to capture the protagonistÂ’s experience of pregnancy in all its aspects. Woolf points out that Â“letters did not countÂ” as literature ( Room 62). And yet, partially as a result of the air of illegitimacy surrounding womenÂ’s publi c voices, women writers became literally women of letters, adapting the epistolary f orm to confer upon themselves a socially acceptable voice in human activities: Â“Through letter s, women who desired to write could bypass the need for formal education, literary patronage, e ditors, and publishers, and they often thus circumvented the censorship of a patriarchal litera ry industryÂ” (Cherewatuk & Wiethaus 1). Indeed, in the early Middle Ages the epistolary form encompassed a much wider literary range than current use of the word letter might indicate. 4 In the largely oral medieval culture, the written word conferred much authority, and letters were ofte n widely circulated, sometimes as public documents. Letters were written i n both verse and prose representing travelogues, history, and legal claims, as well as pers onal correspondence. Although women were not allowed formal education in epistolary composition, they did adapt basic epistolary form; for instance, a salutation, conve ntional 4 Epistolary form, codified in France or Italy, was known as Â“ ars dictaminis or ars dictandi the rhetorical study and practice of epistolary compositionsÂ” with five standard rhetorical parts: salutatio or epistolary greeting; benevolentiae captatio or proverb or scriptural quotation to secure good will ; narratio or statement of purpose; petitio or argument made from earlier premises; and conclusio (Cherewatuk & Wiethaus 4-7).
23 phrases, and inclusion of proverbs. They negotiated epistolary space by writing visionary, spiritual compositions or personal letters in English vernacular, or eve n in the colloquial, to teach, influence politics, maintain familial ties, and explore inne rmost emotions (Cherewatuk & Wiethaus 3). Through the epistolary mode, women gained literary voice significant in the formation of the early novel, a vulgar but profitabl e form and often an epistolary construct. Folding womenÂ’s adaptation of the epistle back on itself, Weldon wrote the barely fictional Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen (1984). In it Weldon purposely confuses fiction and nonfiction to deconstruct the literary culture industry: Aunt Fa y, a writer, sends letters to niece Alice, a college student. Aunt Fay defines the r ealm of fiction, differentiates high and popular literature, and advises Alice to read the t raditional canon before writing for publication. Ignoring Aunt FayÂ’s prescriptive advic e, Alice writes and publishes a best-selling novel. In addition to the epistolary form, there existed another path to becoming a woman of letters, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuriesÂ—t he theatre, acting in and writing plays. Spencer thus expresses the literary relations hip: Â“Just as many early women novelists had roots in the theatre, the general idea of the prof essional woman writer had its roots in the image built up around the Restoration playwrights,Â” for instance, Mary Pix (1666-1709), Delariviere Manley (c.1663-1724), and Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1679-1749), and Susanna Centlivre (1667-1723), whose plays were extremely popular, more so than those of Aphra Behn, after about 1720 (29). In fact, CentlivreÂ’s plays held the stage into the nineteenth century. Aphra Behn wrote prolifically: some fifteen stage plays, very successful farces, Â“w armÂ” verses frankly
24 voicing sexual desire, prose fictions in a mishmash of formsÂ—fictionalized biogra phy, travelogue, romance, social tract, and again Oroonoko which may also be read as a thirdperson slave narrative. Fay Weldon too enters the literary world as a success ful scripter of plays, first for radio and television and then for the stage. She became a novelist to gain further artistic control. Television scripts, belonging in a relativel y more public way than novels to the culture industry, must be interpreted by producers, directors, actors, and the camera. Furthermore, they are produced according to the scope of other production elements, not the least of which is the budget. Offensive Strategies by Exceptional Women On[e] word of a woman shuld more than the wordys of xx men Â—Margaret Paston Â“Exceptional women are the chief imprisoners of nonexceptional women, simultaneously proving that any woman could do it and assuring, in their uniqueness among men, that no other woman will.Â” So says Heilbrun in Writing a WomanÂ’s Life (81). Woolf wanted ShakespeareÂ’s sister to be able to express her genius as he did. In Â“Women and Fiction,Â” Woolf says that Â“only when we can measure . the experience o f life made possible to the ordinary woman [can we] account for the success or fail ure of the extraordinary woman as a writerÂ” ( Collected Essays 142). Although more literary production by women is likely still to be discovered, hidden away in attics and librarie s, most works by women writers during 900 years of British history are extant t oday only because the women themselves were Â“spiritually or socially exceptional Â” (Gilbert & Gubar, Literature 2).
25 The fearlessly energetic Margery Kempe (1373-1438), for instance, took the offensive by justifying both her preaching and her use of the vernacular. She exempl ified powerful alternative paths for women, especially in using language: Â“I come i nto no pulpit. I use but communication and good words . .Â” (19). Another medieval writer was literally a woman of letters who had a strong public voice within her relative ly limited communityÂ—Margaret Paston (c.1420-1484). PastonÂ’s correspondence illustrates not only the differences between womanhood as ideology and womanhood as praxis, but also between practical and aesthetic writings. Writing in a plain style for household correspondence, PastonÂ’s Â“dramatic proseÂ” has Â“many features of oral nar rativeÂ” (Watt 131), but, more importantly, PastonÂ’s letters speak in a matriarchal voice of author ity to her sons, husband, a shire court during a property dispute, and no less a person than the Bishop of Norwich, who Â“acknowledged the validity of [her] petition and promised to take immediate actionÂ” (Watt 135). Albeit an unconventional seventeenth-century aristocrat, Margaret Cavendish was the Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and an attendant to Queen Henrietta Maria. Despite her privilege in terms of agency and autonomy, her literary pursuits, int eresting to a contemporary reader for their broad scope, were held up to ridicule. But, as a duchess, Cavendish could be neither ignored nor entirely quashed. In Â“Female OrationsÂ” (1662), she took the offensive in calling for gender equity: Â“Let us converse in camps, courts, and cities; in schools, colleges, and courts of judicature; in taverns, brothe ls, and gaming houses; all of which will make our strength and wit known, both to men and to our own selves, for we are as ignorant of ourselves as men are of usÂ” (96). Cavendis h also broke with the ideology of womanliness by flashing her anger: Â“The truth is,
26 [women] live like bats or owls, labor like beasts, and die like wormsÂ” she wrote in a catalogue of outraged comparisons (95). From the seventeenth century on, Behn was acknowledged as an exceptional woman of letters. A widow, Behn wrote overtly both for a living and for fame, assert ing in the preface to Sir Patient Fancy that she was Â“forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it.Â” As a picara of varied experience, Behn was better able than m any women to negotiate as a public figure in the literary marketplace. Behn wrote a novel of ideas about social practices in various countries, interrogated those practice s, and used a narrative strategy that examines the roles of woman and writer. Behn presents he r female narrator as Â“authoritative, disinterested and sympathetic, with as much authori ty as a male writer and also with special insights gained from her womanÂ’s positionÂ” (Spencer 52). Behn was openly confident in her literary production, demanded criticism from an androgynous point of view, and, like Cavendish, displayed the emotion forbidden to womenÂ—anger: Â“Had the Plays I have writ come forth under any Mans Name, and neve r known to have been mine; I appeal to all unbyast Judges of Sense, if they had not said that Person had made as many good Comedies, as any one Man that has writ in our Age Â” (Spencer 28). In the nineteenth century, George Eliot, already established as a woman of le tters, takes the offensive in the 1856 Westminster Review essay Â“Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.Â” In this classification of bad fiction, Eliot calls for women write rs either to improve their standards for content, style, narrative strategies, and display of erudition or to desist from Â“the foolish vanity of wishing to appear in printÂ” ( Essays 323). Soon after, Eliot began practicing these principles, Â“produc[ing] novels not only fine, but among the
27 very finest;Â—novels, too, that have a precious speciality, lying quite apart from masculine aptitudes and experienceÂ” and becoming herself one of the few women wr iters whom she expected to exhibit subtle truthful delineation of manners, feeling, and character ( Essays 324). As an exceptional British woman of letters, Rebecca West practiced offens ive strategies as a public intellectual from 1911 until her death in 1983. Born ten years af ter Woolf in 1892, and, in general terms, WoolfÂ’s contemporary, Rebecca West benefited from intellectual stimulation during her childhood and an education at George WatsonÂ’ s LadiesÂ’ College in Edinburgh (est. 1870). Always aware of the need to earn her living West was committed to the Suffragist movement and conscious of her writing tal ent at an early age. But her clear, candid, vigorous style did not falter during her long care er. Unlike her grandmothers and sisters of letters, West simply assumed a space in public discourse. Not only that, West helped shift ideology. Even the great feminist thinker Woolf consciously eschewed anger in the production of artÂ—perhaps to her personal detriment West, conversely, wrote highly critical piecesÂ—often expressing anger and out rage. She baldly criticized Â“shoddy writing and sloppy thinkingÂ” in book reviews (Â“WestÂ”). She called H.G. Wells Â“the old maid amongst novelists,Â” a criticism that aroused his i re and attracted his sexual attentions (Weldon, Rebecca West 34). Nonetheless, she went on thoughtfully critiquing writers she called Â“her uncles,Â” Wells, George Be rnard Shaw, Arnold Bennett, and John Galsworthy, thereby assuming herself to be family in the house of literature.
28 As a journalist, West wrote prolifically in on historically male subjectsÂ—publ ic affairs, that is, national and international politics. Early in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), a two-volume socio-political critique written from personal observation in Yugoslavia between the World Wars, West writes, Â“The word Â‘idiotÂ’ comes from a Greek root meaning private person. Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their privat e lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cel ls in the brainÂ” (3). Certainly with this tome, West went far beyond AustenÂ’s famed bit of i vory two inches wide and EliotÂ’s heart pressed small like Chinese feet. Paradoxica lly, Weldon manages both: with the foundational assumption that womenÂ’s traditional work in the home is as important as menÂ’s or womenÂ’s work outside the home, her works elevate the significance of the domestic. And although she writes feminist novels, her fem ale characters are deeply flawed, emotionally unstable, and often thoughtlessÂ—wri tten so to illustrate the necessity, for personal liberation, of surveying the world, consc iously and critically. Weldon, too, is an exceptional woman. In contrast to the attitudes of Austen and Eliot toward their careers, Weldon openly defines herself as furthering the Second Wave of the WomenÂ’s Movement in Britain. She was undoubtedly favored by the British Broadcasting Corporation: during the 1980s, many of WeldonÂ’s were successfully broadcast. Seemingly as energetic as Kempe and as adamant about using the ve rnacular, WeldonÂ’s literary output is prolific and popular. Reminiscent also of Paston, Weldon employs features of oral narrative and speaks in a matriarchal voice of authorityÂ—even when reversing a previously firmly held position. Critic Jacqueline Pearson obse rves that Â“even by 1700 an oral culture had not been entirely replaced by a print culture, and
29 women participated fully in this oral culture as the special guardians of old ta les, proverbs, songs, poems and balladsÂ” (81). In fact, oral cultureÂ—storytelling, tellin g oneÂ’s life, oneÂ’s life experienceÂ—has largely impelled women writers and the Wom enÂ’s Movement. Oral literature figures largely in WeldonÂ’s fiction. WeldonÂ’s lif e, like that of Behn, has been picaresque, her writing spurred by earning a living. Further, she has embraced anger both to fuel production of art and to incite readers to own their anger i n the service of self-liberation. WeldonÂ’s adaptation of the novel form has comprehensively expressed the saga of womenÂ’s experience during the twenti eth and twenty-first centuries. Through deconstructionist fiction, Weldon fearlessl y interrogatesÂ—and even predictsÂ—the social ramifications of cultural and sci entific developments. High Productivity 500 a year In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the relatively new medium of print helped those seeking to disseminate their work and to gain fame. Nevertheless, m any writers of both sexes avoided mechanical reproduction through print, also to avoid crass commercialism or its appearance. Those who were not so fortunate as to have other income, however, endured the stigma of commercialism. Behn courageously made her need to support herself known, but critics still panned her productivity because ideology dictated that Â“writing for money implied depravityÂ” (Spencer 28). Eliot excuse d women writers, poor in money and talent, who scribbled hurriedly to support themselves, their children, and sometimes their neÂ’er-do-well husbands: Â“We had imagined that destit ute
30 women turned novelists, as they turned governesses, because they had no other Â‘lady-likeÂ’ means of getting their bread . Empty writing was excused by an empty stomach, and twaddle was consecrated by tearsÂ” ( Essays 303). Â“Intellectual freedom depends upon material things,Â” wrote Woolf in A Room of OneÂ’s Own (1929) (108). But in the case of women writers, the material things often depended on a quick-march of productivity. In the seventeenth century, Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821) argued repeatedly with her husband to retain control of her earnings from the stage and emerged into the woman of letters category only aft er her husbandÂ’s early demise. A shrewd businesswoman, Inchbald refused offers of male support and lived to the extremes of frugality in order to write as she pleased. In contrast, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) struggled to support eight of her twelve children after her twenty-year marriage ended in separation in 1787. The marketability of her work inspired publishers to pay her more than they paid most other women writers. But Smith complains in a letter, Â“I have no means whatever of supporting my Children during the Holidays, nor of paying their Bills when they return to School: & I am so harass ed with Duns, that I cannot write with any hope of getting any thing done by that tim eÂ” (qtd. in Spencer 10). Hurrying to produce novels, childrenÂ’s stories, works of history and natural history for children, and a five-volume collection of narratives, Smith had little chance of achieving a high literary standard or becoming a public intellectual. In the same vein, Weldon has asserted that morality tends to conform to oneÂ’s financial situation. Throughout her career, Weldon has emphasized the effects of economic forces on womenÂ’s lives. Like Inchbald, Weldon fought with her husband over her career. And to support her household of eight children (her own, her sisterÂ’s, and
31 RonÂ’s daughter) and her mother, Weldon wrote beyond Charlotte SmithÂ’s pace, producing hundreds of works: plays, novels, short stories, adaptations, essays, and reviews. In 2000, Weldon scandalized the literary world by accepting a commis sion to write a product-placement novel for Bulgari, the Italian jewelry firm. S he was roundly criticized, like Behn, for crass commercialism as well as for comprom ising the integrity of literature. However, The Bulgari Connection (2000) reflexively illustrates the interplay of economic forces among the worlds of fine art, business, and the very ri ch. While playing the culture industry against itself, Weldon participates in an int ellectual life that Eliot and Woolf envisioned, and with a public voice as startling, though less politically influential, than that of West. Conclusion In recent decades, feminist literary historians and critics have trace d the relationship between the construction of womanhood and the acceptability of litera ry and intellectual work by women. In exploring Fay WeldonÂ’s construction as a woman of letters, on the one hand, and the construction of her works on the other, I have found that in spite of the passing centuries and three waves of feminism, some issues rem ain disappointingly the same. WeldonÂ’s life and career as a woman of letters have been deeply affected by the same issues that affected her antecedents for 900 ye ars. And her strategies for addressing those issues are similar to theirs: secr ecy, split consciousness, auto-didacticism, forming literature from personal experience, high producti vity, and, by dint of good fortune, being an exceptional woman. Despite those issues and effects, Weldon has been able during her long career t o travel beyond some defensive standpoints adopted by earlier women of letters.
32 Offensively (in all senses of the word, to some), Weldon writes with morbid, deadpan humor, foregrounds female characters, writes almost exclusively about non-mi nority middle classes, and publishes Â“ramshackle,Â” iconoclastic, faux didactic ficti on (Sage 158). Unlike her literary foremothers, even recent ones, Weldon does not heed the ideological injunction to remain silent, modest, chaste, and obedient. Indeed, she has not been leery of anger, or even rage, as a source for her art, and she encourages re aders to tap ire as fuel for self-empowerment. Each generation of women writers has written escape from the personal sphe re into, and as part of, their public intellectual voices. Each generation must negotia te space within contemporary ideologies for the public voice, for now, as in ages past, a huge gap remains between societyÂ’s ideal for womanhood, the actual experience of women, and t he acceptable expression of public voice. Somewhat like WoolfÂ’s attempt Â“to encourage the young women [because] they seem to get fearfully depressedÂ” (Gordon, Room xiv), WeldonÂ’s repeatedly stated aim has been to deconstruct the ideal of womanhood by portraying Â“whatÂ’s out thereÂ” for real women, in order to help each woman and womankind integrate personal life with public voice. More than her grandmothers in letters were able to do, Weldon has aided womankind by using capitalist-controlled media to broadcast her voice as a public intellectual. Throughout WeldonÂ’s work, but foregrounded in her later work, runs a view of human life as constrained by a scientific, industrial, technological, therapeuti c model and deadened by what Weldon dubs the ergonarchy that is, life administered, reduced, and compartmentalized by bureaucracy and red tape. This criticism of modernity r esonates with the account by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno of Â“The Culture Industry:
33 Enlightenment as Mass DeceptionÂ” presented in Dialectic of Enlightenment by and who accuse post-enlightenment industrial society of forming citizens to ensure tha t Â“the simple reproduction of mind does not lead on to the expansion of mindÂ” (100). The term Â“culture industryÂ” refers broadly to the way late-capitalist, mass-m ediated culture serves as a kind of political opiate that in the postmodern era produces the subject-as-consumer that is, precisely the sort of subject that the system requires. More than any previous British woman of letters, Weldon has been able consciously to access, and exploit, what Horkheimer and Adorno formulated as the culture industry, with the express purpose of startling readers from reproduction of mind into expansion of mind. By making her work highly marketable, Weldon exploits, and sometimes leads, mass-mediated culture. She uses the vernacular of popular culture Â— entertainmentÂ—in a literate, technological society in order to advance contr oversial, disturbing ideas and emotions, to interrogate conventional social roles, and to decons truct mass culture. Using mass mediaÂ—print, radio, television, cinema, photographyÂ—Weldon constructs herself and is constructed by reviewers and critics as an i ndividualist, iconoclast, feminist, and sometime hypocrite who writes theorized metafic tional social commentary in popular forms. In WeldonÂ’s view, to ignore mass-mediated culture is to marginalize oneself and lose the ability to exploit the power engendered by i ts economic machinery. For a writer of literature, this paradoxical concept is at the r oot of certain disjunctions both in WeldonÂ’s self-construction and construction by her critics. Wel don recognizes that even high culture and academic pursuits are at the mercy of market forces: Â“Remember publishers are commercial institutionsÂ—these days very va st onesÂ—
34 who are increasingly unwilling to publish Â‘goodÂ’ books because they canÂ’t make sufficient profit on themÂ” (10 Oct. 2001) 5 Themes of production and reproduction, that is, mechanical-technological and medicinal-scientific reproduction as opposed to natural or supernatural reproduction, pervade WeldonÂ’s works. Thus, in addition to Horkheimer and AdornoÂ’s criticism of modernity, I draw on Walter BenjaminÂ’s theory on the loss of aura and commodifica tion of the art work for my discussion of WeldonÂ’s fictional constructions. Weldon sets in opposition two epistemological systems, one represented as the primitive, intuiti ve, prescientific knowing of dreams, visions, and the supernatural, and the other as the postEnlightenment, rational certainty of positivism. Working purposefully within the cul ture industry, Weldon exploits and subverts it by writing Foucauldian cautionary histori es as alternatives to the lives sold to female consumers by a capitalist societ y. 5 Quotations from the Fay Weldon Discussion List onli ne are documented parenthetically by the date of posting.
35 Chapter 2: Fay WeldonÂ’s Self Constructions As Woman Writer Introduction Fay WeldonÂ’s sharp, often enraged literary voice brings to mind a harridan or hysteric, thus revealing the continued conflation of a womanÂ’s personal identity and private life with her literary production. Weldon is neither harridan nor hysteric and in fact, presents a frequent, positive mass media image in the culture industry in w hich image is as important as substance. On the small screen, Weldon seems both at e ase and self-contained. On the electronic Fay Weldon Discussion Group, her posts portray her as available, comfortable, and confident. Occasionally startling, iconoclastic, or outrageous remarks, ubiquitously quoted by the British press, emerge no more forcefully tha n friendly conversation. But, indeed, to study Fay Weldon as a contemporary British woman of letters is to study ubiquity. Her name, observations, and iconoclastic remarks, her public appearances and persona, and her prolific writings permeate British masscommunication media. Through the double lens of Elaine ShowalterÂ’s career phases 6 and the strategies of negotiation by earlier women of letters as elucidated in Chapter 1, this cha pter posits that WeldonÂ’s career entre to literature through the business worldÂ—the advert ising and 6 These phases are: 1) imitation and internalization of prevailing literary conventions, artistic standa rds, and social ideologies; 2) protest of accepted conventio ns, declaration of independence, claim of autonomy; and 3) a turning inward, away from rebellion, to initia te a search for self-defined individuality. These phases may not occur in chronological order.
36 broadcasting industriesÂ—has effectively positioned her to negotiate the conditions of literary production and reception. Partly because Weldon has experienced the int ernal workings and decision making of the mass-mediated culture industry, she understands t he appearance of naturalness within a culture based on contingent, historical constructi ons (Culler 44). Like European Marxist culture theory, Weldon views mass culture, as opposed to popular culture, Â“as an oppressive ideological formationÂ” that posits people as consumers who are Â“shaped or manipulatedÂ” by institutions, including the state (Culle r 45). This echoes Horkheimer and Adorno, but Walter Benjamin theorizes Â“that ordinary culture can be transformed from an ideology into a Â‘revolutionary tool.Â’Â” Any commodity, a novel for instance, can be deconstructed, through a depatterning or defamiliarization of the form, sparking a revelation in the reader. Then, accordi ng to Benjamin, the commodity must constellate into new constellations for meaning that may Â“illuminate the revolutionary potential of the presentÂ” (Yaeger 265, 266). Weldon believes that Â“[c]apitalism, not people, benefited mostly from the revolution that sent women out to work, earn and spendÂ” (16 Nov. 2000). 7 Because she tends to view mass culture as ideologically imposed and repressive of individual agency, she acces ses, through her fictions, modes of popular culture 8 to empower a marginalized groupÂ— women. 7 Quotations from the Fay Weldon Discussion List onl ine are documented parenthetically by the date of posting. The quotations are reproduced exactly as posted. 8 Popular culture, literally the culture of the peopl e, consists of widespread elements perpetuated thro ugh a given societyÂ’s vernacular. Popular culture is exp ressed through mass circulation in areas such as fa shion, cuisine, and entertainment (e.g., film, sports, mus ic, and literature). Post-modernist theorists do n ot accept the belief that there is some objectively superior high culture setting a standard from which to make evaluations of others. They have been more interest ed in popular culture as representing the voices of the previously silent, and by adopting the methods of f ilm analysis or literary criticism they examine the way popular culture is produced and the underlying assu mptions upon which its meaning rests. There are no w
37 This chapter will analyze WeldonÂ’s defensive and offensive negotiations as a woman of letters within mass culture. The chapter opens with an overview of WeldonÂ’s ubiquitous presence in British mass media, that is, her work in advertising, book review s, radio and television screenplays, public interviews, and pronouncements as a public intellectual. The development of WeldonÂ’s life and worksÂ—in a context of (re)production, commodification, and exploitation within the culture industryÂ—will be analyzed chronologically through early biography, mass media statement s, the memoir Auto da Fay (2002), and the novel-memoir Mantrapped (2004). I will then explore WeldonÂ’s early constructions of her public career and public identity, which show at once a capacity for constructing a public image and a lingering fear of reveali ng her own social transgressions. Finally, I will summarize WeldonÂ’s innovations in the language of the novel as a genre. Negotiating the Cultures Â“Go to work on an egg,Â” the 1960s slogan for the Egg Marketing Board attributed to Fay Weldon, was cited in 2003, when a new campaign was announced in the London Sunday Times : Â“[S]ince Fay Weldon coined the slogan Â‘Go to work on an eggÂ’ in the 1960s, [advertisers have been] transforming the egg, in the public mind, from cholesterol bomb to nutrient-filled health foodÂ” (Clarke). Like Fay Weldon herself, the slogan has been absorbed as a staple of British popular culture. A television cook uses it on Delia Online and in 2002, it headlined advances in human reproductive science. Earlier, in December 2000, the slogan Â“Go to Work on an EggÂ” was the title of a short story in the university degrees in Popular CultureÂ—for example a t Bowling Green University. http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/popc/index.html
38 London Sunday Observer : a mother was convinced that her single, workaholic-doctor daughter should freeze her eggs to preserve the possibility of having children. The author is Weldon, who, all at once, predicts the scientific future, interrogates womenÂ’s l iberation into the professions, turns again a well recognized turn of phrase, and exploits the capitalist system. Using her past success and conflating it with her pres ent status in the title of a story published on Christmas Eve about past, present, and futureÂ—a feminist intertextuality with Charles DickensÂ’ A Christmas Carol Â—suggests WeldonÂ’s deft negotiation of mass culture. Although her public voice became recognized in the 1970s, WeldonÂ’s place in British culture remained in question, and because of her postmodern approach to nearly everything, is likely to remain a focus of discussion. Her first novel, The Fat Woman's Joke (1967), Â“told a decidedly proto-feminist tale of a housewife's anger toward he r philandering husband, yet Weldon's public espousal of domestic joys and the use of Â‘Mrs.Â’ seemed to mark her as an opponent to the growing British women's rights movementÂ” (Dickinson). Despite the publication of a darkly comic novel about binge eatingÂ—not then a construct common in public discourseÂ—she seemed so conventional that, in 1971, she was invited onto David Frost's television program to counter feminists protesting the Miss World Contest as a flesh market. She created a scandal by affirming their claims. In 2003, Weldon created another scandal for Â“hellfire feminist revi sionismÂ” as an Â“ex-raver whose hot flushes have put an end to hot sexÂ” because she views recreational sex for women as a negative effect of contraceptive availabili ty (Burchill). Â“It [contraception] cheapened sex. We have had the magic taken away from us. Sex has become practical and rather horribleÂ” (qtd. in Press Association Limited). E ven though
39 by 2003 Weldon had been recognized by some as Â“a national treasureÂ” (Rurhmund), she remains Â“a genuine iconoclast and connoisseur of hypocrisyÂ” (Powers). But hy pocrisy might be an inaccurate word because it assumes a firm belief system from w hich one covertly deviates. WeldonÂ’s situational morality enables her to present unselfconsciously, in the moment, whatever her latest observations may be. Such spontaneity and dynamism energize the mass media audiences to whom she appeals. Before the production of A Catching Complaint (1966) and Poor Cherry (1967), when Weldon became a household if not literary name, she had written over fifty 9 radio and screenplays. Her early short play with alternative endings, Action Replay (1979), has been repeatedly performed, and her first full-length stage play, Woodworm (1981), about a Nobel Prize winnerÂ’s marital difficulties, was produced on Broadway. Weldon ada pted works for stage and screen, among them Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1980 version), Fanny Jane Eyre Tess of the dÂ’Urbervilles and A DollÂ’s House Her nonfiction includes Sacred Cows: A Portrait of Britain, Post-Rushdie, Pre-Utopia (1989), Godless in Eden (1999), and What Makes a Woman Happy (2006). She has published seven volumes of collected short stories, adding masculinist to feminist concerns with A Hard Time to Be a Father (1998). She continues her prolific production with She May Not Leave (2006), her twenty-sixth novel. Especially well received in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, her works have been translated into twenty-four languages. DarcyÂ’s Utopia (1990) has been an extended best seller in Norway and the Netherlands. Her books are so standardly popular in England that an evaluation of public libraries included 9 This number may be unverifiable because literature produced for radio and television in the 1950s and 1960s was not well archived. In a list server post Weldon writes, Â“Most of the plays were wiped to s ave the cost of tapeÂ—a few still exist and are in the ar chives of the London Film InstituteÂ” (8 Mar. 2003).
40 WeldonÂ’s novels as a criterion for the availability of books (Weaver). WeldonÂ’s popularity and financial success enable experimentation with forms unusual to the c ulture industry. In 2003, she adapted the Gustave Flaubert novel into an anti-canonical play, Madame Bovary: Breakfast with Emma In 2004, she published Mantrapped a novel interleaved with personal reminiscences as they relate to her fictional const ructions. In 2005, she adapted the French novel The Devil in the Flesh (1921) for the first opera written expressly for the cinema. Weldon purposely blurs the margin between high and popular culture, understanding that binary opposition oversimplifies mass culture. 10 She openly admits writing for money, but has spoken at the Modern Language AssociationÂ’s annual meeting. As critic Sin Mile, who writes from a Â“punkÂ” standpoint, points out, Weldon publishes in womenÂ’s magazines and appears at universities because such activit ies Â“look good on book jacketsÂ” (27). Weldon has served on of the Arts Council literary panel and the Greater London Arts film and video panel. She reviews books and judges literary contests, chairing the prestigious Booker Prize Committee in 1983. In 2003, Weldon launched the Daily Telegraph /BASF Science Writer Awards, commenting that Â“science popularisers help defend us from an alarming, almost religious retreat into irr ationalityÂ” (Highfield). For Â“On Trial,Â” the first episode of the British Broadcasting CorporationÂ’s Upstairs, Downstairs (1971), Weldon won the best script for a series award from the 10 Mass culture is defined to be a Â“set of cultural va lues and ideas that arise from common exposure of a population to the same cultural activities, communi cations media, music and art, etc. Mass culture bec omes possible only with modern communications and electr onic media. A mass culture is transmitted to individuals, rather than arising from people's dail y interactions, and therefore lacks the distinctive content of cultures rooted in community and region. Mass cu lture tends to reproduce the liberal value of individualism and to foster a view of the citizen a s consumerÂ” ( Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences Athabasca University http://www.athabascau.ca/).
41 WritersÂ’ Guild of Great Britain. She won the 1973 Writers Guild Award, the 1978 Giles Cooper Award, and her novel Praxis (1978) was nominated for the 1979 Booker Prize. She was awarded the 1981 Society of Authors traveling scholarship, and the 1989 Los Angeles Times Award for The Heart of the Country (1987). Wicked Women (1995), a collection of short stories, won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1996. In 1990, her alma mater, the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, awarded her an honorar y doctorate. In 2001, she was awarded the Commander of the British Empire (CBE), an honorary award bestowed by the British monarch, for service to literature. Despite high-culture activities and awards, Â“the melodramatic pleasure s of both Upstairs, Downstairs and Pride and Prejudice run through nearly all of Weldon's workÂ” (Dickenson). Weldon has never divorced her Â“seriousÂ” literary work from her own enjoyment of womenÂ’s shared identity and community of interests: Â“The important t hing is the opening of the mind to invention, the exercise of the imagination . the frivolous can be fantasticÂ” ( Letters to Alice 228). Despite having written a metafictional diatribe against romance novels, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983), Weldon has attended the Parker Romantic Novel of the Year award ceremony. In 2003, she lived at the Savo y Hotel for three months as its inaugural writer in residence. Although WeldonÂ’s residential life has been nomadic, she was first on the television program My Westcountry to recount a special connection to the WestcountryÂ—her sojourns to St. Ives, residence during marriage with Ron Weldon, and her use of Glastonbury Tor myths and legends in The Heart of the Country Puffball and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil In all these activities, Weldon adjusts to the environment. Even though in her work she presents iconoclastic observations, like Ruth of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil she is no
42 revolutionary. Â“She insists that the possibilities for overturning the system l ie not in political revolutions but in revising the entire concept of power and constructionÂ” (Barreca, Â“ItÂ’s the EndÂ” 182). Nor does she feel any responsibility to provide audiences a unified vision of a disparate world. Journalists of various kinds find Weldon more cooperative than do academics. In Mantrapped she presents her participation in early publicity activities as unsophistica ted. Like her literary foremothers, she found Â“anonymity a great pleasureÂ” a nd difficult to forego (213). Exploring the effect of recognition and publicity on her marriage wit h Ron Weldon, she comments, Â“I had no trouble getting [recognition] and would talk to a journalist as to my best friendÂ” (122). She assumed that she should appear exactly as she was, in everyday dress, without a trip to the hairdresser. But regarding publicit y activities as career tasks, the duty of those in Â“the world of communicationÂ” a nd Â“a part of the complex game of perception,Â” she embraced her public image, learning to dre ss and pose in flattering ways for the camera (212). Later in her career, she u nderwent surgery on her eyelids, to alleviate a physiological problem and to look better on cam era. She terms celebrity a Â“self-perpetuatingÂ” process of the culture industr y. But however simply Weldon presents her early public persona in Mantrapped it too is part of the complex game of perception. She asserts that she did not seek publicity, gave opinions only when asked, and answered questions truthfully. Postmodern truth must then differ from traditional truth: Weldon has often admitted that her answers vary according t o whom she is talking and that she fictionalizes her personal life. Interviewed b y Olga Kenyon in 1989, Weldon responds matter-of-factly, at times tersely. With John Haffenden in 1985, Weldon provides fulsome and nuanced responses. But asked if the
43 distressed marriages in her fiction reflect her own, she replies, Â“[W]eÂ’re becoming too personal. IÂ’m only personal in foreign countries, where nobody I know is going to read itÂ” (311). As Mile expresses it, WeldonÂ’s Â“[i]dentity, postmodernly enough, becomes unfixed, unbound, a free signifier, signifying whatever it darn well likesÂ” (25). In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Weldon interacted with students by posting to the Fay Weldon Discussion Group, an electronic discussion list dedicated to her work. One reply to a student query reads: Â“If Aygul send me her address I will post he r a copy of Splitting . It can be very hard to get hold of books in RussiaÂ” (10 Nov. 2001). 11 To a mistaken assumption, Weldon replies, Â“No, no, I wasnÂ’t around in World War 1Â” (10 Mar. 2001). Instead of scolding a student for requesting information about a reading guide, Weldon explains her composition process for the novel in question (19 Jan. 2006). Weldon likely popularizes herself and gains young readers by disdaining literatur e as an academic discipline: Â“I write novels to be read not studied . .Â” (18 Mar. 2001). And although she most often rejects being an expert on her own work, in the informality of the discussion list, she offers explanations of short stories and novels. Shunning academia, Weldon embraces her worksÂ’ resistance to traditional modes of literary criticism just as early in her career she resisted canoni zation by academia. But she sold her archives to an American university sometime before 1994. They contain Â“letters to and from the great and possibly famous, and assignations with themÂ—some of them are real and some are forgeries and some of them I just make up to enterta in myselfÂ” (qtd. in Mile 26). As Mile points out, this comment too may be fictionalizing b y Weldon. But decrying the possessions of consumer society in Mantrapped Weldon 11 Quotations from the Fay Weldon Discussion Group onl ine are documented parenthetically by the date of posting. The quotations are reproduced as posted. .
44 asserts, Â“My archive, the proper sum of me, is contained in the shock-proof, bomb-proof, temperature-controlled vaults of an American universityÂ” (242). Repeatedly di sdaining literary academia in public statements, Weldon has profitably enshrined her work f or future scholars. Weldon had not reread Jane AustenÂ’s works since her schooldays, until the mid1980s when she adapted Pride and Prejudice for the BBC. Her study of AustenÂ’s work prompted the barely fictional, anti-canonical Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen (1984), which defines Â“literature by what it does, not by what it isÂ” (10). The fictional Aunt Fay writes lettersÂ—actually social, historical, and lite rary commentariesÂ— to her niece Alice, who reads nothing recommended by Aunt FayÂ—not Austen, Fielding Tolstoy, Flaubert, or othersÂ—but composes and publishes a best-selling novel. Although in the action of Letters to Alice, Weldon deconstructs literary tradition, she affirms it formally through her use of epistolary narrative. She also distinguishes betwe en high and popular culture: [T]here is a copy of Jane AustenÂ’s Emma here, and itÂ’s well-thumbed. The other books are yet more tattered; they are thrillers and romances, temporary things. [Their characters] bear little resemblance to human beings, . exist for purposes of plot, and the books they appear in do not threaten the reader in any way; they do not suggest that he or she should reflect, let alone change But then, of course, being so safe, they defeat themselves, they can never enlighten. (8) George Eliot and Virginia Woolf distanced themselves as women of letters from popular culture, but Weldon does not, and in fact interrogates the categorization of literatur e
45 itself. Illustrating a postmodern attitude toward authority and expertise, s he queries, Â“I donÂ’t think you can set out to write literature, because what is it? I donÂ’t know. Perhaps if I had studied it, somebody would have told meÂ” (qtd. in Kumar). Weldon confesses difficulty reading Virginia WoolfÂ’s novels, except Orlando which she found fascinating. Orlando likely appeals to Weldon because it is multiple and decentered: a tribute to and satire of Vita Sackville-West, an exploration of androgyny and gender-swit ching, a satire of biography, and an interrogation of biography-as-history, history-as-ficti on, and metabiography in a carnivalesque fairy tale. Literary Antecedents Like Mary Shelley, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf, for instance, Weldon comes from a family of writers. Although Weldon constructs her literary development as idiosyncratic and picaresque, her inherited talent with language, and her family culture of professional writing, factor into her participation in the culture industry. WeldonÂ’s uncle, Selwyn Jepson (1899-1989), wrote mystery-thriller novels, films, and radio and television plays. WeldonÂ’s elder sister, Jane, who died of a malignant melanoma at age 39, wrote poetry. Weldon asserts that Jane had Â“the same hot line to t he appalling infinite as [Cynthia] Pell, [Sheila] Fell, and [Sylvia] PlathÂ” ( Mantrapped 122). WeldonÂ’s father, Frank Birkinshaw, a physician, wrote a serialized detective novel of more than a hundred episodes because, she says, he could not figure out who committed the murder. Weldon compares it to her serial novel The Hearts and Lives of Men with twelve planned episodes that ran to forty-nine ( Auto da Fay 26-27). Edgar Alfred Jepson (1863-1938), WeldonÂ’s grandfather, edited Vanity Fair and contributed to The Saturday Evening Post The Smart Set and other periodicals (Pelan).
46 He wrote prolifically, over seventy novels, including bestselling romances of adventure, detective, supernatural, and fantasy fiction. His obituary in the London Telegraph described Jepson as Â“a distinctive craftsman of remarkable personality,Â” whos e many friends included Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Ford Maddox Ford, Walter de la Mare, Ezra Pound, and H. G. Wells ( Auto 14, 16, 17). Although Weldon never knew Jepson, a description of his place in literature prescribes WeldonÂ’s negotiation between hig h and popular culture: Â“too much the pragmatic commercial writer to be a real deca dent and too much the man of letters to be entirely suitable in the guise of a mere commercia l wordsmithÂ” (Pelan). WeldonÂ’s mother, Margaret Jepson Birkinshaw (1907-2003), serves as a complex role model. Birkinshaw Â“kept the company of Evelyn Waugh and his gang of friends, she was at home in literary soires . .Â” ( Auto 2-3). In 1934, at 27, Birkinshaw published her first novel, Via Panama It was well received in both England and America and was also praised by George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells. Again prescribing Weldon, H.G Wells asserted, Â“That young woman can write. She knows no fear, and she has wisdomÂ” (Â“Margaret BirkinshawÂ”). To support herself and her daughters when her marr iage failed, Birkinshaw earned a desperate living as a novelist, a journalist, a wri ter of screenplays, and an advertising copywriter. She wrote serialized adventur e-romances, e.g., Velvet and Steel, The Cups of Alexander to be published in London, but World War II ended the transport of manuscripts and contracts by ship. Birkinshaw took a job Â“running a small advertising agency, writing copy, pasting up layouts, and making fi lm strips for the National Film LibraryÂ” ( Auto 6). Although the progression of BirkinshawÂ’s career reverses WeldonÂ’s, the similarities are remarkable. But more si gnificant is the
47 influence of material deprivation and maternal desperation on a daughter observant and sensitive enough to absorb their impact. Moreover, Birkinshaw demonstrated acute awareness of the conflict between literary and commercial values by adopting the pen name Pearl Bellair s, a character in Aldous HuxleyÂ’s first published short story Â“The Farcical History of Rich ard GreenowÂ” (1920). In the story, Greenow discovers that he has generated within himself a femal e writer of sentimental novels, whose five thousand words a night provide him a very respectable income while he Â“forges a brilliant career in political journalis mÂ” (Squier, Â“EmbryologiesÂ” 4). With the name Pearl Bellairs, Birkinshaw tells the lit erary world, Â“I can do better than this, I am worth more than this, itÂ’s just I have to make a living Â” ( Auto 46). In secret, Birkinshaw began a treatise on morality and aesthetics, Â“t housands of overwritten pages, which would get in a hopeless muddle on the kitchen tableÂ” ( Auto 44). She worked on it intermittently but never finished it. Reviewer Alex Clark specula tes about the effect on Weldon: Â“with her nascent sense of the importance of stemming ch aos . perhaps this is why her own novels are rarely long, and could, not uncharitably, be described as verging on underwritten.Â” Despite penury, Birkinshaw stopped writing novels because, Â“It unsettles people and puts ideas into their heads, false hopes, false expectations. . ItÂ’s immoralÂ” ( Mantrapped 180). Weldon denies direct influence by her motherÂ’s writings. However, BirkinshawÂ’s influence may show in WeldonÂ’s attitude: Â“I donÂ’t write role model s for women: too dangerousÂ—emotional correctness may lead to a better society, but sel dom to personal happiness!Â” (27 Oct. 2002). BirkinshawÂ’s position toward the novel form may also have influenced WeldonÂ’s position: Â“readers Â… will quarrel with the conte nt of
48 a novel, but not doubt the whole concept of the novel Â” ( Letters to Alice 24). Although WeldonÂ’s detractors have criticized her postmodern view of this form, many crit ics and readers, especially feminists, celebrate it. Education and Auto-didacticism In contrast to the women writers discussed in Chapter 1, Weldon received not only a formal education but also an extracurricular literary education att ributable to the intellectual atmosphere created by her mother and grandmother, a concert pianist. Until the publication of Auto da Fay in 2002 Weldon downplayed her literary antecedents and extensive, if informal, literary education. However, as a voracious young re ader, she read Hans Christian Anderson, the Arthur Mee Fairy Books, J. R. R. Tolkien, Jules Verne, Olaf Stapledon, H. G. Wells, and Rider Haggard, among others. During long walks, her mother recited poetry, e.g., Tennyson, Byron, and Keats. Her father paid her sixpence for each one of ShakespeareÂ’s sonnets she could recite, and she memorized Â“The Lady of ShalottÂ” and John Stuart MillÂ’s Â“On Liberty.Â” In disobedience to the nuns at St. Ma ryÂ’s Convent school in Christchurch, she read the King James Version of the Bible: Â“I f ell in love with language. . I wrestled with the notion of the hills lifting themselves u p and the valleys being exaltedÂ” ( Auto 57). She remembers studying Latin, loving Â“the sound, meter and wit of this language . which paid such vigorous tribute to the exact order of event, the exact placing of words for maximum effect, maximum ironyÂ” ( Auto 140). Later, Weldon read Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, Sinclair Lewis, Aldous Huxl ey, Upton Sinclair, G.B. Shaw, Leo Tolstoy, Evelyn Waugh, H.G. Wells, and Thomas Wolfe, a canonical, and male, list. Weldon lists the Â“low tastesÂ” of her teen yearsÂ—the romances of Georgette Heyer, the detective mysteries of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Chr istie,
49 and Â“blockbusters out of Hollywood, thrillers . .Â” ( Auto 141). She names She-WhoMust-Be-Obeyed (Haggard, 1923), read at only ten, as a favorite. She compares its archetypical themeÂ—a fortunate woman losing everything through greedÂ—to t he same theme in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and The Bulgari Connection Discussion list contributor Bernadette Power cites a similar common trope in Growing Rich (1992), DarcyÂ’s Utopia (1990), and Big Women (1997) of Â“the capable resourceful daughter from the completely hopeless family who manages some sort of social mobility t hrough paid work, then becomes vile and heartlessÂ” (14 Jan. 2001). WeldonÂ’s claim not to know what literature is, then, flickers and fades given her extensive reading, re viewing and judging of literary contests, and publications of, especially, Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen Doing and Writing in the Workforce Unlike many of her foremothers, Weldon was able to do, not just write. After graduating from St. AndrewÂ’s University with a masterÂ’s degree in economics and psychology in 1956, 12 Weldon began her career through a position in the Foreign Office. She gathered information and wrote pamphlets to be dropped over Poland during the Cold War. This first phase of WeldonÂ’s writing career corresponds to Elaine Showal terÂ’s Â“feminineÂ” phase of womenÂ’s writingÂ—imitating prevailing modes of the dominant tradition. Â“I wrote papers for my masters on the state of coal-mining, housing, educa tion and so on behind the Iron Curtain, and understood that it was my task to present the worst picture and not the best of what was going on.Â” From the vantage point of fifty years 12 Likely Weldon graduated in 1956, but in standard r eference works her graduation has also been reporte d as 1952 and 1954.
50 experience Weldon defines the anomaly: Â“But wherever I have been it is the sam e: very few people are interested in the truth, most would rather have their preconcept ions confirmed than bother to alter themÂ” ( Auto 243). To maneuver readers into looking at the truth and resisting the dictates of mass culture, Weldon uses lessons from the advert ising industry: make the view pleasurable through a quick pace, brevity, humor, and frivolity. However, WeldonÂ’s truths are contemporary, often fleeting observations, not eterna l verities. After becoming pregnant out of wedlock, Weldon resigned before she could be fired from the Foreign Office. The London Daily Mirror liking her application letter, hired her to write answers to hire-purchase problems for the readersÂ’ advice page s. Hirepurchase, 13 a new, often misunderstood concept during the 1950s, enabled consumers to procure household items without saving to purchase them outright, but it meant they paid up to 66% above the list price. Weldon ironically expresses the hypocrisy of the schem e in which she participated: Â“The power of the Press is behind you! . The Mirror the PeopleÂ’s Friend! We will protect you from your wrongs and increase our cir culation . .Â” ( Auto 268). Weldon then enters ShowalterÂ’s third Â“femaleÂ” phaseÂ—self-discovery, a turning inward and a search for identity. Of the five men and Weldon on a newly formed television advertising team, Â“None of us had the slightest idea what we were doing . We struggled on, on our own, re-inventing TV advertising from first principlesÂ” ( Auto 272). In 1955, the threatening juggernaut of commercial television, with its vulgarity and consumerism, disruption of family, culture, and political life, seemed traitorous to 13 Corresponds to rent-to-own plans in the United Stat es.
51 academia and common decency in Britain. But Weldon thrived on creating new culture: Â“I just loved inventing characters and fitting them into mini-sagas.Â” Althou gh the advertising teamÂ’s soft sell was tasteful, Â“there was no real risk of them s hifting productÂ” ( Auto 273). So again Weldon was unemployed. She experienced painfully how, when social values conflict with the aims of capitalism, the latter will prevail Weldon returned to ShowalterÂ’s second career phaseÂ—protest against standards and values. As a Gallup poll market researcher, she polled men on London street corne rs to ask why they had chosen their ties. To avoid bitter weather and the menÂ’s sexualize d responses, Weldon fictionalized choice-of-tie reasons to match fictionalized nam es and addresses. She was promoted. In this instance, Weldon experienced a material ben efit bestowed by the business world, based on lies perceived to better illustrate truth than truth itself. To negotiate capitalism in the production of libratory fiction, Weldon f inds that one may integrate the strategies of capitalism with deconstructive metafiction, adding yet another layer, designed to open the mind, to Marshall McLuhanÂ’s theory that the medium is the message. With her next writings, Weldon continued in the second career phaseÂ—protest and autonomyÂ—but first she joined distinguished fictional protagonists in marrying, out of wrong-headed ideas about commodification, the wrong man. Writing of her poverty-stricken, distanced self in the third person, Weldon recalls, Â“She would donate her sexual and domestic services in exchange for bed and board for herself and her childÂ” ( Auto 286-7). She married Ronald Bateman, a headmaster in his late forties living in the suburb of Acton, with a masterÂ’s degree in mathematics from Oxford. Once her materia l concerns faded, Weldon began to feel that she was wasting her life. Relevant to
52 WeldonÂ’s career at this point is Carolyn HeilbrunÂ’s citation of what Erik Eriks on (considering only men) defines as moratorium : Â“a time when the individual appears . to be getting nowhere, accomplishing none of his aims, or altogether unclear as to what those aims might be [but] actually preparing for the task that, all unrecogniz ed, awaitsÂ” ( Writing 49). Heilbrun elaborates, Â“This condition is marked by a profound sense of vocation, with no idea of what that vocation is, and by a strong sense of inadequacy and deprivationÂ” (53). So Weldon repeated a strategy of negotiation used by her literary foremothers: write at home, for profit, without harm to family. Hiding in Â“the loo,Â” Weldon scripted a television play, but the BBC found the emotionally autobiographical subject of Â“a prostitute living as a married woman in a suburbÂ” unsuitable for 1950s audiences ( Auto 291). She wrote a novel rejected for its bad dialogue and decided that Â“writing novels . was the home handcraft that got you nowhere,Â” so she Â“threw the manuscripts in the dustbinÂ” and gave up writing ( Auto 292). Weldon, after leaving the marriage to Bateman, returned to ShowalterÂ’s fir st phaseÂ—imitation of prevailing modes of writingÂ—but not to its internalization of prevailing standards for truth and fiction. She became a fashion advertising copywr iter. Of her participation in the commodification of language, Weldon remembers, Â“I could still not afford to have any moral qualms about what I was doing for a living. Ne cessity ruled.Â” ( Auto 322). Weldon has repeatedly cited material concerns as a reason for writing and asserted that morality is what one can afford, but as an established wom an of letters, she reasons, Â“That a living must be earned somehow is no justification for rotting t he fabric of societyÂ” ( Auto 340-1). Weldon understands that to convince consumers to buy a product, an advertiser sells them a construct that narrows their view of their own l ives.
53 WeldonÂ’s literary products, however, do not let the reader off easily. Despite the ir entertaining humor, the stories neither coddle the reader nor provide answers to the questions they pose. Offensive Strategy by an Exceptional Woman Entering again ShowalterÂ’s second phaseÂ—declaring independence and claiming autonomyÂ—Weldon progressed toward becoming a professional writer in a narrower sense while she waited at home for the birth of her second child in 1963. She wrote A Catching Complaint which, when produced, starred some of the timeÂ’s best actors. 14 Having seen a friend and advertising colleague write a successful televi sion play, Weldon awakened from the ideological fiction that women could not write for television beca use they could not understand technology. In fact, Weldon realized, she had been writing, producing, editing, cutting, dubbing, and adding music to television commercials. She saw that Â“the only difference between a TV commercial and a TV play, is that the first is short and sells a product and the second is long and sells an ideaÂ” ( Auto 363). That during the 1980s, Fay Weldon was the exceptional woman of the BBC is widely accepted. At the time, the male-dominated BBC had few women executi ves, and less than fifteen percent of the creative workforce was women (Hallam 141). Not only was there a dearth of female writers, male writers moved into previously fe male domains, writing childrenÂ’s television and soap operas. The Â“single-play market was bec oming increasingly inaccessible to any but top established writers, mainly me nÂ” (Bird & Eliot 219). Yet seven of WeldonÂ’s plays were televised, as well as two adaptations, and t wo serials. At the time of a survey by the WomenÂ’s Committee of the WritersÂ’ Gui ld of 14 Russell Godgrey, Diana Fairfax, Priscilla Morgan, H ilda Baker, and Tessa Wyatt.
54 Great Britain, Weldon commented, Â“The problem is writing things . if you can wri te something theyÂ’ll do [produce] itÂ” (Bird & Eliot 219). Unconcerned with the contradiction, Weldon explained that Â“there is reluctance to spend big [production] budgets on women because of a basic assumption that anything done by a woman . is inferior to anything done by a manÂ” (Bird & Eliot 220). Splitting Consciousness: Distancing Self from Work Despite courageous, disruptive, and possibly manipulative airing of views over forty years of her career, Weldon constructed a private life separate from published fiction. Similar to some literary foremothers, Weldon saw herself as Â“a st ruggling woman with an illegitimate baby in the wrong country, at the wrong timeÂ” (Â“ Auto da Fay, Â” Meet the Author ). It is no surprise that early in her career Weldon did Â“not think the life or personality of writers to be particularly pertinent to their wor kÂ” (qtd. in Mitchell 104). In a mid-1980s interview, Weldon summed up a wild, young adult period of her life with Â“[I] knocked about in neurotic fashionÂ” (qtd. in Haffenden 310). WeldonÂ’s fictionalizing of her personal life is amply demonstrated by such ref erences as the Current Biography Workbook and the Dictionary of Literary Biography which differ on the dates of significant events. When confronted by interviewer Valerie Grove about guarding family privacy with lies about biographical facts, Weldon replied, Â“Y ou mean I tell lies? [Life is] fiction tooÂ”. But this negotiation between private and publ ic life has positively affected WeldonÂ’s career in the quick march that is the current c ulture industry. Her inconsistencies create conflict and suspense. Although she may truly Â“se e no virtue in consistency,Â” her inconsistencies in interviews and as a result of advanci ng stages of life create public and media interest (qtd. in Rountree 97). In Auto da Fay: A Memoir
55 (2002) and Mantrapped (2004), Weldon not only opened her lifeÂ—personal and professionalÂ—to public scrutiny, but in the latter insisted that a writerÂ’s life and fiction are inseparable. Concealing and Revealing Sexuality Reviewer Richard Eder calls the title of WeldonÂ’s memoir, Auto da Fay Â“a virtuoso triple pun on inquisitorial self-punishment.Â” In it, she skewers herself by recounting events beginning in 1956 that involve too much alcohol, and random, unconsidered sexual activity. In third person, using the surname of the father of her fi rst baby to distance her earlier, unacceptable self, she observes, Â“Davies wasnÂ’t fa cing up to her responsibilities; she . let her mother baby-sit all day and then all night as w ell. Davies would go to pubs, parties, and goodness knows what. Davies was man-crazyÂ” ( Auto 284). She entirely repudiates the self who was the wife of Ronald Bateman: Â“Fay Bateman is more than the current Â‘IÂ’ can bearÂ” ( Auto 283). In a sexless marriage with a man whom she discovered to be a voyeur, she helped her friend Ellen, who was a junior executive at an advertising agency, entertain traveling executives. She, Elle n, and the executives engaged in dangerous sexual activity. Weldon points out that although this behavior was not, strictly speaking, prostitution, it was an exchange of sexual act ivity in return for smooth business dealings, and, like her marriage to Bateman, commodifi cation of a woman as a form of exchange. For such admissions, reviewers termed her tone i n Auto da Fay Â“arch,Â” Â“detached,Â” and even Â“numb.Â” Weldon ends her memoir just as she enters the thirdÂ—self-discoveryÂ—phase of her career at age 35: Â“What I do from now on, all that early stuff digested and out of t he way, is write, and let living take a minor roleÂ” ( Auto 366). After this point in her
56 increasingly public life, she keeps Â“all that early stuffÂ” out of the way, for even during the increasingly tolerant late twentieth century, some of it did not befit the prope r woman writer. This defensive strategy protected family members from unwanted publ icity and WeldonÂ’s image within the culture industry, resulting in continued marketability as she moved into the fourth career phaseÂ—woman of letters and public intellectual. Weldon also protected family members from the often autobiographical content of her w riting by requesting that they refrain from reading it. While this strategy may of fer little actual protection, it frees Weldon of responsibility for their reactions. Nearly a ha lf-century later, the early nonfiction material has become highly marketable in a cultur e industry made increasingly tolerant in part through its own voracious consumption. For years Weldon proclaimed Â“that all fiction springs quite free of the authorÂ” (Hoggard). But with the publication of Mantrapped (2004), she reversed herself to observe that Â“fiction alone is not enoughÂ” (Â“ Mantrapped ,Â” Meet the Author ). In this effort, instead of prescribing, Weldon weakly postscripts popular culture. Responding to reality television or Â“real life lived out in a fictional context,Â” she interw eaves her life through the fiction ( Mantrapped 20). With commentaries on the relationships among WeldonÂ’s life, composition processes, resulting fiction, and the fictionÂ’s refle xive effect on her life, Mantrapped interweaves a novel about Tricia and Peter who accidentally exchange souls. True to WeldonÂ’s penchant for popular culture, the commentaries read like confessional autobiography, complete with name-dropping. They do provide material of critical and historical interest. But the novel, confusing enough w ith Tricia inhabiting PeterÂ’s body and vice versa, suffers from the interruptions.
57 High Productivity Although in Auto da Fay Weldon decries her complicity in Â“rotting the fabric of societyÂ” (341), she remains open about employing narrative strategies derived f rom the commodification of language in order to write literature. Further, she satirize s and exploits the culture industry. This situation translates into an idiosyncratic marketing philosophy. About her failure to produce a novel as writer-in-residence at The Savo y Hotel, Weldon commented, Â“In the past, I have sent characters to ClaridgeÂ’s to sor t their lives out. Now, I dare say, I will send them to The Savoy: it would seem invidious not toÂ” (qtd. in Brynes). Weldon pitches her topics differently to different audiences beca use in advertising she had Â“the purchaserÂ’s socioeconomic profile before [her] on the deskÂ” (qtd. in Handschuh). Later, television production required her to write Â“on levelsÂ” so t hat productions appealed to the widest audience possible, Â“sophisticated and simple alikeÂ” (8 Mar. 2003). In 2003, Weldon received Â“much bitchy criticismÂ” when she contracted with the Italian jewelry firm of Bulgari to write a novel commemorating the opening of their Sloane Street store in London 15 (Brynes). Positioning herself as a meta-consumer, Weldon states, Â“I write the novel I want to read, because no one else has writte n itÂ” (qtd. in Handschuh). In part, Weldon has allowed marketability to determine her literary production. Her first novel, The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke was originally published in the United States as . and the wife ran away ; Little Sisters was published as Words of Advice ; Affliction 15 The Bulgari Connection and its conditions of reception will be explored i n Chapter 3.
58 as Trouble ; and Big Women as Big Girls DonÂ’t Cry In a composition process unlike her usual dash to print, Weldon wrote Splitting in intervals over two years. She finished a version in which the protagonist Â“existed as the sum of her troubles . leaving her almost non-existent and invisibleÂ” (19 Aug. 1998). A later version left the protagonist Â“her true self, busy and sensible and un-neurotic . though . rather boringÂ” (19 Aug. 1998). In England, Flamingo published the non-existent, invisible version; in the United States, Atlantic Monthly Press preferred and published the busy sensible, boring version. About this situation Weldon commented: Â“[T]he UK version is the right one and Version B was a revision too far, but if you write a novel called Spitting [sic] it is all too like to split itself . .Â” (19 Aug. 1998). This comment disingenuously omits the likelihood that each version was better marketable to its particular consumer population. Weldon frequently eschews artistic purity in f avor of financial acumen. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983), her best known novel in the United States, was published in its U.S. Ballantine edition without Chapter 29 of the British Hodder & Stoughton edition. In this chapter the protagonist joins and then rejects a separatist-feminist commune. Weldon says that in the United States the chapte r was Â“censored . for fear of annoying the readers and losing sales . .Â” (11 Jan. 2001). The Life and Loves of a She-Devil has been adapted for the screen twice: by Ted Whitehead as a serial for BBC television (1986), and by Jonathan Bret, Barry Strugatz, a nd Mark Burns as an Orion Pictures feature film (1989). Although WhiteheadÂ’s version won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts for best drama series, it cha nged the novel through an increased focus on the protagonistÂ’s wayward husband and his lover. Weldon
59 praises WhiteheadÂ’s version for working Â“extremely wellÂ” (qtd. in Kumar). T he feature film reduces the novel to a Â“formula Hollywood patriarchal vehicleÂ” according to film critic Pamela Katz. Although Weldon agrees, her comment that Â“it does a write r no harm at all to have Roseanne and Meryl Streep in their films . .Â” reveals her attention t o marketability (qtd. in Kumar). 16 Forming Literature from Personal ExperienceÂ—Alternate Paths There was so much unsaid in the world I could go on saying it for ever Â—Fay Weldon Like several earlier women writers, WeldonÂ’s career as a novelist was root ed partially in writing plays. With publication of The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke in 1967, Weldon entered ShowalterÂ’s third career phaseÂ—self-discovery. This was accompl ished through the unorthodoxy of fleshing television play scripts into novels; idiosyncratic femini st content; and a perfunctory style attributed to three factors: a reflexive cr itique of her psychoanalytic orality, the editorial demands of copywriting, and the interr uptions of small children. As a result of generic and financial limitations on script wr iting, Weldon learned to propel the action with every line so that meaning emerged from the charac tersÂ’ words and actions (8 Mar. 2003). In Letters to Alice Weldon praises Jane AustenÂ’s powerful setting of scenes: Â“The mental presence of an actual audience is re ason for the peculiarly dramatic scene-setting. She knows how to end a scene, an episode, a chapt er, before beginning the next . .Â” (62). This observation applies to Weldon herself, for she practiced on radio and television audiences, her success quickly measured by rat ings. To wrest artistic control from the broadcast industry, Weldon revised television pl ays into 16 The adaptation of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil will be discussed further in Chapter 3.
60 her early novels, for instance, The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke and The Heart of the Country revised into a novel because it Â“was really about one of the minor characters.Â” I n the novel version, she replaced all the material that the BBC had cut from the screenpla y. Then she Â“discovered the pleasure of making comments outside the action . and became a novelistÂ” (8 Mar. 2003). In both literary production and public statements, Weldon has maintained an uneasy dialog with the WomenÂ’s Movement. Her direct comments on feminism exemplify her resistance to hegemony and the near impossibility of defining he r position. When asked in a 1995 interview how the WomenÂ’s Movement influenced her as a writer, she eschewed modesty to reply, Â“I like to think I influenced it! I started writ ing in England at the same time as the womenÂ’s movement there got going, so we were m ore or less contemporary phenomena.Â” She adds, Â“And anyway, writing about women will make you look at women in a feminist wayÂ” (qtd. in Kumar). This comment typifies WeldonÂ’s occasional disingenuousness: authors of novels, conduct books, and sermons aimed at women have not necessarily seen them in a feminist way. In 1997, her comments were more straightforward: Â“[W]hat brought about feminism is wha t brought about meÂ” (qtd. in Rountree 103). Asserting that her stories are born out of personal indignation rather than feminist theory, Weldon at once embraces and distances feminism. For Weldon, the personal is political and writing is a political act. But she says also, Â“I was never writing [feminist] propaganda . just portraits and para bles of the world I saw around me . .Â” (18 Jun. 2002). She possesses a particular talent for perceiving the world outside any particular orthodoxy.
61 Weldon has had a complex relationship with psychology and psychiatry, which she denigrates as Â“the therapy industryÂ” ( Mantrapped 192). However, she credits psychoanalysis with helping to catalyze her writing career. As a condition of marriage to Ron Weldon, Weldon agreed to psychoanalysis, which lasted eight years. In analys is Weldon distanced and accessed thoughts and feelings by Â“put[ting] them into the heads of fictional characters, and consider[ing] themÂ” ( Mantrapped 189). Writing of herself in third person, Weldon observes, Â“She has hardly time to get one sentence out before another takes over. Psychoanalysis . enables her, as she explains herself non-stop . to separate thought out from feeling, and turn both into coherent narrative. She learns t he value of finishing her sentences and composing them with graceÂ” ( Auto 353). However Weldon denigrates the workings of capitalism, she also credits its lessons in reader response. She worked in advertising agencies where typographe rs taught her that readers resist dense passages of print. Copywriting colle agues also tutored her: Elizabeth Smart, who wrote By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945) taught her Â“the value of exactitudeÂ” ( Mantrapped 29). Maurice Smelt, Â“a grammarian, a perfectionist gave me the value of precision: he rejected nearly everything I wrote until in the end I understood why it would not doÂ” ( Auto 323). Â“Â‘Reading and notingÂ’ tests, to which our ads were regularly subjectedÂ—which words people remembered, which they ignored, the overall [impression] left by the textÂ—confirmed what I was ta ught. So I practiced itÂ” (8 Mar. 2003). Undoubtedly, the capitalistic practice works. When her book sales decreased, WeldonÂ’s agent reminded her, Â“You write consistent product, we sellÂ” ( Mantrapped 211). Despite training in advertising, Weldon has attributed her epigrammatic prose
62 style to the interruptions of small children. As noted in Chapter 1, Weldon wrote in stolen moments, well aware from her own upbringing that children resent parent al absorption outside themselves. In Mantrapped she echoes Charlotte SmithÂ’s complaints about the forced pace: Â“And so through rain, hail, love, disappointment, psychoanalysis, notoriety, disgrace, divorce and pregnancies, rehearsals, lost socks, cooking, laundry and plastic bags, I somehow kept the writing coming. Faster, faster, more, mor eÂ” (154). In fact, Weldon admits that her methods of composition approach automatic writing: Â“I write first and think later and make things up as I go along . .Â” (9 Mar. 2001). This may be somewhat inaccurate even considering her prolific output. During a 1989 interview, critic Olga Kenyon observed, Â“You are much more planned and deliberate than you sometimes admitÂ” and segued into a question about unproductive days ( Women Writers 207). Weldon answered only the follow-up question, neither affirming nor denying KenyonÂ’s observation; she seems to prefer a public image as a dasher-off of fi ction. Weldon received her only direct training as a novelist in 1968, when poet and critic Louis Simpson became her neighbor in London. To The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke Simpson reacted, Â“But this is not a proper novel! . Novels have inner form . shape, purpose, profundity. This is just and then, and then, and then, as if a child were writing it. Worse, it is written in the present tense . .Â” ( Mantrapped 82-3). At this unqualified criticism, Weldon portrays herself as an interloper into literature. Her fa mily needed income, and she needed to expand her intellectual life. She adapted a literary form to her needs, and the novel was selling. Still, she says she experienced her published eff ort as inadequate and confesses her reaction was due to more than SimpsonÂ’s criticism. The culture industry had its effect: according to Weldon, Granada Television produced the
63 original script because the director desired her sexually; MacGibbon and Kee published the novel because they planned to amalgamate with Granada; and an art critic revi ewed the novel enthusiastically because, as a friend of Ron Weldon, he wanted to purchase antiques at a good price ( Mantrapped 84). About WeldonÂ’s second novel, Down Among the Women (1971), Simpson asked, Â“So what you are doing in these novels is engaging in alienation techniques?Â” Wel don says she did not know or ask the meaning of his term, but she did heed his advice about novelistic shape and inner form, physical descriptions of characters, recapping the characters, and recognition of the inevitable as it forms on the page. She did not heed SimpsonÂ’s strictures to write in past tense and introduce characters slowly. Neither did she refrain from writing Â“egregious, patheticÂ” novels of domestic life ( Mantrapped 93). She has repeatedly asserted that womenÂ’s lives are as interesting and signi ficant as menÂ’s, that women, not men, maintain society through the activities of bearing and raisi ng children, feeding, clothing, cleaning, and generally enabling humanity as a whole Offensive Novel Strategies Me and my readers are in this together Â—Fay Weldon Heather Dubrow articulates in general critical terms SimpsonÂ’s objec tions to WeldonÂ’s novels: genre is so engrained in critical assessment that it becomes a n institution. As a result: It is often possible to challenge such institutions, sometimes to overthrow them, but it is virtually impossible simply to exclude them from our lives. . [W]hen an author chooses to write in a given genre, he is not merely
64 responding to the achievements and the pronouncements of others; he himself is issuing certain statements about his art and often about art in general. (10) Certainly Weldon issues statements about the novel form. One is a refusal to cons truct novels as received truth. Using the novel satirically, Weldon writes metafi ction with authorial intrusions, reminding readers often that a story of lies only illustrate s truth. Â“There is the world as it is and there is the world as we would like it to be. I am try ing to make the world as I would like it to be . and thereÂ’s a gulf in between,Â” she asserts (qtd. in Kumar). However, her fiction functions within that gulf. She suggests that marginalized people have more power than they realize to affect and construct cul ture. They can access that power if they perceive how mass culture imposes socia l roles and imposed social roles act against them consciously to create a culture that br oadens the mind: Â“In advertising I was intensely conscious of the way we sold a notion or norma lity. I want to take that process apartÂ” (qtd. in Kenyon, Women Writers 195). WeldonÂ’s novels seem overtly didactic, even strident or preachy, harkening back to conduct books. Critic Jenny Newman terms them Â“survival manualsÂ” (188) for women. But readers cannot pin down any overt moral to her stories. WeldonÂ’s sort of didacticism entertains while conveying observations about the realities of l ife. But its sub-textual lesson is, Â“Wake up! Observe without letting ideologies, especiall y commodified ones, determine or deny your perceptions.Â” Through dark, satiric comedy that provides pleasure and distance, WeldonÂ’s novels point rudely outside the text: Â“Jokes serve as punctuation, and alienation in the Brechtian sense. You have to come out of the alternative world offered by the artist and consider your own, even as you l aughÂ”
65 (22 Nov. 2000). Weldon opens issues for reader consideration by creating several characters with wildly differing ideas but presenting each characterÂ’s ideas as equally valid. Critic Tess Cosslett finds WeldonÂ’s satiric novels Â“essentially am oral, bent on provocation from all directionsÂ” (96). Although the novels present charactersÂ’ situat ions as contingent, they have a moral overlay: Weldon purposely provokes readers to reflec t on the causes and effects of right and wrong. For this, Weldon credits her mother, Â“ an intellectually rigorous personÂ” who put everything into Â“some moral context, though not a conventional oneÂ” (qtd. in Kenyon, Women Writers 204). The pleasures of reading WeldonÂ’s novels are several: fast pace, humor, wild coincidences, recognizable characters with common flaws. And readers expend lit tle effort suspending disbelief or maintaining resistance to subjection by the te xt. Weldon refuses to write possessive texts; her metafictional narrative strate gies and authorial comments remind readers that they are reading a story of lies that refle cts truth. Nor does Weldon write uplifting, absorbing tales of a sympathetic protagonist liberating herself from whatever oppression has plagued her. WeldonÂ’s protagonists usually return to stasi s once a crisis has passed, but the novelsÂ’ endings seem neither entirely happy nor final. Weldon further resists traditional conventions of the novel by mixing genres, using drama, in the general sense of story, presented in various modesÂ—fairy tale, fol k tale, magic realism, horror story, science fiction, detective mysteryÂ—a ll to open readers to new ways of thought. At the same time, instead of refusing the co-opting functions of capitalism, she employs them against it. Weldon operates to publish deconstructive novels, the profits from which support her and her family. She attempts to awaken readers to the machinations of male-dominated mass culture, and in her later work to t he
66 ergonarchy, her term for the forces of modern mass culture that administer, compartmentalize, and diminish human life, including the culture industry character ized by Horkheimer and Adorno. Conclusion Weldon spent her apprentice years in print advertising and then in television and radio, where economic necessity assured that she would imitate prevailing conve ntions, artistic standards, and ideologies of mass cultureÂ—the first phase of Showalter Â’s career analysis. In her second career phase, Weldon declared her independence and claimed autonomy by writing novels to liberate her works from the artistic controls of broadcasting. She transformed the prevailing conventions of advertising and scri pting by applying an epigrammatic style, direct addresses to readers, short sente nces, and short, widely spaced paragraphs to the novel form. Then Weldon initiated her third career phase, a search for self-defined individuality, through continued unconventional explorations of the novel and other forms. In her fourth, and current, career phase as public intellectual, she continues to construct herself against the traditional ty pe of the artist. She boasts of earning a prosperous living by writing, not of suffering fo r her art. Instead of hiding away in a garret, she appears regularly in mass media, looking a s attractive as possible to enhance sales and prompt further appearances. She is extroverted, cheerful, and energetic. Instead of world-weary, she portrays he rself moving through life and literature as a nave picara. Both in Auto da Fay and Mantrapped she constructs herself as a nearly accidental novelist. Although she takes the duties of her work seriously, her prolific, uneven output
67 demonstrates that she does not take any single work, or herself, overly seriously 17 The artist as a tortured soul is a role Weldon denies; she constructs herself as an eternal, happy worker: Â“See me as Sisyphus, but having a good timeÂ” (qtd. in Newman 188). Lack of self-consciousness about uneven performance and lack of neurotic perfectionism enable Weldon to move continuously forward. Before the publication of Auto da Fay she was asked about her next book. Calling it an autobiography, she commented, Â“And itÂ’s not even as if ongoing life goes on holdÂ” (qtd. in Handschuh). WeldonÂ’s novels emerge from the interplay of market forces (earning a living) authorial control (also subject to market forces), and the pleasure of writing the novels she wishes to read. The popularity of her fiction, onscreen and in print, established Weldon during the 1980s as a public figure, a British woman of letters and public intellectual. As such, she has insisted on saying the unsaid, especially to eleva te domestic concerns. She has also embraced and encouraged rage and humor to energize readers to liberate themselves from ideological fictions imposed by mass culture. Weldon has revised the role of the woman of letters by using the materials of the popular cultureÂ—melodrama, science fiction, ghost tales, romance. These she com bines with certain constructs, theorized by high culture but common in contemporary intellectual discourse, to instance, mirror-stage theory, and Foucauldian alt ernative history, and female identity constructed by the male gaze. In so doing, Weldon posits alterations to mass culture and helps popularize the ideas. Weldon fulfills the requirement of social critic bell hooks that feminists concern themselves wi th literacy: hooks has faulted theorists and academicians for making arguments meant to be 17 This point, significant in placing WeldonÂ’s oeuvre will be addressed more fully in Chapter 3.
68 democratic and empowering while using language only they can decipher (105). Feminist Maia Ettinger insists that Â“communities engaged in struggles f or liberation need access to [critical] theory . [because it often has] direct bearing on peopleÂ’s livesÂ” (155). Weldon makes postmodern, feminist theories available in recognizable genres, i n brief bursts, to those whose lives do not allow meditative reading of deeply engagin g novels and the unpacking of dense prose. Through WeldonÂ’s stories, readers can translate theory from fiction to their real lives. Weldon presents flexible pieces of a puzzle the reader must piece together; she baffles to incite thinking and consideration. I believe that the whole of her oeuvre ha s a complex, though important, inferential, feminist moral center. Her protagonistsÂ’ problems arise from their ignorance of their own character and needs, their own f ailure to be healthily selfish, that is, to love themselves as well as they do others. In her w orks Â“women must, to begin with, see themselves and all women as human beings, and as guardians of their own integrity and fateÂ” (Barreca, Â“ItÂ’s the EndÂ” 179). To sa ve themselves from oppression, women must be willing to actÂ—often without the benefit of knowledge or foresight, in a world fraught with happenstanceÂ—in what they perceive t o be their own best interest. Women free themselves from oppression when they decline t o act with binary concepts of right and wrong imposed by mass culture. They can t ap into the energy engendered by hate, resentment, and anger to fuel acts beneficial t o themselves. Women resist oppression when they do not privilege loving men over loving their sisters and friends, and they must stop loving men as they exist in their imaginationsÂ—phantoms in whose image their husbands stand ( The Cloning of Joanna May 19). Women rightly make up life as they go along, based on the concept of
69 situational morality, validating the multiplicity of experienceÂ—and they s hould do so with energy and enjoyment (Barreca, Â“ItÂ’s the EndÂ” 181). The characters in We ldonÂ’s novels question Â“the right of any society to govern; indeed, [question] the very idea of society itself (Barreca, Â“ItÂ’s the EndÂ” 176). And women should remain skeptica l of all sources of knowledge; whether it is knowledge proselytized by cultural instit utions or passed on by other women. At the same time, women should listen carefully to the stories of their sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and nieces as possible sourc es of wisdom, support, and strength. Women who consciously recount and seek to understand their life experiences can gain subjectivity; in Weldonspeak: Â“I tell my st ory; therefore I amÂ—until IÂ’m not.Â” Such contradictory language and the strategy behind it characterize the diffic ulties faced by reviewers and critics. In Chapter 3, I will explore the critica l constructions of WeldonÂ’s career and works.
70 Chapter 3: Critical Constructions of Fay Weldon As Woman Writer Introduction The passage which follows, from The Cloning of Joanna May (1989), illustrates in part why Fay WeldonÂ’s novels resist criticism. In Joanna May Weldon utilizes the popular forms and motifs of suspense, psychological science fiction, twinning, and the tarot. More seriously, Weldon explores themes of identity formation, mirror-sta ge theory, nature versus nurture, the commodification of women, human cloning, and the nuclear power industry. In this passage, Joanna May waxes philosophical, or perhaps religious, on the human ego, forgiveness and compassion; she achieves a measure of tranquility. But after a double-spaced break in text, at the very end of the chapte r, Weldon intrudes sharply to disturb JoannaÂ’s, and the readerÂ’s, tranquility: It is my experience that a quiet mind is gained only by forgiveness: when you cease to see the other as enemy, as merely yourself in another guise, see the Â“youÂ” as perceived by the other, forget the notion of Â“IÂ”Â— I shiver, I suffer, I bleed, I hate, my head will burst with my resentments; you whom I hate for not acknowledging this I Â—then peace descends. Our lives are our own again. Until the next storm bursts. (92) A trio of WeldonÂ’s comments on the novel Puffball (1980) further illustrates the difficulties of critically constructing WeldonÂ’s novels. In a 1995 interview, We ldon
71 articulates her thesis in Puffball : babies, not parents, are the major players in the drama of pregnancy: Â“[b]abies just exist . with all their passions and emotionsÂ” (qtd. in Kum ar). But in 2002, Weldon writes that Puffball Â“was always just about Liffey [the pregnant protagonist], the witch, and the power and lyricism of landscape in all its formsÂ” ( 18 Sep. 2002). 18 Elsewhere, Weldon describes Puffball as a purposeful refutation of radical feminismÂ’s espousal of androgyny. Weldon describes early reactions to her work in the third person: Â“What she says is disconcerting to others. Friends leave rooms when she comes into them. She is by implication suggesting a revolution . [but she] is not trying to change, just to descri beÂ” ( Mantrapped 161). But here WeldonÂ’s disingenuousness is showing again; she well understands that language has a formative function and that most people would rather have their culturally correct preconceptions confirmed than exploded by truth. Too, she prevaricates, for she tells interviewers that Â“fiction does make minute a lterations in peopleÂ’s livesÂ” and that Â“I want to lead people to consider and explore new ideasÂ” (qtd. i n Haffenden 315 & Kenyon, Â“RadicalizingÂ” 110). Weldon is conscious of writing literature with the intent to reform; for instance, to let women know how beastly m en can be, Â“so they can do what they want about itÂ” (qtd. in Haffenden 308). Elsewhere, Weldon specifically contradicts Dale Carnegie: Â“You have to be prepared to lose fri ends if you mean to influence peopleÂ” (qtd. in Handschuh). In this chapter, I will evaluate the critical work on Weldon and her oeuvre, emphasizing how Weldon has been constructed by her readers, reviewers, and criti cs. I contend that feminist critics construct Weldon positively, with only a few rese rvations, 18 Quotations from the Fay Weldon Discussion Group on line are documented parenthetically by the date of posting. The quotations are reproduced as posted. .
72 for she is their sister. Their critiques tend to be descriptive or partisan ra ther than argumentative discourse. Some male reviewers and critics manifest chauv inist attitudes, overtly or covertly. For the former group, Weldon serves as one of the several slig htly flawed contemporary literary heroines; to the latter, a less than intellect ually focused lady novelist, but a writer just serious enough that they consider her work. Like the quali ty of WeldonÂ’s literary production, her critical construction is also uneven. Further, I cont end that although critics accurately construct Weldon as an equivocal feminist, post modern novelist, at once exploiting and subverting the culture industry, several privilege h er construction as an anachronistic, displaced sage and wild woman applying her wis dom and vigor within an oppressive urban mass culture. Although Weldon participates in all levels of postmodern cultural life, she preserves a space out of which she restores the ancient mode of womenÂ’s oral culture. Since wise women advise especially the young, I begin the chapter with a bri ef discussion of how WeldonÂ’s works, combined with her public persona, affect her readers. Then, an analysis of selected reviews reveals the continuing conflation of the wom an writerÂ’s personal life with her literary production, as discussed in Chapter 1. This chapter continues with an attempt to define the difficulties of critically evaluati ng WeldonÂ’s literary production. I posit that her productions, prolific and anticipatory, have negative ly affected her position as a woman of letters according to the standards of high culture. Virginia Woolf, for example, has been censured by critics for privileging t he aesthetic; Weldon for not producing aesthetically pleasing works of art according to moderni st principles. This, among other things, has kept Weldon in a somewhat marginalized literary position, as were her predecessors for different and various reasons. Next,
73 partially because of British televisionÂ’s reputation for excellence and We ldonÂ’s extensive production of drama, the chapter briefly treats her place in screen literat ure. Finally, I attempt to encapsulate the evaluation of WeldonÂ’s novels in terms of feminist, non-feminist, and humor criticism. The critical material considered in this chapter derives from sources appropr iate to evaluation of a writer whose aim it is to deconstruct the boundaries among mass, hig h, and popular cultures: the online Fay Weldon Discussion Group, online reviews, and critical articles and books, both online and hard copy, limited to hard copy publications available in the United States. Readerly Constructions She seems to get to the gore and not throw away the bliss Â—Ann Privateer, reader Weldon values Â“the communality of womenÂ’s interests, and the sharing of the latest eyeshadowÂ” (Dickinson). She participates on the electronic Fay Weldon Discussion List. She defamiliarizes and deformalizes the novel with such convers ational lines as this one from The Shrapnel Academy (1986): Â“Reader, I know it isnÂ’t easy. But if I can write it, you can read itÂ” (172). With such actions, Weldon deconstructs the modernist barrier between writer and reader. For Weldon and her works about womenÂ’ s lives, sisterhood is indeed powerful. Of course readersÂ’ informal Â“critiquesÂ” praise her literary work; those w ho dislike it can simply stop reading. They do not post to the Fay Weldon Discussion Group. In some places, WeldonÂ’s works are considered highly subversive; a Belgian acquaint ance of WeldonÂ’s hides in the bathroom to read novels forbidden by her husband. The tenor of
74 readerly responses can partly evaluate the efficacy of WeldonÂ’s narr ative strategies, a forty-year attempt to recount authentic female experience in order to libera te readers from the reenactment of ideological commodifications. As noted in Chapter 2, WeldonÂ’s copious works have been translated into twentyfour languages; her audience is global. Posts from the Discussion Group originate not only in Britain, the United States, and Australia, but also in France, Spain, Scandinavi a, Eastern Europe, Russia, and India. Also noted in Chapter 2, nave students of literature look to the Discussion Group for interpretive assistance. But literary scholars of fer their expertise; for example, Lana Faulks, who has authored a TwayneÂ’s English Author s evaluation of WeldonÂ’s oeuvre. Literary questions aside, posts to the Discussion Group reveal WeldonÂ’s popularity indirectly, through readersÂ’ frustration at the unavai lability of her books. One of many such posts reads, Â“I began chasing your old ones [out-of-print novels] in second hand shops. In Paris, with some small success, and in London, where I found five . .Â” (23 Jul. 2005). Women post to the Discussion Group to articulate what WeldonÂ’s work has meant within their experience of life. One comment, Â“FayÂ’s asides are simply w onderful,Â” demonstrates both the sense of kinship that Weldon inspires and an appreciation for her unconventional narrative strategies. A French primary school teacher write s that WeldonÂ’s treatment of divorce and child custody has supported her during separation from her partner and issuance of a custody judgment decreeing that she could see he r son only every other week: Â“I knew by then I would need you throughout my life.Â” She recalls thinking, Â“[Weldon] never changes subject; itÂ’s always about women goin g through, going on . . [Y]ou were always ni tout fait la mme, ni tout fait une
75 autre (23 Jul. 2005). A thirty-six-year-old woman from Perth, Australia, read and re read The Hearts and Lives of Men after picking it up in a charity shop. She attests to WeldonÂ’s rhetorical effect: Â“I have been in a strangely difficult relationship for a long-time and have felt utterly lost to myself. Reading this novel jolted me, somehow reminded me of myself and gave me a courage that has lately, inexplicably, deserted me.Â” She proposes that WeldonÂ’s novels heal by stimulating womenÂ’s imaginations (10 Oct. 2005). In interviews and public statements, Weldon often comments on the social changes she has observed in the relations between men and women since the 1950s and 1960s. Currently she regards her early feminist novels as social history: Â“I sometimes think anything I wrote before 1985 should be restricted reading for anyone under 35Â—in case it gives them a false perspective on life todayÂ” (18 Jun. 2002). But readers do not agree. One post declares that Praxis (1978) is Â“entirely relevant today. The way Praxis modified her behavior to suit each man she was withÂ— The way women in general subordinate themselves willingly to please outside forcesÂ” (27 Aug. 2002). A thirt y-yearold woman writes that she has been reading WeldonÂ’s novels since she was sixteen or seventeen: Fay you have been my friend, my sister and my mum all from the pages of your books . . Every time I re-read your books . there is something new that I can relate to as I grow older and gain more of lifes experiences Wether itÂ’s to do with being a mother . or to do with the different person you are in connection with your name, be it my birth name or taking my step-fatherÂ’s name then going back to my birth name and then a married
76 name . all those name changes seem like different chapters in my book, different version of meÂ” (28 Mar. 2005). This post affirms WeldonÂ’s successful illustration of postmodern theoretical c onstructs: the phallologocentric power of names and naming in a male-dominated society, storytellingÂ’s formative function in identity construction, multiple and seria l identities, and standpoint theory. Despite WeldonÂ’s sometime condemnation of the therapy industry, psychological theory informs her charactersÂ’ stories. This too affects WeldonÂ’s readers One who performs an undisclosed therapeutic role comments on the theme of Splitting (1995). In both versions of this novel (explained in Chapter 2), Lady Angelica Rice suffers m ultiple personality disorder brought to crisis by imminent divorce. An advocate of multipl e identities, Weldon dramatizes in dark comedy how AngelicaÂ’s Â“otherÂ” identitie s wage pink-collar guerilla warfare against the male-dominated institutions of ma ss culture, in order to preserve Angelica and restore her relative well-being. Knowledge able on this subject, WeldonÂ’s reader articulates changing a social perspective on t he human psyche: The splitting or fragmenting of identity . has, generally, been viewed as a Â‘failureÂ’ of function . and the pervasive and tacit goal of treatment was to patch the identity back together again with sticky tape (medications) and bits of string (counseling designed to return her to the life her psyche was revolting against in the first place). As I worked with women who were undergoing this type of crisis, and having experienced it myself, I began to see it differently. If the vessel shatters, it is to release the creative energy within so that it can create a new form. The cycle of birth,
77 death, rebirth (another theme . of FayÂ’s books) is Life ongoing. (2 Apr. 2001) The reader continues about this process: the psyche shatters in response to loss of i dentity or disillusionment and brings forth shadows to be recognized, accepted, and reconstellated. Thereafter on the Discussion Group, a dialog ensues between rea ders on whether human beings possess a central core, nature, or essence, WeldonÂ’s theme in, among other novels, The Cloning of Joanna May and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil For these readers and others, Weldon does not exist just as a favorite author. Even though readers may know her only through the medium of her texts, the texts actually bridge the relationship. Weldon exists Â“down among the women.Â” Her willingness to expose the vulnerabilities in womenÂ’s lives evokes for her readers the relief of gaining a trusted friend and confidante. Expressing their experienc e of life challenges most women, and this need segues into womenÂ’s self-writing, that i s, autobiography, in which women writers have struggled be a friend to themselves whi le formulating authentic portrayals of the essence of their lives. Construction of a Woman WriterÂ’s Life In Writing a WomanÂ’s Life (1988), Carolyn Heilbrun defends the confessional for womenÂ’s autobiography, reasoning that other types seem Â“self-protective, and too readily conforming to the male model of distance and apparent disinterestÂ” (68). Crit ic Elspeth Graham believes that Â“[i]ssues of self-writing are shown to be tied up quite dire ctly with issues of social class or rank, with groups and group cultures as well as individual motivations and personalitiesÂ” (212). In 2002, in her late sixties, Weldon published a confessional autobiography, Auto da Fay: A Memoir The memoir ends climactically in
78 1963, when she is thirty years old and laboring with two births, that of her son and of her first successfully produced television script. The memoir typifies WeldonÂ’s fiction and contrariness: she ends it with a beginning. But, typical of WeldonÂ’s writing, the me moir is more complicated than that because she occasionally forays beyond 1963, explori ng the effects of her distant past on her recent past. Reviewer Richard Eder of the New York Times also complicates perceptions of Auto da Fay criticizing it as too Â“austere and bracingÂ” for confession. In the midtwentieth century, WeldonÂ’s austere, bracing tone might have been well rece ived for its internalization of prevailing literary conventions, artistic standards, and soci al ideologies, that is, because it conforms to the male model of distance and apparent disinterest But in 2003, Eder seems to require of WeldonÂ’s memoir warmth, evocativeness, and nostalgia, regardless of how the recounted events inform the memoiristÂ’s affect. Additional ly, reviewer Claudia FitzHerbert finds the Weldon of Mantrapped (2002, the novel interwoven with a memoir-writerÂ’s diary) an Â“author who canÂ’t, or wonÂ’t commit Â” to her own story and so should leave it Â“to some more dependable official biographer.Â” Such receptions of autobiography reveal how mass culture continues to limit womenÂ’s construction of their lives and work. In some ways, other reviewers find fewer faults with WeldonÂ’s memoirs. Reviewing Auto da Fay, Alex Clark of The Guardian asserts that in spite of WeldonÂ’s tone of Â“arch, amused detachment . anecdotalis[ing] her own life into a series of vignettes so throwaway that they brook all sentiment and resemble nothing more than fiction . dictated, in high spirits, after dinner,Â” the reader still suffers te rror at certain episodes and at the lingering effect on Weldon of her fatherÂ’s unexplained absence. In an
79 even softer review, Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post sees in the tone of Auto da Fay the following: fondness; regret; occasional, brief malice and astonishment; stoic acceptance; humor; and occasional bursts of angerÂ—but, to WeldonÂ’s credit, no bitterness. Yet one of YardleyÂ’s statements reveals how mass culture oppressively const ructs women writers. In the penultimate paragraph he writes, Â“In 1963, two years after [Fay and RonÂ’s] marriage, she wrote a play for television . and thus began the writing care er that . surely is the lasting evidence of what her marriage gave her.Â” Aside from the post hoc fallacy, this statement ignores WeldonÂ’s stated conditions of production, including RonÂ’s disapproval and sabotage, and her financial and domestic contributions. In short, Yardley reinscribes the marriage plot onto Weldon and her literary produc tion. Similarly, Eder critiques WeldonÂ’s priorities: he notes that the memoir ends with mailing her first successful script, but Â“[o]nly secondarily is she on her way to the hospi tal, giving birth three hours later.Â” That Weldon was capitalizing on her time while waiti ng at home for labor to begin, that the doctor ordered her immediately to the hospital to induce labor because the baby was dangerously beyond forty weeks gestationÂ—these recounte d facts Elder ignores. Instead, the juxtaposition of his two observations implies that Wel don is somehow mistaken; she should pay full attention to reproducing, not to producing the literature that provides her both intellectual work and material support. For Mantrapped, FitzHerbert also criticizes Weldon in terms of motherhood. In short, Weldon should exi st foremost as the physicality of her womanhood. Weldon, however, views her script as another kind of birth: Â“I know it has an existence outside myself: I simply delive r it, as a midwife delivers a babyÂ” ( Auto 365). FitzHerbert casts the novelÂ’s characters Peter and
80 Trisha as children who suffer from WeldonÂ’s lack of full attention and her uncerta intyÂ— uncertainty being a deficiency in a positivistic mass culture. Moreover, Eder criticizes Weldon for writing a memoir Â“not to evoke the past but to get rid of itÂ” and for Â“the refusal to engage herself even with herself.Â” Eder seems oblivious to WeldonÂ’s experience of life, to what it means for a woman of WeldonÂ’s age and status to reveal facts and actions she has troubled to conceal, or muddy, for over f orty years. More specifically, Eder shows no awareness of the cultural conditions in which women lived during the 1950s and 1960s. Of course Weldon desires to distance herself from a socially unacceptable, emotionally ignorant past self through revelation a nd confession: now in her eighth decade, Weldon may want to record certain events in her own terms. Eder questions whether readers will engage with the austere, bracin g memoir, terming it autopathography extending the word pathography that Joyce Carol Oates coined to describe reductive biographies. Stylistically, WeldonÂ’s wor ks tend to the reductive, and historically, Weldon provides revelatory texts for readers who suff ered, or suffer, under similar ideologies of womanhood, sexuality, and reproduction. For Weldon to reveal herself in Auto da Fay as the failed, shameful Â“lost girlÂ” of a love affair and illegitimate baby, a perverse marriage of convenience, and the next thing to pr ostitution not only takes courage but also extends courage to her readers in ways attested to by the readers of her novels. With revelations of personal life in Auto da Fay and Mantrapped Weldon experienced what in the administered life is termed Â“a growth opportunity.Â” She clarified how events in her life shaped her fiction after long affirming the total separ ation of an authorÂ’s life and works. Weldon has stretched not only by sharing her personal growt h,
81 but also by constructing herself as a woman writer who has embraced the woman of letters phase of her career. Difficulties of Critical Construction of the New Woman of Letters Weldon stretches the constructs Â“woman of lettersÂ” and Â“public intellectualÂ” by combining the theories of high culture with the genres of popular culture to help women de-encode their perceptions from those encouraged and imposed by mass culture. Certainly WeldonÂ’s easily-read works refer women to their real lives in the service of consciousness raising and liberation. But, her postmodern literary production and continually-revised public role pose difficulties for those accustomed to critiqui ng more stable constructs. Forty years after the successful publication of her fir st novel, literary criticism of her work remains relatively thin. Considering WeldonÂ’s general attitude toward academic literature studies, s he would likely find a paucity of criticism to be high praise. Yet Weldon has archived h er papers at a university and designated an academic humor theorist and professor of literature at the University of Connecticut, Regina Barreca, as her biogr apher. 19 In Â“Of Birth and Fiction,Â” Weldon only partially humorously terms Barreca her Â“deconstructionalystÂ” (200). WeldonÂ’s approach to literary criticism, as t o many other cultural constructs, remains in flux. As mentioned in Chapter 2, Weldon declares that she sees no value in consistency. As a tactic of negotiation, her (seeming) spontaneity befits c ontemporary 19 This situation, however, folds back on itself: Bar reca is also a humor writer, having published the bestseller They Used to Call Me Snow White . But I Drifted She edited The Penguin Book of WomenÂ’s Humor and The Signet Book of American Humor She has written extensively (29 books authored and edited) on humor, feminism and literature. Some of her titles indicate a Weldonesque approach to cult ure: Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Co-Educatio n in the Ivy Leagues and Perfect Husbands (and Other Fairy Tales)
82 mass media, but it challenges literary and other critics. Weldon has knowingly constructed her position as a woman of letters within the context of a culture industry i n which all is objectified for consumption: the work of art, the female body, human identity, language itself, and even the figure of the writer per se. Aware t hat mass market capitalism relies on products continually touted as new and improved, Weldon exploits the aspects of public intellectualism and academia that also depend on the new and improved. For this reason also, Weldon and her oeuvre present difficulties for critic s. Finaula Dowling despairs of the gap in WeldonÂ’s works between high and popular literature, terming Little Sisters (1977) a Â“potboilerÂ”: Â“The appreciable difference in quality between Little Sisters Â—about which there is so little to sayÂ—and Fay WeldonÂ’s subsequent novel, Praxis Â—which demands serious critical considerationÂ—is an early warning of the authorÂ’s uneven outputÂ” (58). DowlingÂ’s evaluation, although accurate judges WeldonÂ’s work on the principle that writers strive to be highly literary a uthors of finely wrought artistic works. But like her uncle Selwyn Jepson, her grandfat her Edgar Jepson, and her mother Margaret Birkinshaw, Weldon writes commercially. Her ope nly financial aims fall outside the ideologies of high cultureÂ—a theme she explores in the novel The Bulgari Connection (2000). Constructing herself as an openly commercial worker-writer and concentrating on consciousness-raising, with a corresponding lack of emphasis on aesthetics, Weldon causes a high-culture reputation to be moot, even though the sociological production of culture perspective posits that certain works or author s may be promoted from popular to high culture. 20 20 See Jane Tompkins on Nathaniel Hawthorne (1985).
83 Throughout her career Weldon has demonstrated little interest in aesthetics, aiming instead to fulfill the instructive function of art. Her attempts to deconst ruct mass culture by framing postmodern perspectives in popular genres trouble those critics Â—for example, Louis SimpsonÂ—who expect certain (modernist) aesthetic qualities Weldon prefers and carefully preserves her slapdash image: Â“I write first and t hink later and make things up as I go along . .Â” (9 Mar. 2001). She further asserts, Â“all I wanted to do was communicateÂ” and Â“I never run out of things to sayÂ” (qtd. in Kenyon, Women Writers 193, 195). By saying everything, Weldon critiques herself, intensifying the cri tical problem; her literary production Â“enforces skepticism about the power of representa tionÂ” (Yaeger 272), leaving critics the task of developing vocabulary adequate to evaluate shifty postmodern fiction. Moreover, WeldonÂ’s style alone seems too funny, breezy, and slick to sustain text-based critical inquiry. Derived from the principles of commercial adve rtising and television screenplays, her prose repels the deep analysis of traditional cr iticism. In contrast, A. S. ByattÂ’s novel Possession (1990) draws readers ever deeper into a mysterious, self-contained world spiraling so far inward and backward in time tha t readers come to doubt its fictionality. In ByattÂ’s novel, possession is both theme a nd method, and into such, critics can delve deeper and deeper. WeldonÂ’s rhetoric, however, with its flippant authorial intrusions and jerky undercutting comments, does not crea te a self-contained world. As Kenyon observes, Â“Her acerbity alienates in order to enforce reflectionÂ” (Â“RadicalizingÂ” 111). It has been said of Joyce Carol Oates that were she not so prolific, her lite rary reputation might be higher. The same might be said of Weldon had she written only a
84 few novels and some outstanding plays. Even she admits that Â“prolific is not a respectable thing for any writer to be,Â” but, puncturing the conventional artisti c value of rarity, adds, Â“I could [say] that others read too slowly, not that I write too fastÂ” ( qtd. in Kenyon, Women Writers 206). So, added to the impossibility of treating the full oeuvre of a currently productive writer is WeldonÂ’s prolific output. Constantly taking up the next literary project Weldon takes working more seriously than her works, uneven quality seeming less important t han continuing to produce. Within the last seven years, she has published copiously, some of these productions being hard-to-evaluate formal experiments: a commissio ned novel, The Bulgari Connection (2000); her truncated autobiography, Auto da Fay: A Memoir (2002); an adaptation of FlaubertÂ’s novel into a stage play, Madame Bovary: Breakfast with Emma (composed 2000, produced 2003); a Â“reality novelÂ”Â—a novel of gender-swapping interleaved with her memoir-writerÂ’s diaryÂ— Mantrapped (2004); an adaptation of the French novel The Devil in the Flesh (1921) into lyrics for the first cinematic opera (2005); her twenty-sixth novel, She May Not Leave (2006); and a mix of philosophy, short stories, and self-help in What Makes Women Happy (2006). Aside from the need for considered reflection as a high culture activity, literary critic ism does not itself support its practitioners. However, even though critics cannot stay abreast of W eldonÂ’s production, each of her works and her overall extensive literary production deserve st udy for their satire, humor, and social and metafictional commentary. Connected to the problem posed by prolific output, and perhaps its cause, is WeldonÂ’s fearlessness. As H.G. Wells remarked of WeldonÂ’s mother, she knows no fea r. Although Weldon is well aware of reviews and criticism, she asserts: Â“I like approval like
85 anybody else, but I donÂ’t need it and I donÂ’t depend on itÂ” (qtd. in Pearlman 86). WeldonÂ’s decision to write a privately commissioned novel, The Bulgari Connection exemplifies this attitude; she rejects the literary worldÂ’s unwritte n rules that could increase her critical status. Ironically, The Bulgari Connection is among WeldonÂ’s best designed novels. Although enthusiastic readers ignore, or are ignorant of, WeldonÂ’s refusal to participate in literature according to ideologically approved pra ctices and attitudes, from critical quarters she has received much criticism, parti ally by anticipating cultural developments. Ahead of Her Time For some decades Weldon seems to have had her finger on the pulse of British mass culture. But mass culture changes slowly, and WeldonÂ’s prescience has not necessarily advanced her career. WeldonÂ’s plays and novels anticipate and acc ompany the theory Hlne Cixous articulated in 1976 in Â“The Laugh of the MedusaÂ”: when the repressed returns to WeldonÂ’s protagonists, they Â“[shatter] the framework of i nstitutions, [blow] up the law, and [break] up the Â‘truthÂ’ with laughter.Â” In 1967, Weldon addressed eating disorders, which she had herself experienced, in The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke Its publication preceded the common use and understanding of anorexia and bulimia In the United States, the novel was re-titled euphemistically . And the Wife Ran Away (1997), the elision of the word fat perhaps indicating an increasing preoccupation with poor body image and, therefore, decreased marketability. Similarly, Big Women, which treated the lives of Second Wave feminists, was re-titled Big Girls DonÂ’t Cry (1998) in the United States. In 1969, WeldonÂ’s Smoke Screen aired on the prestigious Wednesday night Play for Today Written when the causation of disease by cigarette smoking was just
86 emerging, Smoke Screen concerns a family man, working in advertising on a tobacco account, who is a smoker and dies of lung cancer. The play aired successfully, with hi gh ratings, to an audience of approximately fourteen million, but the BBC told Weldon she was stirring up trouble by frightening the audience and blacklisted her for a ti me. Too, the publication of Puffball in 1980 preceded a shift away from androgyny in radical feminism: Weldon was criticized for promulgating the sanctity of motherhood. For her ideologically unsound formal experiments and adaptations, Weldon receives much censure. The novel interwoven with the memoir-writerÂ’s diary Mantrapped is Â“a deranged compositeÂ” to reviewer Claudia FitzHerbert. In the stage play Madame Bovary: Breakfast with Emma (2004), WeldonÂ’s perspective on the action enraged reviewers and critics. She declares, Â“I knew the woman better tha n did Flaubert, and . the husband too, and the lovers . .Â” ( Mantrapped 122). But Charles Spencer finds the play Â“leaden and impertinent . a masterpiece reduced to a soap opera . a stale old melodrama.Â” That audiences loved this play indicates the efficacy of W eldonÂ’s revisions of mass and high culture, using popular culture as a vehicle. Playgoers filled the theatre and gave Breakfast with Emma standing ovations. Still, some believe Weldon has received some but not enough critical attention in one professional area, her dramatic production, especially television screenpl ays. Television Literature Because Weldon wrote prolifically for television during the late 1970s and 1980s, her construction by academic television critics deserves analysis. Julia Hallam, for instance, believes that although Weldon was a darling of the BBC during the 1980s, her place in British television history and criticism is far from assured. Alt hough her script
87 for the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs won an award from the WritersÂ’ Guild of Great Britain, Weldon was fired after only a few episodes for her sociali st emphasis on downstairs. 21 In 1991, Clive James told the Royal Television Society that Â“[a] television programme is not a commodity. It might become one, but it begins as a labour of love.Â” Drama critic George W. Brandt Â“argues the case for television playwriti ng as a legitimate form of drama, deserving of respect as much as any other form of playwriting and he nce worthy of study.Â” Although the adaptation of novels is Â“a sore point with many c ritics who deplore this as an inherently second-rate form of writing,Â” Brandt questions privileging the single-author text; whether the television play is an adapta tion or not, the writer must still write it ( 1980s 1). He observes that writing for television is Â“a significant art formÂ—but one lacking the sanction of literary esteemÂ” ( 1980s 2). Although television studies have grown exponentially since his publication of British Television Drama in 1981, they tend to focus on the sociological rather than the aesthetic, and transfer emphasis from the writer to the aired program, which necessaril y adds production factors to the text. Still, television drama has developed into a respecta ble discipline of academic study. John Tulloch articulates the complexities of criticism of quality television d rama: Â“The social location is the alliance between a liberal academia and a Â‘c riticalÂ’ media practice which allows the Â‘ventilationÂ’ of public issues; and the ideological w ork of the discourse is in promoting Â‘creativityÂ’ (though occasionally Â‘politicsÂ’) to a Â‘ mass audienceÂ’ by way of, primarily, public service televisionÂ” (qtd. in Brandt, 1980s 3). 21 When Jane and Fay were children, their mother had worked as a housekeeper, the family living downstairs.
