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Novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Fay Weldon was born in England, brought up in New Zealand, and returned to the United Kingdom when she was fifteen. She studied economics and psychology at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. She worked briefly for the Foreign Office in London, then as a journalist, and then as an advertising copywriter. She later gave up her career in advertising, and began to write fulltime. Her first novel, The Fat Woman’s Joke, was published in 1967. She was chair of the judges for the Booker Prize for fiction in 1983, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews in 1990. In 2001, she was named a Commander of the British Empire. Weldon’s work includes more than twenty novels, five collections of short stories, several children’s books, nonfiction books, magazine articles, and a number of plays written for television, radio, and the stage, including the pilot episode for the television series Upstairs Downstairs. She-Devil, the film adaption of her 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, starred Meryl Streep in a Golden Globe–winning role.
Eleanor Darcy is interviewed by Hugo Vansitart
A: Well now, you ask, what is this thing called love? To give you a simple answer—love is enough to make you believe in God. It is the evidence you need which proves the benign nature of the universe. Love heightens your perceptions: it makes the air you breathe beautiful. It lets you know you are alive. It makes the news on the radio irrelevant; it turns the television into flickers. Love places you in the very centre of the universe; the knowledge that in your lover's eyes you replace God can only be gratifying. It makes you immortal: love, after all, being forever. It makes you vulnerable as a kitten in case you're wrong, in case love is not forever. One booted kick from the real world, you fear, and splat will go the kitten's head against the wall, and that's you finished. Yet fate weaves its heady patterns all around, good luck attends you, nobody boots you. That's what I mean by love.
In Darcy's Utopia all men will believe in God and all men will be capable of love.
Q: By men, do you mean women too?
The journalist did his best to be cautious in his questions, friendly in his manner. Public interest in Darcian Monetarism remained lively, although Professor Darcy was now perforce silent, being in prison. Eleanor Darcy, his wife, seldom gave interviews. When she did they were expensive; moreover, she had a reputation for taking offence, throwing journalists quite out of the house. Hugo Vansitart did not want this to happen to him.
A: Of course. As in any legal document, the greater includes the lesser. He incorporates she. Well, that's what love is all about.
Q: I am relieved to hear this, Mrs Darcy. I had feared that, having already banned money in this perfectly wonderful, perfectly nonexistent society you hold in your head, this Darcy's Utopia of yours, you might ban love as well! But you won't, will you?
A: Good heavens, no. The whole place will be riddled with it. Love will serve as our entertainment: it will have to, since there is to be no TV. I do not, by the way, see Darcy's Utopia as a perfectly wonderful place. Let us say, simply, that it is a workable society, as ours, increasingly, is not. But I haven't finished with love. Let me get on. Love flatters women more than it does men. It makes the hair shine and the eyes glow; it cures spots. The woman in love attracts: lovers come in shoals or not at all. The man in love is somehow denatured. He can repel even the woman loved. The smile on the face of the man in love, as he draws near, can disconcert: there can seem something unmanly in such devotion, yet behind that unmanliness is the Devilish intent—and I do not mean that the deed he, and indeed you, intend is Devilish, rather that the sense of his being helpless in the face of carnal desire, driven on by it, seems to come from the Devil, not God—God tending to the hesitant, the tentative, in his works, and that perhaps is why the smile can seem false, soppy and indulgent; but soon the face is too near for you to see the smile, and you and he are one, so who cares? These things flicker on the edge of consciousness, are easily pushed down.
Q: Aren't you talking about yourself, Mrs Darcy?
Outside, above quiet streets, clouds parted and a ray of sunlight pierced the white net curtains to dapple Mrs Darcy's lean and handsome face. How green her eyes were! She moved to be out of the light, towards him rather than away from him. He found himself pleased. He was taking notes, not liking to rely only upon tapes in so important an interview. His writing was a little shaky. Had his hand been trembling?
A: Yes. Of course. But what is true for me is probably true for you, and everyone else. Love gives folk a sense of singularity and a wonderful overflow of benevolence. Quite giddily one skips about. You must have found that?
Q: I'm sorry, no. But then I'm not a particularly giddy person. Shall we get back to the role of money in a perfect society?
A: Not giddy? What, never? Good Lord, we must see to that! Satan, of course, sometimes puts in a literal appearance, just as does the Virgin Mary. My first husband Bernard actually saw the Devil, flesh and blood, bones, horns and claws, hovering outside the window, and a second floor window at that, of one of those concrete blocks for student accommodation they have at polytechnics.
