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Fay Birkinshaw Weldon

Fay Birkinshaw Weldon

British novelist, dramatist, essayist, and feminist Fay Birkinshaw Weldon (born ca. 1931) was famous for her witty and satirical evocations of contemporary mores and morals as they affect the lives of women.

Whether Fay Birkinshaw Weldon was born on September 22 of 1931 or of 1933 is uncertain; what is certain, however, is that this British author of internationally acclaimed novels, short stories, screen plays, and television and radio dramas, as well as works of biography and historical criticism, descended from a line of writers. Her mother, Margaret Birkinshaw, reportedly published two novels under her maiden name and wrote serial novels under the pseudonym Pearl Bellairs. Weldon's maternal grandfather, Edgar Jepson, edited Vanity Fair and wrote popular romance-adventure stories, and his brother Selwyn authored mystery-thrillers and plays for screen, television, and radio. Understandably, Weldon saw her literary ability as, at least in part, genetic.

Weldon and her family moved to New Zealand soon after her birth in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, England. Her father, Frank Thornton Birkinshaw, was a doctor. He and his wife divorced when Weldon was five or six, and for the next eight years she lived with her mother and sister in New Zealand and went to Girls' High School in Christchurch. Her mother did domestic work to support the family. When the war ended and Weldon was about 14, the three returned to England to live with her grandmother. Here Weldon attended London's Hampstead High School, a convent school. After graduating, she entered St. Andrew's University in Scotland on scholarship. When she completed her master's degree in economics and psychology, Weldon was only 20 years old.

Weldon was married in the early 1950s to a schoolmaster who was 25 years her senior. But this union lasted only six months. When her son Nicholas was born in 1955, Weldon found herself ill-equipped to support them both. She tried unsuccessfully to write novels and worked for 18 months at the Foreign Office writing Cold War propaganda. In 1960 she married Ronald Weldon, an antiques dealer.

During the 1960s Weldon found work doing market research for the London Daily News and writing advertising copy for Ogilvy, Benson, & Mather and other firms. This work paid better and brought her some renown when she coined the popular British slogan, "Go to work on an egg." While decrying advertising as a "shameful business, " Weldon acknowledged that her years as a copywriter forced her to make every word count, an ability that is reflected in her sharply succinct prose style.

According to an interview, Weldon went through psychoanalysis in her early thirties and it was this "dreadfully painful and very interesting" experience that enabled her to try writing fiction again. In the mid-1960s she began writing television plays, which were produced by BBC and one of which, The Fat Woman's Joke, was published in the United States as the novel And the Wife Ran Away. So began her career as a prolific writer of dramas and novels. By 1990 Weldon had written more than 50 scripts for British television, including two episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs, one of which won an award from the Society of Film and Television Arts in 1971. She wrote adaptations for the screen of her own fiction, as well as that of Penelope Mortimer and Elisabeth Bowen. Her five-part dramatization of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was produced on BBC in 1980 after Weldon spent four years completing the adaptation. In 1984 she wrote Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen, a nonfiction work comprised of 16 witty and informative letters to a fictional niece with literary aspirations, explaining the life and times of both Austen and Weldon. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Weldon wrote plays for television and radio and even the libretto for an operatic version of Ibsen's A Doll's House.

However impressive her other work, it is for her 18 novels that she is best known. One, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, published in 1984, was serialized on BBC and made into a popular movie in the United States. Her short and fast-paced novels are pastiches of science fiction, economic theory, surreal imagery, psychological insight, and political satire. The reader turns the pages of a Weldon novel not so much to discover what its characters will do next, but rather to learn what brilliant comic moves Weldon herself will engineer to drive the story. Most of her work is translated into many languages and distributed around the world.

Weldon's childhood experience in a largely female world as a child of divorce raised by a working mother, as well as her own later struggle as a single mother, are reflected in the characters who people her fictional worlds. However, her later life was very different. Married to Ronald Weldon for over thirty years, they raised a family of sons. Weldon's oldest son, Nicholas, was a jazz musician as well as a chef and Weldon's business manager. Daniel (1963) was a filmmaker, Thomas (1970) was described by his mother as a "practicing punk," and Samuel (1977) lived with his parents in the Somerset town of Shepton Mallet. Weldon herself commuted two days a week to a house in Kentish Town, London. In 1997 Weldon provided yet another unique profile on women in Wicked Women, a collection of short stories taking place in the 1990s.

