A feminist fairy tale by Fay Weldon

A specially written story by an acclaimed author


Photo: Bjarne Jonasson

In ELLE's Feminism issue, four exceptional writers - Audrey Niffenegger, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Kate Mosse and Fay Weldon - each contributed an original 'feminist fairytale'. Read Fay Weldon's here, and buy the issue now for the rest...

Listen while I tell you the story of the model Melinda Bolt (33-20-31), born 1996, only daughter of single parent Matilda Bolt (38-26-38), who was the only daughter of unmarried mother Marion Bolt (42-34-46); and there was no one round to so much as measure her great grandmother Madge Bolt, born 1915 and now in a care home nudging a century, though I reckon she’d have been about 42-36-44. It is a tale of a vanishing inches, increasing height and longer legs, so much better for carrying off hot pants and wielding a sword with which to slay the double enemies of sloth and carbs.
It’s about how one December morning, in the Chelsea apartment her earnings had bought, Melinda brushed the sleepy dust from her eyes, grabbed a shirt and jeans and trainers, and got ready for a fashion shoot, but her mother Matilda, born 1966, caught her as she flew – her maternal will being even stronger than her daughter’s – and sat her down to a caveman breakfast of baked egg and avocado, and asked her what her great-grandmother’s given name was. ‘I’ve no idea,’ said Melinda.
‘A proper feminist,’ said Matilda, ‘can name her female ancestry five generations back. I’ve only asked you three.’
‘Oh phooey,’ said Melinda, and she flung on her white mink coat over a T-shirt and jeans, flashed a diamond ring, and was off to the waiting limo without even so much as clearing her plate.
So Matilda, who was something high up in People Against Fur, wept a little and Skyped her own mother Marion, born 1936.
‘What am I to do with the girl?’ asked Matilda. ‘Her very first T-shirt said "Love Us Don’t Eat Us", yet she flung on that dead animal skin without a thought for our feelings.’
Now Marion was CEO of a company which sold vegan foods worldwide, and a member of PAF besides.
‘Did she earn the fur or was it a gift?’
‘A gift from Sir Jasper Dangerfield himself, she says, baronet of somewhere, who has just bought into her agency, the better to be near her.’
‘The better to get into her knickers, more like,’ said Marion.
‘Quite so,’ said Matilda, ‘and she left her avocado when she’s so thin but, worse than that, she flashed a diamond ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. And she couldn’t even remember her great-nan’s given name.’
Then Marion struck her brow and cried out: ‘Oh no! So many generations of freedom and now this! And to think I’ve even forgotten my own grandmother’s given name. Once I too was a good feminist, but the world gets busier and who can remember the past as well as they could? We must conference-call my mum at once.’
So Madge – born 1915, 13 years before women got the vote, now running the Seniors’ Defence League from her care-home bed, once big in CND and now busy with her morning exercises – joined the conference call.
‘My great-grandmother’s name was Martha Lloyd,’ said Madge without hesitation, panting a little. ‘And her grandmother was a friend of Jane Austen, two of whose sisters-in-law died in childbirth giving birth to their 11th child. The tale passed down the generations till it reached my mother Mavis Bolt, born 1887, a suffragette who – just before she died in childbirth with her fifth – placed a curse on her descendants even unto the fourth generation, that any girl of Bolt descent who married would have so many children they wouldn’t know what to do.’
‘But Melinda is the fourth,’ cried Matilda. ‘The curse still holds.’
So all the females of this all-female family peered at their laptops and tablets, and Madge at the new Apple watch which noted her heart beat, and willed together that their Melinda would be saved.
And, even as they willed, Melanie sat in make-up while the wealthy Sir Jasper, dazzled by her beauty, fell upon his knees and asked if she would be his wife, and Melinda looked astonished (which she wasn’t) and said, ‘You realise I could never give up my career.’
‘But no wife of a man like me works,’ he said. ‘She’ll live a life of luxury and ease, and provide me with sons.’
And as Melinda went off to don jewelled hotpants, leather gauntlets and a sword for the shoot, she flung his ring back at him, ‘That’s enough of that,’ she cried. And on her way home that night she tossed the white mink coat out of the limo window to a shivering beggar woman. Melinda had always assumed it was fake fur anyway, just a very good imitation. And she said to her mother as they both dug into fish, chips and mushy peas from the local takeaway, ‘I think I’ll stay Ms Bolt forever.’
This is the story of Melinda the model aged 20, soon to be 33-22-33 – one hopes. You’ll need to work out the moral for yourself.

The New Countess by Fay Weldon (Head of Zeus) is out now, sci-fi novella The Ted Dreams is exclusively on Kindle.

Read Next: