Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen” as Want to Read:
Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  1,096 ratings  ·  165 reviews
Inspired by a series of instructive letters written by Austen to a novel-writing niece, Letters to Alice is an epistolary novel in which an important modern writer responds to her niece's complaint that Jane Austen is boring and irrelevant. By turns passionate and ironic, "Aunt Fay" makes Alice think--not only about books and literature, but also life and culture.
Paperback, 160 pages
Published November 9th 1999 by Basic Books (first published 1984)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Letters to Alice, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Letters to Alice

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyMatilda by Roald DahlThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Books about Books
1,189 books — 1,501 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
741 books — 1,336 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,096 ratings  ·  165 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen
“Truly Alice, books are wonderful things; to sit alone in a room and laugh and cry, because you are reading, and still be safe when you close the book; and having finished it, discover you are changed, yet unchanged! To be able to visit the City of Invention at will, depart at will – that is all, really, education is about, should be about.”

Wow, just wow! Love this little book by Fay Weldon. It is a collection of short essays about Jane Austen, about Writing, about being a Writer written in the
Ah. Compulsory school reading. Isn't it delightful?!

I think it a slight flaw of the school system to make books that are as boring as hell compulsory (actually Hell would probably be a bit more exciting, all fiery and whatnot). Why? Do these people like torturing kids? Do they get a perverse pleasure out of turning our brains to goo?

Answer: yes. Yes they do.

This book can be summed up as so:
- Coconuts fall from trees
- Jane Austen is cool but radical
- Midwifery is a hazardous occupation
- Croc
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an excellent little book!
Ann Herendeen
Nov 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-recently
"Alice" is a fictional character, the author, Fay Weldon, signs her letters to this nonexistent niece "your aunt Fay" and most of the book reads more like essays than a novel. Sounds ghastly, right? It probably is if you read it at the wrong moment.

Like many people who loved this book, I received it as a gift, put it aside, and then started reading one day when I was in the right mood. And BAM! I was hooked and read this short piece in an afternoon (127 pages in this edition). It definitely help
Sep 25, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
Dear Aunt Fay,

I wanted to enjoy you more than I did. I normally love epistolary formats, especially with a literary theme! I appreciated your knowledge on Jane Austen. I learned a few tidbits about her life, the world the she lived in, and her novels. However, your lecturing tone which crossed the border to downright condescension became tedious. Perhaps because I live in a world where any social media app I open is full of people "talking at me" and I long for congenial conversation at times?
Jacqueline Ogburn
Mar 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
One of my favorite books about writers and writing. In the form of letters from an aunt, who is published literary novelist, to her niece who is in college and such that Jane Austen has nothing to say to her. Of course, Weldon explains exactly how much Jane Austen has to say. I have always loved the extended metaphor of novelist as builders in the city of literature, with different neighborhoods, and the English language side of town presided over by the great Castle Shakespeare.
Jul 03, 2021 rated it it was ok
Poor Alice to have such a 'know-all' aunt. Alice is a fictional niece but even so, if I had an aunt write such long, self-obsessed, boastful and patronising letters such as this, I'd understand why my own mother and her sister, this aunt had fallen out.
I had hoped, very much, that this book would help me to explain why Jane Austen was such an excellent writer. Instead, I found myself skipping the bits about the aunt's life, the aunt's way of writing and the aunt's opinions on life and the univer
Kathleen Flynn
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was fun! I’m glad I read it. So many home truths here. Fay Weldon has many opinions about Jane Austen, some though not all that I agree with. But really it is more a book about writing, disguised as a book about Jane Austen. Reading it made me feel less alone as a writer. Even the insanely prolific Fay Weldon struggled with exactly the same practical/artistic problems and fought the same despair.
Oct 26, 2015 rated it did not like it
Rating this one star as 0 stars is not an option
Mar 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to Nishta by: Freakin English syllabus
Shelves: ugh-awful, 2018
God, how do you even review a book like this?

Clearly, someone screwed up when writing the reading list in the English syllabus. I can kind of see where they're coming from, if you look at the book like a resource to help kids understand the context of Jane Austen better. But that goes for about one letter. The rest of the novel is the incredibly condescending 'Aunt Fay' speaking her mind about every single damn thing she wants to.

It's ironic because at the start, she writes: "Contemporary auth
Dec 04, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
i recommend this book to you if you are blind
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen has been on my to-read list for years. I borrowed a copy from OpenLibrary, and have rather mixed feelings about it. Whilst I very much enjoyed the first letter in this epistolary novella, and felt both engaged and immersed within it, the rest of the book felt inconsistent. Many of the letters which followed were quite dull, and lacked the wit and humour present in the first. They also tended to include, almost exclusively, biographical details about ...more
Jul 15, 2022 rated it liked it
An interesting short book with lots of information on Jane Austen and her novels. The author also provides some detail from her own experiences on the art of writing fiction.

This book was first published in 1984.
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, gift-i-gave
What a fun read for fans of Fay Weldon! It is a real treat for her fans to peek over her shoulder while she pens her epistolary experiment! One need not be a fan of Jane Austen, but if one is, well, all the better!

Alas, one need be a fan of Weldon, and I had not read her, so all the worse! She seems to have been quite prolific, but this is not the Weldon novel to begin with, I suspect, as it seems more of a playful, self-indulgent, but ultimately failed experiment, a sort of "romp" through an es
Dec 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend - thank you Dee - once sent me this book after a conversation about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She mentioned it as a sort of introduction to Jane Austen and her world. Last month I finally decided to pick it up.