Further Reading

Weldon's writing is reviewed in American newspapers and periodicals such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Village Voice. For interviews see Marjorie Williams in The Washington Post (April 24, 1988) and Eden Ross Lipson in Lear's (January 1990). Brigitte Salzmann-Brunner in Amanuenses to the Present: Protagonists in the Fiction of Penelope Mortimer, Margaret Drabble, and Fay Weldon (1988) looks at Weldon's work in the context of that of her peers. See also Carolyn Nizzi Warmbold, "Books: Reviews and Opinion: In Brief: 'Wicked Women' by Fay Weldon, "The Atlantic Journal and Constitution (June 22, 1997). □

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Weldon, Fay

WELDON, Fay

Nationality: British. Born: Fay Birkinshaw in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, 22 September 1931; grew up in New Zealand. Education: Girls' High School, Christchurch; Hampstead Girls' High School, London; University of St. Andrews, Fife, 1949-52, M.A. in economics and psychology 1952. D. Litt, University of Bath, 1988, University of St. Andrews, 1992. Family: Married Ron Weldon in 1960 (marriage ended), married Nicholas Fox in 1994; four sons. Career: writer for the Foreign Office and Daily Mirror, both London, late 1950s; later worked in advertising. Awards: Writers Guild award, for radio play, 1973; Giles Cooper award, for radio play, 1978; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1981; Los Angeles Times award, for fiction, 1989. D. Litt: University of St. Andrews, 1990. Lives in London. Agent: Ed Victor, 6 Bayley St., London WC1B 3HB; Casarotto Company, National House, 62-66 Wardour Street, London W1V 3HP, England.

Publications

Novels

The Fat Woman's Joke. London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1967; as and the Wife Ran Away, New York, McKay, 1968.

Down among the Women. London, Heinemann, 1971; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1972.

Female Friends. London, Heinemann, and New York, St. Martin'sPress, 1975.

Remember Me. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, Random House, 1976.

Words of Advice. New York, Random House, 1977; as Little Sisters, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1978.

Praxis. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, Summit, 1978.

Puffball. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, Summit, 1980.

The President's Child. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1982; NewYork, Doubleday, 1983.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1983; New York, Pantheon, 1984.

The Shrapnel Academy. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986; NewYork, Viking, 1987.

The Heart of the Country. London, Hutchinson, 1987; New York,>Viking, 1988.

The Hearts and Lives of Men. London, Heinemann, 1987; New York, Viking, 1988.

Leader of the Band. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988; NewYork, Viking, 1989.

The Cloning of Joanna May. London, Collins, 1989; New York, Viking, 1990.

Darcy's Utopia. London, Collins, 1990; New York, Viking, 1991.

Life Force. London, Collins, and New York, Viking, 1992.

Affliction. London, Collins, 1994; as Trouble, New York, Viking, 1994.

Splitting: A Novel. New York, Grove Atlantic, 1994.

Worst Fears. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996.

Big Girls Don't Cry. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.

Rhode Island Blues. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000.

Short Stories

Watching Me, Watching You. London, Hodder and Stoughton, andNew York, Summit, 1981.

Polaris and Other Stories. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1985; New York, Penguin, 1989.

The Rules of Life (novella). London, Hutchinson, and New York, Harper, 1987.

Moon over Minneapolis. London, Harper Collins, 1991.

Wicked Women: A Collection of Short Stories. London, Flamingo, 1995; New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.

Angel, All Innocence, and Other Stories. London, Bloomsbury, 1995.

A Hard Time to Be a Father. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Ind Aff; or, Out of Love in Sarajevo," in Best Short Stories 1989, edited by Giles Gordon and David Hughes. London, Heinemann, 1989; as The Best English Short Stories 1989, New York, Norton, 1989.

Plays

Permanence, in We Who Are about to , later called Mixed Doubles (produced London, 1969). London, Methuen, 1970.

Time Hurries On, in Scene Scripts, edited by Michael Marland. London, Longman, 1972.

Words of Advice (produced London, 1974). London, French, 1974.

Friends (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1975).

Moving House (produced Farnham, Surrey, 1976).

Mr. Director (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1978).

