'ARTISTS OF THEIR OWN EXISTENCE': FAY WELDON AND THE QUEST
FOR A FEMINIST HEROINE James Sexton
Piecing together the surprisingly meagre biographical details regarding the prolific Fay Weldon, it soon becomes clear that her pro-feminist sentiments and contempt for the irresponsibility of the male gender revealed in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) and Darcy's Utopia (1990) is not arrived at from purely theoretical projections. In Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen (1984), the nearest she has come to autobiography, she refers to her father's assembling her mother, her sister and herself to announce that he was abandoning them "that day to live with his sweetheart, whose existence he'd never hinted at before" (26). Her mother, to whom Weldon attributes "such morality and wisdom as I have" (Letters Dedication) supported the two daughters "by writing romantic novels, picking fruit, and working in a biscuit factory" (MacKay 86). Weldon’s first husband, an older schoolteacher, would hardly have won prizes for sensitivity, having forbidden her to work for or join the Labour Party. In a response prefiguring the resourcefulness of Ruth Patchett and Eleanor Darcy, Weldon promptly found work as a nightclub hostess. "That really put him out". Two years later, she left him, taking their four-year old son with her.
For most of her adult life the family breadwinner, Fay Weldon's feminist credentials have long been recognized by literary critics. In a 1978 article, Agate Nesaule Krause marshals insights on the formal elements such as structure, style, point of view, and irony in her early novels, which she views as evidence of Weldon's "uniting the negative feminism, necessarily evident in novels portraying the problems of women, with a positive feminism, evident in the belief that change or equilibrium is possible" (18).
Her choice of the terms "negative" and "positive" places Weldon's darkly comic novels within the satiric tradition, and, by extension, within the utopian-dystopian tradition, for both modes of fiction focus on social ills and on desired remedies. As Robert C. Elliott notes, quoting Zamyatin, "utopia has a plus sign" (12). That is, both satire and utopia are Janus-faced: the former mode emphasizes the aberrant, or evil, the deviation from a desired norm; the latter mode emphasizes the desirable adherence to the salutary norms which will ultimately be either enshrined in laws or at least favoured by consensus in the form of typical behaviour.
In what is apparently an autobiographical allusion, Weldon has the protagonist of Darcy's Utopia (1990), Eleanor Darcy, respond to an interviewer's question whether feminism had played an important part in her life, that she had been a feminist of the socialist variety .... I believed that the wrongs of women were interconnected with and subsidiary to the wrongs of man; that to work for the revolution was to work, indirectly, for women. That as the State withered away, so would sexism, racism and all other unpleasant social evils ...." (127).
And in Letters to Alice, "Aunt Fay" reveals why the attainment of the feminst utopia cannot be an automatic process, even if the state were to wither away. Drawing attention to the Virago Press re-release of Nikolai Chernyshevsky's Feminist utopian novel What is to be Done? (1862), she notes:
He offers us an agreeable and stirring and achievable utopia, if only we would learn to control ourselves and our passions. He does not invoke God, as the Church does as the interventionary power required to bring general self-control and Heaven here on earth: he sees the strength latent there in both man and woman, if only they will use it (emphases mine 85).
The ironist in Weldon might well have noted that all of Paradise Lost hinges on those two little words, "if only". Indeed, most of the conflict in world literature revolves around the herculean task of the acquisition of temperance-self-knowledge and self-control.
Not content to promote the feminist cause in Western Europe and North America, since 1989 Weldon has vigorously attacked the treatment of Muslim women in her own country and abroad. The pamphlet Sacred Cows (1989) criticizes feminists "too involved in rooting out ideological heresies ...to worry about the fate of the Muslim women in our midst, with their arranged marriages, their children in care ...wife-beatings, the intimidation ,...penalties for recalcitrance: the unregulated work in Dickensian sweatshops" (35). She sets herself apart from those she calls "slaves of liberal orthodoxy" by raising her voice against such abuses, realizing all the while that interference may well result in her being labelled "white racist" or "elitist". With her portrait of Nerina Khalid in Darcy's Utopia (1990) Weldon redoubles her attack on the Muslim community's infringements of female liberty, as Nerina yields to fundamentalist pressure to abandon university and bluejeans, and accepts an arranged marriage and lives "de-energized, covered in black, with a nose mask, and pregnant" (236).
While it would be folly to ignore the dominant theme in She-Devil of the indignities suffered by women at the hands of men, Weldon gives a cue for a still broader base of satire than that directed solely against the male gender; instead, like Kurt Vonnegutt in the short story "Harrison Bergeron", she turns her attention to the whole system of distributive justice, or the unjust "nature of things", explored in Life and Loves of a She Devil and Darcy's Utopia. In the paragraphs devoted to Ruth's flesh-melting sojourn in a feminist-separatist commune run by the lesbian, fibre-eating farmers known as The Wimmin (199 ff), inexplicably deleted from the American edition, the narrator explains, in the last paragraph dealing with the commune, why Ruth prefers to remain outside their pastoral utopia: In the house the other women congregated, taking off their capes and boots, laughing and exhilarated. They touched each other a great deal—to embrace was part of their policy. Ruth almost weakened, almost wanted to belong to them, for the sake of their good cheer. But she could not. She belonged to a different species. And she knew that by nightfall someone would be in tears; in these few muddy, laughing minutes someone would fall in love, someone out of it, and that the best looking would suffer least, and the worst looking most, here as anywhere (emphasis mine 204).
The problem of unequal distribution of nature's bounty—in this case—beauty, will still trouble Ruth, even in a commune carefully denuded of men.
Before considering Alan Wilde's post-structuralist reading of She-Devil , an insightful, if perhaps occasionally forced argument, the reader might well consider how one is to respond to the novel. One might view it as a tour de force parable of revenge much like, say, Poe's "Cask of Amontillado". The characters are, to use E. M. Forster's term, uniformly flat, and although the satire on exploitation is keenly felt, the chief interest and focus of the novel, lies in the revenge plot. The despicable Bobbo is the quintessential one-dimensional man, who, to use Erich Fromm's phrase, "has much but is little". Could any reader be expected to feel sympathy for this character? Rather, he is to be seen much like Fortunato in "Cask". No reader is expected to commiserate with this hapless victim who may have wronged Montresor—the fascination lies in the unfolding of the plot against him, announced in the first paragraph, which is all about establishing the narrator, Montresor, as an artist of revenge. All the elements line up to focus on the two criteria that Montresor must live up to: first, revealing himself as the avenger to the victim, and second, punishing him with impunity.
Similarly, Weldon sets out to create a protagonist equally consummate in the art of revenge. Unlike Poe's story, which never really pushes the limits of naturalism, Weldon's pushes credibility and coincidence very far, coming out on the other side of naturalism into the realm of parable, or tall tale. The fascination of the work, as in Poe, lies in the depiction of Ruth's virtuosity in revenge. Weldon's satire in She Devil is, of course, largely directed at what Shakespeare's Falconbridge in King John calls "tickling commodity ...the bias of the world" (KJ 2,1, 573-4), but also, against Nature's shamelessly unjust distribution of her gifts such as beauty, wealth, wit.
However, in a recent article, Alan Wilde detects poststructural tensions that lead away from Krouse's neat system of closure, and, with reference mainly to Weldon's The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, he insists on a more open, unresolved discourse, arguing that tropes suggestive of temperance and moderation ultimately undercut our sympathies for the protagonist's extreme behaviour, outlined by the author in the spirit of "robust and aggressive feminism" (Wilde 404). He continues:
A consistently feminist reading of the She-Devil allows us to account for our sense of the novel's disarticulation in aesthetic rather than ideological terms. It permits us ...to suggest that Weldon has, perhaps inadvertently, led us too far down the garden path of false expectations in her effort to disguise the novel's ultimate aim of calling Ruth to account for her petty and (to recall Mr. Genghis's scathing adjective) 'trivial' goals ....We cannot applaud the immoderateness of Ruth's actions and share Weldon's distaste for the radical and the extreme .... [but] post-structuralism is obviously prepared to find far more to praise in the ragged evidence of irresolution than in the unity and stability of closure (416).
