[(essay date 1998) In the following essays, Dowling alleges that “Weldon’s work is doubly subversive,” existing “at the intersection of postmodernism and feminism” and revealing her “progression from vociferous member of the Women’s Liberation Movement to a postmodernist prevaricator.” Dowling also considers Weldon’s novels on motherhood, such as Puffball, The President’s Child (1982), and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, in relation to the writer’s own motherhood.]
Personally, I see critics as bus drivers. They ferry the visitors round the City of Invention and stop the bus here or there, at whim, and act as guides, and feel that if it were not for them, there would be no City.Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen
Mind you, they’ll say anything.Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen
Fay Weldon’s fiction is fascinatingly situated at the intersection of postmodernism and feminism. Feminism and postmodernism seek to displace the dominant ideologies of, respectively, patriarchal politics and Enlightenment philosophy.1 In different ways, feminists and postmodernists reject “truths” and “objective knowledge” that for centuries have formed a kind of epistemological bulwark against other ways of conceptualizing.
Unlike Enlightenment philosophy and patriarchal politics, which entrenched themselves as dominant and superior, feminism and postmodernism try to eschew hierarchical positions and judgments. Feminists and postmodernists retell, in subversive ways, the “legitimate” metanarrative they have inherited, or tell the stories that have not been told, rejecting plots preordained by nature/biology or reason. Neither feminism nor postmodernism trusts language to be a transparent medium of expression. Above all, feminists and postmodernists are eager to deconstruct the way in which the myth of identity has been constituted in gender or reason, thereby giving the illusion of self-understanding.
Not surprisingly, postmodernism has been accused of being anarchical, self-indulgent, and popular. But as Ihab Hassan argues, this is because it is “essentially subversive in form and anarchic in its cultural spirit. It dramatizes its lack of faith in art even as it produces new works of art intended to hasten both cultural and artistic dissolution.”2
Weldon’s work is doubly subversive. It both overturns “reasonable” narrative conventions and wittily deconstructs the specious terminology used to define women. Weldon’s disobedient female protagonists—madwomen, criminals, outcasts, and she-devils—assert the power of the Other. Gynocentric themes—motherhood, reproduction, single parenthood, sisterhood, sex, and marriage—are transformed by Weldon into uproarious feminist revenge comedy. This she achieves through an intertextuality which often involves unorthodox typography, genre-swopping, and metafictional devices. The substance of my argument will, therefore, be that Weldon consciously achieves her subversive ends through strategies that have both feminist and postmodernist implications. Fay Weldon is a feminist writer who, in the course of her social commentary, produces uproarious wit by tilting at the purveyor of truth and knowledge: narrative itself.
There may be a rationale for not producing a book on Fay Weldon’s fiction, but it would depend on precisely those strategies of legitimation despised by postmodernists and feminists alike. Weldon is undeniably a popular rather than literary author and, unlike...