Comparative Study: Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice

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Analyse how the central values portrayed in Pride and Prejudice are creatively reshaped in Letters to Alice.

The two texts, Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice, mirror and contrast the central values shared and explored by evaluating them; presenting them against Jane Austen's context and that of Fay Weldon. Mirroring Austen's novel, Weldon presents the central values for women such as the social values of moral behaviour, independence, and, literary values of reading and writing, from Pride and Prejudice and adapts them to a 20th Century context. Weldon's novel's subtitle, On First Reading Jane Austen, suggests that the novel should serve as a filter to assist readers. The implication of this is that Weldon enables her readers to identify more fully the significance of Jane Austen as a writer, and, the significance of Pride and Prejudice as a piece of literature, exploring the ongoing relevance of its values concerning women.

The aspirations and expectations of women are explored wherein the contexts of Letters to Alice and Pride and Prejudice present women in different circumstances with varying opportunities. The changes of context between these two texts alter the situations of women and their predominant values.

For example, Weldon attempts to reshape the audience's perception of Mrs Bennet and her frantic obsession with marrying off her daughters. Jane Austen expresses a somewhat satirical tone when writing of Mrs Bennet, by using hyperbolic statements such as the constant reference to, "My poor nerves!" Although Weldon attempts to reshape the perception of the social value of marriage by sympathising with Mrs Bennett; "No wonder... [she was] driven half mad," after listing the gender injustices and the importance of marriage in the 18th century context; Aunt Fay's judgements aren't entirely reliable due to her common contradictory statements. Instead, Letters to Alice provokes readers to evaluate Mrs Bennett and her daughters' situations. Jane Austen was aware of the necessity for marriage in female lives and therefore satirises, not the hierarchy structure of classes and social status, but rather the individual behaviours present in society. Mrs Bennet is a clear example of this whereby her hysteria hints at contextual obsessions with wealth.

The significance of reading and writing to Fay Weldon is apparent in Letters to Alice, where Weldon attempts to convey the significance of women as writers, commonly referring back to Jane Austen, and the comparisons between reading and writing and Pride and Prejudice. Writing is a major focus of Weldon who directs Alice in her pursuit of writing. For instance, when she talks to Alice about plots, she uses Pride and Prejudice as an example, commenting that even the plot of that novel would sound poor when explained "in a nutshell." Such comments from Weldon lead the readers to peer more closely at the components of Pride and Prejudice. Weldon similarly idealises writing by sharing with Alice the significance of Austen as a female writer in her time. Weldon's assessment of 18th century social pressures reshapes the readers' assumption that Elizabeth's individual desires and adoption of female independence was relative to her context, and instead suggests Austen's constructions reflect an underlying yearning to be liberated. This is evident through Weldon's comment that, "The times in which writers live are important. The writer must write out of tradition - if only to break from it." The importance of reading is a value that Weldon equally incorporates in Letters to Alice where she continually stresses to Alice that "you must read!" Additionally, Aunty Fay frequently includes lists of writers, such as Virginia Wolf, she suggests as reading material for her niece, embodying the importance of reading she aligns with a successful writer. Weldon adjusts the educational value of reading from Pride and Prejudice, to articulate it's continual...
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