- Published: January 25, 2022
- Updated: January 25, 2022
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The very form of the sentence does not fit her. It is a sentence made by men; It is too loose, Too heavy, Too pompous for a woman’s use-Virginia Woolf, in her Collected Essays, ‘ Modern Fiction.’Eliza Haywood’s novels are important documents not only of women’s history, but also of literary, social, and moral tensions of their time. Her stories are usually told with a considerable amount of what Mary Anne Schofield calls “ narrative energy” (116), detailing the plight of a woman whose tales of passion and strife are detailed by a world indifferent to her as a woman. She was an “ aggressive writer,” who made important comments upon the position and role of women during the eighteenth century. This was a crucial time in history for women as writers. They had absolutely no rights, no individual existence or identity, and the very act of writing, particularly for a public audience, was in essence an assertion of individuality and autonomy, and often an act of defiance. To write was to be; it was to create and to exist. It was to construct and control a worldview without the interference from men. No woman writer could be oblivious to this notion, they had to know the consequences of writing and being a woman, and almost all felt obliged to defend themselves against this attack (Spender 3). Dale Spender, author of The Mothers of the Novel, suggests that because early novelists and playwrights came from all walks of life, they were not from one small and privileged class; their experiences within writing were more representative of their sex as a whole (3-4). He also brings up the idea that the majority of novels that were written in the 18th century, were written by women, and that men “ were not amused by the women’s prominence,” and were using female pseudonyms to try and find a favored way into print, which was quite the opposite a hundred years previously (4). Ros Ballaster has a different aspect on the foundation of women writing, stating, “ The novel, identified at every stage as a ‘ female form,’ was, in this period, refined by purging it of its disreputable associations with female sexuality and the subversive power of female ‘ wit,’ or artifice” (Ballaster 3) If women’s writing is important to the history of the novel, the novel is no less important to the history of women’s search for a public voice. In the eighteenth century, it was an important medium for the articulation of women’s concerns, and its rise was centrally bound up with the growth of a female literary voice acceptable within a patriarchal society. Jane Spencer, a feminist and the author of a book trying to empower the voice within women writers, says in her book, The Rise of the Woman Novelist, “ Any study which treats of women writers as a separate group needs to explain the reasoning behind such a procedure. [Women writers] entered a realm of discourse that had long been dominated by men; their work imitated, or counteracted, or influenced the work of their male contemporaries, and it might be argued that they would be better studied alongside those men” (ix). Spencer tries to prove within her discourse that writings by women were not different from men’s, in style, theme, or content, and that women actually carried a special position in their writing because they were able to use their work to influence and counteract stereotypes within their positions as female authors, placing them above their contemporaries. Because the word ‘ feminist’ was not a word back in this time period, it is hard to read eighteenth century women’s writings as feminist writing. Women’s nature and proper role within the society were always subjects of serious debates, and many women took up positions, which might have been described as feministic roles. Because of the very low opinion of women’s intellectual capacities generally held in the male cultural tradition, a woman writer seemed, by the very act of writing, to be challenging received notions of womanhood, and therefore engaged in what Spencer defines as ‘ feminist discourse’ (x). When women writers were accepted, it was on the basis of their femininity, and the kind of praise they received varied with their readers’ conceptions of that quality, so that to some people, feminine writing implied eroticism, to others, purity. Women’s writing would have to confine itself within the circle drawn by prevailing notions of the feminine, and women authors would have to turn away from the examples of those precursors whose femininity did not fit the fashionable definition (Spencer 75). Modesty within women writers became an important term of praise, confining the feminine desires. Spencer writes that within the eighteenth century, “ the morality expected of a woman was stricter, her style was expected to be restricted to natural simplicity in a way a man’s was not; and her modesty was of a very different order” (78). Women’s writing was bound to be affected once fear about all they did was considered desirable evidence of their worth, and the requirement for feminine modesty might even have undone the effects of all other encouragements, and stopped some women from writing, or publishing, at all. Women’s reading was thought to make them more rational; to enable them to think rather than feel, and to render them better equipped to perform their domestic function (Ballaster 198). Haywood’s ability to use her writing to motivate and empower the voice of feminine desire during this time period was a revolution for all women. Haywood believed that women should be given equal opportunities with men for education. “ Eighteenth century society associated female authorship with inappropriate public display, sexual transgression, and the production of inferior texts” (Saxton 8). Haywood defended the treatment of her texts as inferior with the charge that women were not properly educated and, therefore, should not be expected to write about subjects beyond their general knowledge. In her writings, she was writing about much more than just love and desire; she was making a statement about female sexuality and gender inequality. Janet Todd points out “ By the middle of the eighteenth century the woman writer who wanted to please the public understood that she must describe sentiment, not sex” (146). But Haywood defies that notion, and writes her novels that are filled with girls at the mercy of men, ravaged by their own desires and vulgar suggestions of sexuality in those