Letters to Alice Member One interesting part of Austen’s writing is her negligence of the church and God, even though it was the “single most significant purveyor of ideas (Suzan Pattison, Top Notes), her only reference to church is through the clergyman Mr. Collins, and yet Austen uses the irony that he does not worship God but Lady Catherine de Bough, to highlight that it is not God who really determines the morals of the time, but the pressure of the upper class. Austen’s gross exaggeration as Mr. Collins slobbers over Lady Catherine is her critiquing the tendency of society to glorify the rich, and allow their lives to be bound by the worship of conformity. The absurdity in assuming wealth and connections determine one’s eligibility for prominence. The perception that a woman is merely a trademark for the completion of a man’s wealth from the reservoir of Jane Austen’s understanding of the World… The intertwining of fiction and reality “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Austen’s famous opening line immediately brings forth a conflicting principle in Pride and Prejudice: Society’s view of a woman’s importance, and women’s view of themselves in society. Austen initiates Pride and Prejudice with this over-generalized statement, using high-modality language to convey absolute authority – but only to spend the next 61 chapters in mockery of that very statement. This use of irony gives readers a broad context of the themes in the novel, as well as challenging readers of the time to the reason why men and women should marry. The grave tone created by the omniscient narration and absoluteness of this statement combined with an implied feminine point of view, reveals women in general have made a career out of subjecting themselves to men, hence developing various “accomplishments” which might increase their value as a wife. “A prostitute – 70 000 they reckoned. Or, you could marry,” writes Aunt Fay to Alice, listing all the common and unpleasant trades. Weldon utilizes blunt language to justify the situation of women in the 1800’s, by shocking readers into the context of the time. *Note the possessiveness of this word and its undertones of greed* Austen subtly mocks women’s disposition through the foolishness of Mrs. Bennet who is the extreme embodiment of this belief. By constructing her main characters as six female sisters, and the addition of Charlotte, Austen openly draws attention to the theme of women’s position in society, using marriage as both the canvas and centerpiece for her creation. The sister’s diverse range of personality allows Austen to explore the whole spectrum of the females’ attitude on marriage. One way Weldon implicitly explores the change in attitude in contemporary society (apart from repeating “Alice by your standards, it was a horrible time to be alive) through emphasis on Aunt Fay’s freedom, flying from Cairns to Canberra to Singapore and England. In sharp contrast, Lizzy is criticized by Miss Bingley, “To walk three miles, or four miles… above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! what could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence,” However, this distaste is self-enforced upon the female race, as Austen embarrasses (repeatedly throughout the book) the ideas represented by Miss Bingley, that those she from whom she seeks appraisal and confirmation, disagree. Mr. Bingley admires Lizzy’s dedication, while Mr. Darcy coolly replies that her eyes were “brightened by the exercise.” Weldon burrows Austen’s trademark of irony in her letter heading, “Pity the Poor Writer”, to accentuate the expectations held on women in Austen’s era as opposed to those today. She emphasizes, in a self-sympathizing and self-aggrandizing tone, the hardships of being a modern writer: promoting her book around the world and giving lectures. The minority of Aunt Fay’s problems relative to that of Austen’s again exposes readers to the schism between the two time periods’ perceptions toward women, in terms of status as well as women becoming economically independent. Therefore, the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice, which positions females to make a career of subjecting themselves to a man, has been overthrown in the new age, but Weldon must reconstruct it so that readers may understand its significance in the novel. Mrs. Bennet Lydia Kitty: Self-gratification and to look good. (cc) photo by med head on Flickr Elizabeth: Happiness and an equal in intellectual understanding Charlotte Lucas: A necessity for a respectful life. Jane: Someone to love and provide for her Mary: Indifference. A Generalized Overview of Perceptions of Marriage Mrs. Bennet: “The business of her life was to get her daughters married.” This outright statement highlights the goal of a woman to be married. Yet the bluntness of its tone evokes a sense of shallowness in such a way of life. Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins for the sake of a stable and respectable life. “I am not a romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home” Ironically, it is out of her independence that she acknowledges a woman’s dependence on man in order to gain a status of independence within society. Wickham seeks to marry a woman only for her money. Austen presents him as the embodiment of playing the marriage game, but exposes the flaws in the marriage trade: Wickham does it outright and it casts disrespect over his reputation -even though everyone else, including the Bennets is also looking for the best deal yet not looked down for it. “Coming Out” onto the Marriage Market… As Aunt Fay has already spent the first four letters describing the cultural context of life for women, and the fifth juxtaposing it with the life of a woman in the 20th century, Weldon interrupts the dialogue of Fay to Alice with the disruption of a letter to Enid. Through the narration of specific events, “It is true that you must set the dough to rise before going to bed so that Edward may have fresh home-baked bread rolls for breakfast, as Chloe did Oliver,” and many ambiguous statements, Enid’s marriage is cast as being like an old fashioned one where she serves her husband, and immediate parallels are drawn to the nature of an Austen-era marriage. The contrast of Fay’s freedom and no mention of Fay’s husband shows she looks down upon the principles of the time period. The dispute between sisters about this creates an underlying message which challenges readers to not revert to old ways of thinking when people such as Jane Austen and countless feminists have campaigned for the rights of women not to be treated as possessions to be traded. Weldon does not refer to any god either, but Weldon parallels her to Catherine Lady de Bough by mimicking her patronizing and demeaning tone. Hence she reveals both herself and Lady Catherine as self-imposed god-figures. She even writes a set of rules for Alice in Ten Commandments style:
“1. Love your mother, if you possibly can since she is the source of your life.
2. Love men if you possibly can since they are the source of your gratification…” In reflection of the 1980s, Fay openly tells Alice to choose for herself what to believe, while simultaneously instructing Alice on how to do everything. That Alice should choose to do exactly that and completely ignore Aunt Fay’s advice, and is in fact more successful than Fay, reproduces Elizabeth disregarding Lady Catherine in order to transcend her social class and win Mr. Darcy. The importance of following personal belief over what decorum dictates, but having the mobility in values to change them in overcoming pride is something that Pride and Prejudice clearly expresses through Elizabeth Bennet. This is paralleled through Alice’s character in Letters to Alice, as Alice ignores Aunt Fay’s authority. “Your arrogance, your conceit and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others … you were the last man in the world whom I could be prevailed upon to marry.” Elizabeth rejects not one, but two marriages, the first being respectable, the second one which would elevate her to the epitome of society. Yet she demonstrates her personal values are stronger than the pressure which society places upon her. The attitude which Austen has inscribed into Elizabeth is that which is her own, where Austen ignores the norms which disagreed with her writing a novel. This influence is so strong that Weldon personifies the pressure as the “Angel of the House.” A critique on the values which shape society and a challenge to the formation of such ideas …And the musings of Fay Weldon Yet Austen also conveys the importance of mobility in terms of personal judgements and values, and that pride should not deter this. This is emphasized by the reflective first-person tone which Elizabeth adapts. This is true for both Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The prejudices which they must both overcome are revealed in the first proposal: Mr. Darcy had to descend from his pride in order to realize that love is not based on a need or even a want but also an equality of understanding. Elizabeth had to overcome her judgements of Mr. Darcy as the “last man on earth I could be prevailed upon to marry!” Austen uses Elizabeth’s prejudice of Mr. Darcy as an allegory for Elizabeth’s attitude toward the pride of the upper class. Austen solidifies their love at the end because it has transcended the conventions of civility and their own personal values and prejudices. Even though the narrator of the book is omniscient, Austen skillfully withholds certain information about Mr. Darcy and allows us only a meagre description of his appearance, “fine, tall person with handsome features”, to induce the reader, like Lizzy, to may make judgements on him too. This not only increases atmospheric suspense and connection with Elizabeth’s