Friday, June 3, 2011

ramble: Eliza Haywood, remarkable 18th-century author

Eliza Haywood (c. 1693-1756) was one of the first English novelists. Yet she is not at all as well known as the male authors who followed her, those who wrote what are widely considered some of the first English novels--for example, Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748), or Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749). In fact,
"William B. Warner has argued that Richardson and Fielding set out rather consciously to disavow, absorb yet erase, and obliterate their female predecessors, including Haywood, whose work is essential to the history of the novel. Feminist critics including Margaret Doody, Jane Spencer, and Ros Ballaster give her credit for initiating major forms of the novel [and] key character types." (Oxford DNB)
Haywood's earliest novels are perhaps best classed as 'amatory fiction'--sexy, daring tales of adventure in the bedroom and the streets--which is perhaps another reason why they have not until recently received as much attention, acclaim, or study as the more formal, serious novels by her male contemporaries. However, she wrote in many genres, crafting plays, poetry, literary criticism, political essays and conduct books as well as novels. She even translated a number of works from the continent, and founded several periodicals aimed at an educated female audience. With all these ventures, it is not surprise that her tone ranged widely, too. For example, by the 1750s, her books were more moralistic and domestic, and rather less titillating, in tone.

Fortunately, Haywood's oeuvre has indeed experienced a renaissance in the past few decades, and many of her books are back in print. And they are most worthy of our attention. Not only are they well-crafted, entertaining, exciting stories, but they give us insight into the lives, tastes, ideals, and social structures of the 18th-century woman. She was certainly well-known and well-read in her day: she and the earlier women authors Aphra Behn (1640-1689) and Delarivier Manley (c. 1670-1724) were known by the mid-18th century as the 'Fair Triumvirate of Wit.' Haywood was truly
"a professional woman author--she lived by her pen, as the saying goes--writing popular fiction, and it was very popular." (Introduction, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, 7)
Haywood's books are the sort of thing that the grandmothers and mothers of Regency women may have read, and perhaps passed down to (or hid from) their daughters. They are the precursors to the novels of such Regency and Victorian luminaries as Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Mary Shelley, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, and the Brontë sisters.
"As Christopher Flint remarked, 'Haywood, more than any other eighteenth-century writer ... bridges the fictional narratives of Behn or Defoe and the works of Burney and Austen' (Family Fictions, 219)." (Oxford DNB)
Love in Excess; or, the Fatal Inquiry, published in three parts in 1719-1720, was Haywood's first novel. It draws influence from French romances and develops those themes into a romp filled with vibrant, surprising characters. The protagonist is D'Elmont, a gentleman who is in fact fairly gentlemanly, and numerous women, all quite remarkable--Amena, Alovisa, Melantha, Ciamara, Camilla, Violetta and the superior Melliora--through whom Haywood explores conceptions of feminine and sexual identity. These ladies and their suitors go through a host of adventures, misadventures, affairs, and intrigues that are both charmingly fun... and cleverly complex.
"[B]luntly, it is a bodice ripper. It is also an emotionally charged soap opera of brutal ambition, adulterous passion, and abuses of power. Again, it is a cautionary young-adult novel tracing the love-lives of impressionable young women in a violent, male-dominated world. ... Any novelist would kill to write a novel with such broad appeal." (Introduction, Love in Excess, 23)
The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, published in 1751, is quite a different novel. It follows the not-too-subtly-named heroine through wayward girlhood, problematic marriage, and finally wise(r) maturity. It is a fiction that is also a conduct manual for girls pondering their own marriages--but it is also entertaining in its way, with multiple plotlines and an ensemble cast of characters who are mere types on the surface but actually illuminate the nature of those types. And, read critically, it also serves as a cautionary tale:
"the story of an intelligent, independent, wilful woman discovering the full force of the disciplining, transforming forces that create the subdued woman for whom society's gendered commands become willed behaviour." (Oxford DNB)
Haywood's Fantomina: or, Love in a Maze (1725), a novella, is rather more ambiguous than either of these two novels, and in its interplay of adventure and didacticism it is, I think, the most interesting example of her fiction. Its heroine decides to try living like those other, scandalous women do, and puts on a series of disguises in order to do so (wealthy courtesan, country maid, recent widow). She finds pleasure but also learns unpleasant lessons, as when she seduces her lover in each of her disguises and receives his letters to each persona, all of which plainly illustrates his cheating ways. There is a moral of sorts to the story, and yet the ambiguities remain; it is a fascinating portrait of the contradictory standards women were socially expected to live up to. Fantomina exemplifies Haywood's belief that
"the most interesting and instructive stories occur when passion is intensified sufficiently to overcome prudence." (Introduction, Fantomina and Other Works, 16)
Haywood herself is almost as much of an enigma as Fantomina (indeed, "female authorship was widely considered to be the literary equivalent of prostitution" [Introduction, Fantomina and Other Works, 9]). There is not a great deal known about her life, at least not in comparison with her contemporaries Fielding and Richardson; the most widely disseminated tidbit about her is that she was mocked by Alexander Pope in his Dunciad (1728). But we must remember that
"[t]hough we now know little about the private woman behind [her] conspicuous success, our ignorance is not proof of her obscurity. ... Haywood was solidly enmeshed in the literary scene of her day." (Introduction, Love in Excess, 8)
She was born in Shropshire, married early (her maiden name was Eliza Fowler) and widowed probably by 1719/20, then lived with the poet Richard Savage, by whom she had a child. Beginning in 1724, she lived with William Hatchett, a bookseller and playwright, and had a son with him. She was an actress as well as author: her career on the stage began in 1715. While she began to write fiction in 1719, she continued to act for another two decades. Haywood was a vigorous and brilliant women whose prolific output in all kinds of literary and dramatic fields is incredible. She was active in other ways, too: she participated strenuously in politics, to the point of being brought in for questioning over her statements. She was a truly remarkable woman whose experimental and unconventional life and works are well worth reading as precedents of and precursors to the women authors, and women readers, of the later 18th and the 19th century.

Sources:
-- Paula R. Backscheider, 'Haywood, Eliza (1693?–1756),' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004); online edn, Sept 2010. [link]
-- Eliza Haywood, Fantomina and Other Works, ed. Alexander Pettit, Margaret Case Croskery, and Anna C. Patchias (Broadview Press, 2004). [link]
-- Eliza Haywood, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, ed. Christine Blouch (Broadview Press, 1998). [link]
-- Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess, ed. David Oakleaf (Broadview Press, 2000); 2nd edn. [link]
-- Haywood's Wikipedia page [link] has a list of her major works and a list of resources, including a modern biography.

[This was a guest post for Lesley-Anne McLeod's Regency blog; many thanks to her for that opportunity, and for allowing me to repost it here at home. Thanks go to her, too, for finding the images.]

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