88 Although his terminology varies from the differentiations of mass, popular, and high culture made by Jonathan Culler, the constructs are similar: liberal academi a (high culture) joins media practice (mass culture) to examine issues of mass cult ure through art (encompassing beauty and truth) for a mass audience (popular culture). As Brandt observes, television drama often gains Â“distinctive characterÂ” by breaking through genre conventions, in this case, cultural conventions ( 1980s 6). BrandtÂ’s observation applies to WeldonÂ’s novels and scripts; both break through genre conventions. Weldon used genre mixtures (drama documentary/fiction, advertising, soap opera, social realism, romance, comedy, the supernatural, horror, and science fiction) that created an anti-realist, self-parodying attitude. Critic Mary Ellen B rown finds parody Â“central to Â‘feminine discourseÂ’Â” because in mocking dominant practices, parody becomes other and voices Â“potential resistanceÂ”; the secret coding (in this ca se, parody) Â“invites the audience to analyse the joke, complete its meaning, and recognize tha t the inept, corrupt, parodic target is no laughing matterÂ” (qtd. in Brandt, Drama (1981) 4244). The potential aspect of resistance leaves open the possibility of being taken only humorously. Hallam, Brown, and Madeleine Macmurraugh-Kavanagh observe that this dynamic made parodic literature by women suitable for transmission because the ir seriousness could go unnoticed. WeldonÂ’s work, then, likely appealed to producers and critics because it was suitable for womenÂ’s writing: it was not to be taken ser iously. Moreover, the conditions of production at the time sustained a double standard: Â“DonÂ’t letÂ’s have any WomanÂ’s Own 22 writing,Â” women writers were told. At the same 22 A popular British weekly aimed at women, containin g information on fashion, beauty, cookery, and consumer tips. It also contains health and family pages, nonfiction stories, and articles on celebrit ies. WomanÂ’s Own might correspond to some U.S. publications, such a s Redbook WomanÂ’s Day or McCallÂ’s
89 time, swearing was inappropriate for women characters, and scenes of gr itty realism were softened by rewriting or romanticized with music and lighting (Hallam 142) Television critics Hallam, Brown, Macmurraugh-Kavanagh, Bird, and Eliot all observe t hat few women writers were included in the acclaimed anthology series of single play s, The Wednesday Play although many series and plays by women drew large audiences and favorable ratings. Hallam notes that Weldon has received scant attention from the critical establishmentÂ” and fears that WeldonÂ’s work, like that of Â“nineteenth-century popul ar literary foremothersÂ” will disappear unless it receives critical ev aluation (143). Not to be critically constructed is to be returned to the conditions defined in Chapter 1 when t he intellectual woman was nonexistent, invisible, or dispensable. However, in contras t to other film and television critics, Dickinson credits Weldon for using fantastic el ements in ways that led British filmmakers to expand their vision into fantasy, and critic Thomas Elsaesser suggests that Weldon and Angela Carter ( The Magic Toyshop 1986) present television drama parallel to the often fantastic films of directors promine nt in the 1980s New British Cinema. 23 Negotiating Cultural Adaptations Brandt raises the question of whether screen adaptations of novels are second-ra te writing, and, although that question will not be explored here, I do believe that adaptations are culturally revealing constructions of novels. In a rather lite ral sense, broadcast means that cultural mandates will affect adaptation of novels. As touched on 23 New British Cinema emerged during a transition from a long Conservative government to the election of New Labour. Its films include Trainspotting Bean and The Full Monty Examples of gritty docudramanaturalism include Under the Skin Nil by Mouth and TwentyFourSeven
90 in Chapter 2, WeldonÂ’s novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil was adapted in 1986 as a television miniseries, which won a British Academy of Film and Television ar ts award for best drama series. In the novel, Weldon caricatures the romantic triangle of a faithful wife, Ruth, an unfaithful husband, Bobbo, and a beautiful mistress, Mary Fisher. According to Weldon, the BBC rejected her adaptation because it was not true to the spirit of the novelÂ—rather cruel, hard, and harsh. Instead, the established television writer Ted Whitehead adapted the novel with the intention of making Â“the husband and mistress more realistic.Â” Weldon observed that her adaptation was Â“less about the men and more about the womenÂ” (qtd. in Bird & Eliot 218). Action being filmÂ’s mtier, WhiteheadÂ’s screenplay emphasizes RuthÂ’s revenge, recalling the revenge playÂ’s intense action. WhiteheadÂ’s changes creat e greater audience focus on and sympathy for Bobbo and Mary Fisher. In the novel, Weldon emphasizes an emotion, RuthÂ’s envy of Mary FisherÂ—her great beauty, and the power it has over men. Not as concerned with Bobbo as the screenplayÂ’s action indicates, Ruth focuses on her own face and body, which defy societyÂ’s agreed-upon signifiers for women. Overal l, the screenplay evens the focus on Bobbo and Ruth, indicating that on television an ugly, angry woman is unworthy of the entire attention paid to her in the novel. Ruth, a lumpy, overweight, 6-foot 2-inch, brunette female with facial hair, moles, and willpower does not bear so much watching by a mass audience as slim, petite, blonde Mary Fisher. Aimed at the popular audience, the television production thins WeldonÂ’s concentration on a woman. The hard-edged novel that Weldon has called Â“delinquentÂ” was softened and blurred.
91 Despite her willingness to adapt the work of others, Weldon has been protective of the rights to her original works. But ever aware of marketability, Weldon approve d the BBC production of She-Devil She thought WhiteheadÂ’s version worked well Â“because it was adapted by somebody, though white and male, who comes from the same culture as me and . produces the kind of thing that I would have producedÂ” (qtd. in Kumar). Were Weldon dissatisfied with WhiteheadÂ’s adaptation, she might be hoist b y own petard since, until the publication of Mantrapped she asserted that Â“no author owns their work, a story is public propertyÂ” (qtd. in Bird & Eliot 218). 24 But if the British screenplay softened and blurred She-Devil the American version obscured it entirely. Jonathan Bret, Barry Strugatz, and Mark R. Burns adapte d the novel for an Orion feature film, directed by Susan Seidelman. The Orion film reduces the novel to a Hollywood formula; it does not attempt to disturb the social order but to reinscribe it. The British cautionary tale of adultery and identity become s a broad American comedy. Film critic Pamela Katz points out that in the novel Ruth free s herself from the oppression of mass culture: Â“I cast off the chains that bound me down, of habit, custom, and sexual aspiration; home, family, friendsÂ—all the object of natural affec tionsÂ” (114). But the Orion film Â“refused to acknowledge the evil component in the novelÂ” (115). In it, Ruth punishes Bobbo by sending him to jail to teach him a lesson he learns easily, and she takes the children to visit him, implying that the family wi ll live happily ever after. Katz points out the irony in this surgical reduction of a metafictiona l novel about the lies of romantic pulp fiction. Weldon joins Katz in commenting that the Orion 24 In 1991, when Granada Television contracted to ada pt The Cloning of Joanna May as a miniseries, both Whitehead and Weldon worked on the screenplay.
92 version should have been called She-Angel because Hollywood was Â“busy trying to make it ideologically soundÂ” (qtd. in Kumar). Film critic Robert Dickinson finds it odd that the Orion film Â“omitted Weldon's most visually rich and outrageous portion, the fantastic surgical reconstruction of the She-Devil into her nemesis, the physical form of female romantic perfecti on.Â” Dickinson praises Weldon's Â“Mary Shelley-like coupling of deliberately exces sive Gothic fantasy with sharp feminist perception.Â” But Dickinson does not take into account the conservative forces of American mass culture who believe, like the novelÂ’s Lad y Bissop, Â“We should surely put up with what He gives us . .Â” ( She-Devil 168). Surgeries as extreme as those Ruth forces her doctors to perform violate unspoken cultural limitat ions on identity construction. Despite its own citizensÂ’ medical procedures and surger ies, HollywoodÂ’s version of profitability lies in soothing, not repulsing, its audience. Literary Criticism Mass and high cultures expect in literature certain characteristics, w hich Weldon habitually avoids, satirizes, and exploits. Critic Margaret Ann Doody summar izes WeldonÂ’s approach to the novel: she ignores the aesthetic, conceptual, and structural rules (45). So the overall basis for which WeldonÂ’s literary production receives crit icism is its iconoclastic qualities. These have been covered to an extent in Chapters 1 and 2, but briefly they include, in the area of content, privileging concentration on flawe d, riotous women over that of men and children, nearly exclusive portrayal of the middle classes, intellectual sloppiness, and an uneasy, shifting feminism; in the area of style, deconstructive narrative strategies contrary to modernist aesthetic val ues, and tones that include hysteria; a survivalist spirit of hate, anger, and bitterness; dark hum or; flippancy;
93 brittleness; indelicacy; and even brutality. 25 This summary catalog opposes ideologies for womanhood even now, when contemporary women are not expected always to remain modest, chaste, and silent. However, WeldonÂ’s critical supporters, like her reade rs, value these qualities most for their forthright, if messy, expression of authentic fe male experience. Furthermore, these qualities contrast artistic invalidism As Weldon comments about a once brilliant but declining television series: Â“There is constr uction here, and description, but no inventionÂ” ( Letters to Alice 65). Weldon has been generally criticized for failing to develop her male charact ers, for treating children cavalierly, and for (the same elitism attribute d to the WomenÂ’s Movement) too much attention on the Caucasian middle classes. Disapproved of for giving men short shrift in her novels, she replies, Â“Well, itÂ’s not about them, is it? . Let the men liberate themselves, itÂ’s time they did it.Â” Even so, for her women charact ers, Â“terrible creatures,Â” unworthy and polygamous, Weldon never posits a higher moral ground than for men (qtd. in Haffenden 313). Perhaps especially to some male critics Â’ chagrin, her female characters are constructed as Virginia Woolf reques ted, in their friendships and every other sort of woman-to-woman relationship, with all their complexities made extant. Lorna Sage differentiates WeldonÂ’s fictional representation of Â“invariably partisanÂ” female characters from the fictional world of Marga ret Drabble and Iris Murdoch. WeldonÂ’s are foregrounded to reveal Â“desires and thoughts that usual ly remain unspokenÂ” (Kenyon, Â“RadicalizingÂ” 18). WeldonÂ’s men remain mostly in the background. 25 Essays recommended for extended descriptions of We ldonÂ’s style include: Â“Divided Amongst OurselvesÂ” by Lorna Sage; Â“Fay Weldon and the Radic alizing of LanguageÂ” by Olga Kenyon; and Â“Feminism and Art in Fay WeldonÂ’s NovelsÂ” by Agate Nesaule Kouse.
94 The skimpy treatment of children, I suspect, results not only from insistence on womenÂ’s subjectivity separate from biological function and social roles but al so relates to the splitting of WeldonÂ’s professional and personal lives, as described in Chapter 2. Acutely conscious of publicityÂ’s effects on her marriage, she may have protect ed her sons by minimizing childrenÂ’s roles in her loosely autobiographical fictions. For her critical reputation, this strategy dovetails with her portrayals of children as liabili ties in their parentsÂ’ administered lives. In a post-agricultural, post-industrial, post-fem inist culture, children can serve little practical function: a potential earner often has either to forego a wage or pay for expensive child care. In a 1985 interview Weldon opines that writing about the working classes is difficult Â“because if youÂ’re dealing with people who are not practiced in deali ng with abstract thought . or who arenÂ’t practiced in expressing their thoughts with any subtlety, you have to spend your entire time with internal monologue, which I donÂ’t particularly enjoy writing. . .Â” Believing that men have a better chance to fi nd suitable situations in life, she also says, Â“You get extremely vocal cleaning wome n, for example, who are highly intelligent but because of lack of education and opportunity have been kept to a certain level in societyÂ” (qtd. in Haffenden 311). These statements reve al certain elitist assumptions and actions on WeldonÂ’s part, and certain artistic li mitations in her oeuvre. Overall, early criticism of Weldon places her work among experimental novel s by British and American women writers; for instance, Margaret Atwood, A.S. B yatt, Angela Carter, Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing, and Jeannette Winterson. Along wit h them, Weldon was constructed as a lively feminist writer who spoke the previously unspea kable
95 about authentic female experience in language that transformed the novel gen re. WeldonÂ’s novels address the previously forbidden or covertly approached topics of Â“sexual initiation, marriage, infidelity, divorce, contraception, abortion, mothe rhood, housework and thwarted careersÂ” (Krouse 5). Feminist critics elevate Wel don because she elevates the significance of womenÂ’s lives in all their iterations and c omplexities, including the domestic. She is seen by feminist critics as performing a r ole similar to that of the observantly truthful child in the fable Â“The EmperorÂ’s New Clothes.Â” Later critics of WeldonÂ’s novels begin to specialize, but their constructions me ld to cast Weldon generally in a role of reifying women as they existed pre-En lightenment or outside of the age of mechanical reproduction. Especially in relation to the powe rs of language, feminist critics applaud WeldonÂ’s usurpation of language for femini st purposes: she appropriates, satirizes, reduces, and regresses its phallologoce ntrism. Sage views Weldon as bold, sketchy, and nastyÂ—free from the need for an approved, unified, writerly voice. Nancy Walker and Barreca point out WeldonÂ’s primitive use of lan guage to evoke its magical powers. Walker notes that Weldon uses the fairy tale to criti que the power of womenÂ’s tales mostly in the positive. For the Victorian literate cla sses, these previously oral tales were sanitized for instilling in young women proper beha vior, but Weldon takes them back to their vulgar origins, Â“recover[ing] for fiction a disrupt ive, irreverent character that recalls the instability and endless revision of t he oral traditionÂ” (Walker, Â“WitchÂ” 9). WeldonÂ’s female, urban characters live, like their distant foremothers, in the stories they have been told. Critics interpret WeldonÂ’s use of shifting point of view i n which characters write their life stories as they live them as a stra tegy for establishing
96 identity and agency. The act of telling oneÂ’s life story in shifting points of vie w enables female characters to define their distinct selves, in WeldonÂ’s case, the Â“ove rworked mother,Â” the Â“hardworking writer,Â” and the Â“inactive depressiveÂ” (Kenyon, Â“RadicalizingÂ” 113). At the same time, the very definition of separate selv es provides clarity which, if it does not effect integration of personality, at least provide s an acceptance and comfortable blurring of the selves. WomenÂ’s stories, oral or wri tten, include past and present; Weldon constructs womenÂ’s life histories with a mirroring that Â“reveals the past as structured by the present, as well as the other way aroundÂ” (Sage 155). Such individualistic historical revisionism enables WeldonÂ’s characters to reconstellate language to construct identities in the present by telling a nd retelling their stories. Tales and life meld into an indistinguishable blend, but in the process conventional views of womenÂ’s lives are subverted and womenÂ’s existence is Â“demystifiedÂ” (Walker, Â“IronicÂ” 205). Critics have thus ascribed to Weldon the reclamation of pre-Enlightenment womanhood, the wise woman, a witch helping women restore faith in their feelings, knowledge, and perceptions outside the prescriptive language of the father and the scientific, administered life. Resentful of t he common perception that Weldon is doing something entirely new, Margaret Anne Doody places her outside the pagan tradition to which others allude, in the Â“classical veinÂ” (56). Doody justifies as classical WeldonÂ’s treatment of her characters, calli ng WeldonÂ’s power to explore situations Â“Â‘expressive situational narrativeÂ’Â—in which the situati on is the chief image and object for which the characters existÂ” (47). Similarly to Greek drama, the audience (or reader) considers character as revealed by dilemma.
97 Without narrowly focused argument or competing critical discourse, the article s discussed above function as descriptions in a literary, feminist, high subculture; ot her critics construct Weldon according to their own disciplines. Popular culture cri tic Jeanne Dubino traces connections between pulp fiction and the oppression of male-dominated capitalist practices. She praises The Life and Loves of a She-Devil for its savage satiric condemnation of the romance novel and protagonist Ruth as a self-deceived woman affirming an oppressive economic system. While this description may hold true, WeldonÂ’s own attitude toward pulp fiction is flexible. In Â“On the Reading of Frivolous Fiction,Â” she declares that it can be fantastic. What many critics miss is that Weldon, like AustenÂ’s Elizabeth Bennett, is fond of professing opinions not actually her own. In DubinoÂ’s case, and that of other critics, Weldon is taken literally, at her word, but Weldon means to inspire reflection, not prescribe the rules of life. Critics have begun of classifying WeldonÂ’s productions from various standpoints, and their work indicates WeldonÂ’s accepted establishment and ongoing role as a woman of letters. Dividing WeldonÂ’s novels into three periods before the mid-1980s, Jenny Newman cites changes in narrative qualities from avoidance of interior monologue in favor of intimate conversations between women, to an increasingly astringent tone, carefully qualified optimism, and characters shrunken to make space for WeldonÂ’s moral vision. Attempting to place WeldonÂ’s seven pre-1988 novels among their contemporaries, Kenyon finds The Shrapnel Academy a diatribe against war, less successful than others: to explain, Kenyon quotes Anita Brookner: Â“Where there is t oo much indignation, the satire vanishesÂ” (Â“RadicalizingÂ” 124). Elaine Tuttle Hans en approaches the novels sociologically, arguing that Weldon has portrayed three st ages of
98 thinking about motherhood. These stages reflect the feminist stages of Â“harsh repudiation; sentimental recuperation; and confusion, conflict, and a silencing sense of impasseÂ” (184). In 1998, Lana Faulks and Finuala Dowling both published critical volumes that similarly group WeldonÂ’s novels according to thematic development. In Fay WeldonÂ’s Fiction Dowling groups themes as follows: feminist issues, social constructions of womanhood, Lacanian mirror-stage theory, relation to the humor theories of Sigmund Freud and Henri Bergson, Â“the problems of WeldonÂ’s descent from the sublime to the banal,Â” and finally, Â“retreat from polemicÂ” but continuation of Â“narrative experimentation and metafictional exerciseÂ” (146). Weldon is agai n critiqued for privileging moral dilemma over careful character development, by Newma n, and for her refusal to portray hegemonic wisdom, by Hansen. Although feminist critics appr ove WeldonÂ’s postmodernism, they also reveal their own modernist tendencies. In contras t, Dowling regrets WeldonÂ’s move away from sharp feminist argument into the forma l experimentation that might seem modernist. DowlingÂ’s phrase, Â“metafictiona l exercise,Â” deflates what others see as WeldonÂ’s significant challenge to and stateme nts on the novel genre. From individual standpoints, each of these critics implies that with a dim inishing quality of production, WeldonÂ’s career has careened downward from its apex, which they do not define. At the same time, however, their intention of establishing WeldonÂ’s periods of creativity institutionalizes her oeuvre within critical literat ure. Non-Feminist Critical Constructions F. R. Leavis finds WeldonÂ’s works outrageous and obsessive. In a 1994 review of Affliction the novel that skewered the therapy industry, he finds WeldonÂ’s humor to Â“have the air of a fascinated hysteriaÂ” (365). He denigrates her Â“usual thr ow-away irony
99 of light contempt . [for] middle-class charactersÂ” and Â“contempt in her manipulati on of her audienceÂ” comparing Affliction to Puffball Leavis, though disapproving, understands her aims: Â“WeldonÂ’s tart and slick satire is I think basically geared to bourge ois entertainment technically called Â‘easy-read,Â’ but is Â‘roguishÂ’ in being ai med at both the society that needs therapists and at ridiculing the dangerous and fraudulent quackery itselfÂ” (454). Leavis further excoriates Weldon for unawareness of her didac tic tendencies and an Â“insanely disgustedÂ” vision of human beings. Lest one be left in doubt, Leavis closes with the observation that Weldon leaves the Â“enduring impression . of a generalized disturbance amounting to hysteriaÂ” (446). The contempt that Leavis shows for WeldonÂ’s work typifies some criticism, which has only a tendency to divide along gender lines. But Juliet Mitchell normalizes hysteria: Â“The woman novel ist must be an hysteric. Hysteria is the womanÂ’s simultaneous acceptance and refusal of the organisation of sexuality under patriarchal capitalismÂ” (289-290). Alan Wilde regards The Life and Loves of a She-Devil as Â“a truer picture of our current intellectual climateÂ” than either modernist or postmodernist views (403). Readerly sympathy for Ruth indicates WeldonÂ’s skill and the attractions of femi nism, but more importantly, Â“the notion of cultural crisisÂ” 26 related to WeldonÂ’s work within mass, high, and popular cultures. In all, he critiques She-Devil for embodying a less than artistic form: early and recurrent climactic moments, a less than unif ying vision of TerenceÂ’s comic oxymoron, Â“moderation in all things,Â” an extension of authorial di stance beyond that of nail-paring god, and failure to embody the writerÂ’s beliefs. Wi lde finds that interpretation of fiction remains problematic when Â“lifeÂ’s disjunctions a nd 26 Wilde quotes Allan Megill, Prophets of Extremity: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucau lt, Derrida Berkeley: University of California press, 1985, p. 111.