Polaris (broadcast 1978). Published in Best Radio Plays of 1978, London, Eyre Methuen, 1979.

Action Replay (produced Birmingham, 1978; as Love Among the Women, produced Vancouver, 1982). London, French, 1980.

I Love My Love (broadcast 1981; produced Richmond, Surrey, 1982).London, French, 1984.

After the Prize (produced New York, 1981; as Word Worm, producedNewbury, Berkshire, 1984).

Jane Eyre, adaptation of the novel by Charlotte Brontë (producedBirmingham, 1986).

The Hole in the Top of the World (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1987).

Someone Like You, music by Petula Clark and Dee Shipman (produced London, 1990).

Radio Plays:

Spider, 1973; Housebreaker, 1973; Mr. Fox and Mr. First, 1974; The Doctor's Wife, 1975; Polaris, 1978; Weekend, 1979; All the Bells of Paradise, 1979; I Love My Love, 1981; The Hole in the Top of the World, 1993.

Television Plays:

Wife in a Blonde Wig, 1966; A Catching Complaint, 1966; The Fat Woman's Tale, 1966; What About Me, 1967; Dr. De Waldon's Therapy, 1967; Goodnight Mrs. Dill, 1967; The 45th Unmarried Mother, 1967; Fall of the Goat, 1967; Ruined Houses, 1968; Venus Rising, 1968; The Three Wives of Felix Hull, 1968; Hippy Hippy Who Cares, 1968; £13083, 1968; The Loophole, 1969; Smokescreen, 1969; Poor Mother, 1970; Office Party, 1970; On Trial (Upstairs, Downstairs, series), 1971; Old Man's Hat, 1972; A Splinter of Ice, 1972; Hands, 1972; The Lament of an Unmarried Father, 1972; A Nice Rest, 1972; Comfortable Words, 1973; Desirous of Change, 1973; In Memoriam, 1974; Poor Baby, 1975; The Terrible Tale of Timothy Bagshott, 1975; Aunt Tatty, from the story by Elizabeth Bowen, 1975; Act of Rape, 1977; Married Love (Six Women series), 1977; Act of Hypocrisy (Jubilee series), 1977; Chickabiddy (Send in the Girls series), 1978; Pride and Prejudice, from the novel by Jane Austen, 1980; Honey Ann, 1980; Life for Christine, 1980; Watching Me, Watching You (Leap in the Dark series), 1980; Little Mrs. Perkins, from a story by Penelope Mortimer, 1982; Redundant! or, The Wife's Revenge, 1983; Out of the Undertow, 1984; Bright Smiles (Time for Murder series), 1985; Zoe's Fever (Ladies in Charge series), 1986; A Dangerous Kind of Love (Mountain Men series), 1986; Heart of the Country serial, 1987.

Other

Simple Steps to Public Life, with Pamela Anderson and Mary Stott. London, Virago Press, 1980.

Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen. London, Joseph, 1984; New York, Taplinger, 1985.

Rebecca West. London and New York, Viking, 1985.

Wolf the Mechanical Dog (for children). London, Collins, 1988.

Sacred Cows. London, Chatto and Windus, 1989.

Party Puddle (for children). London, Collins, 1989.

Godless in Eden: A Book of Essays. London, Flamingo, 1999.

Editor, with Elaine Feinstein, New Stories 4. London, Hutchinson, 1979.

*

Critical Studies:

Fay Weldon by Lana Faulks, New York, Twayne Publishers, 1998.

* * *

Fay Weldon's concern began as personal relationships in contemporary society, focusing on women, especially as mothers, and thus widening to take in relationships between the generations: "By our children, you shall know us." She amusingly traces long chains of cause and effect, inexorable as Greek tragedy, stemming from both conscious and unconscious motivation, and from chance circumstances. She looks at society with devastating clearsightedness, showing how good may spring from selfishness, evil from altruism.

Weldon's unique narrative style highlights the contradiction between free will which her characters, like us, assume and the conditioning which we know we undergo. Her characters are continually referred to by their names, where English style would normally use a pronoun, and addressed directly in the second person by the author and assessed by her"Lucky Lily" the author appraises a leading character in Remember Me, where she also "translates" passages of the characters' dialogue into what they mean, rather than say. In The Hearts and Lives of Men the author continually buttonholes "Reader." Weldon's apparently disingenuous surface, with her own paragraphing lay-out, is underpinned by a whole battery of ironic devices, indicating the limitations on her characters'and ourautonomy from cradle to grave. In Puffball this process is pushed back before the cradle, with sections "Inside Liffey" about the growth of the fetus and its conditioning via the circumstances of the mother's life.

