Annie Caulfield has adapted Erica Jong’s era-defining novel for the radio. But does it make her want to stand in the mist and cry or does it remain as pure as the proverbial zipless?
What and why: I was asked to adapt infamous bestseller Fear of Flying for BBC Radio 4 and thought they might have confused themselves. All this swearing and three in the bed stuff? Before morning coffee with a repeat after tea? But that was what they wanted. Oh well.
There isn’t so much swearing really. Erica Jong uses ‘fuck’ as a verb. She uses it a lot.
Fear of Flying, although written in 1973, is really a book about the swinging sixties. That strange misdirect in feminism, when women were led to believe free love was good for us. There were psychedelic parties with groovy dancing and shagathons, but nine months later, for a lot of women, the result was bleak. The pill wasn’t available on prescription for single women until 1974. Single mothers were social lepers. It’s notable that the number of babies up for adoption in Britain dropped significantly in 1975.
Rated or dated: Reading Fear of Flying today, with its comfortably off, comfortably married heroine, Isadora Wing, we may wonder why she doesn’t just pack her bags and trek around the world to find herself. Why does she have to define herself through a man? Because that was the world she lived in.
And wait, Isadora talks about a world that isn’t so unfamiliar; where advertising tells women happiness comes: “if only you took proper care of your smells, your hair, your boobs, your eyelashes, your armpits, your crotch…”
Fear of Flying graphically describes sex from a woman’s point of view. It describes a woman’s quest for perfect anonymous sex; the ‘zipless fuck’ that everyone associates with the book. Jong also talks freely about periods; she challenges the misogynistic psychiatry of her day; she tears into racism and militarism. She writes and writes.
Fear of Flying rambles hither and thither as Isadora rambles across Europe and into assorted sexual positions. If you have a list of bestselling books by women that you plan to read, this should be on it – but perhaps not above whatever story makes you want to leap up and take on the world. Although I did find it to have an attitude less dated, less Reader, I married him than recent zeitgeist-catcher Eat, Pray, Love. Fear of Flying is also quite funny.
The book is dated because it reflects a suburban woman of the time. But I would rate it, if only because it shows that in some areas feminism has crept forward, a little. Fear of Flying was a precious under-the-covers companion for many teenage girls; I hope they like what we’ve done. I hope we tempt new readers to open the covers of Fear of Flying. And some of those sex scenes? Well rub me down with an iced James Bond. Maybe still not a good idea for girls who like boys to read it in a public place. RATED.
The world’s first dramatisation of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, adapted by Annie Caulfield, is on BBC Radio 4 every week day from 22-26 February at 10.45am with a repeat at 7.45pm. Also available on iPlayer.
Sadly, Annie died in November, 2016. Please consider donating to the Macmillan tribute fund set up by her sister Jo Caulfield in Annie’s name. https://macmillan.tributefunds.com/annie-caulfield3484 Views