Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir


Opening on her fiftieth birthday, Jong's midlife memoir reads like fast-paced fiction as it flashes back and forth in time to tell at last the truths at the heart of her novels. Poet, novelist, essayist, Jong has forged one of the most visible and volatile careers in American letters, and as a charter member of what she calls the "whiplash generation," she has had a front seat on the roller coaster American women have been riding for the past decades. Raised to be Doris Day, growing up wanting to be Gloria ...
See more details below
This Hardcover is Not Available through BN.com
Sending request ...


Opening on her fiftieth birthday, Jong's midlife memoir reads like fast-paced fiction as it flashes back and forth in time to tell at last the truths at the heart of her novels. Poet, novelist, essayist, Jong has forged one of the most visible and volatile careers in American letters, and as a charter member of what she calls the "whiplash generation," she has had a front seat on the roller coaster American women have been riding for the past decades. Raised to be Doris Day, growing up wanting to be Gloria Steinem, now rearing daughters in the age of Princess Di and Madonna, today's women have had their expectations raised and dashed and raised and dashed again, as they've watched themselves go in and out of style like hemlines. Now, as she and her contemporaries look for answers to the second half of their lives, Jong offers powerful, provocative insights into sex, marriage and aging; feminism -- past, present and future; the writing life; motherhood and family; identity and love, loyalty and loss, drawn through the brilliant prism of her own experience.

In chapters such as "Fear of Fifty," "The Mad Lesbian in the Attic," "How I Got to Be the Second Sex," "How I Got to Be Jewish," "Fear of Fame," "Seducing the Muse," "Dona Juana Gets Smart," "Becoming Venetian" and "How to Get Married," Erica Jong takes readers on an impassioned, outrageous, irreverent tour de force through the sea of changes that have defined a generation. From technical virginity to the sexual revolution to the AIDS pandemic; from The Feminine Mystique to "political correctness"; from monogamy to open marriage and back again; from stay-at-home moms to moms who have won the right to be eternally exhausted; from sexual secrecy to sexual openness -- Jong proves yet again her unique ability to tap into the inner lives of women and the issues that matter most to them.

Fear of Fifty is an intoxicating, riveting read, free-wheeling and fun, warm, tough and full of wisdom. Sure to be embraced by women everywhere, it is destined, like its classic predecessor Fear of Flying, to become required reading for a generation on the threshold of a new revolution.

Opening on her 50th birthday, Erica Jong's mid-life memoir offers provocative insights into sex, marriage, aging, feminism, the writing life, identity, love, motherhood, and family; all drawn from the truth of personal experience that lies at the heart of her top bestselling novels. From the author of Fear of Flying.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Donna Seaman
Twenty years ago, Jong boldly exposed the truth about women's sexuality in the novel "Fear of Flying". Now wiser and more generous but no less exuberant, Jong explores the paradoxes inherent in being a woman in this time of flux and backlash, especially for a woman who writes. "Fear of Fifty" is a tight weave of engrossing personal history and shrewd social commentary. It is, in part, about aging as the title implies, but it's really about growing. Jong isn't so concerned with the wrinkles or stigma age brings; she's more interested in how we learn and adapt over the course of a lifetime. Memories and anecdotes lead to musings about childhood and education, sex and sexism, femininity and feminism, art and ambition, love and responsibility. Jong scrutinizes all the mixed messages about gender roles she and her peers, the whiplash generation, have had to cope with while limning memorable portraits of her parents and other influential figures and creating a series of frank self-portraits documenting each stage of her full and colorful life. Jong describes the torments and discoveries of writing, fame, and criticism; chronicles her marriages and a selection of love affairs notable for their sexual thrills and instructive ironies; and recounts her demanding experiences as a single mother. Her honesty about sex is priceless, while her insights into desire and relationships are remarkably accurate, funny, entertaining, and useful.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762813674
  • Publisher: Book Sales, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/15/1997

Meet the Author

Erica Jong

Erica Jong is the author of nineteen books of poetry, fiction, and memoir, including Fear of Flying, which has more than 18 million copies in print worldwide. Her most recent essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, and she is a frequent guest on television talk shows. Currently working on a novel featuring Isadora Wing—the heroine of Fear of Flying—as a woman of a certain age, Erica and her lawyer husband live in New York City and Connecticut. Her daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, is also an author.