100 discontinuitiesÂ” are expressed without Â“the unity and coherence of aesthetic for mÂ” (409). Doody agrees that conceptually WeldonÂ’s novels Â“wobble a little on their axesÂ” ( 45). Wilde presumes that Weldon Â“intends unityÂ” but radically shifts the novelÂ’s ethical grid halfway through. Wilde believes that the presentation of extremes by implica tion advocates a middle ground: Â“her never thoroughly acknowledged or integrated attrac tion to an ethic of means and middlesÂ” (415). This contention takes as its type WeldonÂ’s fa ux advice in Remember Me (1976), Â“Be bold, but not too boldÂ” (10). However, it fails to take into account WeldonÂ’s consistent use of distancing irony. Some of WildeÂ’s other assumptions include poetic justice: for Â“the folly of her hubris,Â” readers per ceive that Ruth deserved the Â“result of her grotesque aspirations and actsÂ” (414). WildeÂ’s te rm deserved indicates punishment; however, Ruth rests content, and by that readers, in my experience, are not gratified but awestruck. These criticisms resonate w ith modernist expectations, intentional fallacy, and literal rather than ironic readings. WildeÂ’s interpretation of a disastrous dinner party that incites the action of SheDevil gives Ruth the deliberate agency that she does not possess. Wilde describes it : Â“Ruth, exasperated by BobboÂ’s Â‘neglect and unkindness,Â’ drops the food on the floor and tells her in-laws of their sonÂ’s latest extramarital adventureÂ” (404). But Ruth is far beyond exasperated; she verges on complete emotional collapse. BobboÂ’s neglect a nd unkindness are manifested in a series of sexual dalliances and a serious love affai r reported in excruciating detail to RuthÂ—to heighten his sexual pleasure. Her vision obscured by tears before the dinner party, Ruth burns her fingers on the oven door, starts from the pain, and the food falls to the floor. Bobbo self-servingly preserves the happ y-
101 marriage fiction and Ruth retaliates from the kitchen door: Â“[Bobbo] doesnÂ’t think of me anymore. He only ever thinks about Mary Fisher . . SheÂ’s his mistressÂ” (45). Too, Wilde believes that RuthÂ’s goal of changing her Â“masculineÂ” appearance to Â“feminineÂ” is trivial; he writes, Â“There is no question but that Weldon agrees and t hat we are meant to as wellÂ” (405). Although Weldon does seem to denigrate the particular image Ruth desires, that of Mary Fisher, the novelÂ’s entirety voices the imp act on womenÂ’s lives of their signifying bodies. In reference to She-Devil an interviewer asked Weldon what she sees as most damaging to women as they grow up. Weldon replied, Â“Too fat to be acceptable, wrong colour, wrong legs. .Â” (qtd. in Handschuh). These two examples of dichotomous readings indicate how cultural standpoints inform the constructions of WeldonÂ’s critical status. In each example, Wilde seeks to reduc e or trivialize WeldonÂ’s work. Serious Humor A cultural requirement of writers of serious literature is seriousness. Wel donÂ’s one novel nominated for the Booker Prize approached this requirement: Â“I took out about a third of the funny lines in Praxis because itÂ’s actually quite a serious book. I fear that my instinct, which I shudder against all the time, is always to trivialize e verythingÂ” (qtd. in Haffenden 317). But the trivializing of comedy belongs not only to Weldon. Tragedy is assumed superior to comedy even though comedies can powerfully illuminate human life. Feminist critics celebrate Weldon for Â“writing feminist comedy, d emonstrating that feminism is neither humorless nor impossible to assimilate into a work of artÂ” (K rouse 20). Krouse finds WeldonÂ’s humor sympathetic and incisive in contrast to the Â“cold brittlenessÂ” of, for example, Mary McCarthy (12). Others find WeldonÂ’s humor not only
102 brittle, but occasionally brutal. Olga Kenyon places WeldonÂ’s humor with that of Jane Austen and Iris Murdoch for farce, Rose Macauley for parody, and Ivy Compton -Burnett, Muriel Spark, and Beryle Bainbridge for black humor. Barreca, a humor theorist and humor writer herself, has written extensively on WeldonÂ’s mordant, dark, deadpan humor that Â“gleefully threatens and subverts the dominant order.Â” Barreca theorize s that without the pleasure WeldonÂ’s humor provides, women cannot perceive Â“deeply embedded forms of cultural and personal repressionÂ” (Â“Let Us NowÂ” 142). But satire sometimes backfires, as Jonathan Swift found with Â“A Modest Proposal.Â” In characterizing The Cloning of Joanna May as a one-dimensional critique about the male bastion of science trampling womenÂ’s rights, Rose Quiello casts We ldon as the party-line feminist she has never been. Quiello omits that because JoannaÂ’ s maliciously reproduced clones supply a surprising joy to JoannaÂ’s formerly bl eak, lonely life, the male bastion of medicine experiences the turning of the (examining) t able. But WeldonÂ’s comedy does sometimes obscure its own seriousness. As Brookner points out, indignation can undercut satire. Reviewer Judy Cooke observes that Â“WeldonÂ’s prose has now been polished to such a finish that a[t] times it works against the signific ance of what is described.Â” Too, comedy by women in a male-dominated genre may be dee med acceptable because, since it is written by a woman, it need not be taken seriously. Barreca asserts that Â“[w]omen have been outsiders in this culture, but when they use humor, they become outlawsÂ” (Â“Let Us NowÂ” 142). Perceiving womenÂ’s comedy in it s subversive manifestations as a threat to the dominant order, culturally conser vative critics have a vested interest in ensuring that comedy, including WeldonÂ’s, is relegat ed to second-class literary status.
103 Some critics have characterized WeldonÂ’s humor as carnivalesque, temporaril y suspending legitimatized authority. Barreca characterizes WeldonÂ’s humor not as catharsis or reconciliation, but as purposing to show authority is bogus. Going a step further, critic John Glavin characterizes WeldonÂ’s humor as frivolity that seeks Â“immortality and completeness of its own designationÂ” (136). 27 In Leader of the Band (1988) protagonist Starlady Sandra declares, Â“I have become both tough and frivolousÂ” (34). To Starlady Sandra frivolity means Â“[f]orm, style, contentÂ—in that order of importance,Â” form being Â“the intricate patterns which contain the key . .Â” and c ontent Â“the mere stuff of the universe . last and leastÂ” (8). This construction of WeldonÂ’s humor as frivolity serves as counterpoint to the depersonalizing, commodifying effe cts of loss of aura as theorized by Benjamin, and to the limitations of mind resulting from the administered lifeÂ—to Weldon, ergonarchyÂ—as theorized by Horkheimer and Adorno. Glavin reasons that Â“bourgeois society has insistently dismissed the frivolous wi th . derision . because it canÂ’t believe in a viable meaning outside a socially construct ed orderÂ” (139). In the eighteenth century, the values associated with empiricis m, and the emerging economic concept of laissez-faire, helped to denigrate the pursuit of pur e enjoyment. The middle classes flourished as mechanical reproduction rose to fi nancial and cultural dominance. FrivolityÂ’s meaning was deflated by the middle class to mean minor, silly, insignificant, and excessive. It was defined in opposition to everythin g that middle class mass culture prizes: caution, prudence, responsibility, reasonabl eness, the useful, the serviceable, and fear of power. 27 GlavinÂ’s reading of WeldonÂ’s Leader of the Band and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is based on Jacques DerridaÂ’s Â“The Archaeology of the Frivolous : Reading Condillac.Â” (Trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1987)
104 The wild coincidences and gratuitous plotting of WeldonÂ’s novels dovetail with the frivolous, for as Glavin observes, the frivolous character finds in every happening accidental or not, the opportunity for self-empowerment (145). WeldonÂ’s early personal life, especially in childhood, must have seemed gratuitous, picaresque, and more bohemian than bourgeois. Yet Weldon remembers that she was Â“brought up not to complainÂ” (qtd. in Pearlman 84). In addition to Starlady Sandra, Weldon partially expresses the character of frivolity through Ruth in She-Devil : Â“How weak people are! How they simply accept what happens as if there were such a thing as destin y, and not just a life to be grappled withÂ” (240). The reification of frivolity combined with toughness of mind in the face of lifeÂ’s unpredictability is the source of vitali ty and appeal for WeldonÂ’s novels. Unlike the narcissistic protagonists of much contemporary literature (as well as the heroines of melodrama), who see themselves as central and passive, WeldonÂ’s women both enjoy and endure life in defiance of the unpredictable, probably hazardous future. Conclusion Despite the difficulties of evaluating WeldonÂ’s postmodern, decentered works, the critics who do engage in such evaluation, seem to have as much enthusiasm for her novels as her readers have. Especially from a modernist critical standpoint, t he flaws of WeldonÂ’s literary production are myriad, but feminist critics willingly mini mize them to privilege qualities of raw truth, humor, and vitality in the service of improving wom enÂ’s lives. In one sense, then, their evaluations are parochialÂ—or chauvinistic. They pri vilege also a construction of WeldonÂ’s work that lies outside of the culture industry in the age of mechanical reproduction and loss of aura. WeldonÂ’s training in composition processes
105 receives far more attention than her other negotiations within the culture indust ry, and surprisingly, her work receives little attention from academic television c ritics. Nonfeminist critics have less patience with WeldonÂ’s flaws. They too take chau vinistic positions, based on modernist principles of art, linear logic, and, one suspects, sexism Many critics question WeldonÂ’s authorial intrusion and (faux) didacticism. Doody finds Weldon at her best when she Â“attends inventively to the situation and [does not] overdo . the commentaryÂ” (43). Weldon sometimes belabors the didactic and bores readers with too many moral choices. But Weldon does not prescribe. WeldonÂ’s concept of reformation, according to Kenyon, corresponds to that set forth by femini st Juliet Mitchell: four constructs Â“must be transformed: production, reproduction, sexuality, and socialization of childrenÂ” (Â“RadicalizingÂ” 104-5). Chapter 4 dis cusses WeldonÂ’s fictional treatment of these issues in five novels regarded to be among her best and most controversial: Puffball ; Praxis ; The Cloning of Joanna May ; The Life and Loves of a She-Devil ; and The Bulgari Connection
106 Chapter 4: Reproduction in Fay WeldonÂ’s Fictions Introduction In Â“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,Â” Horkheimer and Adorno's Frankfurt School colleague, Walter Benjamin, argued that technological reproduction nullifies an art workÂ’s Â“presence in time and space . its unique existe nce . includ[ing] the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the yearsÂ” (3). In this germinal work, Benjamin decries the art work's loss of a ura, its commodification by the power of mechanical reproduction in the regime of industria l capitalism. Like art and the written word, the female body has become a commodi ty exploited for profit in a variety of ways; the process that Benjamin describes a s the nullification of aura reaches beyond the commodification of art and language into huma n reproduction and identity construction. Fay Weldon's amazingly prolific litera ry production explores these nullifications, often presenting the physical and sociologi cal forms of reproduction that characterize womenÂ’s lives against cultural backdrops of scientific, medical, psychological, or business reproductions. This chapter investigates WeldonÂ’s interrogation of reproductive issues, including the commodification of womenÂ’s bodies, and of language and literature. I have chose n to focus on certain novelsÂ— Puffball; Praxis; The Cloning of Joanna May ; and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil Â—that are generally considered to be among WeldonÂ’s best. These works focus intensely on a range of reproductive issues: pregnancy, the (re)cons truction
107 of social roles and the formation of subject positions, and the relationship between the inner self and its perception by others as shaped by physical appearance. In ea ch of these novels, a female protagonist wrestles with the cultural conditions of her identity Â— heredity, upbringing, and adult self-constructionÂ—in relation to the conditions of her reception by society as a woman. I also consider another novel, The Bulgari Connection which reverses the narrative structure of the others: here Weldon deemphasizes character to focus entirely on the workings of the culture industry in the age of mechanical reproduction. The content and conditions of reception of these five novels illustrate WeldonÂ’s ideological engagement as a woman of letters with the culture industry and the nullification of aura. I begin with Puffball (1980) because it explicitly interrogates human reproduction, detailing the effects of gestation on the female body. In Puffball, Weldon juxtaposes the experience of three women, their lifestyles, motivations, relationships with men, and their experience of pregnancy. In Praxis (1978), short-listed for the Booker Prize and probably her best realized novel, Weldon constructs an eponymous protagonist who adopts identities seriallyÂ—in fact, paging one by one through societyÂ’s catalog of roles for women. Weldon posits that ideologically promulgated social roles train women to deny the complex realities of life by delimiting their self-perceptions. Praxis arrived too prematurely in an anti-canonical mode of womenÂ’s postmodern writing to be awarded the Booker Prize that critic Finuala Dow ling argues it deserved. In The Cloning of Joanna May (1989), through a trope of reproduction by cloning, Weldon deconstructs the notion of female identity as defined b y the male gaze. Although this novel received positive reviews, it prescribed the furor over
108 the possibility of cloning human beings that followed the birth of Dolly, a cloned Finn Dorset lamb, in 1997. In what may be her most commercially successful and disturbing ly comic novel, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1993), Weldon creates a grotesque, postmodern, resurrection myth. The protagonist, Ruth Patchett, calls on supernatural powers and exploits the medical marketplace of cosmetic surgery to reproduc e herself as a socially desirable product. The last novel considered here, The Bulgari Connection (2000), reveals how Weldon, as a woman of letters, relates to and affects the litera ry marketplace. Weldon accepted a commissionÂ—the amount undisclosedÂ—from Franceso Trapani, Chief Executive Officer of the Italian Jewelry house Bulgari, to write a novel of 90,000 words in celebration of a Bulgari store opening on Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, London. In the novelÂ’s text, Weldon delineates the often invisible, interdependent web of relationships between and among the old moneyed and the nouveau riche high and popular culture, and the business and art worlds. Puffball In childhood, and then again as a young adult during the 1950s, Weldon escaped into science fiction. She read those authors whose works are now considered classics Â— Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and Robert Heinlein. Through the 1980s she subscribed to New Scientist a weekly publication, ostensibly to keep up with the total absurdity of reality (e.g., current theories of particle physics) (Haffenden 317). Whethe r or not reading science fiction piqued her curiosity about actual developments, Weldon has long sustained interest in science, often interrogating the effects on human life of discoveries touted as advances. As noted in Chapter 2, Weldon has decried the loss of aura of the sexual act since its commodification by birth control. Although Weldon spaced the birt h
109 of her four sons and terminated one pregnancy, she fearlessly questions the effect on human life of casual, irresponsible sexual activity made possible by the effi cacy of modern contraceptives. Weldon also interrogates the medicalization of human gestation and birthing processes, once the sole, highly aura-ed responsibility of expectant mothers and wise women or midwives. Weldon wrote Puffball to capture the feelings of being pregnant; at the same time, she explores preand post-Enlightenment attitudes toward pregna ncy and childbirth. Against interwoven chapters, titled Â“Inside LiffeyÂ” that detail scientific minutiae of human gestation, Weldon juxtaposes a pre-Enlightenment, possibly supernatural, world of elemental forces, primeval drives, and earth-mothersÂ—all within a parodic structure of pastoral comedy and suspense novel. Given the fact of reproducti on, Puffball concentrates on contrasting the epistemological systems from which people approach pregnancy, demonstrating that Â“the mode of human sense perception changes with humanityÂ’s entire mode of existence . [that] human sense perception . is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstancesÂ” (Benjamin 4). This observation by Benjamin is demonstrated too by the novelÂ’s reception. Olga Kenyon notes that male reviewers showed much interest in Puffball ( Women Writers 196). However, feminists were incensed because Weldon seemed to suggest motherhood as the ultimate, perhaps only, validation for women. Given WeldonÂ’s narrative strate gy, it is not surprising that feminists criticized Puffball when it was published in 1980. In the interwoven chapters on gestation, which borrow heavily from Gordon BourneÂ’s manual on childbirth, Pregnancy Weldon narrates LiffeyÂ’s life in passages of depersonalized medical terminology: Â“The disintegration and shedding of the uterus lining, signaled by
110 the withdrawal of oestrogen, would take three days, and thereafter the amount of bl ood lost would gradually diminish as the uterus healedÂ” (18). Other passages are lyri cally deterministic: Â“Outer Liffey, with her fluttery smiley eyes, swee t curvy face, dark curly hair and white smooth skin. And there was inner Liffey, cosmic Liffey, hormones buzzing, heart beating, blood surging, pawn in natureÂ’s gameÂ” (8). Yet other passage s overlay biological determinism with a moralistic toneÂ—as in one on the hormonal eff ects of the birth control pill: Â“It is not pleasant for a young woman to believe that her be havior is dictated by her chemistry and that her wrongs lie in herself and not in othe rsÂ’ bad behaviourÂ” (10). At that time in the WomenÂ’s Movement, Weldon points out, Â“nobody was meant to take notice of menstrual periods; you werenÂ’t meant to have a gender Â” (qtd. in Kumar). Some critics found the scientific language intrusive, regardless of its cont ent. For a similar motif, British novelist Jeannette Winterson also received severe criticism. In Written on the Body when the ungendered, unnamed narratorÂ’s lover is diagnosed with cancer, the narrator borrows anatomy books for knowledge and comfort: Â“Within the clinical language, through the dispassionate view of the sucking, sweating, gre edy, defecating self, I found a love-poem to Louise. I would go on knowing her, more intimately than the skin, hair and voice that I cravedÂ” (111). This narrative str ategy has been a recent motif of contemporary British novels, but it harkens to digressive chapt ers in earlier novels; for instance, Tristram Shandy Pamela and Vanity Fair Repetition of such digressions within the novel form is at once conservative and indicative of ideological changesÂ—science replaces morality based on religion as a frame t hrough which human life is perceived.
111 Giving birth to four sons over twenty-one years (1956-1977) enabled Weldon to see constructed social change as manifested through the processes of childbirth: Â“And [with each child] always something had changed . the difference in style fr om one to the nextÂ” (qtd. in Pearlman 88). Citing women novelistsÂ’ treatment of the birth proce ss, critic Tess Cosslett posits that their aim is often to Â“undermine or confuseÂ” t raditional polarities between well trained but impersonal male obstetricians and the pea sant crone, who, though filthy is capable of restoring womenÂ’s faith in their bodiesÂ’ wisdom (74). Weldon critiques institutionalized childbirth in Britain as a weapon used against wome n by the male-dominated medical community: while the machinations of bureaucrac y and science are inflicted on women, womenÂ’s bodies are treated like machines. At the same time, Weldon knows from her own experience that even misogynist clinical practice saves lives. In Puffball when LiffeyÂ’s labor begins because of a misplaced placenta, Â“blood stream[s] down her legs,Â” and Liffey narrowly survives a complex, eme rgency Caesarian delivery (256). While WeldonÂ’s labor with misplaced placenta was less dramatic, she waited fearfully in the hospital for two weeks for the birth of her la st baby. Weldon mocks the natural childbirth mythÂ—go off alone, squat to birth, swaddle, and return to the fieldsÂ—by having the urban Richard recite its litany. S he is acutely aware of the dangers of childbirth in earlier centuries, writing at length about obstetrics in Britain during Jane AustenÂ’s lifetime in Letters to Alice (1984): Â“Your own chances of dying in childbirth were not negligible and increased with every pre gnancy. After fifteen pregnancies (which meant something like six babies brought to term and safely delivered) your chances of dying were . one in twoÂ” (30). In an interview Weldon asserts that Â“for the first part of this century [the twentieth] only one w oman in
112 three in Ireland was married because the penalty of marriage was childre n and the penalty of children was deathÂ” (qtd. in Pearlman 87). In Puffball the minor character, Lally, persuaded in the hippie-like interests of the natural to forgo prenatal care, has a stillborn baby six weeks overdue. Summing up, Cosslett observes that, in Puffball Â“scientific discourse is set against woolly-minded feminismÂ” (87). In a 1995 statement, Weldon expresses a view of Puffball different than that of reviewers and critics: Â“It was almost a gynecological textbook on how a baby develops, and how mistaken parents are if they believe that they are the major players i n the drama. Babies just exist, in fact, with all their passions and emotions; this was my the sis in the bookÂ” (qtd. in Kumar). Although this thesis seems only a minor motif, in the third trimester of LiffeyÂ’s pregnancy Weldon does bestow a voice on the fetus: Â“Eat, sa id the baby. You must choose now not between good and bad but between the less of evils. Eat, smile, hopeÂ” (251). During pregnancy, critic Elaine Tuttle Hansen argues, t he woman is both split and doubled in several ways and the dissociative splits that women experience may protect the self: the fetal voice prioritizes the motherÂ’s perception of the baby and prescribes the bonding of mother and child. LiffeyÂ’s perception of the babyÂ’ s thoughts suggests that pregnant women may be knowing beyond the scientific data provided by a fetal heart monitor. Critic Finuala Dowling interprets the motherfetus communication as reciprocal, enabling Liffey to restart her arrested ma turing process. Most of WeldonÂ’s protagonists exist in what critic Nancy Walker terms ironic autobiography: while the choral third-person protagonist reflects on the action, the f irstperson protagonist (re)creates herself and her life in the telling of her stor y. Only in Puffball does Weldon restrict the protagonist to third-person; this seems to indicate Liff ey
113 is without the subject position, merely the pawn of female reproductive physiology. Since Liffey speaks Â“IÂ” only in dialog, she is a voiceless fetus in terms of t he novelÂ’s structure. Such interpretation, however, ignores the balancing issues of other charac tersÂ’ reproduction. Mabs and her children suffer because Mabs is happy only when pregnant; otherwise she ignores and abuses her children. Early in the novel, Liffey may b e read as infuriatingly nave and unaware, not only of gestation processes but also of many of lifeÂ’s gritty practicalities: the importance of reconciling a bank statement, tr ain schedules for RichardÂ’s commute, and so on. Hardships of cottage life and the responsibility of pregnancy force Liffey into reflective examination: Â“The old Liffey. Little lithe silly Liffey. Liffey remembered her old self with nostalgia, but knew it was gone f or goodÂ” (239). In the midst of a dangerous labor complicated by hemorrhage and isolation, Lif fey perceives that Â“[t]he baby didnÂ’t have to want to live, it was lifeÂ” (259). Weldon ma kes Liffey suffer so that her consciousness of life within and around growsÂ—a theme throughout WeldonÂ’s oeuvre. Weldon does not suggest, however, that LiffeyÂ’s personality integrates completely after she gives birth. Instead, the end of the novel seems more like a beginning, hinting that wifehood, motherhood, and selfhood is already pulling Liffey in divergent directions. Weldon sees novel writing and childbirth as similar creative processes and compares them repeatedly (Kenyon, Â“RadicalizingÂ” 119). Disregarding infe rtility and menopause, Weldon disingenuously considers Â“having babies quite helpful to the creative process because it reminds one that there is always more where that came from a nd there is never any shortage of ideas or of the ability to createÂ” (qtd. in Rountree 96). Hans en theorizes that feminismÂ’s attitude toward motherhood has developed in three stages :
114 Â“harsh repudiation; sentimental recuperation; and confusion, conflict, and a silenci ng sense of impasseÂ” (184). She argues that WeldonÂ’s oeuvre has often anticipated popular debate on motherhood and critiqued oversimplified views of it. At the same time, WeldonÂ’s writings show no linear development of thought, containing Â“ambivalence and confusion, uneven change, sudden leaps forward, and violent backlashÂ” (185). However acute these observations, they inappropriately evaluate a postmodern writer w ho resists hegemony. In Puffball as Kenyon observes, Weldon explores Â“the struggle between reason and unreasonÂ” in a trope of pregnancy (Â“RadicalizingÂ” 119). Although Weldon resists the co-opting of womenÂ’s reproductive agency and bodily processes by the medical community, an action that may be viewed as a primeval power play under the guise of objective rationalism, she acknowledges its life-saving benefits. Praxis From construction of the elemental role of expectant mother in Puffball Praxis moves thematically into other reproductive issues; including how mothering, or its lack, affects daughters. If the physiological functions of pregnancy and birthin g can be minutely shaped by human perception as illustrated by Puffball then other, seemingly less physiological events in womenÂ’s lives must be even more susceptible to soci al construction. The text of Praxis (1978) catalogs womenÂ’s social roles as serial and limiting of womenÂ’s agency and often the result of economic forces: Â“I took a ll the insults . customarily hurled at women . Â—bitch! whore! adultereress [sic]! murderess!Â—and used fiction to explain why in a patriarchal society, in sheer self
115 defence, there was often no way women could avoid deserving the insultsÂ” (11 Jan. 2001). 28 Praxis contrasts the lives of two illegitimately born, poorly raised sisters. Ostensibly an elderly woman, Praxis recalls episodes that required metam orphoses into selves discrete from previous selves. Praxis and Hypatia 29 cannot construct successful identities, partially because during their childhood no one explains anything to the m: Â“If everything was inexplicable, anything might happenÂ” (21). The younger siste r, Praxis, the protagonist, tends to draw unorthodox conclusions through nave observation of the material world. Hypatia serves as her foil, bowing to social pressure by concealing the unorthodoxies of their lives. Neither strategy prevents the intense pain of living: HypatiaÂ’s sufferings manifest themselves through mental illness c aused by the disconnect between theory and practice in which Hypatia exists. The sufferings of Prax is manifest themselves physically through the bodily construct of womenÂ’s social roles: w hore, angel wife and mother in the suburban home, and murderer. Their lives are deeply informed by social expectations of legitimate reproduction. Their mother, Lucy, is powerles s because she is BenÂ’s mistress, not his wife. Praxis and Hypatia are illegitimate Â—bastards born outside the social conventions that traditionally control the grounds of production. As an adult, Praxis cannot construct an identity because of the fracturing that results when a woman experiences sharp discontinuities in the roles she must play throughout life. Disconnection from self and others results from forces external to the 28 Quotations from the Fay Weldon Discussion Group on line are documented parenthetically by the date of posting. The quotations are reproduced as posted. . 29 Â“Hypatia, an ancient philosopher, is remembered fo r her reputation as a learned woman and teacher . and the dramatic nature of her horrible death at th e hands of the Christians.Â” ( HypatiaÂ’s Daughters: Fifteen Hundred Years of Women Philosophers Ed. Linda Lopez McAllister. Bloomington: Indian a UP, 1996. xx.
