widely known in Britain and abroad as an irreverent novelist usually
concerned with women's issues, Fay Weldon has pursued a wide variety
of projects for television, radio, and the stage. The daughter of
a novelist, granddaughter of a Vanity Fair editor, and a
niece to novelist/screenwriter/radio and television dramatist Selvyn
Jepson, Weldon's first published novel in 1967 simply expanded upon
her own 1966 teleplay for The Fat Woman's Joke. That teleplay
had been written while Weldon was working as a highly successful
copywriter for English print and television advertising; her previous
work included the still remembered "Get to work on an egg" campaign.
Following The Fat Woman's Joke, Weldon remained in advertising
until the 1970s, yet she still produced the teleplays for productions
such as A Catching Complaint (1966) and Poor Cherry
Weldon's real progress as a writer has often been traced back to
the mid-1960s, it was in the early 1970s that she began fully to
establish both her name and public voice. Where Weldon fit in British
culture was another matter. The Fat Woman's Joke had told
a decidedly proto-feminist tale of a housewife's anger toward her
philandering husband, yet Weldon's public espousal of domestic joys
and the use of "Mrs." seemed to mark her as an opponent to the growing
British women's rights movement. But as David Frost learned in 1971,
Weldon's relation to feminism is not always what it might seem:
invited onto Frost's television program to rebut feminist activists,
she instead surprised everyone by publicly embracing their complaints.
That same year Weldon won the best series' script award from the
Writers' Guild of Great Britain for "On Trial," the first episode
of Upstairs, Downstairs. She wrote only one other episode,
and in many ways the series' sober, understated visual style was
quite different from the satiric, reflexive, often fantastic surfaces
of much of Weldon's other work, including her sedate, but still
barbed television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1980).
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the imagined recipient of Weldon's
Letters to Alice--on First Reading Jane Austen, 1984, is a punk-haired
but literary niece; that juxtaposition of texts and attitudes, together
with Weldon's own later televised comments on the (mis)teaching
of Austen, lead some critics to accuse Weldon of unjustly attacking
the melodramatic pleasures of both Upstairs, Downstairs and
Pride and Prejudice run through nearly all of Weldon's work
and inform her understanding of gender. She not only won a prestigious
Booker Prize nomination for Praxis (1978) but chaired the
prize's 1983 panel. Yet Weldon has never divorced her "serious"
literary work from her own enjoyment of what she calls "that whole
women's magazine area, the communality of women's interests, and
the sharing of the latest eye-shadow." With such an attitude Weldon
penned the polemical prison docudrama Life for Christine (1980),
polished the script for Joan Collins' Sin miniseries (1985), and
turned a critical eye toward pastoral life in Heart of the Country
Despite her willingness to adapt the work of others, Weldon has
been protective of the rights to her work. Nevertheless, Weldon
has possibly been most notably represented on television in Britain
and abroad not through her own scripts, but through two popular
multi-part adaptations from her novels: The Life and Loves of
a She-Devil (1984, televised 1986), which sharply satirized
conventions of both heterosexual romance and the romance novel,
and The Cloning of Joanna May (1989, televised 1992), a slightly
more genteel version of She-Devil's antics, this time as
practiced by a devlish husband. The same creative team (including
writer Ted Whitehead, director Philip Saville, and star Patricia
Hodge) helmed both adaptations, but it is the highly praised The
Life and Loves of a She-Devil which remains the strongest evocation
of Weldon's own ethos, even despite the intervening memory of Susan
Seidelman's limp Americanized film adaptation (She Devil,
enough, Seidelman's film 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
perfection. This excision removed what is most remarkable throughout
much of Weldon's work, her Mary Shelley-like coupling of deliberately
excessive Gothic fantasy with sharp feminist perception.
has not been alone in the use of such fantastic elements. Indeed,
as Thomas Elsaesser (1988) has suggested, Weldon and "New Gothic"
companion Angela Carter (The Magic Toyshop, 1986) may present
a female-centered television parallel to the male-centered, and
often fantastic films of Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman and other
directors prominent in the 1980s "New British Cinema." If these
filmmakers were "learning to dream" again (to quote the familiar
title of James Park's study), then Weldon has been one of British
television's more prominent instructors in the same task.
Photo courtesy of Fay Weldon/ Isolde Ohlbaum
WELDON. Born Fay Birkinshaw in Worcester, Worcestershire, England,
22 September 1931. Grew up in New Zealand. Attended University of
St. Andrew's, M.A. in economics and psychology 1954. Married: 1)
Ron Weldon, 1962 (died 1994); 2) Nick Fox, 1995; four sons. Writer
for Foreigh Office and Daily Mirror, London, late 1950s; worked
in advertising; author of television and radio plays, dramatizations
and series, and novels and stage plays. Chair, Booker McConnell
Prize judges' panel, 1983. Recipient: Writers Guild Award, 1973;
Giles Cooper Award, 1978; Society of Authors traveling scholarship,
1981; Los Angeles Times Award, 1989. Address: Giles Gordon, Anthony
Sheil Associates, 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England.
Pride and Prejudice
1986 The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
1987 Heart of the Country
TELEVISION PLAYS (selection)
The Fat Woman's Tale
1966 A Catching Complaint
1967 Poor Cherry.
1972 Splinter of Ice
1980 Life for Christine
1991 The Cloning of Joanna May
1991 Growing Rich
A Small Green Space, 1989 (libretto).
Fat Woman's Joke (novel). London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1967; as
.and the Wife Ran Away. New York: McKay, 1968.
Among the Women (novel). London: Heinemann, 1971; New York: St.
Friends (novel). London: Heinemann, and New York: St. Martin's,
Me (novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton, and New York: Random
of Advice. New York: Random House, 1977; as Little Sisters,
London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.
(novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton, and New York: Summit, 1978.
(novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton, and New York: Summit, 1980.
Me, Watching You (short stories). London: Hodder & Stoughton,
and New York, Summit, 1981.
President's Child (novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1982;
New York: Doubleday, 1983.
Life and Loves of a She-Devil (novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton,
1983; New York: Pantheon, 1984.
to Alice--On First Reading Jane Austen. London: Joseph, 1984;
New York: Taplinger, 1985.
and Other Stories. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985; New York:
West. London and New York: Viking, 1985.
Shrapnel Academy (novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1986;
New York: Viking, 1987.
Heart of the Country (novel). London: Hutchinson, 1987; New
York: Viking, 1988.
Hearts and Lives of Men (novel). New York: Viking, 1987; New
York: Viking, 1988.
Rules of Life (novella). London: Hutchinson, and New York: Harper,
of the Band (novel). London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988; New York:
Cloning of Joanna May (novel). London: Collins, 1989; New York:
Utopia (novel). London: Collins, and New York: Viking, 1990.
Rich (novel). London: Harper Collins, 1992.
Life Force (novel). London: Harper Collins, 1992.
Love (novel). London: Harper Collins, 1993.
(novel). London: Harper Collins, 1994.
(novel). London: Flamingo, 1995.
Women (short stories). London: Flamingo, 1995.
George W. British Television in the 1980s. Cambridge and
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Thomas. "Games of Love and Death, or an Englishman's Guide to the
Galaxy." Monthly Film Bulletin (London), 1988.
Mickey, editor. Listen to Their Voices: Twenty Interviews with
Women Who Write. New York: Norton, 1993.