Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

by

Fay Weldon

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Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen: Letter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Again writing from London, this time in May, Fay tells Alice about her travels to Denmark for a publishing tour. Her description takes the form of the beginning of a short story that she composed on the trip. The story is presented as a guide for authors to the etiquette of publishing tours, and she promises to give Alice 50 pounds if she can guess why Fay did not finish the story.
By presenting information about her trip as a guide for female authors, Fay points again to the way that writing can serve as a means of bonding and communication for women. Additionally, she highlights how global the reach of contemporary authors is, hinting again at writers’ power to shape large-scale historical trends.
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The protagonist of Fay’s story is a woman named Grace D’Albier, who has written a popular first novel about incest. Grace is frustrated by constantly having to explain that her novel is not autobiographical but rather completely fictional. Grace’s parents understand that the story isn’t true, “but their friends can’t,” which strains the relationship between Grace and her parents. Even Grace’s own children view her skeptically because of the book.
Grace’s story serves as an exaggerated version of Fay’s own experience with Enid and the bread rolls. Where Fay’s trouble with Enid is more annoying than destructive, Grace’s novel intrudes on her life to an almost comedic extent, providing a dramatization of both the blurry lines between fact and fiction and the outsize power of novels to change things in the real-world.
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Grace also wonders how she ended up becoming a performer when she only wanted to be a writer. Although she recognizes that she is lucky to travel the world in comfort, she is uncomfortable addressing large crowds and being constantly surrounded by people. Grace describes the oppressive need to be polite in all circumstances, and finally admits that her own husband left her when her book was published.
Grace’s story is also an extreme illustration of the burdens that being an author places on writers, which Fay has previously discussed in less immediate terms. For Grace, these burdens seem to be exacerbated by the expectations placed on her as a woman, which leave her uncomfortable addressing crowds and unable to meet even her own husband’s harsh expectations.
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Fay tells Alice that she stopped the story at that point and again challenges her to figure out why. She refers to a comment in a letter from Alice about feeling smothered by literature classes and tells Alice how apt her description is. Fay acknowledges the frequent inanity of literary criticism, noting that finding fault with literature is often pointless because “a writer writes opaquely to keep some readers out, let others in.” Any given book is not, Fay argues, designed for every reader.
Here, Fay acknowledges the author’s prerogative to tailor her writing to some readers more than others. In doing so, she adds nuance to her ideas about the reader’s role as well, suggesting that it is in part the reader’s job to understand and accept when a book is not suited for them.
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Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen PDF
Fay concludes by telling Alice to continue with her classes anyway, noting that her studies may become more interesting even if they bore her today. She also recommends that Alice continue with her own novel, “to counteract the danger of too much analysis.” Finally, Fay tells Alice that many people say Jane Austen made only 700 pounds during her lifetime from writing, though Fay’s own calculations indicate that the correct number might actually be 860.
By urging Alice to continue her own novel as a way to make her studies more interesting, Fay again casts reading and writing as reciprocal processes that work together to make a meaningful whole. She does not analyze the meaning behind, Jane Austen’s relatively low income, but with it she seems to suggest that Alice should focus on the creative and intellectual rewards of writing rather than expecting to make money from it.
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