SAMPLE ESSAY EXCERPTS
Fay Weldon’s ‘Letters to Alice’, begins with letter one ‘The City of Invention,’ which allows Aunt Fay to emphasise metaphorically the world of writers, novels and the importance of ‘Literature with a capital L’. This shows in contemporary society, particularly academia, writing and literature are essential as opposed to the priority of marriage in the 19th Century, as shown in Pride and Prejudice. In letter one, Aunt Fay educates Alice based on her judgments and experiences as a writer, instructing she must become more familiar will literature before becoming a writer herself. This is shown in the imperative ‘if you plan to build here, you must know the city,’ further signifying the importance of familiarity with literature and reading before writing. This assertion is kept consistent in letter two where Aunt Fay, using high modality states; “you must know how to read a novel before setting out to write one”.
Despite Aunt Fay’s instructions and consistent imperatives of “you shall”, “you must” and “you will” throughout the letters, she stresses the importance that Alice must make her own decisions and judgments. This is justified with the use of second person “use your judgment, Alice, not mine” and her advice to “go by instinct, Alice.” These contradictory elements in Aunt Fay's letters to Alice suggest that she herself questions the authority with which she presents her ideas, much like Elizabeth Bennett recants of her original prejudice against Mr Darcy and partiality for Wickham. Reading both texts, we learn that didacticism is flawed; Austen's narration that mocks the rigid societal rules of 19th century England is ultimately undercut by a denouement that marries the most worthy people to each other. After reading Letters, we also see that Austen's satirical representations of Mr Collins, among others, does not reveal the entire truth about the precarious nature of life for women in the 19th century, where marriage to any respectable man would be preferable to a life of spinsterhood and dubious fortunes, reliant upon others for existence. Weldon's pithy observations about this era allow us to view Pride and Prejudice in quite a different light. Elizabeth's high spirited sense of humour, her rejections of Mr Collins and Mr Darcy, as well as her sympathy for the impecunious Wickham, are not quite so romantic against Weldon’s statistics regarding the fate of unmarried women. In fact, we begin to feel much more sympathetic to the much-tried Mrs Bennett, whom Austen represents almost as a caricature-like figure of fun with her dramatic and volatile behaviour.
We also are then able to regard Alice with a renewed perception of the type of freedom she enjoys, where the pursuit of literature and education take precedence over the pursuit of a husband, who will not be of much use to her anyway in the feminist world of the 1980s. Aunt Fay's passing references to the boyfriend and to the professor do not contain nearly the amount of passion as that which she employs when discussing books and the city of invention. It is clear that a wealth of choice is offered to Alice, unlike the Bennett girls who must marry or sink to genteel poverty. Even her best-selling novel, written against Aunt Fay's advice, provides further evidence of the freedom of aspiration she is entitled to enjoy, with or without the companionship of a man.
Aunt Fay herself, in comparison to Jane Austen, drives home the point even further that success for women is very different in these respective contexts. As readers, we may find the voice of Aunt Fay almost indistinguishable from that of Fay Weldon - Letters to Alice, despite being referred to as 'non fiction' involves fictional characters and it seems likely that Aunt Fay, the author, is very similar to Fay Weldon, the renowned novelist. Given this, being able to write for a living and support oneself, as a woman, traveling the world for book signings and publicity, Aunt Fay's life is very different from that of Jane Austen's, who received only modest recognition of her work during her lifetime and who lived her whole life in the home of her parents and never travelled further than Bath. In making these comparisons, we are able to clearly recognise how the differences between these two composers inform our understanding of their work.
Aunt Fay makes us aware of Austen's very narrow existence, while at the same time extolling her genius, which we now realise is all the more noteworthy, precisely because of the limitations placed upon her life. While Pride and Prejudice does not overtly deal with the world outside of the village in which it is set, Austen does make reference to the military, suggesting she was perfectly aware of the war that was taking place, and we can also assume that she was aware of other, larger, social issues. She just chose to write about an insular community and did so with witty perspicacity. When Letters to Alice reveals some of the statistics of 19th century life ‘only 30% of women could afford to marry’, ’70,000 prostitutes in London in 1801…your husband would be very possibly diseased.’ we are more able to fit Pride and Prejudice into this larger paradigm, and conversely, realise the breadth of the world that Alice and Aunt Fay inhabit, travelling overseas, living away from home, attending university, all without a watchful parent or spouse in sight. Aunt Fay highly values Austen's work, and, as a successful published author, her opinion has credibility.