Erica Jong left a Ph.D. program at Columbia to write her ground-breaking novel Fear of Flying, published in 1973. Jong is the author of numerous award-winning books of poetry and novels including Fanny, How to Save Your Own Life, Parachutes and Kisses, Any Woman’s Blues, and the forthcoming Sappho’s Leap. She is also the author of the memoir Fear of Fifty. She lives in New York City and Connecticut.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

When people say

"I've told you fifty times," They mean to scold, and very often do; When poets say, "I've written fifty rhymes," They make you dread that they'll recite them too; In gangs of fifty, thieves commit their crimes; At fifty love for love is rare, 'tis true, But then, no doubt, it equally as true is, A good deal may be bought for fifty Louis.
--George Gordon, Lord Byron, Don Juan

(Was Byron afraid of fifty? Probably. He died at thirty-six.)

When I undertook to write about myself I found that I had embarked upon a somewhat rash adventure, easier begun than left off. I had long wanted to set down the story of my first twenty years; nor did I ever forget the distress signals which my adolescent self sent out to the older woman who was afterward to absorb me, body and soul. Nothing, I feared, would survive of that girl, not so much as a pinch of ashes. I begged her successor to recall my youthful ghost one day from the limbo to which it had been consigned. Perhaps the only reason for writing my books was to make the fulfillment of this long-standing prayer possible. When I was fifty, it seemed to me that the time had come.
--Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life

So there I am at the spa with Molly, facing my fiftieth birthday, and feeling hideously depressed. I am no longer the youngest person in the room, nor the cutest. I will never be Madonna or Tina Brown or Julia Roberts. Whoever the flavor of the month is by the time this book appears--I will never be her either. For years those were my values--whether I admitted this to myself or not--but I cannot afford such values anymore.

Every year anothercrop of beauties assaults me on the streets of New York. With thinner waists and blonder hair and straighter teeth, with more energy to compete (and less cynicism about the world), the class of 1994, or 1984, 1974, is inexorably replacing my class--Barnard '63--yikes! Thirty-plus years out of college. Most of my contemporaries are grandpŠres, as my daughter would say. They press baby pictures on me at parties, the offspring of offspring.

Having started late, I have no grandchildren yet, but I do have a couple of grandnephews crawling around Lebanon, Lausanne, and Litchfield County. My older sister's children are moving me closer and closer to the state of grandparenthood. I am the older generation now, and I'm not always sure I like it. The losses sometimes seem more clear-cut than the gains.

The astounding energy of postmenopausal women (promised by Margaret Mead) is here, but the optimism to fuel it is not. The world seems ever more surely in the grip of materialism and surfaces. Image, image, image is all it sees. As an image, I'm definitely getting blurry.

What has happened to our twenty-five years of protest about not wanting to be plastic Barbies? What has happened to the anger of Naomi Wolf analyzing beauty myths, or Germaine Greer fiercely celebrating cronehood, or Gloria Steinem showing us how to accept age gracefully and turning inward at last?

Is all our angst (and attempted self-transformation) just more fodder for the talk shows as the youth culture grinds on inexorably? Are we just a bunch of old broads talking to each other in the steamroom, cheering each other up?

We write and talk and empower each other, but the obsession with newness and youth (newth?) does not seem to change. Ours is a world of shifting video images more real and more potent than mere words. The television age is here, and we word people are relics of a past when the word could change the world because the word was still heard.

The image is all now. And the time of the image is always NOW. History no longer exists in this flickering light show.