116 womanÂ’s control; for example, unmarried parents; a father who physically abuse s and then leaves a mother who becomes mentally ill; and the death of her kindly foster mothe r in the Blitz. Praxis believes that she has reproduced her early fears and desolat ions in her children. The children then judge Â“the traumas of their own livesÂ” by that Â“extrem e of terror and horror . [the] shrieks of generations growing louder not softer . .Â” (24). Appropriately, Weldon uses a picaresque, or episodic, structure to tell this story but the protagonist does not remain static as in traditional picaresque. Instead, she cha nges so many times that the reader wonders whether the character is the same pers on. Weldon uses the same technique in Life and Loves of a She-Devil in which the protagonist, Ruth, changes identity so radically that readersÂ’ sympathy for her fades. Ye t Weldon is not trying to capture readersÂ’ sympathy. Her purpose is didactic and libratory: through both humor and revulsion, and through what happens to Praxis, Weldon asks readers to reflect on womenÂ’s roles outside the novel construct. Of WeldonÂ’s many novels, only Praxis has been nominated as a finalist for the prestigious Booker Prize (1979), but it was not chosen. WeldonÂ’s self-constructed ca reer, writing prolifically for enhanced sales rather than for critical succes s, sets her apart from more ideologically acceptable men and women of letters. As discussed in Chapt er 2, Weldon openly disdains professors, literature departments, writing courses, and l iterary critics: Â“I see critics as bus drivers. They ferry the visitors round the Ci ty of Invention and stop the bus here or there, at whim, and act as guides, and feel that if it were not fo r them, there would be no CityÂ” ( Letters to Alice 17). However, as Finuala Dowling observes, the pronouncements of critics are of course material to an authorÂ’s lit erary success. Dowling argues that the 1979 Booker decision was unjust by reasoning that
117 Praxis is the first British interrogative text in which traditional realist dis course is supplanted by Â“experiments in narrative disorganization, permitting a view of wom an as perpetually itinerant and incorrigibly Â‘otherÂ’Â” (84). The 1979 Booker Prize went to Penelope Fitzgerald for Offshore (1978), her novel set in a barge community on the Thames. In Offshore an impoverished mother and two daughters are rescued by the wealthiest of the barge people, a man who takes a paternal interest in the family. Dowling opines that Â“single women in leaky boatsÂ” needing a responsible man was an idea of Â“considerable charm in 1979.Â” She also suggests that the committee may have felt that Fitzgerald was overdue f or the Booker. Noting that Weldon was ahead of her time with her Â“contribution to [a] lively and anti canonical strain in contemporary womenÂ’s fictionÂ” (84), Dowling provides one likely reason for why Praxis did not win. In 1988, Penelope Lively won the Booker for Moon Tiger (1987), which resembles Praxis in several features. In it, an old woman recalls her life story both in firstand third-person. The protagonist tolerates multiple selves and nonlinear experience: Â“I am composed of a myriad Claudias . [T]here is no sequence, everythi ng happens at onceÂ” (2). According to Dowling, Â“much of what seems striking and innovative [in Moon Tiger ] had already been achieved in Praxis Â” (84). The lively, anticanonical strain had taken ten years to work its way into Booker Prize ideology. S till, material differences exist between Praxis and Moon Tiger In Moon Tiger ClaudiaÂ’s reminiscences recall a romantic, adventurous time, long ago, and far away. Cla udia herself contributes positively to culture through her journalism and history books.
118 Most significant to my argument is the interference by Praxis with human reproductive activities. Although womenÂ’s bodies have been the privileged site of huma n reproduction, that site has been co-opted through the writings of law, religion, and medicine in a male-dominated society. Laws and practices are inscribed on w omenÂ’s bodies without their input or permission. Praxis and Hypatia are bastards. Praxis tries mightily to help her friend, Miss Leonard, obtain an abortion: Â“It seems extraordina ry to me that in a world in which men are killing each other by the million, they should stri ke such attitudes about an unborn foetusÂ” (71). Praxis lives openly with Willie, her lover. She allows the care of Mary, the baby she rescued, to devolve on WillieÂ’s next lover. S he whores and unknowingly has sexual intercourse with her father. As a suburban housewife, she participates in wife-swapping and then leaves her husband and two children. She becomes a recognized crusader for abortion rights: Â“a few cam e up to her and abused as a mass murderer, killer of unborn childrenÂ” (238). When baby Mary has grown, she gives birth to a baby with DownÂ’s syndrome: Â“HeÂ’s mongoloid. HeÂ’s got a chromosome missingÂ” (241). When Mary leaves the hospital room, Â“Praxis [takes] a pillow from the bed, turn[s] the baby onto its back and presse[s] the white mass over i ts faceÂ” (242). Subsequently, her notorious murder trial becomes a flash point for aborti on debates in Britain, and Praxis receives a two-year jail sentence for the mur der. The novel opens with Praxis newly released from jail, ostensibly an old woman with sparse gray hair, swollen veins in her legs, a lumpy figure, faded, wat ery eyes, arthritis, and a sore toe, injured by one of many to whom old women are invisible. By the last chapter, Praxis rouses herself to travel to the hospital, where she is r ecognized, treated, and celebrated. She finds that she is suffering not from senility but malnutrition
119 and quickly improves: Â“I am not nearly so old as I had assumedÂ” (250). Readers may fe el misled by the unreliable narrator, but WeldonÂ’s point is that Praxis has misled her self. Praxis says, Â“I have thrown away my life, and gained it. The wall which surr ounded me is quite broken down. I can touch, feel, see my fellow human beingsÂ” (251). However poorly she previously perceived people and events in her life, Praxis has liberated he rself by telling her story. By extension, Weldon suggests that the formative nature of language can help heal women willing to do the analysis and conceptualization required for writ ing their lives. The last words of Praxis in the novelÂ—Â“That is quite enoughÂ”Â—indicate affirmation of her ideologically unacceptable praxis (251). The Cloning of Joanna May Praxis illustrates hegemonic reproductive ideology as a cause of womenÂ’s suffering. Hypatia suffers from efforts to build a unified identity that confo rms to social convention; Praxis, always a survivor, accepts responsibility for her serial selves, saying, Â“I did it all to myself,Â” even as she realizes the coincidences and gratuitousne ss of her life: Â“I do not want any of this: it is not what I meantÂ” (250). From the standpoint of a conventional middle class protagonist, The Cloning of Joanna May treats similar issues of reproduction and identity formation in tropes of birth control and cloning. Joanna May suffers because, through acceptance of social convention, she has been denied the possibility of having children. Echoing Puffball this novel portrays medical science as a male bastion that denies women their full humanity. In Joanna May, Carl May wonders, Â“What passive creatures women are: They just lie there, trusting, and let t he medical profession do what it wantsÂ” (46). Joanna finds thirty years later that she has (bee n) reproduced. Susan Squier, who specializes in feminist criticism of science, arg ues that
120 this novel Â“affirms the notion of a decentered, nonhierarchical subject positionÂ” (Â“ConceivingÂ” 106). Like other authors Squier discusses, Weldon presents cloning as t he male yearning for control of lifeÂ’s creation, but in practice the control backf ires. In the Joanna May Weldon fictionally clones a female by asexual reproduction from an unfertilized ovumÂ—in which the female is self-sufficient. Up to the age of ten, Carl May was chained in a shack with the dogs by his foster mother Â“to teach him a lesson,Â” but his achievement of financial success in nuclear pow er plants after such abuse comes to symbolize hope in Britain (20). He marries Joanna w ho trusts his success but pities him. Just before their wedding, when Carl May knows the conventional Joanna will not cancel, he informs her of the vasectomy he had at eightee n to end his bloodline. Disappointed, Joanna represses her yearning for children; this lat er manifests somatically as false pregnancy. The physician recomme nds pretending that Joanna has had a miscarriage and performing an unnecessary dilation and curettage. Because the Â“hysterical pregnancyÂ” reveals that Joanna desires someone ot her than himself, Carl persuades the physician to take Â“a truly vigorous eggÂ” without JoannaÂ’s knowledge and clone it into four successfully implanted embryos (43). Carl desires possession of JoannaÂ’s whole being and assumes that his gaze defines her; a fter her surgical procedure he triumphs, Â“My lovely wife . all for me againÂ” (44). But with the clones he wishes to punish Joanna for her fading beauty with versions of a fresher, slimmer self (46). The clones remain a secret for thirty years until, out of j ealousy, CarlÂ’s mistress suggests informing Joanna about the clonesÂ’ existence Â“[t]o take awa y her singularityÂ” (47).
121 Carl, and others in this novel, reduce women from full humanity by viewing them as currency or sign, a recurring motif in WeldonÂ’s work. In The PresidentÂ’s Child (1982), a character explains that Â“men . pass girls on you know. . TheyÂ’re the same sexually as they are financially. Capitalist to the core. They hand around the w ives too . (74). After Carl discovers Joanna having an affair, he locks her out of their house and destroys her possessions, including all her family pictures and documents, see king to nullify her identity. He finds, however, that her existence does not spring from building s or documents, the artifacts of an administered life. Carl conflates JoannaÂ’s a ffair with business loss and literally kills the competitionÂ—Isaac King, her friend and l over. After they divorce, CarlÂ’s friend Hughie calls to bargain: in exchange for quashing a d amaging story about a plutonium leak at a power plant, Hughie wants Carl Â“to take this bimbo of mine off my handsÂ” (16). The possibility of cloning a human being has struck deeply against moral and metaphysical beliefs in contemporary society. But in Joanna May published in 1989, human cloning is still science fiction. Its enthusiasm for the multiplicity of identity formation manifests in the aplomb with which protagonist Joanna May and her four reproductions approach shared identity. By detailing each cloneÂ’s life, Weldon posit s that conditions of gestation, nutrition, upbringing, and culture overwrite genetic destin y. Joanna is startled when she discovers the clonesÂ’ existence, but the negative effe cts that Carl expected backfire. Punning, Weldon exhorts the Â“IÂ” of Joanna May as formed by the Â“eyeÂ” of the masculine gaze: Â“If thine eye offend me take a good look at yoursel f. If thine I offend thee, change itÂ” (324). The literal and figurative mirroring t hat takes place as Joanna becomes acquainted with her alternative selves enhances her agency: Â“I,
122 Joanna May. No longer Â‘Eye.Â’ Acting; not observing. Doing, not lookingÂ” (134). JoannaÂ’s ageÂ—and according to Carl, deteriorating looksÂ—trouble neither Joanna nor the clones. The clones see Joanna not as mother or mentor, but as a friend. All five Joannas construct an innovative, viable social entity with the original Joanna as chairper son. Weldon posits that shared identity is positive, rather than negative. Joanna laughs and chants, Â“Multiply me and multiply my soul: divide me, split me; you just make more o f me, not less. I will look out from more and different windows . and there will be no end to my seeingÂ” (143). Even though Weldon writes characters in terms of psychology, her true emphasis lies in the exploration of morality. Kenyon observes that like Jane Austen, Weldon prefers to view Â“the essence of the personal and the emotional in fiction [as] moralÂ” (Â“RadicalizingÂ” 114). When Weldon presents JoannaÂ’s beauty and fine character as deserving of reproduction, readers are likely to agree. But they are less likel y to agree with the cloning of Carl May, for his illegal and immoral acts, however understanda ble when viewed through a lens of psychological motivation, repulse readers. When he is dying of radiation poisoning, Carl assumes responsibility for his actions and c onfesses, Â“My fault.Â” He begs Joanna, whom he has loved throughout, to allow him the opportunity through science to redeem himself: Â“Joanna . take me, remake me. For GodÂ’s sake, remake meÂ” (346). Similar to the nature-nurture dichotomy in Puffball Weldon interrogates biological basis of behavior theories by posing the question, Â“When reproduced by the medical establishment, can a clone of the evil Carl be raised dif ferently from the original to make a positive legal and moral mark on society?Â” In the novel, one Joanna clone agrees to be implanted with CarlÂ’s clone and to mother him: all five will
123 participate in his upbringing. By trusting this futuristic family of women to inscribe socialization on a new Carl, Weldon appears to approve a kind of reproduction that forces of conservative culture find deeply disturbing. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil She-Devil (1983) epitomizes WeldonÂ’s early narrative style: 278 pages of short sentences in large print, short paragraphs with white space between, and short chapt ers of epigrammatic or balladic prose. But She-Devil Â’s structure reveals itself most notably through certain kinds of reproduction: literalizing of a trite, or dead, metaphor; reve rsals of the (gothic) romance novelÂ’s structure with its marriage plot and fairytale ending; and fantasy. Along with these reversals are oral, sometimes incantatory, motif s suggesting the revenge play, ballad, parable, and folktale. Similarly to Puffball Weldon interleaves brief incantatory balladic chapters in which Ruth reflects chorally on the acti on: Â“Mary Fisher lives in the High Tower and considers the nature of loss . . Mary Fisher li ves in the High Tower and . wants to be deadÂ” (55, 185, 243). 30 Furthermore, what Weldon calls her inadvertent subtextÂ—Â“certain resonances and echoes of language and e ventÂ” (22 Nov. 2000)Â—reflects a range of other texts: Genesis, Paradise Lost and the New Testament; Faustian stories and legends; the myths of Pygmalion and Aphrodite; f airy tales such as Â“CinderellaÂ” and Â“The Little MermaidÂ”; the Mary Poppins chil drenÂ’s stories; and Mary ShelleyÂ’s gothic tale Frankenstein According to Regina Barreca, readers understand the traditional language of literature to be metaphoric, but certain feminist novelists 31 produce literature in which 30 All references are to the New York Ballantine edit ion unless indicated otherwise in this text. 31 Besides Weldon, these include Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, May Sinclair, and Margaret Atwood.
124 dead metaphors are literally revived. In so doing, it refuses to reproduce the soc ial order of the father. The effect of metaphor-into-narrative is comic but subversive, or Â“apocalyptic,Â” rather than relieving (163). In She-Devil metaphor-into-narrative is central: in the opening pages, Ruth locks herself in the bathroom while her husband Bobbo excoriates her through the keyhole. Similarly to the catalog of insults use d as a structural device in Praxis here one insult, the she-devil metaphor, sets all in motion: Â“You are a bad mother, a worse wife, and a dreadful cook. In fact I donÂ’t think you are a woman at all. I think that what you are is a she-devil!Â” (47). This ideologicall y prompted curse shocks Ruth into cold clarity: Â“So. I see. I thought I was a good wif e tried temporarily and understandably beyond endurance, but no.Â” BobboÂ’s curse catalyzes RuthÂ’s ironically expressed rage as a will to power, in which w ords effect metamorphosis: Â“If you are a she-devil, the mind clears at once. The spirits rise There is no shame, no guilt, no dreary striving to be good. There is only . what you want Â” (48) Faust-like, Ruth exchanges all the traditionally feminine social conventions for a powerful new identity. By novelÂ’s end, the unacceptably tall, clumsy, ugly Ruth has sacrificed herself to beauty in a grotesque, excruciating metamorphosisÂ—b ecoming an ideologically constructed, commodified package of womanhood. This metafictional, decentered tale of wifely envy and revenge both attracts and repulses rea ders because Ruth smugly enjoys her new, dehumanized status. Central to the structure and themes in She-Devil is interrogation and structural reversal of the romance novel. The New York Times has designated Weldon Â“the quintessential anti-romance novelist.Â” According to popular culture critic Je anne Dubino, for the sake of profit romance novels recreate the heightened state called Â“ falling in loveÂ”
125 and reinforce a cultural mandate that women must validate their existence t hrough courtship leading to marriage. Additionally, the romance novelÂ’s subtext suggests t hat women should not trust their own perceptions of reality. Carolyn Heilbrun adds to this construct that courtship offers women a Â“brief period in the limelightÂ—and it is t he part of their lives most constantly and vividly enacted in a myriad of representationÂ—to encourage the acceptance of a lifetime of marginality . .Â” ( Writing 21 ) In the first paragraph of She-Devil Ruth criticizes Â“Mary Fisher . [who] writes a great deal about the nature of love. She tells lies. [ . ] She is a writer of romantic fiction. She tells lies to herself, and to the worldÂ” (1). Mary FisherÂ’s Â“life personifies the romanc e fiction narrative, and her career the romance fiction industryÂ” (Dubino 111). Indeed, Ruth a sks, Â“Who needs a knight in shining armor when Bobbo is there . and full of adoration, admiration? Mary Fisher has made her books come trueÂ” (73-4). But in this novel, Weldon warns that Â“[s]afety and closure, which have always been held out to women as the ideals of female destiny, are not places of adventure, or experience, or lifeÂ” (Heilburn, Writing 20). As Gilbert and Gubar observe in Madwoman in the Attic Â“Trapped in so many ways in the architectureÂ—both the houses and the institutions of patriarchy, women . expressed their claustrophobic rage by enacting rebellious escapesÂ” (85) In Jane Eyre Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, and some other romance novels, the family mansion is destroyed by a climactic fire set by an angry womanÂ—not the protagonistÂ—s upposed to be mad. Barreca observes that Weldon turns the world of the romance novel upside down to prove that the world has no rightful position at all. In She-Devil the fire is an inciting incident of purification, freeing Ruth from the false Eden of Eden Grove es tate.
126 Ruth then begins a purposeful, episodic quest for revenge and Â“power over the hearts and pockets of menÂ” (26). Unlike Jane EyreÂ’s debilitating flight from bigamous Roches ter, RuthÂ’s flight empowers her. With an allusion to John MiltonÂ’s Paradise Lost Ruth embraces feminist rebellion: Â“She laughed and said she was taking up arms agains t God Himself. Lucifer had tried and failed, but he was male. She thought she might do bett er, being femaleÂ” (94). In Jane Eyre the protagonist struggles for self-regulation in accord with prevailing social ideologies in order to gain a place in the world. The process is reductive: J ane Eyre is dwarfed by all around herÂ—Mrs. ReedÂ’s home and its inhabitants, Lowood School, RochesterÂ’s horse, Thornfield Hall, and St. John RiversÂ’ religiosity. Ruth, on the contrary, dwarfs all around her: Bobbo measures five-feet, ten-inches tall; Ruth, six-feet, two-inches. In a home Â“designed for altogether smaller occupants,Â” Ruth Â“[knoc ked] her head against the oak beam over the fireplaceÂ” (17). RuthÂ’s attempts at feminine skil ls, propriety, and self-effacement only exacerbate the feeling of being Â“tra pped in my bodyÂ” (3). Cruel reactions to RuthÂ’s physiology wipe the beauty from her inner being. She gives up the fairy tale marriage plot, waiting for Â“a knight in shining armor [to] see through to the beauty of the soul, and gather the damsel up and set a crown on her head . .Â” (63). When another female character tells her, Â“God places us in the world for a purpose,Â” Ruth replies, Â“His ways are far too mysterious . for me to put up with them anymoreÂ” (168). Ruth reasons, Â“I have tried many ways of fitting myself to my original body, and the world into which I was born, and have failed. I am no revolutionary. Since I cannot change the world, I will change myselfÂ” (237). Unacceptable to mas s cultureÂ’s
127 image of woman, Ruth inflicts the violence of medical science to her body in order to avail herself of affirmation by the male gaze. Weldon plots RuthÂ’s vengeful actions partially as a trickster she-devil to ens ure that Mary Fisher experiences the real-world complications that follow rom antic commitment. As Ruth gains money, power, and confidence, Mary loses them along with her health and finally her life. Ruth metamorphoses into her own enemy, whose actions she has mostly forgiven: Â“I can . forgive Mary Fisher for many things. [. .] I daresay I might have done the same myself, had I stood in her little size 4 shoes. [. .] [But] it is not just for myself that I look for vengeanceÂ” (210). Because Mary Fisher has be come wealthy by misleading women about romantic and marital love, Ruth cannot Â“forgi ve her novelsÂ” (211). Weldon reduces Mary Fisher to writing frantically, desperately t o support BobboÂ’s defense, his children, and her mother; but even after punishing her so severely, Ruth asserts, Â“her lies are worse because now she knows they are liesÂ” (210). Weldon posits that women can exploit the invisibility and marginality by infiltrating, controlling, and manipulating societyÂ’s institutions through a sort of urban, pink-collar guerilla warfare. In a series of episodes, and by using various ide ntities, Ruth manipulates the insurance industry, an elder care institution, a hospital for the cr iminally insane, the financial industry, housewives who want to work outside the home, the judiciary and penal system, and the church. In Chapter 29 of the British version of SheDevil published by Hodder & Stoughton, Ruth joins a separatist-feminist commune of Â“wimminÂ” in order to lose weight for surgery. 32 Strong, competent, unaffected Ruth fits 32 American publishers elided the Hodder & Stoughton Chapter 29, according to Weldon, Â“for fear of annoying the readers and losing sales . .Â” (Fay W eldon Discussion Group, 11 Jan. 2001).
128 into the hard-working commune as she has never fit in anywhere else. The wimm inÂ’s good cheer tempts Ruth to remain, but Â“she wished to live in the giddy mainstream of the world, not tucked away in this muddy corner of integrityÂ” (Hodder & Stoughton 200). Once Ruth has lost the requisite 40 pounds working in the commune garden and eating the monkish fare, she leaves the commune, for Â“she knew . that the best looking would suffer least, and the worst looking most, [t]here as anywhereÂ” (Hodder & Stoughton 204). The publication industry Ruth simply dismisses by refusing to publish a novel writte n in Mary FisherÂ’s style: Â“Enough to know I can do it, if I wantÂ” (278). As a byprodu ct of all these episodes, Ruth, like Mary Poppins, has improved the lives of many, while in the process becoming an exceedingly wealthy woman. To this point, She-Devil has been darkly comic because Ruth has manipulated from a position of weakness and readers comfortably root for the underdog. But, as critics have observed of Jane AustenÂ’s Pride and Prejudice, the novelÂ’s structure breaks in two; or as Wilde puts it, the ethical grid shifts, the final depravity pulling the lit erary rug from under readersÂ’ feet. Dealing with the commercial medical e stablishment, Ruth assumes a powerful position bestowed by clever manipulation of the capitalist econom y. She can unreasonably insist that surgeons transform her into the bodily image of Mary Fisher because she pays in cash. Her actions about-face from sadism to masochism Ruth suffers to be perceived as beautiful. In a Christian motif, Weldon presents Rut hÂ’s suffering as a reverse sacrifice: Â“Perhaps as Jesus did . for men, so I w ill do . for women. . I bring suffering and self-knowledge (the two go together) for others a nd salvation for myself . .Â” (192).
129 In She-Devil Weldon explores the reproductive intersection of certain cultural constructs: heredity, biology and physiology, medicine, psychology, and technology. Through RuthÂ’s melodramatic transformation, Weldon presents a decentered debate on the violence women undergo in order to reproduce mass cultureÂ’s approved image of womanhood. She illustrates the disconnect between the ideological image of womanhood and individuated flesh-and-blood woman. Ruth transforms herself into a commodified package of womanhood, with Â“features . so regular and so perfect they are hard to remember. She is all women because she is no womanÂ” (186). Weldon has taken BarrecaÂ’s metaphor-into-narrative to extremes, writing on RuthÂ’s body a powerful metafiction based on the Â“cultural lies about [womenÂ’s] well-beingÂ” (Doody 47) Ruth admits, Â“Somehow it is not a matter of male or female, after all; it never w as: merely of power (277). To readers, RuthÂ’s power seems to have cost too much, but many feminists have cited the irony in criticizing women who acquire power, but not the men who have always had it. As Dubrow generally suggests is possible, the metafictional She-Devil issues certain condemnatory statements about the romance novel form. With publication of t he next novel under consideration, The Bulgari Connection Weldon issues several statements about her artÂ—the conditions of production and reception of the novelÂ—and art in general. The Bulgari Connection: A Brouhaha For the New York Times Finance section, John Tagliabue reports that Â“the deal [to write the commissioned novel] obliged Weldon to mention Bulgari, . known for bold and very expensive gold designs, at least 12 times, in a positive wayÂ” (13). Once the
130 novel was written, Bulgari produced a limited edition of 750 copies to be given as upscale party favors to favored clients celebrating the storeÂ’s opening. The books were Â“individually numbered, beautifully produced and bound,Â” and in September 2000, Â“boxed in a black wooden case with a scarlet ribbonÂ” and laid by each place setting at a gala dinner at ClaridgeÂ’s. Â“Too many copies were left behind amongst the debri s of the celebration for comfort,Â” Weldon laments. She further notes that the press made onl y Â“brief mentions on the day of its initial limited editionÂ” (original). 33 But Tagliabue asserts that The Bulgari Connection Â“smash[es] the barrier between art and commerce.Â” Indeed, it does so twice, through it conditions of production and through its substance.Â” Weldon and her agent were so delighted with the finished novel that they decided to give it to publishers to read. The publishers, Grove/Atlantic, were also delighte d and wanted to publish both in Britain and the United States. Changing the title and the name Bulgari was discussed, but Â“that seemed invidiousÂ” to Weldon: Â“The text had been written, as it were, to Bulgari, as to an essay titleÂ” (16 Oct. 2001). From a Eur opean book tour for Rhode Island Blues (2000), she returned to a media furor over publishing the commissioned novel on the open market but felt complimented that Â“the mere idea of it could generate so much energyÂ” (original). 33 The furor and outrage sparked by news of the commis sioned novelÂ’s imminent publication took place prior to its open-market availability; such a preem ptory brouhaha about the novelÂ’s genesis ironically elaborates on its exploration of ideology surroundi ng the media, wealth, art, and capitalism. Further irony may be found in the publication of WeldonÂ’s respons e. For the Sunday Telegraph she submitted an article responding to her literary name being Â“mud, in seri ous quarters.Â” The Telegraph editors were not satisfied with her first attempt, so she revised the article to be as they requested Â“more jokey & populistÂ” (16 Oct. 2001). With an explanation, Weldon later posted bo th articles on the Fay Weldon Discussion Group. Th e original draft and the revised article published by the Sunday Telegraph are quoted in this section. The original draft will be parenthetically documented a s Â“(original)Â” and the revised, published article a s Â“(revised).Â” Both may be accessed on the Fay Weldo n Discussion Group. .