I agree generally with Wilde's thesis; that is, Weldon first, and more successfully, depicts Ruth as a feminist heroine, later as a misguided overreacher. But this reader, at least, suggests that perhaps he makes too much of the tensions within Weldon between the desire for excess and a respect for temperance. While it is true Weldon makes it clear that Ruth is an overreacher, and while it is true that Weldon equates her with Frankenstein and his monster, and with Satan; it is also clear that Weldon is of the she-devil's party all along, and what's more, she is fully aware of her preference, but mainly for aesthetic reasons. She does not seriously advocate arson, theft, and wholesale harrassment. The novel is, after all, a kind of picaresque tour de force, having much in common with A Clockwork Orange. Ruth is a study in revenge, described with gusto, just as Alex is a study in violence. That Weldon makes her protagonist susceptible to a conservative attack in the manner of C.S. Lewis on the ultimate futility of her diabolical extremism is beside the point. Part of Weldon is writing cathartically: "Take that, you dirty male bastards!" But more importantly, as an artist, she is obviously aware that, in the words of Aldous Huxley, "Benevolence is tepid; hatred, stinging hot and high-flavoured" ("Do We Require Orgies?" 474).
Wilde pointed to the irreconcilability between Weldon's conservative position regarding radical, extreme actions and her sympathy for aggressive feminism in 1988, before the publication of her tract Sacred Cows: A Portrait of Britain, Post-Rushdie, Pre-Utopia (1989) and Darcy's Utopia (1990). These works reveal certain traditionalist or conservative tendencies; for example, Eleanor Darcy speaks in Weldon's voice when she says Allow Milton to be better than Michael Jackson in absolute terms, not-just because that one's your cup of tea and that one's mine. The politeness of the cultured towards the uncultured, the hurt defiance of the latter to the former, compound one another. With misplaced kindness, the best of us refuse to discriminate against the worst. All things are equal, we say, and know we lie" (DU 56).
It does not follow that such an attitude vitiates the radical utopian reforms that are proposed in the novel-sometimes earnestly, sometimes humorously. If it could be argued that She-Devil is a kind of dystopian novel, wherein Ruth destroys the misguided Americanized consumerist utopia of Eden Grove only to insist on her rights to expropriate an even more materialistic version of the American edenic utopia, then certainly Darcy's Utopia is close to Tom Moylan's definition of a critical utopia, that is, a rejection of closed-ended "utopia as blueprint, while preserving it as dream" (Moylan 10). Whether Weldon seriously advocates the wholesale imposition-of the Darcys' blueprint for a secular, hedonistic, deregulated, hyperinflationary and ultimately moneyless society is not clear.
Indeed, at least twice characters draw attention to the difficulty of deciding whether Eleanor Darcy is joking or serious about some proposed reforms. In many ways, the aggressive utopian Eleanor Darcy resembles the reborn Ruth Patchett in her rational, unsentimental pursuit of reform at all cost. Abortion will be the rule, not the exception, with neighborhood councils ruling on whether a couple has the right to bring a foetus to term, and if their verdict is no, then "there can be no baby. Down the plughole with it, this little glob of potential life, this putative devourer of the world's resources" (D.U. 153). That Weldon is sincere in her desire for a woman's right to abortion is fairly clear, but one character later muses that the voice that suggests to Eleanor's utopian imagination a ten neighbour council with the power to decide whether a couple must abort or give birth to their baby solely on the grounds of their being deemed likely to be "worthy of a child's love" comes "from either the Devil or a God so rational as to be one and the same" (DU 268). The tone militates against an obviously ironic response to this rather draconian method of birth control: ...but the planet sinks beneath the weight of us, stinks because of the shit of us; if we don't do something we all go down together, gasping for air, for heaven's blessing. Governments do what they can: Time and again they fail. Let neighbours ...try and do better. Meeting their quota, their too-small-for comfort quota, always with generosity ...and compassion, understanding as a group what the individual woman knows by instinct, that this child, by existing, keeps that other child out (162).