Question:A reading of Letters to Alice changes the modern responder’s understanding of Pride and Prejudice. Discuss with reference to both texts.
Fay Weldon’s Letters to Alice on First reading Jane Austen, through the didactic literary form of an epistolary novel, serves to encourage a heightened understanding of the values and contemporary issues of Jane Austen’s cultural context. In doing so, it inspires the modern responder to adopt more holistic appreciation for the plight of the characters and the values inherent in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Through the inclusion of relevant contextual information from Austen’s time and didactic assertions of the fictional character Aunt Fay, Weldon implores the responder to accept her opinions on the values and issues of Austen’s context. Weldon’s discussion of these, which include marriage, social class and the role and expectations of women within society, transforms a modern responders understanding of the themes and morals explored in Pride and Prejudice, and moreover, alters the way in which the responder perceives the events and decisions of the characters within the novel.
The fundamental importance and value assigned to marriage in the context of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice is reinforced through Weldon’s discussion of the options for women outside marriage and its purpose of providing financial security for women. In Pride and Prejudice, Austen constructs Charlotte Lucas as a character who does not think “highly of either men or matrimony”, and hence she marries Mr Collins despite not loving him, to ensure her financial security and elevate her position within society. Mrs Bennet echoes Charlotte’s sentiments, as the “business of her life was to get her daughters married,” because she knew they would not be provided for after the death of her husband. In Letters to Alice, Weldon asserts that before reading Jane Austen, Alice “Must understand.. the world in which Jane Austen was born.” As contemporary responders, this advice rings true as only a small glimpse into Austen’s world is given through Pride and Prejudice, hence, it is difficult to understand why marriage was so important to the women of the time. Weldon assists the responder to comprehend the significance of Marriage as a theme in Pride and Prejudice and as the ideal state of existence within the time, by highlighting the differences between the contemporary value assigned to marriage and the value assigned in Austen’s time. She satirically comments that marriage “is the stuff of our women’s magazines, but it was the stuff of their life, their very existence.”
Weldon also assists the responder by including relevant contextual information and statistics to encourage the responder to see Mrs Bennet’s desperation to ensure her daughter’s married well and Charlotte’s decision to marry without love in a more holistic manner. Weldon informs the responder that “Only 30% of women married…So to marry was a great prize” and women “only lived well by their husband’s favour.” She also reinforces the few respectable options available outside marriage by including the fact that “there was 70,000 prostitutes in London in 1801, out of a female population of some 475,000,” and asserting that “Charlotte married so as not…to be left on ‘the shelve’.” This enables the responder to see the greater social and financial meaning behind Charlotte’s decision to marry without love, as the threat of facing life unsupported financially, eternally labelled as an “old maid, was very real to her. On a second reading of Pride and Prejudice with Weldon’s comments in mind, Charlotte’s choices, as well as Mrs Bennet’s desire to see one of her “daughters happily settled at Netherfield, and all the others equally well married” appear more realistic and sensible to the responder. The didactic achievements of Weldon’s text lie in this acceptance of Aunty Fay’s assertions and judgements, and the transformation of Alice’s, and by extension the responder’s view of the theme of marriage and the value assigned to it within Pride and Prejudice.
