Letters To Alice On First Reading Jane Austen
- Hodder & Stoughton General Division
- Publication Date:
- 06 May 1993
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What a creative way to write about writing! Kudos to Fay Weldon. I read this when I was struggling through a particularly difficult semester while getting my own English lit degree. I loved studying literature, by the way, but there was plenty about it that I didn't love--Tristram Shandy comes to mind. Weren't any of you FORCED to read Pride and Prejudice in tenth grade--and don't you remember that you found it so booooring because you didn't know it was supposed to be funny? Remember?What a delight! What a find. I only hope that someday I can be such an aunt to such a niece.
I heard about this here on LibraryThing and could hardly pass up the chance to read something about Jane Austen! This is about an aunt who (much like Jane Austen before her) corresponds with a niece interested in writing novels. The niece, Alice, is a fictional girl of green-and-black-colored hair who can't imagine why Jane Austen would be considered relevant today.The blend of fiction and literary criticism threw me for a loop at first. The first few letters talk about Jane Austen's life and times, then move on to talk about, in turn, each of her novels and peppered with advice about reading, writing, and listening (or not) to critics. In fact, this struck me as much more about the act of writing than about Jane Austen in particular. At times witty, and other times confusing, sometimes I agreed and at others I wholeheartedly disagreed. But that, as I'm sure "Aunt Fay" would agree, is one of the joys of visiting the City of Invention.
Aunt Fay is writing letters to her (fictional) niece Alice, who is about to start a degree in English Literature. Alice doesn't want to read Jane Austen, and, it appears from Aunt Fay's letters, that she doesn't read much at all (why on earth is she doing an English Literature course then?!) - what she does want to do is write her own novel. Aunt Fay preaches to encourage Alice to give Jane Austen a go (and if I were Alice, I would have found those early letters very patronizing), giving her a bit of historical background and a few tantalising glimpses of the novels themselves. Aunt Fay also gives her thoughts on writing itself and on the life of a novelist (from her perspective). To my mind, this is where she is most interesting, although her clever metaphor (the City of Invention) for the relationship between books, their authors and their readers does get hackneyed very quickly (I notice that other reviewers particularly liked this - this is just a personal opinion).The historical perspective on what life would have been like for Jane Austen and others of the era, (in particular, women) was fascinating. However, I found the lack of references or evidence for facts stated disconcerting. I would think that Fay Weldon researched her book very thoroughly - I imagine that most of what she reports is fairly reliable, however, I don't know this. She could just be reciting facts from memory (and however good one's memory, there will always be gaps and mistakes) - she certainly interprets facts to support her own arguments. If nothing else, it would be interesting to have a bibliography somewhere.My real issue with the book however, was all the suppositions - in particular, Fay Weldon frequently appears to credit Jane Austen with her own thoughts. I mention earlier that she interprets history to support her own beliefs on Jane's life, well she does this with very little presentation of contrary arguments - one example being Jane Austen's reasons for remaining unmarried - there is a lot of debate about this! She even notices that she has done this herself in one letter and states that she hates it when other people make sweeping assumptions (or words to this effect) - well why do it then? Maybe the reason I found this particularly irritating was that my interpretations are frequently different from hers. Nonetheless it had me grumbling every single time.There were a couple of things that kept me reading amidst all these gripes. Firstly, I do love Jane Austen's work and know lamentably little about her life - this was interesting and I shall have to read more. In addition, Fay Weldon's comments on authorship are inevitably illuminating and her style very readable. I could not honestly say I particularly enjoyed this book, but it was certainly engrossing to read.
too didactic and preachy- I think it's not sttod the test of time very well
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