Exactly what is "feminist" about the novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil ? First, Weldon concentrates the conflict in the novel between male subjectivity and female objectivity: woman as sex-object or drudge, the two approved gender roles within the phallocentric, patriarchal world of the novel, embodied in the Mary-Martha symbolism associated with the two main female characters: Ruth Patchett and Mary Fisher. Both Ruth's names are symbolically loaded: Ruth suggests pity, compassion, the virtue associated with what has been called the female "essence". Later, Ruth will become Ruth-less. The symbolism of Ruth's surname, Patchett suggests the domestic drudgery of the seamstress, "patch it", an association buttressed by a consideration of Ruth's convent school: St. Martha's (27). In the Gospel of Luke, Martha's sister Mary chooses to sit at Christ's feet and hear the Word, while Martha, "cumbered about much serving ...came to [the Lord] and said, "Lord dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me." The Lord responds, "...one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part..." (Luke 10:40-42).
Thus, two years before Atwood's coinage in The Handmaid's Tale of the term "Martha" to denote "female drudge", Weldon uses the same symbolic source to set up the binary opposition between Mary Fisher and Ruth Patchett: the former a tool of the patriarchy, concocting in her lavender pink romantic novels "sweet, sweet, sweet poison for the age's tooth". Wheeling the baby's pram in the park, Ruth takes comfort from "ice lollies and romance novels, amongst them, those by Mary Fisher" (32). The ironic juxtaposition of ice lollies and Mary Fisher novels serves the same purpose as does Vonnegutt's juxtaposing an ersatz ice cream product called "Tastee Freeze" and the saccharine "Desiderata" gift shop instant philosophy in Slaughterhouse 5. All four concoctions serve to reconcile the unenlightened to the unjust system and turn their attention away from possible criticism of a system of wholesale exploitation: for Weldon, the system exploits the housewife; for Vonnegutt, the American Everyman, Billy Pilgrim. For the early part of the novel, Ruth is unaware of her status as victim, or at least reconciled to her victimhood. Only until the male articulates the word "she-devil" does Ruth exchange Woolf's role of "angel of the house" for "she-devil". Nor is Ruth the only "Martha" in the novel. In fact Ruth assaults patriarchy by transforming the lives of various other Marthas in the novel, specifically Nurse Hopkins, whose thought process Ruth transforms away from a belief in the boring nature of business: Out there in the world, everything is possible and exciting. We can be different women: we can tap our own energies and the energies of women like us—women shut away in homes performing sometimes menial tasks, sometimes graceful women trapped by love and duty into lives they never meant, and driven by necessity into jobs they loathe ....We can get out there into the exciting world of business, of money and profit and loss, and help them too... (118).
While it can be argued that Ruth uses Nurse Hopkins primarily as an instrument in, her revenge plot, she nevertheless propels Hopkins into a better life. Her association with Ruth leads her to improved health, and greater personal happiness, effects shared by other women Ruth uses to forward her own ends. Women whose lives are significantly improved thanks to their dealings with Ruth are Vickie, Olga, Lady Bissop, and Elsie Flower, as well as numerous other clients of the Vesta Rose Agency.
Ironically, although Ruth has a positive catalytic effect on the aforementioned women and, certainly a beneficial effect on Mr. Tufton, and, it could be argued, on Father Ferguson, she becomes, as one critic puts it "literally and figuratively her own worst enemy" (Smith 255). For in her single-minded attempt to change her own nature she falls victim to what Craig Owen dubs "the narrative of mastery-seeking ...telos in the conquest of nature" (Owen in Creed 403) or what Adorno and Huxley concur is the dream of reason that produces monsters. She quite simply wills her own reification. She becomes Frankenstein's monster as well as the classic overreacher, who, not content with avenging herself on the shallow Bobbo and Mary by living well, insists on destroying or humiliating her erstwhile oppressors. Her insistence on appropriating Mary's High Tower Estate and recycled versions of Bobbo and Garcia conjures up images of Milton's Satan in the guise of cormorant sitting voyeuristically above Eden fantasizing over the destruction of Adam and the enjoyment of Eve. Like Satan, she adopts a policy of hate, and her High Tower becomes a reasonable facsimile of the Sadean castle of demonized rationality in Justine et Juliette, where like the demented monks, she will use the hapless denizens of her castle as sexual playthings. She allows herself to become a machine in order to dominate everyone who comes near her. In short, rather than reject the patriarchy that had heretofore oppressed her, she hoards capital in sufficient quantity to take her place at the top of the patriarchy. Rather than create a just alternative to the dominant patriarchy, she merely places herself at its head. The end result is â palace revolt with a continuance of the status quo, not a revolution.