The book is comprised of a number of letters that an aunt, who happens to be a published writer, sends to her niece, who is doing an English major at the University but doesn't want to read Jane Austen. So the letters starts by addressing Austen, her world, beliefs and so
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
The things I have to read for English. I wouldn't read this on my spare time - and I love books. ...more
Lucy Nagle
Feb 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
Parts of this book were quite enjoyable, however I could never shake the feeling of being lectured in a very condescending way which made it not overly satisfying to read.
Sep 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading-bks, fin-2021
I could have done without the fictional guise of the letters and an imaginary niece/family. I would have preferred a more straightforward collection of essays. For that is what the book really is, essays where Weldon muses about writing and reading.

Weldon is highly quotable and makes numerous spot on remarks that had me nodding my head in recognition. Like these -

The mere recording of event does not make a book. Experience does not add to Idea.

Fiction is much safer than non fiction. You can be
Kerry Dunn
What a curious little book. I’ve never read Fay Weldon before, although I was familiar with her name. I found this book at Amber Unicorn Used Books in the Jane Austen section (a section I always check in used bookstores as one can never have too many copies of Austen’s novels) and the title caught my fancy.

But what is this book? Fiction or non-fiction? One-sided epistolary novel or lit crit? A defense of Jane Austen or advice on becoming a writer?

Obviously, I enjoyed the Jane parts of this the
"Inspired by an exchange of letters between the novelist Jane Austen and a niece, herself a literary aspirant, this epistolary novel chronicles the responses to young Alice, a college student with black and green hair who sees little point in the study of literature (she's declared Jane Austen petty, irrelevant, and boring), by her abashed but forbearing Aunt Fay. Sometimes with irony, often with passion, Aunt Fay attempts to introduce her recalcitrant niece to the many enchantments that lie in ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Discovered this gem of book on
Great discussion of Jane, books, and life.
Sep 10, 2021 rated it did not like it
Garbage book
Louisa Morrisette
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is about more than Jane Austen. It's about life and books and how they interact with each other. Weldon reminds us that a great book can teach us lessons that you can use everyday. She wrote this book after she wrote the screenplay for Pride and Prejudice (BCC- TV). ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life

(I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review).

"With the dire warning, “You must read, Alice, before it’s too late,” Fay Weldon, or “Aunt Fay,” implores her “niece” to immerse herself in the works of enduring authors. Alternating between passages from Jane Austen’s novels and accounts of her own career, Weldon reveals the connections between art and life, and charts Alice’s trajectory from unpublished writer to celebrated author, her success ultimately outstripping
Feb 14, 2013 rated it did not like it
Fay Weldon's use of an invented niece is flimsy at best, and this combined with several oddities immediately set this book to the side. When one then considers that this is pretty clearly an excuse on Weldon's part to ramble about her opinions on writing and Jane Austen (some of her writing theory is very sound, some of her Austen theory is utterly bizarre), this novel becomes incredibly tedious. There are no spoilers to be had with this book, unless you deign to mention that this is barely pro ...more
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Wow! There are a number of reviews to explain how this is epistolary and all that. I will just say that this gal is a great writer! What an enjoyable read. I knew by the end of the first paragraph that I would like this book. I found it refreshing and witty and so inspiring. I felt compelled to begin writing my own novel right away. Of course, I am a reader, not a writer, but for a good 3 or 4 hours I thought I had something. Now I have slept and have gotten over it. Years from now, when I am de ...more
Liv Caks
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this for Advanced English
Look, I found Weldon's persona enjoyable at times but other times hard to engage with.
Only 2 stars from me
(I'm just glad I finished it)
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: epistolary, fiction
This epistolary novel is made up of sixteen letters from our narrator (Fay—who, yes, apparently shares some similarities with the book's author) to her niece, Alice, who is eighteen and studying literature and feeling grumpy about having to read Jane Austen. Fay's letters endeavor to explain why Austen is still relevant, and to give Alice some context about Austen's life and times, but end up being more wide-ranging than that: they contain a lot of advice about reading and writing (Fay is a nove ...more
May 04, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, letters
There have been a significant number of books lately that I have read and haven't been able to easily define my feelings about them, and Letters to Alice is definitely in that category. It's a fictional imagining of an aunt (an author, who shares the name of the actual author of the book, and is, I imagine, a stand-in for the author herself), writing a series of letters to her niece who is attempting a course in English literature. The focus of the letters is (theoretically) Jane Austen, though ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice
  • Longbourn
  • Me and Mr. Darcy
  • Trouble (Dogwood Lane, #3)
  • Giving Up the Ghost
  • Bröd och mjölk
  • This Land: The Story of a Movement
  • Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey
  • How to Find Fulfilling Work
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton l Summary & Study Guide
  • Kiss & Tell
  • The Romantic Movement: Sex, Shopping, and the Novel
  • Interviewing
  • Gebrauchsanweisung für Heimat
  • Gebrauchsanweisung für Slowenien
  • The Room, The Invoice, and The Circus
  • The Family Chao
See similar books…
Fay Weldon CBE is an English author, essayist and playwright, whose work has been associated with feminism. In her fiction, Weldon typically portrays contemporary women who find themselves trapped in oppressive situations caused by the patriarchal structure of British society.

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
20 likes · 6 comments
“Truly Alice, books are wonderful things; to sit alone in a room and laugh and cry, because you are reading, and still be safe when you close the book; and having finished it, discover you are changed, yet unchanged! To be able to visit the City of Invention at will, depart at will – that is all, really, education is about, should be about.” 16 likes
“Writers create Houses of the Imagination, from whose doors the generations greet each other.” 0 likes
More quotes…