The Fat Woman's Joke, Weldon's first novel, follows a greedy couple on a diet: this novel originated as a television play, and Weldon hadn't fully developed her unique style. Her characteristic plangent note, that the worst can happen and does, is accompanied by a muted optimism, especially in her novels' endings: gradual progress occurs, at least for the majority if not for the unfortunate individual. Down among the Women concludes "We are the last of the women"that is, the half of the population defined earlier as living "at floor level, washing and wiping."

Weldon's feminism colors all her work, and is powerful when she doesn't shrink from detailing the faults of individual women, or the way women exploit what advantages the system yields them. Men are the exploiting sex because the system favors them, and they take for granted the status quo. In Female Friends, focusing on three women friends and their mothers, Grace is shown as worthless, until perhaps the end, while Oliver and Patrick take what the system offersand more.

The machinery of plot in Remember Me is ostensibly supernatural, as a dead divorced wife haunts her ex-husband's second ménage. Weldon's apparent reliance on the supernatural may seem unsatisfactory both here and in Puffball, where pregnant Liffey is "over-looked" by the local witch. But in both novels the psychology suggests something of Marjorie's realization about her "haunted" home in Female Friends: "it was me haunting myself, sending myself messages."

In Little Sisters (Words of Advice in the U.S.) Weldon turned to the very rich. This black comedy centers melodramatically on the wheelchair-bound Gemma, narrator of the story within a story. Weldon also uses this device in The Fat Woman's Joke, Praxis, The President's Child, and Darcy's Utopia. The story-within-a-story device enables her to run different time-sequences simultaneously, emphasizing the interlocking of cause and effect between the generations, and also to highlight our imperfect understanding and information, through each individual's partial perception.

Praxis charts the life of a woman who served a prison sentence for killing "a poor little half-witted" baby, as we learn from one of the first-person chapters alternating at the start of the novel with the third-person chapters that subsequently take over. Puffball, about Liffey's pregnancy in Somerset while her husband remains working in London, is as strongly feminist, incorporating much information about female physiology and pregnancy. In The President's Child Isabel, the mother of an American presidential candidate's illegitimate child, is ruthlessly hunted in a parody of a thriller. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil describes Ruth's remorseless revenge on the bestseller writer who "stole" her husband.

Two of Weldon's collections of short stories, Watching Me, Watching You and Polaris and Other Stories, are mainly concerned with men exploiting women in different domestic settings: an exception, the title story of the latter, is the best. Its antiwar theme is continued in The Shrapnel Academy: over the snowbound weekend of the Academy's prestigious Wellington Lecture, the contemporary "servant problem" with a largely Third World staff escalates into a "local" nuclear explosion. Chapters of military history, describing warfare's "development," break up the story.

The Hearts and Lives of Men, set against the 1960s swinging London art market, more frothily charts the marriagesmainly to each otherof a trendy pair and the fraught childhood of their kidnapped daughter. In The Heart of the Country Sonia, now in a psychiatric hospital, explains her attempts to help Natalie, suddenly abandoned by her husband. Weldon parades the countryside's problems, from pesticides to the withdrawal of buses.

As one of the dead able to "re-wind" their life-stories, Gabriella reviews her lovers in the novella The Rules of Life set in 2004. In Leader of the Band "Starlady Sandra," incidentally the result of a genetic experiment, abandons astronomy, TV program, and husband to accompany "mad Jack the trumpet-player" and his jazz band on tour in France.

The Cloning of Joanne May, set in the present day, shows Joanna secretly cloned by her husband, so that she has four sisters, young enough to be her daughtersall brought together by the plot. Darcy's Utopia is structured by the device of two journalists interviewing the notorious Mrs. Darcy, wife of an imprisoned government economic adviser; the journalists also have an affair. Despite much space, Darcy's ideas for a money-less and permissive society remain arbitrary and contradictory.

