Jane Austen’s, “Pride and Prejudice”, and Fay Weldon’s, “Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen”, contains many similarities yet some obvious differences even when considering the fact that they were written hundreds of years apart. Both texts provide strong perspectives on a variety of issues concerning humanity’s strengths and weaknesses and are very blunt in their approach.
Jane Austen has attracted a great deal of critical attention in recent years. Many have spoken out about the strengths and weaknesses of her characters, particularly her heroines, creating the illusion that she has been cast as a friend and foe to the rights of women. It has been stated on numerous occasions that Austen’s characters cannot be seen clearly until we make allowances for the social order in which they were rooted. However it is often noted she chose to largely ignore the events of England and the world to focus on small town events. In the first letter that Aunt Fay writes to Alice she involves Austen in the “City of Invention” as choosing “safer, inward-looking site to build her houses”. This is a reference to the parochial, rather restricted settings of Austen’s novels.
The comments made about “Pride and Prejudice” during “Letters to Alice” stimulate our response. We are being invited to test our own reading of the novel with Aunt Fay’s. For instance, her claim that Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship would not really be possible outside the novel is such an invitation. This stimulates us to test this claim.
Aunt Fay also says Jane Austen “simply accepts” the actions of men without condemnation. Men are often seen to be indifferent to their families, especially their daughters showing “male whims taking priority”. She explains this in terms of Austen’s context and her own father’s unexpected moving of the family to Bath without consultation. She sees that Austen’s novels readily criticise women for their vanity, self-deception, potential idleness and failings...