emotions, but also allows the reader to grow with her as the misconceptions of the reader are also exposed. Hence the reader is subject to moral growth through a constructed experience. This moral instruction intrinsic to Pride and Prejudice is what separates airport novels from “Capital L Literature,” says Aunt Fay. (There will be more about this later) Elizabeth upholds that marriage should be for happiness and love. When Charlotte marries Mr. Collins, the high modality language as she expresses “the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen,” highlights the depth of Elizabeth’s beliefs. But upon observing the Collins’ marriage after her visit, Elizabeth is able to understand that Charlotte has in fact chosen sensibly based on her own values. Such convictions are an individual’s choice, which Weldon reveals in letters to Alice by doing exactly the opposite. She assumes Alice’s morals and disposition, (e.g. the afore mentioned 10 commandments). Weldon subverts this by emphasizing the literal price Aunt Fay has to pay for imposing her beliefs upon Alice and the reader’s frustration of Fay’s pride to keep doing so, “I hope you have already received the 500pounds… I suppose it was my bad luck rather than my wrong judgement.” Austen taunts the milieu through Mr. Collins who is the embodiment of codes and will not flex, the opposite of Lizzy. For example, at the ball he inappropriately lectures Elizabeth and the absurdity of formality in his speech and to the irony of his error and pomp, “there must be a wide difference between established forms of ceremony amongst the laity and those which regulate the clergy… i consider myself more fitted by habitual study to decide on the what is right than a young lady like yourself.” The City of Invention: Defining “Literature” from literature Aunt Fay bluntly emphasizes the purpose of writing is for moral instruction: “Literature stands at the gate of civilization, holding back greed, rage, murder and savagery.” Pride and Prejudice was originally written in letter form, but rewritten into novel form by which Austen is able to subtly impart her ideas through a combination of authorial voice as well as harnessing Elizabeth as her mouthpiece, and hence make the audience more receptive through Lizzy’s sympathetic character. The reverse effect is true in Letters to Alice, where Aunt Fay’s patronizing tone immediately creates an apprehension in the reader to accept what Fay has to say. While her didactic intentions are evident, the letters relate back to Pride and Prejudice and the importance of the letters which Austen has chosen to incorporate into the text. The letters which Austen has left in the story are those catalyze or mark major turning points in the novel, such as Lydia’s elopement, Mr. Collins arrival and the most important being Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth which Austen has placed in the center of the storyline. Austen uses this to mark a seriousness and change in tone from the comedic and ironic narration in the novel, as well as emphasizing the power of literature to shape and mold a life. Hence Weldon’s metaphor of the City of Invention Weldon segments the genres according to their rules. The extended metaphor of civilization allows her to allocate the social class in which each genre is perceived in the 1980s. She reconstructs the distinctions between genres and re-establishes the literary canon which the post-modernist era has torn down. It also depicts the strictness of literary forms in Austen’s era. The city of Invention is a microcosm of the society in which Austen writes, namely the strictness of conventions and lack of mobility between social classes. Austen’s boldness to challenge literary conventions of the day which valued essays and letters is exemplified through Aunt Fay’s appraisal of her placing her just beneath Shakespeare’s mansion. Pride and Prejudice is implied to be of social significance as Pemberley, because it is not merely a house in “Romance Alley” but a comedy of manners, challenging the codes which define the term ‘accomplished’ through a combination of wit, sermons, plot, dialogue and letters. Hence it is capital ‘L’ literature. Austen defies critics by employing the novel form to bring disrepute to traditional essays and sermons by juxtaposition against her relaxed and ironic writing. The humor of Lydia’s interruption of Mr. Collins sermon as authorial intrusion to undermine the character of those who delight in such sermons and essays is one example. Austen also represents essays and educational poets through Mary’s dull character and tendency to soliloquize. Despite Mary being correct in her meaning, Austen places it in between the satiric humor of Mrs. Bennet’s ramblings, “‘Pride,’ observed Mary who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, ‘is a very common failing, by all that I have read,'” thus the reader quickly forgets the truth in Mary’s words, and comes to appreciate Austen’s humor. …as well as demonstrating that literature (in general) can shape lives beyond the pages of a book, it imparts knowledge and values. The City of Invention is a microcosm of ideas which reflect reality. “She is not a gentle writer, do not be misled,” Weldon cautions Alice. The subtlety of Austen’s challenge on personal values and civil decorum is what makes her effective. That Austen also had to break out of the restraints of both public scrutiny and her position as a female, and spinster was so strong that Weldon personifies the pressure to stay within the limits as the “Angel of the House” in Aunt Fay’s letters. The 1800s was a time where essays and sermons were valued, and novels were looked down upon. Female writers were expected to only describe of what they knew – housework and trashy over exaggerated romances such as gothic novels. But Austen “learned how to get round the angel, to soothe her into a slumber and write while she slept.” This enlightens to the message of both Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice: that one should not be afraid to challenge society’s restrictions but pursue personal values with independence and courage. Austen does this by writing a novel, and Weldon also reflects Austen’s sophistication in moral guidance by subverting Aunt Fay’s domineering and condescending nature through Alice’s success. In this way, Alice mirrors Elizabeth as she is dissolves social barriers through defiance of authority and marries Mr Darcy. Weldon also writes in opposition to her time period by her form of an epistolary novel in a time where the television provides “easy, tasty substances” on “the screen in the living room,” is most valued. Pride and Prejudice in the 21st Century In the City of Invention, Weldon places a strong emphasis on “Romance Alley”, a suburb just above the slums of “Porno”, as too formulaic and they are all the same. Yet they have been derived from Pride and Prejudice as the base formula for these novels Hence Pride and Prejudice’s impact can be seen as it has inspired and opened the doorways for the romance novel. But in doing so, in modern society it has lost its moral value and been over-simplified to be grouped with the Romance Alley houses as a ‘chick flick’ and romantic comedy. Literature has the ability to impart values and mold the pathways of a readers life, “I can give you a physical location for the City. It lies on the mid-way point between the Road to Heaven and the Road to Hell”, and even touch on their spirituality as she uses religious allusions, “for the sake of your conversion,” and the poem “The Hound of Heaven”. Weldon emphasizes this by contrasting Pride and Prejudice with “Pre-fibs”, the novels-from film” where it is safe and “Despair wears a muzzle” because it does not instruct morally as literature should, and is only for entertainment purposes. The Weekend Australian boldly states that “Austen novels have demonstrated a high degree of cultural transferability,” in regard to the countless movies, TV shows, spin-offs and books to the original. However, by interpreting Pride and Prejudice Weldon’s depiction of the City of Invention, this statement is incorrect, and the writer of the article hence becomes a prime example of overlooking the essence in Austen’s writing. Pride and Prejudice has become oversimplified, due to the countless adaptations, as merely another romance, and its original intention to instruct and give moral guidance has been lost. The characters which were of great wit in the 1800s are considered clich today, and despite common themes of love, mistaken identity and pride, Austen’s intentions of challenging the reason for beliefs in society have been lost. Weldon’s use of didactic form. subtext and epistolary novel work to re-enlighten readers to the reality of Jane Austen, which is deeper than a comedy. Despite the loss of moral instruction, the universal themes of Pride and Prejudice maintains that it is valued today. For example, Ben mentioned the embarrassing mother depicted in Mrs. Bennet, and Jasmin drew attention to the continuing importance of upbringing in order to instill moral values which though mentioned later on links back to Ben’s statement. Sam’s opinion that Pride and Prejudice is more relatable in a contemporary society than Weldon’s Letters to Alice was interesting and highly debatable to me: Both writers have a narrow field of vision, and I wasn’t quite sure I agreed with him, but the quote “what Austen lacks in breadth she makes up for in depth,” (Bethany) pushes me to believe that Sam is correct because of the depth to which readers are able to engage with the characters in terms of emotion. This is especially since I as a reader feel unable to connect or sympathize with Aunt Fay (though this may be intentional on Weldon’s part so that as a reader we are drawn to cast Alice as the protagonist