Go To Work On This Book
Fay Weldon's punningly titled Auto Da Fay is an exceptionally fine autobiography. I do hope she writes a second volume that covers her life after she became famous.
I often skip the early chapters of autobiographies because it's the subject I'm interested in, not their great-grandfather and his passion for trout fishing. In this case I didn't, because Fay Weldon's account of her early life in New Zealand is fascinating and because some of her family mixed with that rather odd collection of early 20th century intellectuals that included H.G.Wells and Bernard Shaw.
The combination of sexual libertarianism and hypocrisy manifested by some of those people is breathtaking. They believed in the 'Life Force' which actually meant shagging like there was no tomorrow. H.G. Wells was thrown out of the Fabian Society for sleeping with so many of the other members' daughters. But this freedom did not extend to their wives who were expected to take illegitimate children into the family and bring them up as their own.
It reminds me of that oft-quoted remote tribe, one of whose rites of passage was for the teenage boys to perform oral sex on the men. The social anthropologists who recorded this made no value judgements. But many others have pointed out that male-dominated societies have a remarkable knack of dreaming up belief systems that just happen to give the men the maximum amount of sexual pleasure.
Weldon says that Bernard Shaw never slept with his wife, though whether he slept with other people's isn't stated. I've read elsewhere that Baden-Powell on his honeymoon slept alone in a sleeping bag on the hotel balcony. However, since he had children, he must have forced himself to do the deed at some point. Closed his eyes and thought of woggles, I shouldn't wonder.
Someone else who never slept with his wife was Fay Weldon's first husband. She married him for purely mercenary reasons because she was a single mother with no means of support. He was a respectable headmaster and pillar of the local masons. It's possible the poor man was put off sex as a child because his mother tied his hands together every night for six months after she caught him masturbating.
In this section of the book, Weldon switches to the third person to distance herself from the completely alien person that she became for a brief period of her life. It provides a fascinating, alternative perspective on respectable, middle class domestic life in the 1950s, in the same way that Joe Orton's Diaries give an alternative take on life in the sixties.
Weldon's husband at one point suggested that some of his friends could be invited round to attend to her sexual needs but she declined this offer. He also enthusiastically encouraged her in her plan to become a nightclub hostess and she duly went to work in a clip joint off Piccadilly. But she upset her co-workers by having sex for free instead of charging the clients.
In her later career as an advertising copywriter, Weldon is famous for her slogan 'Go To Work On An Egg.' Simple and memorable, it's a classic of the craft. And unlike many of today's examples the double meaning is instantly grasped and free of any obscure or sexual references.
But her proposal for a Smirnoff vodka campaign, that it 'makes you drunk faster', was a little too honest and never used.
Beautifully written, the book records a rather unconventional, disjointed life with unflinching honesty and her essential goodness and intelligence shines through every paragraph. If I followed the silly practice of the arts supplements in awarding stars, I'd unhesitatingly give it five.