Change and Writing: Arts and Letters Report July 2015

By Jennifer Ann DAVIES

NCWQ Arts and Letters Adviser


Change! …perhaps it is, after all, the only ‘constant’ that IS, in an obviously ‘ever-changing’ world! One contemplates, however, the nature of such ‘change’ and the imprint such ‘change’ may leave on the indelibility of human history! One hopes, thusly, for constructive ‘change’ – and prays to leave the destructive to oblivion! Jennifer Ann Davies: Book Six: ‘R’ is for Reverence’ (in progress).

Bittersweet, funny, cynical, at times shocking! Tender, trusting, willing….. – “An all-woman cast whose tales of male betrayal, sexual shenanigans and Machiavellian mayhem sparkle with empathy and insight…” Daily Mail

As I waited for my French class at University recently, I spotted two novels on the library shelves, written by Fay WELDON! Delighted, I brought both home with me and was as captivated and impressed as ever, though I had not read this wonderful author for some time. “The Spa Decameron” is, indeed, vintage Weldon – intimate, gossipy and irreverent – You will laugh out aloud and look for more! This entertaining novel is truly “…effortlessly fluid…immensely entertaining…” The Times – yet it is not without the incisive insightfulness, political literacy and bold honesty for which one reveres this Woman Author!

Fay Weldon was born in England and raised in New Zealand; educated in Economics and Psychology in Scotland and is a well-known novelist, screenwriter and cultural journalist. This latter term is not one we conventionally use in Australia, yet is an interesting role, is it not? Because Weldon boldly and bravely writes on issues relevant to us today, which have been strongly influenced by the ideas, decisions and changes of yesterday, she should be alive and well in all our bookshelves, I believe!

The second book I read, is a collection of Essays. “Godless in Eden” clearly articulates the ‘great sea change’ in how we see ourselves! Short essays are written about millions of people who, in fact, are in profound culture shock, after the second ‘wave’ of feminism, which determined how we live now – some not even realising how we lived THEN!!!!

The essays are short….succinct…..searing……

There is no flippancy!! – some of the writing, however, is heavy with irony…..

“Crime, drugs, the break-up of the family, the abandonment of children, the loneliness of the individual, the alienation of the young, the pause button so often on the sadistic act of violence on the TV; are all features of today’s ‘peaceful caring society’…..and perhaps they are inevitable. Jung would talk about a process called enantiodromia, when all the currents of belief that have been running one way suddenly turn and run the other…” p12/2000 ed.

Of particular interest, in a relational context with CHANGE, is an essay: ‘The Feminisation of Politics’, in which looms the fact that, back in the seventies, feminists argues that the personal should become political! ….and so it did!

It is not difficult to see that as time and that process rolled on, the political, in its turn (enantiodromia), became personal!

Even political representatives, elected and otherwise, used this change to present themselves as ‘female’, using the language of compassion, forgiveness, apology, understanding and nurturing – qualities conventionally attributed to women!!

Somehow, then, what had conventionally been seen as the old male values – gravitas, responsibility, self-discipline, the Protestant work-ethic, stiff upper-lippedness and the appeal to reason and intellect, vanished in the sudden wind of gender change!……new ideas….new language….society was changed forever …and was fraught with Asian flu – economic confusion – the infectious mechanics of cultural change, and converging dynamics of religion, politics and feminism…..

Weldon concludes this small book of socio-cultural essays with a short essay: “Letter to an Unborn Grandchild” – provoked by a fax – an ultrasonic scan of an unborn grandchild in the womb…..Weldon’s son’s unborn child…..

“Wherever you look in your family history you will find the demimonde: musicians, painters, sculptors, writers, poets, film-makers….politicians. There is without a doubt a restless tendency in the family, especially in the women. My grandmother, born in 1878, would tell me of her grandmother, Mary Frances, born in 1841, a sculptress, who left her husband and earned her living writing poems……p.262.

Between us we have made a world for you in which it is more difficult for men to be villainous that it used to be. Alas, you are (also) expected to earn your own living……..Today’s child is superbly confident….

I do not want you to be a feminist, if by feminist is meant a woman who derides and despises men, in the same way as it was once customary for men to deride and despise women. I want you to be a feminist in the sense that you see yourself as a person first and of a certain gender second; I want you to live in a world in which this is possible. I want you to have children and make me a great grandmother, no matter how much I know rationally that these days, in the professional classes, it’s sheer folly for a girl to have babies. I am glad your mother had sense enough to disregard all sensible advice, so now you lie sucking your thumb………declaring your unborn presence amongst us!

….whilst many saw women as the salvage team of the universe, I hope you will leave the world a better place….but don’t be too earnest about it! I hope you will be able to make others laugh: and that the rooms light up when you come into them…..that you solve the Great Universal Mystery and the Great Universal Paradox – excel in Economics and Science and love the bright, dangerous life of the world! May you grow up to create the fine, new, exultant Garden of Eden of our dreams. I’ll swear we’re nearly there.”

I have, cheekily, taken some liberties in the segments I have written into this report – and it is much longer than my usual ‘quotes’ – however, I have found this Woman Writer’s cultural insights some of the most honest, deeply investigated and positively articulated, so one can believe in the simple value of Weldon’s words and their genuine relevance to our society of today!


…and while women may be looking to solve the Great Universal Mystery and the Great Universal Paradox, one notes male authors who are positioning Women as strong, brave, colourful major characters – in fiction – transmitting ‘universal’ facts and dressing characters in robes of fictional fabric ! – !

Whilst thematically, some such novels and texts are timeworn, they are, again, of genuine relevance to our society of today!

“…When we cannot farm or fish or drink our water – THAT is genocide. When more (people) are dying than are born, and those who survive infancy can find no work – THAT is genocide. When we are riddled with diseases but have no electricity for hospitals – THAT is genocide.

…That is what oil has done….   The same oil that runs the factories, heats the homes, and fills the gas tanks of…..(Australians) ..Americans, Europeans and our new exploiters, the Chinese…..

…oil blackens everything it touches. It fouls the hands of the ruling class that misappropriates its profits. It stains the ambitions of the young, who in their desperation will pick up a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner to grab a pitiful share of the riches. It elevates the powerful and drowns the weak…..and it degrades the characters of people, unleashing greed, envy, dishonesty, and corruption…”

AND SO, THE AMERICAN CRIME WRITER, Richard North PATTERSON introduces, early in his novel ‘ECLIPSE’, brave, energetic, beautiful Woman, who is bold enough to tell her story, in writing….

Patterson does two interesting things in this Macmillan-published novel – 1. He celebrates Woman as a stunningly interesting main character – 2. He celebrates Woman as a stunningly interesting WRITER!! ……an unusual blend….… “he was here for the writing….he listened to her story as closely as she.p.26

Its surface was nearly flawless. She wrote with a jeweller’s eye – each word precisely chosen, each sentence polished, their rhythms varied to add energy and avoid the soporific effect of sentence upon sentence with too many clauses and commas……..the story was….deeply personal and yet oddly abstract.” An interesting read. More on the Arts post Europe!

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