131 So, all unaware, according to the occasionally disingenuous Weldon, this literary iconoclast and innovator challenged the ideology of literature by publishing a commissioned, limited-edition novel in the literary marketplace. 34 In early September 2001, with The Bulgari Connection not scheduled for release until November, it became news for broadsheets, the New York Times front page, CNN, the Economist Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, and others. On August 9, online literary columnist and independent publisher Dennis Loy Johnson equates the number of Bulgari references in the novel to the generosity of the commission. He accuses Weldon of the basest commercialismÂ—initiating a standard practice of hiding advertisements in books. Further, Johnson attributes WeldonÂ’s motivation to Â“revenge against a literary community that hadnÂ’t given her the awards she felt she deserved.Â” JohnsonÂ’s comment seems justified. In a New York Times front-page article, David D. Kirkpatrick quotes WeldonÂ’s true-to-form response to the commission offer: Â“When the approach came through I thought, Â‘Oh no, dear, me, I am a literary author. . [M]y name will be mud forever.Â’ But then after a while I thought, Â‘I donÂ’t care. Let it be mud. They neve r give me the Booker prize anywayÂ’Â” (A12). 35 In fact, Grove/Atlantic publishers did hesitate to publish The Bulgari Connection not wanting even to read a novel connected overtly to a specific product. However, a Grove/Atlantic spokesperson told Kirkpatrick, Â“We definitely questioned it. Then we read it and we loved itÂ” (A12). 34 It seems obvious that, in spite of this back-story of innocence, there is more to be known about the business negotiation. Did Weldon or her business m anager have the foresight to retain the rights to t he manuscript? Or did Bulgari retain some royalty rig hts in the event of publication on the open market? 35 From KirkpatrickÂ’s description of WeldonÂ’s oeuvre, it seems unlikely that he has read any of her othe r works: Â“Ms. Weldon customarily writes contemplative literary novels about working women or intellectuals.Â”
132 On September 9, 2001, the Times published letters in response to KirkpatrickÂ’s article, one from Murray J. Gross, President of the Finnegans Wake Society of New York. Gross defends Weldon and product placement as part of a literary tradition shared by James Joyce, Â“a most uncommercial author,Â” who mentions the Guinness brewery often in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake without any Â“record that he ever got even a glass of the brew for his trouble.Â” Gross dismisses WeldonÂ’s motive for the freque nt Bulgari name dropping: Â“[W]hat matters is how good the book is. Let us await Fay WeldonÂ’s latest with a more open mind than that which greeted Ulysses Â” (18). Ellen Goodman, a Weldon reader, casts WeldonÂ’s motive as more Â“mischievous than mercenary.Â” Certainly, given WeldonÂ’s iconoclastic position her claim of navet is difficult to credit. Goodman, however, assumes that Weldon has accepted product placement into literature as it is practiced in film: for an E T Halloween sceneÂ’s realism, for instance, a Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail of candy is needed. Mars, I ncorporated turns down placement of M&MÂ’s, but ReeseÂ’s Pieces profits hugely by purchasing the product placement. Prematurely and inaccurately, Goodman writes that Weldon Â“liber ally sprinkled the crown jewels of her patron into a thriller and named it The Bulgari Connection Â” (11). GoodmanÂ’s column ran on September 11, 2001. Thereafter, Â“the real headlines hit [and] such matters became trivial . .Â” Weldon observes (16 Oct. 2001). Reviewer Katherine A. Powers summarizes the pre-publication debate surrounding t he novel as the expellation of Â“a mighty eructation of literary high-mindednessÂ” eclipsed completely on September 11, 2001, to events Â“genuinely evil.Â” Ironically, The Bulgari Connection explores the integral, complex, interdependent relationships among the art world, the financial and commercial world, and the ma ss
133 media. Comparing the process of writing The Bulgari Connection to painting a commissioned portrait, Weldon defines its theme: Â“devouring its own tail . turned out to be the theme of the novel: the painting of a portrait, the way the truth keeps breaking through: the relationship of art to commerceÂ” (original). The novelÂ’s parallel plot s concern a wealthy, going-on-59, self-made businessman, Barley Salt, who leaves hi s dull, dowdy wife Grace for the gorgeous young Doris Dubois, the star of her own televi sion program Artsworld Extra Walter Winston Wells, a talent painter in his twenties, becomes GraceÂ’s lover. In The Bulgari Connection Weldon no longer laments phallologocentrism as in her earlier novels, but the replacement of words by images in the interest of polit ical correctness. Walter has chosen to become an artist rather than a poet because Â“ the image paid better than words in the new century. . So he had been practical and gone to art college, only to find the artist was as likely to live in a garret as the poet, unless he was very luckyÂ” (18). At a charity auction the bidding for Lady JulietÂ’s portrai t begins at Â£8,000 and increases by Â£200 increments, partially because Walter has addressed the party, as instructed by Lady Juliet, on the way art could serve humanity, and Â“t he morality of aesthetics.Â” She advises Walter, who is unused to public speaking, Â“Be altogether as languid and beautiful as you can . and prices will tripleÂ” bec ause Â“[h]ow you look is more important than what you sayÂ” (21, 25). Moreover, The Bulgari Connection illustrates business dealings between artists and patrons or galleries, and by extension between writers and publishers, and other ki nds of artists. Weldon writes no doubt from experience: Ron WeldonÂ’s career as a painter, Nick FoxÂ’s as a poet, and over forty years of her own personal and professional
134 associations within the art world, the media, and the business world. Walter has recei ved Â£1,800 for painting Lady JulietÂ’s portrait in which she wears Bulgari jewelryÂ—a necklace and matching earrings. WalterÂ’s compensation for the portrait Â“worked out at Â£300 a week for six weeks workÂ” (21). However, Walter has actually painted two portrai ts, the first for Lady Juliet to keep, the second to serve as his charitable contribution to the auction, painted without reimbursement, even for canvas or paint (19). In this, high culture is portrayed as exploitive. In the novel, WalterÂ’s paintings bring between Â£500 and Â£900. His gallery, the Â“small and unfashionable Bloomsday,Â” takes 60%. The gallery owners Â“put VAT on the selling price including commission, so Walter has to pay more than his fair sha reÂ” (61). When the Bloomsday sells four landscapes to the director of the Manhatt. [sic] Centr e for the Arts in New York, Walter is subsequently invited to have a one-artist exhibiti on there. Although he and Grace revel in his discovery by the art world, Walter also knows that the Manhatt. may be responding to dictates of available space, since they normally s pecialize in Â“art installations, unmade beds as art objects and so onÂ” (77). Furthermore, the contract percentages for the exhibition will likely be the following: 50% fo r the Manhatt. of the wall price; 15% for WalterÂ’s agent; 25% to 40% for Inland Revenue, depending on the quantity of paintings sold; and finally, a small cut for the Bloomsday. In this market riches come to artists only at prices of Â£10,000 or more per painting (130). But the exhibition sells out and the Mahhatt. requests another six early paintings. The se Walter fakes, reproducing his own early style. He finds the process Â“fascinatingÂ” but t he style Â“puerileÂ” (163).
135 Weldon interrogates truisms about artists. In one incident, Lady Juliet express es envy of artists living Â“snug in your garrets, safe from the worldÂ” (19). Sir Ronald Random fears a theft of Lady JulietÂ’s jewelry during the portrait sitti ngs, but she asserts that Â“[Walter] was an artist, everyone knew artists were above materia l thingsÂ” (20). Walter complains to Grace, Â“I compromised [my artistic integrity and r eputation] when I accepted this commission in the first place. . What painter in his right mind takes on this kind of duff job?Â” She replies, Â“Goya.Â” Grace relates how when the Duke of Wellington arrived victorious at the city gates of Madrid, Goya painted the Duke Â’s head over the body of NapoleonÂ’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte of Spain. Goya sold the portrait to the Duke. Walter, and likely Weldon, thinks, Â“When a new patron beats upon the gates, it is wisest for artists to express their enthusiasm, and there is honour in the custom. Integrity is what you can affordÂ” (129). A sub-plot explores the intersection of literature, media rush to judgment, and fickle mass audiences. Motivated by sexual and professional jealousy, Doris Dubois impulsively fires Flora, the knowledgeable, prescient research assist ant on her highly respected program Artsworld Extra Famous for being spot-on in the art world, Doris supports an author named Leadbetter for the Turner literature prize. Flora corr ectly predicts that Â“the public have gone right off all [LeadbetterÂ’s] Culture of Dis gust stuff. The critics will follow like lambs. ThereÂ’s going to be a seismic shift and D oris will have three whole programmes in the can about yuck artÂ” (134). Doris has erred. Fed up wi th her power plays, the programÂ’s producers take advantage of her error in judgment to r id themselves of her, holding a crucial meeting in DorisÂ’s absence. On the basis of her program being Â“too expensive per head of viewerÂ” with the quality-weighting covert ly
136 removed, Artsworld Extra is cancelled and Doris loses her prestigious starring role (178). To add insult to injury, the high culture Artsworld Extra is replaced by a popular culture program that appeals to a wider audience, From the Other Side which exploits FloraÂ’s gifts to explore the supernatural. As for the Bulgari firm in the novel, Weldon praises its dcor, knowledge, artisanship, dignity, and discretion but only in brief scenes restricted to jewel ry purchase by Barley Salt and Doris Dubois. The jewelry itself functions as a symbolic nexusÂ—Â“a miraculous object, like a Byzantine iconÂ”Â—connecting characters, plots, and them es. Reminiscent of certain distinctions made by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby Bulgari jewelry defines differences between the very rich and the soci al climbers who scrabble greedily but can only mimic the truly wealthy. In articles for the Telegraph Weldon justifies the genesis of The Bulgari Connection She counters accusations of abetting capitalism in its co-opting by pointing out that critics had been misinformed and indeed, could not even have read the work they were criticizing. She protests also the media rush to judgment in order to sell itself and hedges in favor of the novel on the grounds that the open-market edition would be judged by reviewers for whom it was not written. Comparing The Bulgari Connection to commissioned portraits, sponsored productions of plays, and Truman CapoteÂ’s Breakfast at TiffanyÂ’s Weldon differentiates product placement from sponsorship: Â“It is not a completed novel into which product names have been blithely dropped in return for a feeÂ” (revised). Â“It was if anything a sponsored novel, and barely even thatÂ” (original). According to the contract, beyond mentioning Bulgari a dozen times and in no way disparaging the firm, there was no editorial control. Weldon refers to her caree r-
137 beginning realization that if an advertisement is Â“a little story selli ng a product . [then] a novel or a play was a longer story selling an idea.Â” So she views the commission a s an opportunity for professional liberation by allowing her to Â“drive into the skid and do bothÂ” (original). In the composition process then, Weldon was left Â“free of the opinions of publishers, critics and reviewers and the expectations of readersÂ” (revi sed). She also cites release Â“from the usual weight of Â‘literature;Â’ which I began to se e hung like an albatross round my neck . .Â” (16 Oct. 2001). When Weldon found she would be required to mention Bulgari at least a dozen times, she thought, Â“[T]his is absurd. . LetÂ’s do it honorablyÂ—without any pretenceÂ” (qtd. in Kirkpatrick A12). Comparing production of The Bulgari Connection to human reproduction, Weldon terms it Â“[a]n invitro birth rather than a normal birth, but a baby all the same, alive and kicking splendidlyÂ” (revised). Overall, Weldon argues that those who think of Â“the interior of books as inviolable,Â” as artistically sacred, disingenuously ignore the commerci al aspects of writing and publishing literature (Johnson). Weldon pointedly analyzes conditions in the contemporary publishing industry, echoing the 1984 Letters to Alice : Â“these days there is a Literary Industry much as there is an Agro Industry: the former being to reading as the latter is to farming . .Â” (34). The gentlemanly publishing house has become a media conglomerate whose officers and stockholders concern themselves with the profit able publicationsÂ—nonfiction, thrillers, and romances. Publishers Â“are increasingly unw illing to publish Â‘goodÂ’ books because they canÂ’t make sufficient profit on themÂ” (16 Oct. 2001). Good books are considered bestsellers if only 2,000 copies are purchased; novelists cannot subsist on the advance and a 10% net royalty of such sales. As Weldon
138 observes, Â“Literary novels gets [sic] the reviews but little elseÂ” (ori ginal). Fiction writers must supplement their income, preferably from commissions and contracts for other types of writing: adaptations, films, plays, television series, radio, short stories, f orewords, reviews, journalism, speeches, and even charity leaflets. It seems paradox ical then to bemoan commodification of fiction when readers do not nurture Â“the pure literature they like to feel exists, but so seldom readÂ” (original). According to Weldon, writers know all too well what publishers will accept, that for all but the most distinguished novelists, they may suggest themes or insist on changing endings or settings with niche marketing in mind. However, one type of marketing may not determine another: although E T fans rushed to buy ReeseÂ’s Pieces, Weldon observes that her readers are unlikely to rush to Bulgari to purchase jewelry at prices of Â£275,000 like Sir Roderick RandomÂ—or even Â£18,000 like Barley Salt. To those who termed the book Â“tackyÂ” for deleting the line between literature and advertising, Weldon responded, Â“Have I betrayed the sacred name of literature? Well, what the heckÂ” (qtd. in Goodman, 11). But able for once to lay aside the profit factor that Â“exercises so much press ure, both covert, and overt,Â” Weldon is pleased with The Bulgari Connection which Â“took off and all but wrote itselfÂ” (original and revised). Eschewing modesty, she acc urately describes the novel as a Â“brief elegant work,Â” but whether it is Â“as near perfe ct as any I had ever doneÂ” (original and revised) needs more exploration than can be attempted he re. Weldon describes the contract process for The Bulgari Connection as laborious because Â“there had been nothing quite like it before, nor is there likely to be againÂ” (revise d). Unconcerned with consistency, Weldon also takes the offensive against mass and high
139 culture by predicting a positive future for Â“goodÂ” sponsored novels: Â“There are no rul es. If it pays the authorÂ’s rent and enables him to live to write another day, goodÂ” (r evised). Â“If writers or novels can find sponsorsÂ—as it happens a lot in theatreÂ—then good, and it may be the way ahead. But I donÂ’t see it happening muchÂ” (16 Oct. 2001). Echoing Aphra Behn and George Eliot, Weldon insists that a novel must be judged only according to merit, not by its genesis. Conclusion The narrative strategy Weldon employs to explore womenÂ’s construction and identity harkens back to an early and ongoing mode of writing for a female audie nceÂ— the didactic, used simultaneously to confine and liberate. However, WeldonÂ’s works are widely removed from early conduct books, for Weldon is no literary Grace Poole, confining the wild woman to the attic. In popular and best-selling novels, Weldon both participates in and satirizes the commodification of language to interroga te not only the construction of womanhood but also the educative or didactic purposes of much traditional womenÂ’s literature. Weldon prevents readers from taking advice from her cautionary tales by constructing each as a less-than-blended cauldron of voices, contradictions, whirli ng situations, wild coincidences, legends, old wivesÂ’ tales, and womenÂ’s wisdomÂ—and reminding readers through certain narrative strategies, including shifting point s of view and authorial intrusions, that they are reading a construct. Her pacing, outrage ous voicings, shifting points-of-view, ironic authorial intrusions, and page layoutsÂ—all a re designed to repeatedly remind the reader, Â“YouÂ’re reading a novel, donÂ’t forget!Â”
140 WeldonÂ’s stories have no overt moral; in fact, they seem to lack a moral center. They are, however, purposeful: Weldon attempts to move women to the threshold of independence through humor, grotesquerie, and the bewilderment that can give rise t o thinking in a new way. Thus, it might be said that WeldonÂ’s metafiction is metadidact ic. Through her narrative strategies, Weldon aims to startle women out of their torpor into realization and resistance of the commodified roles they are pressured to reproduc e in their lives.
141 Afterword The placement of Fay WeldonÂ’s literary oeuvre as a British woman of letters must remain incomplete for, in 2007, she continues to write copiously. Weldon compares writing to breathingÂ—Â“simply a natural thing that I doÂ” (qtd. in Rountree 98). Not quite facetiously, I suspect that WeldonÂ’s writing will cease only with her last breath. If her life span approximates her motherÂ’s, she has before her twenty years of her ca reer. Margaret Birkinshaw died at ninety-five, able to recall the poetry she had reci ted to Jane and Fay on long walks in New Zealand. Since WeldonÂ’s fictions have obliquely reflecte d her personal life, we may expect to read about the issues of societyÂ’s elders. In fact, Weldon has already begun to revise her previous pronouncements, now believed to be mistaken; in the future, she will probably produce pungent commentary on cultural developments and ironic fictional advice for young and old. She may also fictionaliz e the spiritual path elders often take as she recently converted to Anglicanism f rom atheism. Although Weldon is unlikely to end her life alone and poor, health problems are nearly inevitable: in 2005, she had a near-death experience when, because of an allergic reaction, her heart stopped. She saw a vision of the gates of paradiseÂ—vulgar, middle class, and double glazed (Jeffries). Since Weldon has written throughout her car eer of what currently interested or obsessed her, she will likely continue the social c ommentary on womenÂ’s lives into the early twenty-first century.
142 From the ideology of womanhood as discussed in Chapter 1, Weldon peels away chastity, modesty, and silence (including silence about the appalling possibilit y that normal women act polygamously from libido). Too, Weldon writes from a powerful offensive position, for she screeches, to some, in rage; she portrays women who act out from angerÂ— not internalizing it and thereby projecting upon themselves the responsibility for injustices perpetrated upon them. As WeldonÂ’s perceptions of life changed, the focus of her novels changed as well. Characters shifted from mother-blaming, man-blaming, and from putting women in charge so that all would be well, to increased interest in the institutionalized c onstructs of mass cultureÂ—science, medicine, economics, religion, politics, feminism, busi ness, the judiciary, the welfare system, and so on. Eder criticizes Auto da Fay as a too-familiar memoir because Â“so much of its material shows up as roots for her novels.Â” But that Weldon has constructed fictions out of her ongoing interests and obsessions, the stuff of her life, enhances her literary production, for those interests and obsessions are types for womenÂ’s experiences of life. In Female Friends Weldon explored the effects of mothering on daughters and of womenÂ’s special physiologies on their lives: the menarche, pregnancy, abortion, birth, and menopause. She calls attention to the fact tha t what adults are given medals for doing to one another during wars, women are jail ed for doing to a fetus or an imperfect baby. Before the WomenÂ’s Movement declared sisterhood among women, Weldon recorded their fierce rivalry for male attenti on and marriage in The Fat WomanÂ’s Joke She began her novels with the rocky marriages, adulterous relationships, single women, and divorces that succeeded the romance novelÂ’s climax of acknowledged courtship and denouement of wedding and happy-ever-
143 after. In Down Among the Women Weldon portrayed how women can perceive themselves in terms of their husbandÂ’s accomplishments. In Remember Me The Rules of Life The Hearts and Lives of Men The Heart of the Country and Affliction Weldon shows what may happen when women lose husbands to casual affairs, (younger) mistresses or second wives, and death. After thirty years of marriage, Ron We ldon left Fay for his mistress, via his therapist, and then died suddenly on the day their divorce became final. After the divorce and RonÂ’s death, Weldon married the poet Nick Fox, fifteen years her junior. Fictionally, Weldon posited what changes may happen to bot h partners when a woman of fifty-eight becomes the lover of a man of twenty-nine. A nd in Rhode Island Blues she explored what it means to be an old woman near the end of life, yearning for love, companionship, activity, and excitement. With publication of the short story collection A Hard Time to be a Father (1998), Weldon gave notice that Â“for a man to succeed within patriarchy he must rigidly adhe re to the rules and laws of patriarchy, or else risk marginalization.Â” She contra sts women, who, Â“being exempt from patriarchy, are able to exploit the weaknesses tha t exist within itÂ” (17 Jun. 2002). Splitting for instance, is especially predicated on such exploitation. But as women entered a previously male domain, they began to see its problems. M en were victimized too by having to be Â“strong, heterosexual, successful, sole suppor ters of their familiesÂ” (18 Jun. 2002). Weldon cites Worst Fears as matriarchal: Â“men tend to be the victims of the women. . My heroine does the earning . and keeps her husband as a kind of decorative optional extraÂ” (18 Mar. 2001). Media blurbs show Weldon, as many crusading elders do, wondering whether in this case the masculiniza tion of our
144 women, the feminization of our men, and the overall feminization of mass culture has gone too far. Space for critical work on Weldon abounds, especially with the publication rate she continues into her eighth decade. One suggestion for further study is this shift fr om nearly exclusive attention on female to more attention on male characters, wi th all of them read as negotiating through mass culture, the ergonarchy, and the administ ered life. WeldonÂ’s later novels are not survival manuals only for women but survival manuals written against the reduction in vitality of human lives caused by oppressive cul tural practices in the age of mechanical reproduction. Other possibilities for stud y include GlavinÂ’s call to examine the Scottish Calvinistic and antinomian influences of We ldonÂ’s education at St. Andrews University, a period Weldon gives short shrift in her memoir s. Because Weldon has to some extent theorized their effects, her tools of production, fr om felt-tip pen to computer after the year 2000, would be a timely study of advancing technologyÂ’s effect on literary production. In her novels, I have found occasional resonances with Buddhist and Islamic approaches to lifeÂ’s exigencies and suf fering. These resonances and certain Christian motifs, especially WeldonÂ’s 1998 introducti on to a discrete publication of PaulÂ’s Epistles to the Corinthians would twine interest ingly with WeldonÂ’s recent conversion from atheism to Christianity. Especially fruitful areas of study will be those across her oeuvre, of magic realism, fantasy, science fic tion, intertextualities of various kinds (including popular forms), and polyphonic voicings (ironic and shifting points of view, authorial intrusions), among others. Finally, crit ic P.J. Smith observes that Weldon chronicles the change in womenÂ’s culture Â“from shrewis h rivalry to sistersÂ” (126). I extend SmithÂ’s observation in suggesting a Foucaul dian
145 alternative history of womenÂ’s culture and women in culture from circa 1930 to the present, and beyond. Although literature is subject to fads and trends, my hope for WeldonÂ’s extensive oeuvre, albeit incomplete, is that it join the British humorous and satirical tradi tion of writers who have lightened moral exploration with laughter: among others, Aphra Behn, Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark, and Kingsley Amis. 36 Perhaps then her work, and that of other women writers, will not encounter the cultural obstacles described in Chapter 1, in which each work by a woman is received as if it emerges, without context of past or present, from a vacuum. With gender-integrate d placement, WeldonÂ’s work will less likely suffer truncations similar those s uffered by the ever-incipient tradition of literature by women. In this way, although Weldon views as outdated some of her depictions of social relations, whenÂ—not ifÂ—the administered life goes awry for women of the future, they may look to her work for constructs of frivolity and toughness in the face of hazardous, unpredictable life. Partially from a desperate early life that might ha ve crushed her nascent creativity, Weldon constructs picaras who manage both to endure and enjoy lif e. They avoid the bourgeois sadness that Glavin points to as a dominant feature of recent literary protagonists. WeldonÂ’s women do not internalize the whiny, self-absorbed attitude fostered, and even cultivated, by capitalistic mass culture and the a dministered life: Â“This [terrible thing] isnÂ’t supposed to happen to me !Â” Weldon gives Â“her fictional women permission for all kinds of riotous or ruinous behavior, but not one ounce of tea 36 To her British peers might be added the French pee rs of Rabelais, Molire, and La Rochefoucauld.
146 or sympathy for incompetence, complicity with chauvinists, or passivity about se xismÂ” (Pearlman 85). If WeldonÂ’s women are damaged, it is not from fear of suffering but f rom suffering itself, and only temporarily. Having trained in New Criticism and having a certain habit of mind, I detest what I perceive to be textual misreadings. However, I do take the point of critics who privilege theoretical readings, for instance, over close readings: the accretion of narra tive style can effect perceptual alterations in the reader. Barreca describes WeldonÂ’s f irst American reading, from the recently published The PresidentÂ’s Child (1983), in a way that the texts function for me: Â“She did not so much read with emotion as she read in such a way that her listeners were themselves filled with feelingÂ” ( Wicked Fictions 2). My worldview has brightened through WeldonÂ’s print Â“orality.Â” I have perceived and dis-internalize d some ideologies because she uses language not as Â“voicedÂ” by writers, but as Â“heardÂ” by readers. To me, her fictions say, Â“Leave me, leave the world of the novelÂ—go and live, refusing to be bound by fear.Â”
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