Weldon’s exploration of the way Austen perceived class within the time assists and ultimately colours the responders understanding of the theme of social status and the value of stability and how these are expressed and criticised in Pride and Prejudice. In Austen’s novel, the distinctions between classes and the sense of stability and order created through a rigid class system are presented to the responder. This is seen when Elizabeth advises Mr Collins that the “honour must belong to Mr Darcy, the superior in consequence, to begin the acquaintance” when he tries to break protocol and introduce himself to Mr Darcy. However, it is also important to remember that whilst the characters of the novel conform to this innate value for class-based society, Austen also hints at the breaking down of the class system through Mr Darcy, as Weldon phrases it “marrying where he loved and not where he ought.” Weldon seeks to explain to the responder why and how Jane Austen explored this breaking down of the social hierarchy where she asserts one of her strongly drawn and confidently argued opinions to the responder. Weldon asserts that “Jane Austen likes to see the division between nobility and gentry broken down,” and adds that “Elizabeth Bennet brought neither land nor money to Mr Darcy-but she brought intelligence, vigour and honesty.” Through this, the responder is persuaded to adopt a new understanding of why Austen explores and criticises social class in her novel. On a second reading of the novel, the effect of this is that the responder is able to recognise that Austen through Elizabeth Bennet is attempting to expose the flaws and superficial nature of class divisions, and thus triumph personal traits such as intelligence and honesty over the established conventions of class within society.
Weldon, through presenting an overview of what life was like for a woman in Jane Austen’s time, serves to enhance the responders understanding of the gender roles and expectations implicitly and explicitly referred to in pride and prejudice. In Pride and prejudice, Mrs Bennet is constructed as a woman in an ill-suited marriage who has the supposedly enormous task of ensuring her daughters are married. Her only solace, Austen tells the responder in a satirical tone, “was visiting and news.” The responder is encouraged to laugh and look down upon Mrs Bennet by Austen, more so than her husband even though he is equally as ridiculous in his own way. In Letters to Alice, Weldon encourages the responder to put themselves in the position of women such as Mrs Bennet who had to endure a marriage without love and childbirth, which assists the responder to reshape and challenge their understanding of a woman’s role in Pride and Prejudice. She contextualises what life was like for a woman through a description of the stages of life, emphasising that “if the choice at childbirth was between the mother and child, the mother was the one to go.” Weldon also plays on Alice’s and the responder’s understanding of the role of women within the modern context to reinforce the difficulties women faced in Austen’s time where she asserts “Alice, by your standards, it was a horrible time to be alive.” The combined effect of these assertions by Weldon is the facilitation of a more holistic understanding of the plight of women within Austen’s time by the responder, and on a second reading of Pride and Prejudice, a greater empathy for women such as Mrs Bennet and the issues that confronted women of the time.
Through contextualisation and discussion of some of the significant issues and values of Jane Austen’s time, Weldon’s “Letters to Alice” serves to enhance and colour the responder’s understanding of the themes and morals evident in Pride and Prejudice. Weldon’s discussion of these fundamental themes and values which include marriage, social class and the role and expectations of women within society, provide the contextual background for a more holistic appreciation of the main characters actions and values within the novel. This in turn, encourages a heightened degree of empathy for the characters and a deeper understanding of the issues and themes explored and questioned by Austen in Pride and Prejudice.
Weldon uses Austen to bridge the ‘generation gap’ for the modern reader”
Discuss this statement with reference to both texts and a focus on “exploring connection.”
Fay Weldon’s book Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen uses Jane Austen and her novel Pride and Prejudice to bridge the ‘generation gap’ for the modern reader. Weldon creates connections between the modern world and that of Austen’s, providing an explanation of social conventions such as social stratification and marriage. As achieved through a range of literary techniques, Weldon’s book Letters to Alice enlightens the understanding of the novel Pride and Prejudice to the modern reader, connecting the contexts of both regency England and Contemporary society.
One aspect of universal principles relevant through time explored in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is the concept of stratification. Darcy is a central characterisation that defines the regency period. Wickham notes, “He (Darcy) was to be above all company, in having been unworthy to be compared.” This bitter use of verbal irony is further implied by Mrs Lucas when she notions “With family, fortune, everything he has the right to be proud.” Austen breaks these social barriers through satirically implementing the unorthodox unions of Elizabeth and Darcy or Jane and Bingley despite the ironic social dichotomy “Your alliance will be a disgrace, you name will never be mentioned by any of us”. In Pride and Prejudice the importance of social class is emphasised as overriding all other assets in life such as love and happiness. The characterisation of Darcy conveys this as he digresses “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections… whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?” indicating that social stratification was a pivotal aspect of Regency England and relevant to today because the modern world also has its social stratifications.