Although Weldon has widened her range, and has always used techniques of "alienation" to encourage the reader to think as well as feel, she has also increasingly relied on her unique narrative techniques, with her often deliberately intrusive authorial voice, to sustain each novel. In Big Girls Don't Cry, Weldon's twentieth novel, she pokes fun at the feminist movementor as it was called in 1971, the setting of the book, "women's lib." The stories in A Hard Time to Be a Father are also characteristically impish, giving notice to Weldon fans that they will not be disappointed.

Val Warner,

updated by Judson Knight

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Weldon, Fay

WELDON, Fay

Nationality: British. Born: Fay Birkinshaw in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, 22 September 1931; grew up in New Zealand. Education: Girls' High School, Christchurch; Hampstead Girls' High School, London; University of St. Andrews, Fife, 1949-52, M.A. in economics and psychology 1952. Family: Married Ron Weldon in 1960; four sons. Career: writer for the Foreign Office and Daily Mirror, both London, late 1950s; later worked in advertising. Lives in London. Awards: Writers Guild award, for radio play, 1973; Giles Cooper award, for radio play, 1978; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1981; Los Angeles Times award, for fiction, 1989. D.Litt: University of Bath, 1988, University of St. Andrews, 1992.

Publications

Short Stories

Watching Me, Watching You. 1981.

Polaris and Other Stories. 1985.

The Rules of Life (novella). 1987.

Moon over Minneapolis. 1991.

Wicked Women: A Collection of Short Stories. 1995.

Uncollected Short Story

"Ind Aff; or, Out of Love in Sarajevo," in Best Short Stories 1989, edited by Giles Gordon and David Hughes. London, Heinemann, 1989; as The Best English Short Stories 1989, New York, Norton, 1989.

Novels

The Fat Woman's Joke. 1967; as … and the Wife Ran Away, 1968.

Down among the Women. 1971.

Female Friends. 1975.

Remember Me. 1976.

Words of Advice. 1977; as Little Sisters, 1978.

Praxis. 1978.

Puffball. 1980.

The President's Child. 1982.

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. 1983.

The Shrapnel Academy. 1986.

The Heart of the Country. 1988.

The Hearts and Lives of Men. 1987.

Leader of the Band. 1988.

The Cloning of Joanna May. 1989.

Darcy's Utopia. 1990.

Life Force. 1992

Affliction. 1994; as Trouble, 1994.

Splitting: A Novel. 1994.

Worst Fears: A Novel. 1996.

Big Women. 1997.

Plays

Permanence, in We Who Are about to …, later called Mixed

Doubles (produced London, 1969). 1970.

Time Hurries On, in Scene Scripts, edited by Michael Marland. 1972.

Words of Advice (produced London, 1974). 1974.

Friends (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1975).

Moving House (produced Farnham, Surrey, 1976).

Mr. Director (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1978).

Polaris (broadcast 1978). Published in Best Radio Plays of 1978, 1979.

Action Replay (produced Birmingham, 1978; as Love Among the Women, produced Vancouver, 1982). 1980.

I Love My Love (broadcast 1981; produced Richmond, Surrey, 1982). 1984.

After the Prize (produced New York, 1981; as Word Worm, produced Newbury, Berkshire, 1984).

Jane Eyre, adaptation of the novel by Charlotte Brontë (producedBirmingham, 1986).

The Hole in the Top of the World (produced Richmond, Surrey, 1987).

Someone Like You, music by Petula Clark and Dee Shipman (produced London, 1990).

Radio Plays:

Spider, 1973; Housebreaker, 1973; Mr. Fox and Mr. First, 1974; The Doctor's Wife, 1975; Polaris, 1978; Weekend, 1979; All the Bells of Paradise, 1979; I Love My Love, 1981; The Hole in the Top of the World, 1993.

Television Plays:

