Fay Weldon

Ind Aff

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Ind Aff Summary

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“Ind Aff” is a short short by Fay Weldon, published in 1988. Weldon was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and was educated in Scotland (at St. Andrews’ University). She has served as professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University (in West London) and Bath Spa University (in Bath, England).

The title (revealed in the course of the story) is an abbreviation for “Inordinate Affection.” The term was coined by Methodist theologian John Wesley in his personal diaries. In his private writing, he mused on a young female member of his congregation. According to Wesley (who himself abbreviated the term), what he felt for one eighteen-year-old Sophy was spiritual love, not “Ind Aff.” The term has become an inside joke between the two protagonists, the unnamed twenty-five-year-old female narrator and the forty-six-year-old professor, Peter Piper. The professor is the narrator’s thesis advisor and is married to a woman back in England.

The story opens with the narrator and Peter at Princip Bridge, where the nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that assassinated Archduke Ferdinand (and, as the narrator remembers, Ferdinand’s wife) in the summer of 1914, thus setting in motion World War I. The action of this national hero is commemorated in two footprints in the pavement at the spot where Princip stood and fired. These footprints are now filled with water on account of the rain.

While the two have a habit of renting a car and driving off into the woods to make love, this routine is precluded by the incessant rain. Therefore, they take shelter at a restaurant in Sarajevo, Bosnia (then a part of Yugoslavia). The narrator remarks that Yugoslavia is an unlikely collection of states which promotes the distilled common language of Serbo-Croatian. The pair has already traveled to Belgrade and Croatia, and it has been raining all week. The narrator observes in conversation that Princip alone must not have been the cause of the war that killed thirty thousand people, to which Peter retorts that in fact the war killed forty thousand. He agrees, however, that the buildup of political and economic tensions in the Balkans, not Princip, caused the war. The narrator notices that Peter does not eat the pips inside of his salad’s pepper, as his childhood nanny told him that they were dangerous. The narrator admires his patience and dexterity with his fork.

The narrator describes Peter physically as being “muscular academic” not “weedy academic”—a distinction observed by her sister, Clare. Claire currently lives in Brussels with her husband (who is, according to the narrator, a “weedy academic”) who works for the United Nations.

The narrator explains that she never felt it has been much of a contest between herself and Peter’s wife. The latter is, according to the narrator, a swimming coach who lacks the narrator’s youthful energy, slender figure, and intellectual curiosity. The purpose of Peter’s trip to the Balkans with the narrator (of which his wife is informed) is to see if their love affair (of about a year) is the “Real Thing.” Peter wants to be sure that theirs is not just a fleeing professor-student romance. The narrator finds his indecision and caution endearing.

Peter explains how Princip arose from a coffee shop when he saw Archduke Ferdinand, whose chauffeur had gotten lost. Peter remarks that the duke’s chauffeur was likely to have been flustered, as there had been other attempts to take the duke’s life. As Princip was too young to be hanged, he was put in prison where he died three years later from tuberculosis. The narrator interrupts his story with how much she loves him. When asked, she tells Peter that she loves him with “inordinate affection,” alluding to their inside joke.

The narrator then questions him about the war, knowing that the professor likes to be asked questions. Peter mistakenly refers to the “Hungro-Austrarian” Empire when explaining its collapse, and, when the narrator corrects him, he refuses to acknowledge that he has made a mistake. As they grow impatient awaiting their main course of wild boar, the narrator makes eye contact with a handsome young waiter, who returns her gaze with a smile. The professor notices her affection, and asks if she likes the waiter. She dismisses his comment by claiming that she was only trying to get their meal faster.

Suddenly, having recognized “the true, the real pain of Ind Aff” when noticing the handsome waiter, the narrator recalls the passport and traveler’s checks in her purse, gets up from the table, and tells Peter that she is going home. As she leaves to catch a taxi to the airport, she contemplates staying to eat the boar which the young waiter delivered to their table soon after her departure.

She later explains that Peter tried to have her thesis rejected out of spite, but that she was resilient and prevailed. She retrospectively remarks at how silly it was to mistake passing academic ambition for love, and suspects she was subconsciously trying to outdo her sister, Clare (who encouraged the affair). The narrator closes by wondering what would have happened if, in 1914, Gavrilo Princip, too, had come to his senses.

Weldon is a prolific writer of novels and plays, whose themes often address feminist issues. She has won a Writers Guild award for her screenplay for the pilot of British television series, Upstairs, Downstairs.