Q: Didn't that give him a nasty turn?
When Hugo Vansitart asked this question he bounced a little. He and his subject sat on a shiny sofa, black shantung with great red roses splodged across it. The springs were broken. When she moved, he moved. It was disconcerting.
A: You are laughing at me. You must try not to. Really, the world is not as you think it is. If these interviews are to be successful, you must try and be more open, less rigid. Giddier, in fact. The Devil did indeed put in an appearance, and very horrible and frightening it was. Bernard was not even in love at the time. But he was between belief structures, and into the vacuum left by both the Catholic and Marxist faiths, had rushed what the Russians used to refer to as 'metaphysical intoxication'—under which heading they would lock up the socially and politically excitable for their own sake and that of society. Thought bounced round the inside of poor Bernard's head like a ball in a squash court. It made him guilty and therefore vulnerable. Reason and ridicule can get rid of faith: but the guilt and the fear of punishment associated with free thinking remain. Besides, a curse had been put on him. Certain people he had offended were trying to frighten him. It was not all that surprising that the Devil materialized in front of his eyes. Yes, indeed, to answer your question, he was not expecting it and it gave him a nasty turn.
He noticed that there were grease spots on the sofa. Smeared butter, Hugo thought, left by the children of this household, this hell-hole of suburban domesticity. Already he had jam on his cuff, gained somehow in the walk from front door to sofa. Surely it was possible for Eleanor Darcy to receive him somewhere more suitable. This was not even, it appeared, her own house. It belonged to the mother of the four small children who racketed behind the thin plywood door.
Q: Your views on love are of course interesting, but not quite pertinent to the series of articles I envisage writing. I wonder if by any chance your husband left any of his unpublished work in your care? If so, could I see it?
A: How you try to divide the world up into sections! It won't work, Mr Vansitart. We must deal with God and the Devil, love and sex, before we get on to economics, party politics, big business, education, crime and the rest. We must establish a framework for our house before we start putting up planks, or they'll only fall down again. I have not yet finished with love. Hyperinflationary monetarism will come in due course.
Q: But love is the proper province of women's magazines, Mrs Darcy, surely?
A: Do you think so? If you think that, you will most certainly have to have your male consciousness raised!
She laughed, but he understood that she was angry. Her face paled. She was beautiful. She enchanted him. He did not know what was happening, what was about to happen. Someone came in with coffee, in mugs. 'Thank you, Brenda,' said Eleanor. He sipped: the coffee was bad. It had been made from powder and with tepid water. Dislike of it returned him to his senses.
Q: I'm sorry. Won't you please go on?
A: Better to be in love than to be loved, but a state more difficult to attain. If in the seesaw of affections balance is attained, when each loves the other equally yet still desperately, why then there is the presence of God, and paradise: only then what happens is that we start longing for the snake to arrive and create a diversion, because we know this intensity of experience cannot be sustained: because we are, when it comes to it, on earth: and if this pitch of experience continues too long life itself will be worn away. The body, however empowered, entranced, in its delightfully sweaty transports, cannot support for long the trust placed in it by God. These things are meant for heaven, not earth. Young lovers, understanding this, will sometimes take themselves off to heaven by means of suicide pacts to escape the growing past, as much as a diminishing future. What is the point, having discovered what life on earth is all about, of going on with it? This world is a stop-over on the way to heaven: those of us who are in love don't need Mohammed or Jesus to tell us so, or lay down rules to get us there—we're on our way and don't mind hurrying up. Or we wouldn't be so careless of our health and safety. Hi there, darling! we cry, stepping under a bus in our eagerness to embrace and be embraced. Hi there!
Failing death, we invoke the snake. How we long for the snake! Love is like herpes—
Q: Could you repeat that?
A: Love is like genital herpes: once it has infected you it's there forever: it stands by, waiting, requiring only certain conditions to bring it out. Debilitation, for herpes. A surplus of energy, for love. Forgive me the analogy: I know it is distasteful. But, as you will see, appropriate.
She was, he thought, poised somewhere between the male and the female: a strong, androgynous, chiselled face. Green witch's eyes. He wanted them to see him, not the journalist; when it came to it, he preferred her talking to him about love, not addressing him as if he were a political meeting. His body stirred, his hand stretched out. Carefully she replaced it, and went on talking.
Q: Perhaps we could continue this interview over dinner? I am supposed to be at a function but I could easily forgo it.