Perhaps another feminist aspect of the novel is the discussion of essentialism which Ruth's two plastic surgeons inaugurate. Dr. Black worries about Ruth's makeover into a standardized pin-up type, one he fears is "rather ordinary " (219). Unfazed by the wholesale choppings and cuttings in Ruth's torso, he scruples that the same artificial assault on aging later manifested in the reconstructions to her sexual organs is perhaps "an interference with the essential self", to which Genghis responds, "There is no such thing as the essential self. It is all inessential, and all liable to change and flux, and usually the better for it" (219). Thus Genghis appears to oppose the long-standing argument for the maintenance of the status quo with respect to women as breeders and nurturers: maternity is in the female nature.
The misguided romanticism of animal rights zealot, Mrs. Black, comes in for attack as well. Quite prepared to spout a Hobbesean or Sadean view of human nature: "only man is vile" (223), she elevates the animal above the human, falling into the kind of error satirized by Gulliver in his lunatic preference for horses in Book IV of Gulliver's Travels. The bear that she frees from its cage later must be shot on sight by the police, having killed four dogs, mauled two children, and destroyed property worth a quarter of a million dollars" (226).
Mary Shelley's fear of humanity's Promethean pride, especially in his belief that nature can be controlled by science—human reason—is arguably a dominant theme in the novel, culminating in Mrs. Black's calling her husband Frankenstein (223). Dr. Black's partner, the Faustian overreacher Genghis later states that he hopes to be able to control the spark of life: "we're working on it. And the weather" (233). Indeed, the novel is framed by reference to the control of nature. Early in the novel, Ruth is the gardener of Eden Grove: "I like to control nature and make things beautiful" (13). In Ruth's end is her beginning. Admiring her controlled landscape from atop the High Tower, Ruth says, "Some people say I've ruined it, with artificial copses and granite-fountained fish ponds ...but I like it. Nature gets away with far too much. It needs controlling (240). Ruth's dream of reason has created a monster—she has become, rather too obviously, Frankenstein's monster. Ruth has learned that the world jumps to the devil's tune, not God's. Mary Fisher's insistence on romance, abiding love, and happy endings offends Ruth: "She pretends the world is not as it is, and passes the error on. She will not learn: she will not remember" (158). Like Edmund in King Lear, Ruth rages against the softness of the world. It is mere sentimentality to see the world as governed by anything other than the cash-nexus. Ultimately, the only thing needful is power: "I cause Bobbo as much misery as he ever caused me, and more. I try not to, but somehow it is not a matter of male or female after all; it never was, merely of power" (240).
What reader is not on Ruth's side as she early rails against the double standard she pillories in "The Litany of the Good Wife" and asserts her right to take part in the world denied housewives?: that other erotic world of choice, desire, and lust. It isn't love I want. It is nothing so simple. What I want is to take everything and return nothing. What I want is power over the hearts and pockets of men. It is all the power we can have, down here in Eden Grove, in paradise... (24).
The moment she realizes that the world is a mere mechanism of jarring atoms, a vast field of force, she decides to change things. It is little wonder that this victim of reification decides to fight back: her stepfather had usurped her very bedroom in order to make room for his model train set. Weldon's ironic justification of Ruth's reduction to the level of a mechanical toy sets up a major conflict in the story: She and the train could not safely share a room, because of her clumsiness and the delicacy and sensitivity of the equipment. One of them had to go, and Ruth was the easier to move. It can take months to adjust train tracks properly and permanently: a young woman can settle anywhere (27).
The ludicrous devaluing of the female person and the valorisation of time, efficiency, and mechanism is instructive. The victim of reification will fight back through reification. Like the homeopathic physician, Helena in Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well she will attempt to regain her husband by fighting evil with evil, practicing the Paracelsian formula: "Like cures like." Just as Helena uses deceit to entrap her man Bertram who had abandoned her for a Florentine virgin, so Ruth uses the sin of theft against the sin of adultery and betrayal. Helena's methods are similar to those of Ruth: Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to heaven. The fated sky Gives us free scope, only doth backward pull Our slow designs when we ourselves are dull. (I.i.216219).
