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Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen
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Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  981 ratings  ·  139 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)
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Average rating 3.38  · 
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 ·  981 ratings  ·  139 reviews

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“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
Shelves: english, jane-austen
What an excellent little book!
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.
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
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
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
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gift-i-gave, fiction
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
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 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
▪️◾️▪️ Jenvile ▪️◾️▪️
The things I have to read for English. I wouldn't read this on my spare time - and I love books.
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
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.
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).
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)
Dec 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
If I would either read this or stab my hand with a fork. I choose the latter option.
Aug 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, epistolary
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
Aug 18, 2014 rated it liked it
I picked this book because I haven’t read—and had no intention of reading—anything by Jane Austen; as with Agatha Christie, Dickens and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes I’ve seen enough dramatizations so as to feel as if I’ve read the entire canon. That said I’m well aware that even the best-intentioned adaptation will still miss much, so maybe there was a case for Austen and I was willing to be persuaded. I wasn’t sure what to expect of these letters but they turned out to be what they couldn’t avoid be ...more
This... is a book, I guess? I suppose at its core it's a (non-)defence of Jane Austen and literary writing, and maybe that's kind of interesting, but I'm not really convinced -- on the Jane Austen part, that is. As entertaining as some of her books are, nothing I read here indicates that Jane Austen had anything truly interesting to say, or that her thematic concerns were anything other than bland, boring, and myopic. The way Letters to Alice toys with some of its more postmodern aspects also se ...more
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: jane-austen
This epistolary novel is written from one perspective, which is limiting considering the point of the story. Fay is writing letters to her niece Alice about learning to appreciate Jane Austen and whether or not she should write a novel. Apparently this aunt has been estranged from Alice and her parents for a long time, and Fay decides to just insert herself in Alice's life. It's very odd, and it makes the tone of the novel sound deeply condescending.

I thought the story would be different, but t
Kat Robey
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I appreciated her blend of history, feminism, writing tips, and especially the information about the life of Jane Austen. Sometimes went on a bit and was a tad snarky, but overall I enjoyed this book. This was an 'accidental read' as I mistook a recommendation about 'letters, an aunt, and feminism' to be this instead of what was actually recommended: "Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions" which I highly recommend.

A Happy accident and now I know more and appreciate more a
May 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
I thought I would like this book because it was a book of essays about Jane Austen. But this book really hasn't aged well. All her talk of City of Invention felt pretentious and irritating. There were a couple of entertaining flashes but this book was mostly a bore--and contained a couple of shocking instances where she said a woman should not have complained of being raped after she participated in a political revolution and that there is subconscious desire to die in people with auto immune di ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
What should a feminist aunt, who is a novelist, say to her college-aged niece, who wants to be a novelist? Does every woman need to read Jane Austen to understand how to write? Can a young adult make sense of the complicated sister-to-sister relationship that has kept this aunt estranged from her?
Find out. My long-dormant English-major-self jumped for joy reading this book.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! Engaging, well-written, and at times laugh-out-loud humorous, this book of letters from the writer to her niece is full of insight and wisdom. I believe anyone who has ever read Austen's work will appreciate the wittiness in Weldon's defense of reading, writing, and Jane. This is one that I wanted to reread as soon as I had finished.
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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.

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“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.” 15 likes
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