A: I think it would be better not. Let me continue. The tendency of everything in the universe is to even out, seek its own level, as water does: any gross imbalance of good and evil cannot, alas, last. God strikes down into the flat amorality of everyday existence; a bored and irritated power determined to make things Good; the Devil, likeways, elects to make things bad. Look at the way your hand moved just now, following the dictates of your heart, or more precisely, your lust. It is part of the curse placed upon my ex-husband Bernard by the brat Nerina and her cohorts that I arouse these feelings in men. Their power is fading now: so long as they don't start dancing and prancing round their dead goats or whatever and stir the whole thing up again, all may yet be well. Teenagers are hell.
As for me, temporarily out of love, working on my blueprint for the future, and pleased enough to rest from my task for a while, and do this lengthy, all-but exclusive interview with you; let me tell you that, like Bernard, but unlike Julian my second husband, I am not immune to terror.
That is enough for today, Mr Vansitart. Foolish questions, patient answers. Though I daresay you see it the other way round. I must help my friend Brenda put her children to bed.CHAPTER 2
Valerie Jones is surprised by Joy
Love struck like a whirlwind. I was not expecting it. I did not want it. I, Valerie Jones, a married woman in a good job, with as contented a home life as could reasonably be expected, went in a very ordinary little black dress to a Media Awards Dinner, and was seated next to Hugo Vansitart. I was about to say 'quite by chance' but it was of course our destiny. He arrived late: too late for the prawn pate—lucky him, I said—but in time for the chicken. There was an instant rapport between us. My husband Lou had not come with me: he hates these affairs: the massing together, as he describes it, of the chattering classes. Or was it because he was in Stuttgart, or Stockholm, or somewhere, playing his violin? I can't remember. It doesn't matter. Nor was Hugo's wife Stef with him. She was in Washington, interviewing the Pope. Or someone, somewhere. I just remember thinking that's the wrong person in the wrong place, how odd. Would it have made a difference if Lou had been there, or Stef had been there? I don't think so.
Of course I knew Hugo Vansitart by his by-line. He is one of our leading political journalists. When I saw his name on the place card I thought, Oh dear, he'll be bored by me. He's much too clever for me. I am features editor of a leading women's magazine—a weekly. Aura. We're intelligent enough, I hope, but naturally, considering our market, are more concerned with matters of human interest than anything particularly intellectual. I didn't want Hugo Vansitart to hold my magazine against me: define me by my employers. I had not expected him to be so good-looking. I scarcely liked to look at his face, at first. He just sat down beside me, brooding, dark, vaguely squarish, decidedly male, filling an empty place which had made me feel uneasy. He was late, he said, because he'd done the first of a series of interviews with the Bride of Rasputin out in the suburbs somewhere beside a distant railway line. It had taken him forever to get back to the centre of things. 'Good heavens!' I said. 'Eleanor Darcy! I'm to see her tomorrow. What a coincidence!'
He laid his hand on mine and said oh, dear, he thought he'd had an exclusive: the editor of the Independent wasn't going to like this one bit: I said, well, everyone likes to be the only one, in newspapers as in life, but I didn't think he should worry. We might overlap but we would not coincide. He was no doubt doing his pieces on the Bridport Scandal and the phenomena of Darcian Economics: I had been commissioned by my magazine to do a serialized biography of Eleanor Darcy herself. A kind of docudrama for the lay reader.
'Did she approach the magazine, or the magazine approach her?' was the first thing he asked.
'She approached us.'
He did not ask me how much Aura was paying, though I knew he badly wanted to. I told him later, in bed. She had asked for a hundred thousand pounds: we were paying half that. Though an interest in Darcian Economics persisted, my editor's opinion, when presented with the demand, was that the public had begun to shift its attention from Eleanor Darcy. Rasputin, Julian Darcy, was famous: the Bride of Rasputin, rightly or wrongly, notorious. Fame is worth twice as much as notoriety. She asked for a hundred thousand pounds, she got fifty thousand pounds. There seemed a kind of journalistic sense in this.
'How do you find Mrs Darcy?' I asked. 'What kind of person is she?'
'Interesting,' he said. 'She talks a lot, not always about what one wants to know. Be sure to ask her about the Devil.'
'Better,' I said, 'that she talks too much than too little. Easier to cut than to pad.'
Excerpted from Darcy's Utopia by Fay Weldon. Copyright © 1990 Fay Weldon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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