and draw another similarity to Elizabeth, in that Alice’s voice is never heard and thus implying the lack of voice of Austen and women in the 1800s.) Upon the topic of women subjecting themselves to the behavioral codes, it was discussed that it is more likely that women took these tasks upon themselves from the previous pressure of men, out of necessity. This challenges me and I think to some extent my class mates are correct in saying the pressure firstly came from men, but that Jane wrote from amongst this society. She understood the repercussions of not having a husband as a spinster having experienced the marriage obsession, but still chose to challenge the way women have embraced the idea of accomplishments and civility. This has made me maintain my belief that women placed these boundaries upon themselves to a more extreme level than what men have enforced. While not overtly feminist, her demoralizing treatment of Miss Bingley does create undertones of feminist belief. Come Weldon’s time, that which Austen inspired has been fulfilled – Aunt Fay clearly displays that marriage is no longer central to a woman’s life, and the plot as Alice has a fling with her professor and yet it is not a disgrace like Lydia but on the contrary is broadcast to the world as a bestseller. Weldon emphasizes to Alice that she should embrace her freedom and by discouraging Alice from writing so strongly, Weldon (not Aunt Fay) subverts herself by pushing Alice to write, embrace her freedom and become what Austen wanted but never could be by the force in which she orders Alice not to write. Jasmin raised the point that women’s expectations of themselves are still apparent today in the pressure to look good, and while this is true, I believe that it is to a lesser degree since women’s status have been elevated in society, and to be married is no longer viewed as the mark of a woman’s success as i previously described through the similarity of events with Alice and Lydia. The vast array of characters which Austen has chosen allow her to explore the way characters choose to mold their perceptions and throughout the events of the book, and Hannah mentioned that Austen the importance of characters in writing to break restrictions, which I believe is true as the one that comes out the best is Lizzy. She follows her own beliefs, but is able to change them when she realizes she is wrong. Jacqui also mentioned the significance of the letter form collected into a novel, so that the letters can dialogue with each other. This is not something I had consciously considered, but it is evident in the way that Aunt Fay contradicts herself from letter to letter as she tells Alice to listen to her but not listen to her. It was also mentioned (I think it may have been Georgia) that letters have more authority, which supplements Jacqui’s statement and aligns with my understanding of Aunt Fay creating a tone similar to Lady Catherine de Bough, as well as the reason that Austen changed the form of Pride and Prejudice to create a more sympathetic and receptive atmosphere. Hence, Pride and Prejudice and Letters to Alice supplement each other to exemplify the purpose of moral guidance in Literature. Weldon is able to paint a picture of Austen’s context in writing the book, and so highlight the significance in writing a novel by mirroring her style and reverting back to the epistolary form common in Austen’s time. The effects of Austen’s writing in terms of rights for women and reasons for marriage, is reflected in Aunt Fay’s lifestyle, and the reader is able to more genuinely appreciate the work of Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice. It interests me that the topic of literature shaping lives in reality through reading of it was only lightly discussed after I mentioned it. This is especially considering the obvious met textuality in which Weldon addresses her readers by never having any letters back from Alice, and further demonstrated in the way she names her letters as to become the chapters of a book. As both books are for moral instruction, I would have anticipated the affect which reading both texts have influenced our understanding of values and decorum would have been voiced but it was only touched upon in reflection to the morals inherited from parents, in my remembrance. Perhaps this is testimony to the way Austen’s writing, even upon the enlightenment of Aunt Fay’s Letters to Alice, fails to be relatable to the 21st century society to a depth more than just understanding of character. And yet, this may be because Austen’s goal to challenge beliefs has been fulfilled. The distinction of roles and class between women and men is becoming increasingly diminished, and even more so since Weldon’s time with the rise of homosexuality. The Ninemsn website greets viewers on its homepage with a replay of the television drama ‘House Husbands’ and entitled ‘Facing Modern Masculinity’.