Wife in a Blonde Wig, 1966; A Catching Complaint, 1966; The Fat Woman's Tale, 1966; What About Me, 1967; Dr. De Waldon's Therapy, 1967; Goodnight Mrs. Dill, 1967; The 45th Unmarried Mother, 1967; Fall of the Goat, 1967; Ruined Houses, 1968; Venus Rising, 1968; The Three Wives of Felix Hull, 1968; Hippy Hippy Who Cares, 1968; £13083, 1968; The Loophole, 1969; Smokescreen, 1969; Poor Mother, 1970; Office Party, 1970; On Trial (Upstairs, Downstairs, series), 1971; Old Man's Hat, 1972; A Splinter of Ice, 1972; Hands, 1972; The Lament of an Unmarried Father, 1972; A Nice Rest, 1972; Comfortable Words, 1973; Desirous of Change, 1973; In Memoriam, 1974; Poor Baby, 1975; The Terrible Tale of Timothy Bagshott, 1975; Aunt Tatty, from the story by Elizabeth Bowen, 1975; Act of Rape, 1977; Married Love (Six Women series), 1977; Act of Hypocrisy (Jubilee series), 1977; Chickabiddy (Send in the Girls series), 1978; Pride and Prejudice, from the novel by Jane Austen, 1980; Honey Ann, 1980; Life for Christine, 1980; Watching Me, Watching You (Leap in the Dark series), 1980; Little Mrs. Perkins, from a story by Penelope Mortimer, 1982; Redundant! or, The Wife's Revenge, 1983; Out of the Undertow, 1984; Bright Smiles (Time for Murder series), 1985; Zoe's Fever (Ladies in Charge series), 1986; A Dangerous Kind of Love (Mountain Men series), 1986; Heart of the Country serial, 1987.

Other

Simple Steps to Public Life, with Pamela Anderson and MaryStott. 1980.

Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen. 1984.

Rebecca West. 1985.

Wolf the Mechanical Dog (for children). 1988.

Sacred Cows. 1989.

Party Puddle (for children). 1989.

Nobody Likes Me! (for children). 1997.

Editor, with Elaine Feinstein, New Stories 4. 1979.

*

Critical Studies:

Listen to Their Voices: Twenty Interviews with Women Who Write by Mickey Pearlman, 1993; Fay Weldon's Wicked Fictions edited by Regina Barreca, 1994.

* * *

Fay Weldon, widely known as a novelist and as an author of incisive essays on women's issues, is also a skilled practitioner of the short story, and several collections reveal her ability to develop trenchant social criticism in the intensified space of short fiction. Her collections focus on the disparity between an idealized version of life and the reality that women have to endure. The fairy tales and aphorisms that Weldon frequently echoes have very different endings in her fiction. Her constructed female identities are often at odds with the new feminism and with traditional modes of being female. She challenges everyone's notions of what it means to be a woman and then challenges the world in which women construct their gender. No situation is as it appears in Weldon's short stories. As Regina Barreca has observed in Fay Weldon's Wicked Fictions, "Weldon's ability to transform endings into beginnings, tragedy into comedy, comedy into tragedy, the familiar into the exotic, or the sacred into the profane is her signature."

Watching Me, Watching You (1981) is a collection of 11 short stories and Weldon's first novel, The Fat Woman's Joke. The stories have the signature Weldon moral turned upon itself, a moral that evokes a frisson of uncertainty rather than a cathartic release. Recoiling from Weldon's stories in a review titled "Pig Stys" in The Spectator, James Lasdum called the book "retaliatory sexism" and noted that "the effect of reading these stories is one of persuasive aversion therapy." His analysis reveals a lack of perception about the humor that runs through the collection. Weldon plays for the comic turn, so that the reader is always surprised by the way the stories end. In an unpublished interview Weldon told Barreca that "it would not be fair to make people feel safe when safety is, in fact, an illusion." No one is safe under Weldon's gaze.

In Polaris and Other Stories (1985) Weldon once again upsets the balance of traditional roles. In the title story a young woman struggles to be faithful to her husband while he is away on submarine maneuvers only to find upon his return that their relationship is not satisfying. He cannot believe in her fidelity, and she cannot believe in his love, and so she is relieved when he goes back to sea. There is an inevitability in the story that acts as a kind of parable about married life: "If you followed your inclinations into someone else's bed, however temporarily, there was always a penalty to be paid." This warning follows Weldon's characters from story to story and serves as a trope for the entire collection. Weldon does not destroy her characters but lets them live with themselves, and "that, of course, is the great penalty."