The importance of social stratification in Austen’s time is utilised a as a motif for Weldon to ‘bridge the generation gap’ in her book Letters to Alice. Weldon uses humorous satire to distinguish between social classes and conventions, thereby contemporising Austen’s time into perspective easily comprehended by the modern audience, “the gentry thought well of themselves, and liked to despise the nobility for their rackety ways, and were despised by them, in turn for being worthy and boring”. Much like Austen, Weldon’s satirical description of social class in regency England develops greater comprehension– “People were so poor, they run, toil and sweat all day just to save themselves from starvation.” By use of the metaphorical ‘City of Invention’, Weldon ‘bridges the generation gap’ by drawing empathy from the modern reader- “The writer writes out of a society… linking the past of that society with its future”. Through Weldon, the modern reader is able to gain more understanding and greater sympathy for the social obstacles of Pride and Prejudice through Weldon’s confronting contextualisation of Austen.
The importance of marriage was another concept universal in both Austen’s time and modernity. In fact, the importance of the marriage of women in the novel is a primary concern of its narrative. The irony of the first line of the novel- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife” foreshadows the urgency of marriage in Austen’s time. Constantly, the novel Pride and Prejudice reinforces that marriage was much more than a product of love in Austen’s time. It held more advantageous prospects such as wealth, connections or alliance that would not have only benefited the two in the union; but the immediate family as well. The irony of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dialogue, that marriage is a “matter of public interest”, suggest the secularity of their social spheres. The characterisation of Mrs Bennet furthermore highlights marriage in Austen’s time as paramount to the regency period. This is furthermore demonstrated between Elizabeth and Charlotte- “I am not romantic, I ask only for a comfortable home…I am convinced my chances with him is as fair as most can boast upon entering the marriage state.” Thereby, conveying the idea of marriage as important if not more central to marriage in the contemporary world.
In Letters to Alice, Weldon connects the prospect of marriage between the two generations by distinguishing between the changing facets of matrimony in the modern period. Weldon juxtaposes the need for marriage in Austen’s time as a necessity, rather than as a commodity. Weldon reinforces the purpose of marriage in Austen’s time through fragmented sentences, “So to marry was a great prize. It was a woman’s aim.” Furthermore, Weldon cynically satirises the profession available to women of the Regency, “women’s trades – millinery, embroidery, seaming, chimney sweep… or a prostitute… or you could get married.” Weldon satirically writes that marriage was the only option for a woman to live a secure and ‘prosperous’ life. She contrasts the Regency woman against the Modern woman to evoke a sense of empathy. She commits through emotive language- “Women were born poor, and stayed poor, and lived well only by their husbands’ favour.” Thereby, Weldon focuses on the contextual advantages of marriage in Austen’s time, in order to create a greater understanding of the connections that tie Regency marital practices to modern customs.
Through the use of Austen, Fay Weldon is able draw connections on various aspects of the novel Pride and Prejudice, thereby ‘bridging the generation gap’ between the two respective eras. From using a range of literary devices, the modern reader is able to obtain a wider, more developed understanding of the concepts of social stratification and marriage, through Weldon’s appropriation of Austen’s work.
Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen Letters to Alice- Fay Weldon
An examination of Jane Austen’s 1813 social satire Pride and Prejudice, and the reading of Fay Weldon’s 1984 epistolary text Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen, allows understanding of Austen’s novel to be moulded and then shifted. Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners, focusing on marriage, Pride, Prejudice and Social Class which are projected through the characters, gentry-class setting and Austen’s authorial comment. Austen’s purpose was to portray the world of the gentry class, and satirise some aspects of her society and praise others. Weldon’s purpose is to encourage an understanding of the value of literature for individuals and society. She models Austen’s writing to demonstrate her argument and in so doing she gives a heightened understanding of values in Austen’s context. She reviews Austen’s society, providing an explanation of social conventions such as marriage, social stratification and women. Aunt Fay’s opinions allow readers to reshape their understanding of events and characters in Pride and Prejudice. Her conclusions allow the reader to draw connections between our contemporary society and Austen’s context, which then enables us to reshape our original understanding of Pride and Prejudice and our own context. Through Letters to Alice, Weldon discusses the importance in the value of literature. This is displayed through use of the imperative ‘you must read”. Her observing of literature linking to the transcendence of time is examined when adopting the metaphor of the city of invention, which educates the readers of what good literature is and the solid foundations that make it withstand time. Aunt Fay says “Through reading literature we learn about the way people thought and how they lived, the ways we are different and the things we share”, suggesting an implicit link to Austen’s work. Weldon writes that good literature has the ability to “transcend time and reach readers across centuries”. She demonstrates that the characters Austen created, are still relevant in modern society. The universal themes of faults and failings such as prejudice are seen in both texts, as they were been written for moral guidance purposes. Austen uses her novel to suggest how people should behave. She condemns snobbery, pride and prejudice. For example, Austen uses the character transformation between Elizabeth and Darcy and rewards them with happiness. Through Mary, Austen uses authorial comment on pride by saying “human nature is particularly prone to it…a person may be proud without being vain”. Weldon’s character Aunt Fay is comparable to Jane Austen, as she teaches her niece Alice to read, be appreciative of her world and develop empathy for those who are less fortunate. Through Aunt Fay’s didacticism, the readers see a changing Alice, similarly to Elizabeth Bennet’s character transformation in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth has to overcome her initial judgements of Mr Darcy in order to gain a heightened understanding of herself. For example, after the first brief encounter with Darcy “she remained with no very cordial feelings towards him”. She is left believing he is arrogant and the most disagreeable man. However she learns from her wrongness when she begins to understand his character and his motives. This is similar to Alice’s experience, as she is taught to reshape her opinionated first impressions of Jane Austen and the Professors wife.
How has your exploration of this connection between the texts enhanced your understanding of the values and contexts of each text?
Both Jane Austen and Fay Weldon write against the values of their respective contexts. Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, and Weldon’s epistolary text Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen epitomise the opposing values each had to her own society, and express similar opinions on the topic of education for women; similarly each writes in a style that undermines her own form in the hopes of morally educating readers. These connections between the two texts highlight the values and contexts of each text, as well as exposing the tension between each author’s personal values and those of their society.
Education for Georgian women was generally limited to the art of accomplishments that were undertaken in order to better attract a husband. Austen, however, is at tension with her society’s values of education. In Pride and Prejudice, she expresses her disdain for the tradition of accomplishments when Caroline Bingley’s enthusiasm for Mr Darcy’s ideal list of accomplishments is met with ironic authorial intrusion: “’Oh! certainly,’ cried [Mr Darcy’s] faithful assistant, ‘no one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with.’” Caroline Bingley then proceeds to list an extensive range of arts and wiles that a woman of the era ‘must’ possess to be accomplished. The ideas communicated by Miss Bingley are familiar to the society of the time, and are acceptable values regarding the expectations of women, but Austen’s humorous interjection portrays Miss Bingley as overeager and sycophantic. Miss Bingley is already an established unlikeable character: therefore, any opinions she expresses are treated with equal dislike. Austen’s respect for accomplishments is further diminished when supposedly ‘accomplished’ Miss Bingley does not marry Mr Darcy, but unorthodox, independent Elizabeth Bennet does instead. However, the values of Austen’s society were not entirely redundant, as Weldon exposes in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen.
As Austen discloses at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, “The business of [Mrs Bennet’s] life was to get her daughters married.” A society central to marriage is certainly out-dated, but Weldon, in her epistolary text Letters to Alice, exposes the reasons why marriage was imperative in Austen’s time. Weldon extensively lists numerous professions Georgian women were able to pursue, most of them either highly laborious, unsafe, or disgraceful, concluding with the ultimatum “Or you could marry.” Marriage was thus the most respectable source of income a woman of the Regency period could pursue, and any means to make oneself more desirable to prospective husbands were taken. The most effective means of attracting a match was to be accomplished. Thus, the education a woman in Austen’s period received served the same purpose that an education does today – to make one more qualified to earn money. Weldon hereby highlights the importance of accomplishments in Austen’s society as a path to marriage and therefore financial security (security having been identified as one of the most basic elements in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
Letters to Alice was published in 1984, during the decade of feminist backlash. The previous decade was an era of vehement feminist protests such as public bra-burnings. By the 1980’s, however, feminism had gained women of the developed world more rights than they had ever had before, and the guerrilla tactics of feminism protests were no longer required. In the absence of such aggressive feminism, conservatism could return without fear; hence the feminine backlash. Weldon expresses her disdain for women’s inability to appreciate the education that had been fought for them, and their inability to use it to further themselves morally. “You must read, Alice, before it’s too late,” Weldon constantly implores her fictional niece, emphasising the importance Weldon places on reading. Aunt Fay uses second person when talking directly to Alice, but this second person is also directed at the reader. Her didacticism is accessible to us in its directness and modern language. Weldon’s insistence for Alice, and by extension, the reader to read Literature with its capital L is necessary for moral development: just as Austen’s characters attain moral development through experience, Weldon highlights Literature’s ability to enlighten; to give us the experience necessary for moral development. The tension between Weldon’s canonical appreciation and the postmodern world she writes out of is thus exposed.