Ruth vows not to be dull, but active; she announces her dynamism of desire, rejects the false reward of the knight in shining armour; instead, she will change herself: "I am invigorated. Self-knowledge and reason run through my veins: the cold slow blood of the she-devil" (56).
In short, Weldon satirizes the systematic reification discernible in the western world which has confused comfort with civilisation. The patriarchal capitalist system reduces not just housewives like Ruth to commodities, but also the aged, like Mrs. Fisher, the less productive salesman like Mr. Tufton, and the sincere cleric like Father Ferguson, who eventually pleases his superiors by acceding to the wishes of land developers who want to demolish his inner-city church, thereby increasing the church's wealth. As Ruth says on the first page of the novel, referring to Mary Fisher's wealth: "...wherever you go it is the same—to those who hath...shall be given, and to those who hath not ...even that which they have shall be taken away." As Eleanor Darcy says in Darcy's Utopia , "the problem lies with distribution, not production" (38). For Weldon, the fundamental inequity is economic, yet interestingly, she notes in a 1991 interview that "given economic equality, women are as likely to behave just as badly as men" (MacKay 86). Bobbo's mother, Brenda, tries whenever possible to live in hotels, not houses, literally giving the lie to Sir Thomas Browne's observation that "life is not an inn, but a hospital". Brenda and Angus are part of the wholesale system in the western world of exploitation. Brenda "liked things to be properly done so long as somebody else did it", especially domestic chores like ironing (15). She willingly brings in Ruth as au pair , overworking and underpaying her. Oblivious to her own exploitation, Brenda always prefers "a calm word and a quiet and pleasant thought for every occasion" (19).
Of course, the apologist for the American Way of Life is Mary Fisher, the purveyor of romantic novels that will reconcile the weak to the exploitive nature of the world. As Weldon describes "Romance Alley", the suburb of the "City of Invention", it is the realm of evasion, "a really pretty place. Everything is lavender-tinted, and the cottages have roses round the door, and knights ride by in shining armour, and amazingly beautiful couples stroll by under the blossoming trees, though he, perhaps has a slightly cruel mouth, and she, a tendency to swoon" (Letters to Alice 25). It would, however, be inconsistent with the tenor of the novel to insist on inflating the character of Mary Fisher to the status of a quasi-tragic character, who, through suffering, develops a soul. The novel is not a tragedy; it is a satire, a blunderbuss blast against exploitation, especially that of the patriarchy towards women and the aged. Ruth is the Promethean, Dionysian, Will-to-Power, who in contrast to the constructor of evasive lavender-tinted escape fantasies, struggles against the environment, rather than submit to it. Yet she falls far short, clearly, of the Nietzschean Superman, "who will not use power to do violence to and exploit the weak" (Fuller 447). If Nietzsche can in any way be seriously invoked in an analysis of Weldon, perhaps Alan Megill's reference to the two kinds of nihilism Nietzsche discusses can be helpful: On the one hand, there is a nihilism that fails to respond to what Nietzsche sees as the opportunity offered by the world's nullity. This nihilism views the devaluation of all present values as oppressive and burdensome. We look upon the void, we shudder, we draw back. We try to dull the reality of crisis, pretending that nothing has happened, that the world is still turning on its axis ....we adopt a passive and anaesthetic attitude. On the other hand, there is an active aesthetic nihilism ...the appropriate attitude for modern and postmodern existence. Instead of drawing back from the void, we dance upon it. Instead of lamenting the absence of a world suited to our being, we invent one. We become the artists of our own existence, untrammeled by natural constraints and limitations. It is this that Nietzsche has in mind when ...he declares that 'the most extreme form of nihilism' is the view that there is 'no true world,' and hence that everything is a 'perspectival appearance whose origin lies in us" (Megill 34).
