Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

by

Fay Weldon

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Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen: Letter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fay writes another letter from Canberra in January, this time to her sister Enid instead of Alice. She notes that she will be leaving for London the next day and assures Enid that she is not encouraging Alice to write a novel but only helping her understand Jane Austen.
By including one letter to her sister Enid, with whom she has a fraught relationship, Fay gives readers a living example of the way that a writer’s personal context can interact with and affect her work.
Themes
The Influence of History Theme Icon
Fay asks Enid if she remembers when their mother found a copy of a novel Fay wrote and burned it because it seemed “indecent and likely to corrupt.” She then tells her sister that she hopes they can reconcile, despite Enid’s fears that Alice will begin writing fiction, in particular about Enid and her husband, Edward.
By expressing her hope that her correspondence with Alice may lead to a reconciliation with Enid, Fay reinforces the idea that the written word can have profoundly positive effects on real-life. At the same time, Enid’s fear of Alice’s fiction shows how crucial a receptive reader is to this process of creation.
Themes
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Fay insists that Enid is not the model for a character in one of her own novels, even though the character’s habit of making bread rolls for her husband mirrors what Enid does for Edward. Fay draws a distinction between the real-life incident and the fictional character, telling Enid that she cannot claim the character even if the incident is hers.
Here, the overlap of fiction and reality that develops over the course of the book is depicted with particular clarity. Even in trying to separate her fiction from Enid’s reality, Fay admits to commonalities between the two, making it difficult to clearly define where reality ends and fiction begins. Though Enid finds it difficult to accept this, Fay implies again that creating this kind of blurred truth is a core function of fiction.
Themes
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
Using an example from Jane Austen’s Emma, Fay argues that fictional characters drawn directly from real life tend to be less interesting and portrayed less kindly than “properly invented characters.” Fay claims that she would never be comfortable borrowing a character from real life, although she worries about the fact that Enid nonetheless sees herself in Fay’s work.
Describing her discomfort with characters that seem to be drawn directly from life, Fay indicates that in order to interact productively with the real world, fiction cannot simply recreate reality. Rather, it must incorporate some aspects of reality while altering and inventing others. Only in this way, Fay implies, can literature produce change in its readers and in the world more generally.
Themes
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
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Fay concludes by asking Enid to send love to Edward, whom Fay hopes will forgive her for using the couple’s bread rolls in her fiction. She also notes that when she sent Alice 500 pounds, she only wanted to pay her gambling debts, not upset the couple’s marriage.
At the letter’s conclusion, Fay again acknowledges the relationship between fiction and reality, while still maintaining that it is necessary and appropriate. The specter of Edward’s disapproval also hangs over Fay and Enid’s relationship, a reminder of the patriarchal pressures that continue to judge women’s writing.
Themes
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