These were some of my thoughts as I trooped around the spa in the Berkshires with Molly, doing step aerobics, aqua-trimming, speed-walking, and other fitness rituals, and avoiding my own image in the mirror. Molly dragged me out of bed for every class, and I lost the same few pounds I always lose (and gain back), drank water, steamed my pores, and felt restored--but the gloom still wouldn't lift. (I was facing the eternal question: to lift or not to lift--and should I do it before the next book tour?)

Worse than my despair over my inevitable physical decline (and whether or not to "fix" it) was my despair over the pessimism of midlife. Never again, I thought, would I walk into a room and meet some delicious man who would change my life. I remembered the mad affairs begun with a flash of eyes and a surge of adrenaline, and the upheavals they inevitably led to. By eschewing upheavals and embracing stability, by disowning my tendency to throw my life into a cocked hat--so to speak--every seven years, I had also becalmed myself. I wanted contemplation, not boredom; wisdom, not despair; serenity, not stasis. The sexual energy that had always called forth the next book, the adventurousness of a life that settled nowhere, had begun to seem rash and foolish at fifty. At last I had "settled down" to cultivate my garden. Now all I needed to do was figure out where my garden was and what to grow in it.

Because that, after all, is the question, isn't it? You can never really "fix" mortality and death even if you can snip back your chin flab and eye bags. You may look good in a glossy, but in life, there are still scars. The real question has to do with how to grow inner-directed in a relentlessly other-directed society; how to nurture spirituality in the midst of materialism; how to march to your own drummer when alternative rock, rap, and hip-hop are drowning her out.

Thoreau is our touchstone writer in defining the central American dilemma: "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." In this, contemporary women are more Thoreau's heirs than are men. Bill W.'s philosophy of AA is our touchstone spiritual philosophy (whether we are alcoholics or not), because we are always thirsting for spirit, looking for it in all the wrong places (booze, drugs, money, new clothes), and finally finding ourselves only by losing ourselves, surrendering the materialism on which we were raised.

Mortality is the question here, not face-lifts. Can we embrace our mortality, even learn to love it? Can we pass along our knowledge to our children and then pass along, knowing our passing is the proper order of things?

That is the problem I and all my contemporaries are facing at fifty. We have come smack up against the spiritual hollowness in our lives. Without spirit, it is impossible to face aging and death. And how can women find spirit in a society in which their most enduring identity is as consumers above all, where every struggle for autonomy and identity is countered by the relentless dicta of the marketplace--a marketplace that still sees us as consumers of everything from hormones to hats, from cosmetics to cosmetic surgery?

I wander around the spa with my daughter, knowing that my body is not the issue. It's whether or not I have the right to my immortal soul.

Even the phrase sounds suspect. Women? Immortal? Soul? You can just hear the cries of derision. Yet whether or not women have the right to their own souls is the whole question. It is not a matter of fad and fashion. It is not a matter of new-age or twelve-step hype. It is the essence of whether we are allowed to be fully human or not.

If you own your soul, you don't have to be afraid at fifty.

I flash back to a time exactly three years before my fiftieth birthday, when the age clock inside me was inexorably ticking.

I am on a plane, flying to Switzerland to attend the wedding of a former beau, now a friend. He's a beautiful Roman ten years younger than I, and he is about to marry a German princess ten years younger than that. I'm happy for them and, at the same time, desolate. It's not that the bridegroom and I are still in love, but just that we have talked endlessly about how we'd wind up together (because neither of us would ever marry), and now he is marrying and I am not.

I don't want to marry again, I think (at not quite forty-seven). I'm free. My freedom is such that I'm involved in a long-distance triangle with another delicious Italian, a domestic triangle with a man who can't decide to leave his wife, and I'm also seeing a variety of men who are as terrified of commitment as I've become. My life is a social circus, but I can never relax and curl up in bed with a book. Though I may deny it, I am off to this wedding, as usual, in search of the perfect man. Of course, I don't believe in the perfect man. Of course, I nevertheless hope to meet him.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)