Moon over Minneapolis (1991) opens with the admonition "If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens." The stories in this collection are full of the unexpected. They challenge women's ideas of themselves ("Who Goes Where"), gender identity ("Down the Clinical Disco"), and society's values ("Au Pair"). The best story in the collection is "Pumpkin Pie," a Cinderella tale that satirizes both gender and class roles. Antoinette, the maid for the rich Marvin family, is forced to work on Thanksgiving Day: "There would be no day off for Antoinette." The narrator sets the stage for class conflict and announces that "the rich have got to come to some accommodation with the poor … that is to say recognize, come towards, incorporate, compromise." It is Mrs. Marvin, however, not her invalid husband, who runs roughshod over Antoinette, illustrating another Weldon truism that women in patriarchal cultures do not support one another, so that Antoinette is without allies in the mansion. Mrs. Marvin is so much a caricature of the overindulged, overcontrolling rich that, despite a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer by the narrator—"Have I loaded the scales? No. You wish I had, but I haven't"—it is impossible not to cheer for Antoinette. When she burns the fat-free pumpkin pie, expressly ordered for Mr. Marvin, and substitutes one brought from home that is full of cholesterol—"one pumpkin pie looks much like another, whether you're rich or whether you're poor"—the narrator sees this as the beginning of the revolution. Where it will end, only time and class consciousness will tell, but the narrator cautions, "See the drop of blood upon the page? That's mine. That's just the beginning."

Wicked Women (1997), 20 trenchantly witty pieces that under-cut all of our notions of propriety, morality, and self-esteem, is a tour de force of Weldon's wit. Nobody gets out of a Weldon short story unscathed; everybody is the butt of somebody else's joke. But, hiding in the recesses of the language, there is a wish for a different world. In "The Changing Face of Fiction" Weldon wrote, "If we seize the political and social energy, the desire for change, that now convulses the whole world, we could build ourselves a utopia." This desire to make the world a better place makes Weldon impatient with phony reformers and New Age revisionists. Weena Dodds of "End of the Line" is just such a character. Hot in pursuit of Defoe Desmond, a TV scientist whose show has been axed because "ratings had fallen with the end of the Cold War," Weena promptly has an affair with him, and "another wife bites the dust." Another particularly loathsome character is the therapist Hetty Grainger, who uses psychobabble to steal husbands and destroy families. She then blithely sits at her dinner table with her new husband's ex-family and says, "I'm so pleased … that after the upsets of the last year we can all come like civilized people to the Christmas ritual!" Weldon has a special place in hell for women like her.

Weldon's women are often defeated, marginalized, and left alone with their children and their anger, but she does not abandon them. Rather, she gives them revenge. Their voices are revolutionary and comic, and they do not suffer in silence.

—Mary A. McCay

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Weldon, Fay

WELDON, Fay

WELDON, Fay. British, b. 1931. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Children's fiction, Plays/Screenplays. Career: Royal Society of Literature, fellow. Publications: The Fatwoman's Joke (in US as And the Wife Ran Away), 1967; Down among the Women, 1972; Female Friends, 1975; Poor Baby (TV play), 1975; Words of Advice (play), 1975; Remember Me, 1976; Little Sisters (in US as Words of Advice), 1977; Praxis, 1978; Puffball, 1980; Pride and Prejudice (adaptation for TV), 1980; Watching Me Watching You (stories), 1981; The President's Child, 1982; Life and Loves of a She Devil, 1984; Letters to Alice, on First Reading Jane Austen, 1984; Polaris and Other Stories, 1985; Rebecca West, 1985; The Shrapnel Academy, 1986; The Heart of the Country, 1987; The Hearts and Lives of Men, 1987; The Rules of Life, 1987; Leader of the Band, 1988; Wolf the Mechanical Dog (for children), 1988; The Cloning of Joanna May, 1989; Party Puddle (for children), 1989; Darcy's Utopia, 1990; Moon over Minneapolis, or Why She Couldn't Stay (stories), 1991; Growing Rich, 1992; Life Force, 1992; Affliction (in US as Trouble), 1993; Splitting, 1994; (with D. Bailey) The Lady Is a Tramp, 1995; Worst Fears, 1996; Wicked Women (stories), 1997; Nobody Likes Me (for children), 1997; Hard Time to Be a Father, 1998; Big Women (in US as Big Girls Don't Cry), 1999; The Reading Group: A Play, 1999; Godless in Eden (essays), 1999; Rhode Island Blues, 2000; The Bulgari Connection (novel), 2001; Auto da Fay (memoir), 2003. Address: c/o Casarotto Ramsay & Associates Ltd, National House, 62/66 Wardour St, London W1V 3HP, England.

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