Fay Weldon: British Playwright, Screenwriter, and Novelist

From an AP obit by Sylvia Hui headlined “British novelist, screenwriter Fay Weldon dies at 91”:

British author Fay Weldon, known for her sharp wit and acerbic observations about women’s experiences and sexual politics in novels including “The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil,” has died, her family said Wednesday.

Weldon was a playwright, screenwriter and a prolific novelist, producing 30 novels as well as short stories and plays written for television, radio and the stage. She was one of the writers on the popular 1970s drama series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” receiving an award from the Writers Guild of America for the show’s first episode.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Fay Weldon (CBE), author, essayist and playwright. She died peacefully this morning January 4, 2023,” her family said.

Much of Weldon’s fiction explored issues surrounding women’s relationships with men, children, parents and each other, including the 1971 “Down Among The Women” and “Female Friends,” published in 1975.

“I wouldn’t say my books were criticisms … I would say they were observations,” she once told the AP. “Women have a terrible time, they go on having a terrible time. Women who don’t have a terrible time are young, attractive, intelligent and don’t have children.”

“The Life and Loves Of a She-Devil” was the story of an ugly woman who alters her body and her life to seek revenge on a philandering husband. It was adapted into a TV series as well as a film starring Meryl Streep.

Her 1978 novel, “Praxis,” was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.

Born in England, Weldon was brought up in New Zealand and returned to the U.K. as a child. She studied economics and psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and worked briefly for the Foreign Office in London and as a journalist before moving on to be an advertising copywriter.

She published her first novel, “The Fat Woman’s Joke,” in 1967. In 2002, at age 70, she published her memoir, titled “Auto Da Fay.” The narrative described what she called her “mildly scandalous life until my mid-thirties” and concluded in 1963, just as Weldon’s career as a novelist began.

“The sad truth is, my theory goes, that no-one is much interested in what happens to women after they turn 35. Which is the age at which I stopped Auto da Fay: the age I stopped living and started writing instead, as a serious person,” she wrote.

Weldon was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to literature in 2001.

Also see the New York Times obit by Alan Cowell headlined “Fay Weldon, British Novelist Who Challenged Female Orthodoxy, Died at 91.” The opening grafs:

Fay Weldon, a British novelist and dramatist who explored the rifts and rivalries between men and women, and whose embrace by feminists loosened over time as critics accused her of retreating from the cause and even betraying it, died on Wednesday in a nursing home in Northampton, England. She was 91.

Her death was confirmed by her son Dan Weldon, who did not specify a cause but said she had experienced strokes and had some health problems.

While she was too weak to hold a pen, she was still writing in her head, Mr. Weldon said. “She was thinking about writing poetry,” he said. “She was a writer to the very end.”

By turns elusive and confessional, Ms. Weldon liked to say she divided her life into two segments. The first, which she termed “mildly scandalous” and “delinquent,” lasted until her early 30s and was covered in her autobiography, “Auto da Fay” (2002).

The second period, spanning five decades, was more earnest, taken up primarily with delineating the fragile bonds between callous men and wounded women and the bitter contests between women. All became the grist for her dark satire, laced with wry, aphoristic asides on the human condition.

“The sad truth is, my theory goes, that no one is much interested in what happens to women after they turn 35,” Ms. Weldon proclaimed on her website. “Which is the age at which I stopped ‘Auto da Fay’: the age I stopped living and started writing instead, as a serious person.”

The two eras, however, were linked. So much of her early personal history, the critic Richard Eder wrote in The New York Times in 2003, “shows up as roots for her novels.”

In public, her persona seemed always open to revision, defined by afterthoughts, contradictions and qualifications. Asked how much of what she told journalists about herself was true, she replied, “About 60 percent.”

“I lie,” she said in 2009, “for the sake of entertainment, or to pass the time.”

In portraying herself to others, Ms. Weldon sometimes slipped between the first and third person, as she did in her autobiography, and in this loosely articulated summary of her writings on her website in 2015:

“You need to know: that she has been writing fiction assiduously for five decades. That she has written 34 novels, numerous TV dramas, several radio plays, five full-length stage plays, quite a few short ones, five collections of short stories, had four children, looked after four stepchildren, been married three times, innumerable articles, demonstrated essential respectability by being given a CBE, is big in Denmark and at the time of writing works as a professor teaching creative writing at Bath Spa University. I turn up on TV and radio quite a lot, even at her advanced age, presenting herself as a pleasant, practical, well-informed person — not the delinquent she once was.”

Her website précis did scant justice to a canon of writing perhaps best known for “The Life and Loves of a She-Devil” (1983), a tangled parable of a woman wronged and the vengeance she exacts. It was adapted as a BBC television mini-series in 1986 and as a movie in 1989 starring Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr….

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