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Literature / Fear of Flying

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Fear of Flying was a 1973 best-selling novel by Erica Jong. It was both criticised and lauded for its frank portrayal of women's sexuality and, rather than stereotypical romance, the breakdown of the protagonist's several marriages (for various reasons including her extramarital affair).


Some tropes associated with Fear of Flying include:

  • Abusive Parents: Isadora's mother is nuts. Isadora theorizes it comes from being the artistic daughter of a successful artist (who at one point paints over her canvases!). Without artistic expression as a release, that creative urge builds up into a "great black fart of rage."
  • Attempted Rape: At one point, Isadora is on a train with a man who grabs her and pushes her down. She gets away from him, then realizes the setup is her very own fantasy of the "zipless fuck," and it terrified her. This, of course, is the heart of the Madonna–Whore Complex, and it complicates her sex life, both inside her marriage and out.
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  • Betty and Veronica: Bennett and Adrian.
  • Big Applesauce: While much of the "front story" in the novel takes place in Europe (particularly Vienna), Isadora is from the "Upper West Side." Her family are Polish Jews and well-to-do from their business selling "tchotchkes." Her husband, Bennett, is from a less posh area and seems to resent her background.
  • Catchphrase: Along with a Precision F-Strike in the term "zipless fuck." Isadora relates a fantasy of two beautiful strangers meeting on a train, having a perfect sexual encounter with no emotional or personal entanglements, and then never seeing each other again. It's described as "zipless" because nothing gets in the way, not even their clothing ("Underwear blows apart like dandelion fluff.").
  • Double Standard: Isadora is having an affair with Adrian, yet she gets jealous when Bennett puts the moves on another woman.
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  • Funny Schizophrenia: A strong aversion. Isadora divorced her first husband after he attacked her during a psychotic break. The scene starts out amusing, then becomes more harrowing as his psychosis progresses.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Isadora is a Barnard graduate. She dates a Harvard graduate at one point, who looks down on her for not having attended Harvard.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Isadora is a writer.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Jong puts her Master's in literature to great use, citing Chaucer, the Romantics, varying takes on psychoanalysis, and Greek mythology (for starters). Then there's the "all-weather cunt" and the aforementioned "zipless fuck."
  • There Are No Therapists: Subverted. Isadora's husband is a psychiatrist, so the story is full of psychological debate. The kicker is that every therapist is just as maladjusted as his clients. Finally, Isadora fires her therapist and indulges in some Retail Therapy. She buys new shoes, which make her feel better and cost about the same as a session.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Some parts of the novel are autobiographical, but fictionalized. Jong's sister complained that events in the novel were based on the latter's life in Lebanon, but Jong dismissed the complaints.
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