During the Georgian period, novels were a relatively new medium of writing, and were still considered secondary to the more highbrow form of literature: the poem. Most novels read by Georgian women were works of domestic fiction – often melodramatic works that had a concentration on domesticity, children, and courtship. Pieces of domestic fiction reinforced the Georgian expectations of femininity. The idea of ‘The Angel of the House’ embodied these values. The term was first coined by Coventry Patmore, but is better recognised in Virginia Woolf’s criticism of the idea. Woolf described ‘The Angel of the House’ as one who ‘slips behind her’ while writing: “[the Angel] whispered, ‘My dear, you are a young woman…Be sympathetic: be tender: flatter: deceive: use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own.’” In the words of Weldon, Austen “learned how to get round the Angel, how to soothe her into slumber and write while she slept.” By writing Pride and Prejudice as domestic fiction, Austen thus manages to convey the radical feminist ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft with neoclassical rationality without disgracing herself. By using the new medium of the novel as a way of instructing women morally, Austen changed the art of the novel: she recognised that the new form had the ability to simultaneously entertain and educate, and reformed the way novels were written. The tension Austen creates between the reformed domestic fiction style of writing and her true purpose in writing it creates an interesting juxtaposition between the thoughts of the characters and authorial intrusions. The feminine attributes expressed in Austen’s time were further aided by the Conduct Books, such as Fordyce’s Sermons, a popular instructional piece Mr Collins reads from. Austen expresses her disdain for their qualities by authorial intrusion: “…after some deliberation [Mr Collins] chose Fordyce’s Sermons…before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, [Lydia] interrupted him…”. Austen interrupts Mr Collin’s narration with humorous narration of her own: by describing his reading of the sermons as monotonous, she implies they are boring, out-dated, and as ridiculous as the well-established, repulsive sycophant who reads them. She thus educates her readers morally in how they perceive the Conduct Books by authorial intrusion. Weldon similarly undermines her own form.
While Austen undermines her conservative form with radical ideas, Weldon undermines her radical form with her conservative values of canon preservation. Weldon writes out of the postmodern tradition. Postmodernism was an age of experimentation with form and storytelling: irony, meta-fiction, playful narratives, and pluralism were common features of the postmodern era, and Weldon subverts many of these concepts in Letters to Alice. Letters to Alice is postmodern in its self-reflective discussion of writing, its playfulness with the epistolary form, its reliance on intertextuality, and the verisimilitude created in the blending of fact and fiction. The tension Weldon illustrates between her values and the values of her postmodern context are exposed in her appreciation for the literary canon. Postmodernism values high literature as equally as it values lowbrow fiction, a concept rejected by Weldon. “And because [works of lowbrow fiction] don’t enlighten, they are unimportant,” Weldon remarks, contrasting her values to the central ideas of blending of high and low culture that postmodernism represents. Weldon upholds the ability of literature to enlighten: while Austen advocates for moral education through experience, Weldon sees experience as inherently linked to reading “Literature with its Capital L”. Weldon’s Capital L for Literature is yet another example of the significance Weldon places on the canon, again stressing how she writes out of her postmodern society.
While both authors write out of the values of their respective societies, they do so effectively, communicating their own ideas and values using forms in ways that subvert their own purpose. As Weldon says to Alice, “Fiction, on the whole, and if it is any good, tends to be a subversive element in society.”
'Despite marked differences in textual form, ideas presented in the set text remain the same.'
Evaluate this statement with close reference to your prescribed text.
'Discovering the connections between texts enhances our understanding of humanity.'
Discuss this statement in relation to the two prescribed texts you have studied.
'It is through the comparison of the individual qualities of a pair of texts that we gain insight into the ways that context has shaped ideas and values.'
Discuss this statement in light of your comparative study of the two texts.
'By exploring the original purposes and audiences of texts, we gain a greater understanding of the ideas and values in each text.'
Evaluate this statement in light of your comparative study in this elective.
'When studied together, texts from different contexts can accentuate enduring aspects of human experience.'
How is this true of the pair of texts you have studied?
'Texts connect the reader to worlds which they recognise and can readily share in.'
Discuss in relation to both texts set for study.
'Comparing texts give us a consciousness of something enduring and of significance.'
To what extent does exploring connections between texts yield a deeper understanding of what is enduring and significant about each?
'To what extent does your comparative study of Pride and prejudice and Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen demonstrate that the conflict between an individual and society is an important universal concern?'
In your response make detailed reference to both texts.
How does this elective represent the challenges of exploring only one side of any story? Discuss with detailed reference to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your own choosing.
'An artful representation is often one which constructs a variety of conflicting perspectives.' Examine this statement in light of your prescribed texts and at least ONE other related text of your own choosing.
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Composers are connected in their desire to express their personal values within a changing world The comparative study of Fay Weldon’s non fiction text Letters to Alice and Jane Austen’s comedy of manners narrative Pride and Prejudice reveal connections between the authors in their desire to express their personal values and beliefs through the vehicle of their fictional characters. Exploration of connections such as the value of literature and the lives of women in different societies presented in the texts heighten our understanding of the composer’s contexts and the values they wish to convey through their writing.
The shared aspects of the form of both texts such as the use of letters and the fictitious framework of Weldon’s Letters To Alice provides a connection through which the readers can appreciate the values Austen and Weldon seek to express. Austen’s comedy of manners explores her patriarchal, provincial 19th century English world which is satirically commented on by Weldon as she expresses her own independent success, displaying the changing nature of society and the empowerment of women through her character Aunt Fay, a second wave feminist and a successful and independent writer.
Moreover the character of Aunt Fay highlights the stark contrast between the modern world in which marriage becomes a focus of love and happiness as opposed to the 19th century necessity for financial security which left women at the mercy of men. ‘I am not romantic…I ask only a comfortable home… I am convinced that my chance of happiness is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state’. Charlotte’s direct speech epitomizes the marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr.
Collins, a marriage of necessity for pragmatic Charlotte who reflects the general feeling of young women and her desire for a financially secure, appropriate marriage, a trait which is condemned by Austen through Elizabeth’s disapproval and her branding of the marriage as ‘unequal’. Weldon’s narrative however appreciates Charlotte Lucas’ financial situation, despite the fact Aunt Fay and niece Alice are in no way required to marry, reflecting that ‘to marry was a great prize’, the objectification of women and marriage through the oun ‘prize’ displays Weldon’s understanding of the financial weight and importance marriage carried to young women like Charlotte. Weldon also comments on Mrs. Bennett’s understanding of the situation facing her daughters, ‘Mrs. Bennett, the only one with the slightest notion of the sheer desperation of the world’, displaying to the reader that in fact Austen through Elizabeth presents an unconventional and unrealistic picture of a young woman’s liberty with marriage through her insistence of finding love before marriage.
In a comparative the study of an older valued text and a contemporary appropriation the connections established between the texts enhance our understanding of values and attitudes in each society as well as the personal beliefs conveyed by the author. Through Weldon’s 20th century appropriation of Austen’s epistolary structure Aunt Fay highlights the values of Literature within 19th century English society and our contemporary world. Fay Weldon connects to Pride and Prejudice through her exploration of Austen’s rural English societies attitudes and her values toward education and literature.
