- Fay Weldon, Feminism, and British Culture by Mara E. Reisman
The enigma of the influential and successful author Fay Weldon (1931) is that no reader should be certain whether the Birmingham-born writer's overall aim is to wholly define and refine womanhood or to re-imagine what womanhood is supposed to be. I mean, even one of Weldon's books is titled "What Makes Women Happy" (2006). So what critic, literary or otherwise, would ever dare to discount and dismiss this best-loved writer's successful pursuit of both paths?
Assuredly, Weldon has spent the past half-century explaining, defending, excusing, chastising, re-creating, moralizing, illustrating, ruminating, and entertaining about the female condition through more than sixty novels, novellas, short stories, dramas, chapbooks, and [End Page 227] essays. It is true that her fiction is a lot like that by Gloria Naylor, Caryl Churchill, and Julia Alvarez, but Weldon also stands apart from each of these novelists who also write about women, as much as they stand apart from her. Fay Weldon has her own words and wisdom, and she applies them with wit and experience to comment about the present state of the individual, intimacy, and literature.
Simply put, if anyone wants to learn about what makes women happy and whether sexual relationships are everything that they are popularly cracked up to be, then read, enjoy, and fall in love with Fay Weldon's writings. For womanhood is most acutely what it is and always has been – acknowledged by one of Weldon's fictional characters – a "symbol of success" and a "symptom" of it (Down Among the Women, 1971).
Hence, while Weldon seldom, if ever, disappoints her readers, she almost inevitably provokes and inspires them about the inventions, limits, and possibilities of women and how they--along with, and aside from, men in matters of gender, sexual politics, friendship, family, and modern life and literature—raise concerns about ethics, morality, and personal and corporate responsibility, which all of us should think about, and then think again.
For as much as Weldon's writing entertains with satire, humor, and directness about the relationships between men and women, she also explores and analyzes issues of memory, feminism, diversity, and cultural history. Even the topics of food and chocolate are put under the spyglass and given the taste test. As a result, by focusing on a plethora of aspects about femininity and the man-woman thing—what Weldon labels "the truths"—this prolific author has faithfully piqued the public's interest for over fifty years while also interrupting the public's intellect about identity, British nationhood, and the unsentimental reality of our modern world.
Therefore, capturing the essence of almost six decades of Weldon' commentary about the female condition and social concerns requires a significant accounting and holistic review of the challenges and controversies that Fay Weldon's books and herself as an author offer. Fortunately, for fans and scholars of Weldon, Mara E. Reisman undertook this challenge.
Reisman is associate professor of British literature and women's literature at Northern Arizona University. Her 2018 comprehensive literary analysis and historical overview of Weldon and her work is, as the American academic and humorist Regina Barreca states on the [End Page 228] back cover, an "engaging" study to "be recognized by scholars and critics as a useful, erudite, and lively exposition of sex, class, humor, feminism, and the art of publishing over the last half-century."
With the subtitle, "Challenging Cultural and Literary Conventions," Reisman's book reviews and examines Weldon's works through seven chapters that concentrate on the on-going social and critical debates about women, sex, feminism, fiction, and nonfiction. Reisman does not address all of Weldon's writings, but she admits this in her introduction and states that, "I have chosen representative works from each decade that speak to the multiple controversies and challenges to convention in which Weldon and her books played a key role" (xiii). Thus, Reisman has laid out the chapters chronologically, from Weldon's earliest publications to the most recent. She uses the backdrop of...