Both Ruth and Eleanor Darcy embody the more celebratory second form of nihilism; both react to the empty materialism and exploitiveness of the utopian American Dream. Yet by refusing to do anything more than appropriate the nullity of the lavender-tinted high tower which had formerly belonged to Mary, and turning it into a facsimile of the Sadean pleasure palace, Ruth incarcerates herself, her victory merely pyrrhic. Her artificial body is at once a masochistic source of pain with every step she takes, and of sadistic pleasure with every male she entices. She remains a sketch for the more fully triumphant Eleanor Darcy.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the protagonist of this critical utopia first rejects her working class roots and her identity as Apricot Smith, reinvents herself as Ellen Parkin, and later emerges as E. Darcy, the married name of Elizabeth Bennet, protagonist of the Austen novel so esteemed by Weldon. Perhaps it is not overly fanciful to suggest that Weldon depicts her own dialectic of female emancipation. Relative to the Mary Fisher thesis (a complicit fisher of men for the American Dream), Ruth is clearly the antithesis (Satanic, self-created, and ultimately negative). The synthesis emerges with Eleanor Darcy, who can truly be seen to embody what Megill calls the "appropriate attitude for modern and postmodern existence." Eleanor Darcy embodies the Nietzschean liberationist principle that insists there is no true world, only the perspectival appearance whose origin lies in us. If Nietzsche and Sade are the avatars of Ruth's high tower, phallic utopia which she decides to conquer but not change, then Nietzsche and Marcuse are the progenitors of Eleanor Darcy's utopia. In Eros and Civilization, Marcuse quotes Nietzsche: "The true mode of freedom is not the incessant activity of conquest, but its coming to rest in the transparent knowledge and gratification of being" (115). Ruth incarcerates herself in the incessant activity of conquest, whereas Eleanor Darcy attains to what Marcuse calls "polymorphous sexuality" (xv). Like Ruth, there is a whiff of the pit about her, but unlike Ruth, she is on the side of life and progress. She could be said to embody the characteristics Derrida attributes to "woman". She "disrupts the metaphysics, logic, and concepts of phallocentric culture. Out of the depths, endless and unfathomable, she engulfs and distorts all vestiges of essentiality, of identity, or property." (Derrida in Flax 421). In her advocacy of frequent name changes, and her actual adoption of new personae (working class Apricot Smith, middle-class Ellen Parkin, power-wielding Eleanor Darcy, and, as the novel concludes, Alison, who inspires Hugo Vansitart in the new religion of Darcian Monetarism), Eleanor attacks identity. With an "androgynous face", a lack of interest in children, aggressive sexuality, she breaks away from the nurturer mould into which her friend Brenda becomes entrapped. Her advocacy of hyperinflation and free distribution of goods attacks the profit-motive.
Indeed, Eleanor becomes "the other ...the unthinkable, mystical, Dionysian force outside or beyond time....the Real, the disorder men have sought to both subdue and possess in the course of constructing rationality, truth, and culture" (Derrida, in Flax 424). In short, unlike Ruth Patchett, Eleanor Darcy deconstructs the dominant ideology of late capitalism by pointing the way to utopia. When her grandiose social experiment suffers a setback, she does not hesitate to invent a scenario that sends her aging husband Julian to jail, freeing her to entertain her new, young lover and latest convert to Darcian Monetarism, Pastor Hugo Vansitart, in the back seat of a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. Her latest creation is the Darcian Church.
The reader last glimpses the protean protagonist of Darcy's Utopia, Apricot Smith-Ellen Parkin-Eleanor Darcy, ensuring the worldly success of her latest incarnation—Alison the Entrepreneur—by legitimizing her new business with the trappings of religion, the growth industry which enjoys, second only to war, the full tax protection of the capitalist system.
Following the lead of the crooked millionaire faith-healer Ernie Rowse, she founds the sixteenth flourishing chapel of her new religion-business in the precincts of her working-class childhood, Mafeking Street. Her new unit of church real-estate echoes with the sounds of an updated Fabian hymn, "Earth Shall be Fair and All Men Glad and Wise". Significantly, Hugo, and many of the faithful, sport crimson cravats, suggestive of the de rigueur red trousers in Mellors' Reichian-Marcusean arcadian utopia outlined in chapter fifteen of Lady Chatterley's Lover.
Never hesitant to further her goals, Eleanor Darcy, in her latest incarnation as Alison, prophet of Darcian Monetarism and matriarch of the Darcian Church, sets about subverting the capitalist patriarchy by preaching a doctrine whose object is the creation of a Marxist, Marcusean society of plenty. She extends the boundaries of her utopian battleground from the exclusively secular marketplace by co-opting the temple. Ironically, then, her subversion will benefit from the protection of the very regimes that this least sombre of religions intends to bring down (DU 267).
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