In so doing, her commentary on Austen’s gentrified society and the value of literature takes a 20th century perspective. ‘My dear Alice, it was good to get your letter…your doing a college course in English Literature… (Specifically) and obliged to read Jane Austen… and you find her boring’. Weldon’s 1st person ironic narration in the form of letters highlights Alice’s 20th century struggle to study the ‘big L’ and reveals the novels connection with Austen’s narrative.
Weldon expresses her own opinion on literature through the imagery in the extended metaphor of the ‘City of Invention’, which allows her to highlight her value of the ‘literary cannon’. This provides a vehicle through which Fay Weldon is able to express her own views on the value of good literature which she expresses as a medium through which readers can ‘admire…learn…marvel and explore’. LINK TO QUESTION Moreover, Weldon fights that literature must and does remains integral through the use of the religious language in the rhyming couplet, ‘only persists…all in all to thee’ expressing the importance of literature through sacred language.
Her insistence on the enlightenment literature can provide through its enduring success and enjoyment contrasts with her view of Alice’s generation’s fixation with film and television, which in her opinion ‘can never enlighten’. Weldon’s opinion of the values of good literature are also reflected through Darcy’s condescending belief in a woman’s ‘improvement of her mind by extensive reading which makes her an accomplished woman and ready for marriage’. Here the direct speech of Darcy displays the value of both literature and reading to regency period, gentrified society as well as the value this society placed on educated people, and women.
Elizabeth Bennett’s behavior and enjoyment of reading is contrasted against the superficial and hypocritical attitude of Miss Bingley whose ‘attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy’s progress through his book as in reading her own’, displaying Austen’s enduring respect for education and reading and as well as the value her society placed on the educated. Austen enhances this attitude through the contrast of characters actions in her social commentary by painting those with an appreciation of literature in a positive and appropriate light whilst making out those who do not to be superficial and debase.
Austen continues to convey her personal opinion of the institution of marriage through the study of various marriages in her novel Pride and Prejudice which gives an insight into the traits Austen valued in a successful marriage. Her portrayal of Lydia and Wickham’s union as a match ‘only brought together because their passions were stronger than their virtue’, expresses her opinion on the fickle nature of a marriage with no intellectual or deeper connection. This view is mirrored in the unequal marriage of both Mr. nd Mrs. Bennet and Charlotte Lucas to Mr. Collins, whose unions were based neither on intellect or love. Contrasting these unsuccessful marriages is the happy and lasting marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Gardner, and more poignantly the attitude of Elizabeth Bennett who ‘could be neither happy nor respectable unless she esteemed her husband’. Whilst Austen breaks conventions by focusing on love in marriage she maintains the importance of appropriate and eligible unions displaying her value of her 19th century values and manners.
Dependency of women on men and family members and the constraints they faced from the stifling conventions and unquestioned values of their society, epitomized by the high modality, definite statements of Austen as the omniscient narrator. ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’. This authorial intrusion and informative sarcasm mocks the very rituals and accepted values of this society which confined and limited women and presents Austen’s own attitudes toward these conventions.
She shows her value of the educated and independent minded woman through Elizabeth Bennet and through herself as a single, successful female writer. Aunt Fay defends this ‘crusading zeal’ of Austen by maintaining that her form of conveying her message through her novels has in fact become more meaningful in her belief that ‘enlighten people and you enlighten society’. She builds on these ideas of Austen’s novels changing the values and ideas of people and therefore societies toward women by presenting the character of Aunt Fay as the successful independent woman without the burden of the necessity of marriage for financial security.
Aunt Fay suggests that women who are successful do not need to depend on men as they have done in the past, saying that ‘Success kicks away the stool of masochism, on which female existence so often depends’, this enhances our understanding of the changes in society that have led to the liberation of women and enhances our understanding of the personal values Weldon and Austen hold toward the role of women.
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Through their novels and their own lives Fay Weldon and Jane Austen successfully express their own personal values and attitudes toward their societies. This desire to display their views and opinions connects the authors and highlights some of the key connections in their writing. Our understanding of these beliefs is heightened by an understanding of their contexts and an appreciation of the changes in society and the world.
Author: Alfred Gobeil
Pride and Prejudice – Letters to Alice
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