LONDON — British author Fay Weldon, known for her sharp wit and acerbic observations about women’s experiences and sexual politics in novels including “The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil,” has died, her family said Wednesday. She was 91.
Weldon was a playwright, screenwriter and a prolific novelist, producing 30 novels as well as short stories and plays written for television, radio and the stage. She was one of the writers on the popular 1970s drama series “Upstairs, Downstairs,” receiving an award from the Writers Guild of America for the show’s first episode.
“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Fay Weldon (CBE), author, essayist and playwright. She died peacefully this morning January 4, 2023,” her family said in a statement released by her agent.
Much of Weldon’s fiction explored issues surrounding women’s relationships with men, children, parents and each other, including the 1971 “Down Among The Women” and “Female Friends,” published in 1975.
“I wouldn’t say my books were criticisms … I would say they were observations,” she once told The Associated Press in an interview. “Women have a terrible time, they go on having a terrible time. Women who don’t have a terrible time are young, attractive, intelligent and don’t have children.”
“The Life and Loves Of a She-Devil” was the story of an ugly woman who alters her body and her life to seek revenge on a philandering husband. It was adapted into a TV series as well as a film starring Meryl Streep.
Her 1978 novel, “Praxis,” was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction.
Weldon’s books were often feminist, but she was also known for controversial comments about feminism later in life. In 1998 she came under fire for her assertion in an interview with the Radio Times magazine that rape ″isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a woman if you’re safe, alive and unmarked afterwards.” She said her comments were misinterpreted.
Born in England in September 1931, Weldon was brought up in New Zealand and returned to the U.K. as a child. She studied economics and psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and worked briefly for the Foreign Office in London and as a journalist before moving on to be an advertising copywriter.
She published her first novel, “The Fat Woman’s Joke,” in 1967. In 2002, at age 70, she published her memoir, titled “Auto Da Fay.” The narrative described what she called her “mildly scandalous life until my mid-thirties” and concluded in 1963, just as Weldon’s career as a novelist began.
“The sad truth is, my theory goes, that no-one is much interested in what happens to women after they turn 35. Which is the age at which I stopped Auto da Fay: the age I stopped living and started writing instead, as a serious person,” she wrote on her website.
Weldon was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to literature in 2001.