“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.