Fay Weldon, acerbic British novelist and screenwriter, dies at 91

Fay Weldon, a mischievous and prolific British author who explored the lives and relationships of women in novels such as ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’, challenging assumptions about gender, love and domesticity while earning a reputation both as feminist who as an anti-feminist, died on January 4 in a nursing home in Northampton, England. He was 91 years old.

His son Dan confirmed the death. Ms Weldon “had a series of strokes,” she said in an email, but she continued to work until her death, “writing poetry into her head and dictating slowly.”

A wildly popular author with an easy laugh and distinctive blond bob, Mrs. Weldon has written more than 30 novels, short story collections, children’s books, and television, radio and stage plays. Her work was filled with acerbic humor, sexual satire, and farcical scenarios, marked by an understated literary style that she described as “thoroughly practical and always precise”.

Much of it was also semi-autobiographical — inspired, she said, by her “slightly scandalous” childhood, which included a nomadic upbringing in New Zealand and England, single motherhood at age 22, and marriage to a school principal superior who, according to Mrs. Weldon, exploited her with friends and advised her to get a job as an escort.

At age 35, he “stopped living and started writing, like a serious person,” as he wrote in his 2002 autobiography, “Auto Da Fay.” As she sat on the stairs so she could keep an eye on her young children (she fathered four children in all, the last one aged 47), she wrote scripts for plays including ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’, an acclaimed period drama about English servants and their masters, winning a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain award for writing the 1971 pilot.

She also began publishing tongue-in-cheek novels and family dramas, defying literary convention by populating her books with protagonists who were women rather than men, plump rather than petite. She later recalled that male writers were furious that she dared to write about issues such as diet and marriage, telling the Daily Mail: ‘Men would walk out of rooms when I walked in because they were so angry and upset that women weren’t more willing to iron man shirts.

Soon his books were topping the bestseller lists in Britain and receiving praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

Her novel ‘Praxis’ (1978), about the changing mind of a woman with a shaky childhood, two failed marriages, a career as a prostitute and an incestuous relationship, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. Brittany. Mrs. Weldon achieved greater fame with her novel ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ (1983), about a lantern-jawed woman named Ruth who, driven by envy and a desire for revenge, submits to to plastic surgery to look like her husband’s lover.

“It offers a glittering, astounding, roundabout thrill for any reader who has ever fantasized about inflicting retribution for one wrong or another,” wrote New York Times reviewer Rosalyn Drexler. The book was adapted into an award-winning BBC miniseries and a much maligned Hollywood film, “She-Devil” (1989), starring Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr. Decades later, Guardian reporter Claire Armistead opined that the novel “empowered a generation of second-wave feminists to own their own inner demon”.

“It seemed to me when I wrote [the novel] that women were so used to being good,” Ms Weldon told the Guardian, “it wouldn’t hurt anyone if they learned to be a little mean – namely, burn down their houses, give away their children, they put their husband in prison, steal his money and transform themselves into their husband’s mistress.”

Yet Ms Weldon also came to believe that the feminist movement had gone astray, with women too often claiming the role of victim. To the horror of many longtime allies, she told a radio interviewer in 1998 that rape “isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a woman,” arguing that society “glamours” about sexual assault as particularly horrific. She later questioned the significance of the gender pay gap, stated that men had become victims of the gender war, and appeared to be skeptical of transgender rights, stating that because “women fare better than men” , some men were “reacting by becoming women themselves”.

However, she continued to advocate for women’s liberation, and it was often hard to tell when she was expressing her genuine beliefs or simply trying to provoke and entertain. Laughing during interviews, she acknowledged that she fabricated stories and details about her life to spice up the conversation and estimated that “about 60 percent” of what she told reporters was true. In some cases, it seemed that Mrs. Weldon herself was not sure what had really happened; at least, she was struggling to make sense of it.

“I long for a doomsday in which the plot lines of our lives will be tightly tied, and all puzzles explained and the meaning of events made clear,” she wrote at the beginning of her autobiography. “Let’s take fiction, I suppose, because nothing like this will happen, and at least on the printed page we can observe the beginning, the middle and the end and find out where the morality lies.”

The younger of two girls, she was born Franklin Birkinshaw in Alvechurch, Worcestershire on 22 September 1931. Her father, Frank, was a doctor who had worked as a chauffeur for British Army officer TE Lawrence in the Middle East. Her mother, the former Margaret Jepson, was herself a writer and daughter of another author, Edgar Jepson, whose literary connections included TS Eliot and Ezra Pound.

Mrs. Weldon’s parents had moved to New Zealand shortly before she was born, and she grew up there with her older sister, Jane, when their parents’ marriage fell apart. Her mother continued to raise the children on her own, supporting the family by writing romance novels and adventure novels. After the Second World War, they returned to Britain, where Mrs Weldon won a scholarship to a London girls’ school and studied at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

After stints as a waitress and hospital orderly, she joined the British Foreign Office, where she wrote propaganda leaflets that were dropped on Poland during the Cold War. In her early twenties, she fathered a son, Nick, from a relationship with Colyn Davies, a musician and nightclub porter whom she left for a brief marriage to Ronald Bateman, a principal who was 25 years her senior and, according to Mrs. Weldon, simply wanted a child and a wife on his resume.

He later wrote of the marriage in the third person, distancing himself from the relationship in his autobiography.

“What’s so strange is that until you’ve written about the experience, you haven’t really seen it,” she told the Guardian, referring to herself in the second person. “The extraordinaryness of her escaped you because it always happens when you are experiencing something. It’s only later, when you look at little snippets of your life, that you realize she was absolutely insane.

In the late 1950s, Mrs. Weldon worked as a copywriter for an advertising firm, helping to create the egg industry slogan “Go work on an egg”, which lasted for years, and prompting the phrase ” Vodka gets you drunk faster” for a liquor campaign, which his bosses rejected.

Her expertise in writing concise, snappy advertising copy came in handy when she launched her literary career in the early 1960s, shortly after marrying her second husband, Ron Weldon, a musician turned antiques dealer. She adapted one of her television scripts into her debut novel, “The Fat Woman’s Joke” (1967), and later worked on film projects including a BBC miniseries adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (1980).

After three decades of marriage, Mrs. Weldon’s husband left her for his “astrological therapist”. She died in 1994, the day his divorce with Mrs. Weldon was finalized. Within a year she married Nick Fox, a poet and bookseller who became her manager. They settled in a 19th century stone house in Dorset where Mrs Weldon continued to write, publishing books including ‘Chalcot Crescent’ (2009), a dystopian novel about the future of capitalism, and ‘Death of a She Devil’ ( 2017). ), the sequel to her previous hit.

In 2020, she announced that she was getting a divorce.

Survivors include his son Nick; two sons from her second marriage, Dan and Sam; a stepdaughter, Karen; 12 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Another son from her second marriage, Tom, died in 2019.

Mrs Weldon was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2001 for services to literature, shortly after gaining notoriety in the literary world for her novel ‘The Bulgari Connection’. The book was sponsored by the Bulgari jewelery company, which paid Ms. Weldon to reference her products. She had feared the tie-in would tarnish her literary reputation, she told the Times, but ultimately she decided it wouldn’t make a difference: “They never give me the Booker Prize anyway.”

“My sentences are too short and if you want to win awards and be taken seriously as a literary writer, you have to drop all the lines,” he later told the Guardian. “I’ve judged enough awards in my time to know that the dullest book wins. And this is not the book you want to write.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *