Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

by

Fay Weldon

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The City of Invention Symbol Analysis

The City of Invention Symbol Icon

The City of Invention, a metaphorical place that Fay invents to show Alice the richness and excitement of reading fiction, represents the infinite realities that fiction makes possible. Fay tells Alice that all authors are architects creating houses in the City of Invention, and that readers are the visitors who arrive to explore the vast and varied city. Each neighborhood represents a different genre, and critics serve as tour guides and bus drivers. According to Fay, all novels are part of the City of Invention, even though the houses vary enormously and some may turn out to last longer or be more enjoyable to visitors. Fay also argues that cause and effect are clearer and more rational in the City than in real life, and that visiting it allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of morality and meaning than they can anywhere else.

The City of Invention Quotes in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

The Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen quotes below all refer to the symbol of The City of Invention. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Carroll & Graf edition of Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen published in 1984.
Letter 1  Quotes

Here in this City of Invention, the readers come and go, by general invitation, sauntering down its leafy avenue, scurrying through its horrider slums, waving to each other across the centuries, up and down the arches of the years. When I say ‘the arches of the years’ it may well sound strange to you. But I know what I’m doing: it is you who are at fault.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice
Related Symbols: The City of Invention
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Some build because they need to, have to, live to, or believe they are appointed to, others to prove a point or to change the world. But to build at all requires courage, persistence, faith and a surplus of imagination. A writer’s all, Alice, is not taken up by the real world. There is something left over: enough for them to build these alternative, finite realities.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice
Related Symbols: The City of Invention
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:
Letter 5 Quotes

Fiction, on the whole, and if it is any good, tends to be a subversive element in society. Elizabeth Bennet, that wayward, capricious girl, listening to the beat of feeling, rather than the pulsing urge for survival, paying attention to the subtle demands of human dignity rather than the cruder ones of established convention, must have quite upset a number of her readers, changed their minds, and with their minds, their lives, the society they lived in: prodding it quicker and faster along the slow, difficult road that has led us out of barbarity into civilization.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice, Jane Austen
Related Symbols: The City of Invention
Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:
Letter 7 Quotes

I am trying to explain that writing must be in some way a shared experience between reader and writer: the House of Imagination built with doors for guests to enter in, and pegs for their coats, and windows for them to look out of: it is no use being a recluse. You will die of hypothermia and malnutrition if you live alone in your house, however beautifully constructed it is. It must be a welcoming place, or exciting, if dangerous, or educative, if unpleasant, or intensely pleasurable.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice, Jane Austen
Related Symbols: The City of Invention
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:
Letter 8 Quotes

As if it were decreed that your mother Enid should put bread rolls to rise every night for your father Edward’s breakfast, in order that a certain paragraph in a certain novel should be written. As if the City of Invention, little by little, using a chapter here, a paragraph there, is waking from its slumber and will eventually be more real than life itself, and we its servants, its outrunners.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice, Enid, Edward
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:
Letter 9 Quotes

All over the country irons were held in suspension, and car exhaust bandages held motionless and lady gardeners stayed their gardening gloves, and cars slowed, as Emma spoke, as that other world intruded into this. It does more and more, you know. We join each other in shared fantasies, it is our way of crossing barriers, when our rulers won’t let us. ET and his like is our real communication. Hand in hand the human race abandons the shoddy, imperfect structures of reality, and surges over to the City of Invention.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice, Jane Austen
Related Symbols: The City of Invention
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Letter 11 Quotes

Journalists, in particular, who work so cleverly from the real world, understand description, but not invention. It is not surprising. They lose their jobs if they do invent—novelists get sued if they don’t invent. So I, Grace, D’Albier, must go round the world, stared at as a victim of paternal and maternal incest: and though my parents still speak to me, they do so in a rather stiff way. They can comprehend that I made it up, but their friends can’t.

Related Characters: Grace D’Albier (speaker), Aunt Fay, Enid
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:
Letter 16 Quotes

Sometimes, I think, the exhilaration of all this being so great—of ideas, notions, fantasies, speculations, claims false and valid, advice good or bad, the pattern made by altering truth as day melts into day, is great enough to make us immortal. These things have been, and so in a sense always will be: they are not finite in time. Only our bodies are that. Let them blow us all up if they want, reduce the planet to ashes (as they say)—the leap between nothing and something, once made, is always made.

Related Characters: Aunt Fay (speaker), Alice, Jane Austen
Related Symbols: The City of Invention
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
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The City of Invention Symbol Timeline in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen

The timeline below shows where the symbol The City of Invention appears in Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Letter 1 
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
...not by what it is.” To illustrate this point, Fay explains what she calls the City of Invention . In this glorious city, Fay writes, authors build Houses of the Imagination and readers... (full context)
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
Describing the City of Invention in great detail, Fay introduces Alice to its various neighborhoods and landmarks. She also digresses... (full context)
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
Feminism Theme Icon
Fay points out the house that Jane Austen built in the City of Invention and suggests that Austen’s works constitute a second life for the novelist, one that extends... (full context)
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
...give examples of the kinds of houses and neighborhoods that Alice might find in the City of Invention . She notes that some districts are more respectable, some more dangerous, some more popular... (full context)
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
Feminism Theme Icon
...not write a novel until she has gained more life experience and thoroughly explored the City of Invention . (full context)
Letter 2 
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
Feminism Theme Icon
...hide these dark realities, which Fay takes as an example of the power of the City of Invention . Austen would not have considered her society particularly bad, Fay argues, and so it... (full context)
Letter 4
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
...died in 1817 of Addison’s disease. Her books, Fay points out, live on in the City of Invention . (full context)
Letter 5
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
...to pay similar attention to audience in her own writing, and to remember that the City of Invention should both change and comfort its visitors. (full context)
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
...that readers “want and need to be told how to live,” noting that in the City of Invention , events are never due to chance but instead depend on the good and evil... (full context)
Letter 7
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
...plot, in particular admiring the way the opening sentences draw the reader immediately into the City of Invention . She likens Emma to an inviting, welcoming house full of touches that make the... (full context)
Letter 8
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
Feminism Theme Icon
...ways to delay finishing, due to the terrifying responsibility of building a house in the City of Invention . The presence of the house, Fay says, will change Alice’s life in unpredictable ways,... (full context)
Letter 9
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
...at the same time, Fay tells Alice that this kind of “shared fantasy” in the City of Invention is one of the most extraordinary forms of human connection. (full context)
Letter 10
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
Feminism Theme Icon
...regard?” Fay takes the passage as evidence of Austen’s regard for the magic of the City of Invention . (full context)
Letter 13
The Author and the Reader Theme Icon
...tells Alice that she views literary critics as bus drivers and tour guides within the City of Invention . They have their role but should not dictate everything within the City. Fay recommends... (full context)
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
...her writing, but to follow her own instincts as she builds her house in the City of Invention . (full context)
Letter 14
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
...that she might have welcomed an earlier death in order to live fully in the City of Invention . She tells Alice that while thinking of Austen’s death is unpleasant, death should be... (full context)
Letter 16
The Purpose of Fiction Theme Icon
The Influence of History Theme Icon
...celebrates the longevity of works like Jane Austen’s Emma and states her belief that the City of Invention will exist even if the rest of the world is destroyed. (full context)