who have already fallen. George Whicher describes Haywood as one who exploited a libertine form of sexuality, attached to the acquisitive motives of men, who will ruin the hapless virgin (16). Contrary to that belief, Haywood merely embraces the form of feminine desire, protesting against confinement of women that characterizes them in the eighteenth century. She showed the impact of her era in treating marriage, not the love affair, as the ideal outcome of love. Fantomina illustrates a lot of the same themes as Love in Excess, but switches the roles of the characters to give the power of the desire to the female character instead of the male through the art of masquerade. In her novels, Haywood looks into the lives of unmarried women during the eighteenth century and shows that single women who did not conform to the standards set for them suffered treatment as poor examples of their sex and even as immoral and scandalous women. If a woman did not want to spend her whole life being treated as a possession, she had to find ways to escape the binds of tradition and patriarchy. Through the use of masquerade and deception, many of Haywood’s characters manage to do just that. The idea of virtue is treated as a burden to women, and some characters freely give up their virtue, while others hold strong to it, making them vulnerable and subject to greater consequences. Masquerade is a prominent feature within Haywood’s novels. It is used by female characters as a means by which to gain control or power. More specifically, Haywood’s female characters often misrepresent themselves as a means by which to achieve sexual power and even to obtain sexual gratification. Many of Haywood’s female characters are unable to distinguish between truth and lies, or to penetrate the veil dividing reality and appearance; consequently, their ability to protect themselves from the abuse of power is limited (Merritt 22). However, Haywood’s most interesting female characters are those who either find ways to exercise power within their role as sexual objects or who attempt to appropriate the benefits of male subjectivity outright. Fantomina and Love in Excess are not merely tales of sexual escapades, they are representing women as beings just as capable of desire as men are. Theories of masquerade frequently emphasize its capacity to challenge gender, political, and social hierarchies. In her influential study, Terry Castle makes large claims for masquerade’s subversive potential, especially for women: “ With the anonymity of the mask . . . the eighteenth century woman made an abrupt exit from the system of sexual domination . . . In the exquisite round of the assembly room, a woman was free to circulate-not as a commodity placed in circulation by men, but according to her own pleasure . . . the masquerade was indeed a microcosm in which the external forms of sexual subordination had ceased to exist. The masquerade symbolized a realm of women unmarked by patriarchy, unmarked by the signs of exchange and domination, and independent of the prevailing sexual economy of eighteenth century culture” (255). Love in Excess is arguably the novel that critics believe first established Haywood’s reputation as an authority on the “ vicissitudes of erotic desire” (Merritt 27). This story is filled with passion, complete with predatory males, often driven by ambition or interest, and innocent, victimized women. It has three parts, and the first two postpone Count D’Elmont’s marrying a woman he loves. They are dominated by Alovisa’s attempts to manipulate and control the courtship with her gaze. The story begins with Alovisa’s attempt to direct the gaze of D’Elmont precisely because he does not see her as the object of her desire. He is “ not an Object to be safely gaz’d at” (114), because all the female characters who encounter him fall rapturously in love with him. In the story, he is a man not be trusted (Williamson 229). Haywood says that his is the kind of love “ which considers more it’s own Gratification than the Interest, or quiet of the object Beloved” (131). Williamson says points out that Haywood’s critique of male behavior is consistent and that she “ comments that although D’Elmont would be unfaithful to Alovisa, he blames her for his transgression” (229-230):” Man is too Arbitrary a Creature to bear the least Contradiction, where he pretends an absolute Authority, and that Wife who thinks by ill humour and perpetual Taunts, to make him weary of what she wou’d reclaim him from, only renders herself more hateful, and makes that justifiable which before was blameable in him” (133). D’Elmont sees his marriage as an impediment to thefulfillment of his to Melliora, another of his transgressions, because he is constrained by his marriage to Alovisa, who he only marriage because her fortune. Haywood uses D’Elmont as a feminine character to prove that men can manipulate women just as easily as women can for men. Women were often the product of a loveless marriage for financial security, and by trading these gender roles, Haywood is able to shift the blame onto the character of the man, instead of the woman. Female characters in Haywood’s novels are most frequently cast within spectacle as eroticized objects of desire, viewed voyeuristically by men, causing them to be the helpless victims of the male characters. Alovisa escapes this role only to become another form of passive spectacle, which is the “ hysterical female body.” Indeed, in terms of the ability to master the position of spectacle, in Haywood, it is men who can manipulate the spectator/spectacle structure to inhabit one or the other position at will (Merritt 39). The character of Melantha takes the element of masquerade to the extreme when she exchanges rooms with Melliora and pretends to be the woman D’Elmont most desires in order to have him sexually: Tho’ the Count had been but a very little time in the arms of his supposed Melliora, yet he had made so good use of it, and had taken so much advantage of her complying humour, that. . . he now thought himself the most fortunate of all mankind; . . . His behaviour to [Melantha] was all rapture, all killing extacy. (157). By having Melantha being the character who deceives the count is quite the role reversal. She pretends to be Melliora, and she quite willingly allows the count to ravish her. Perhaps she stands alone as the single female character in the novel truly able to enjoy the affection she pursues. She is as much the opposite of Melliora as any other character. Once the count is satisfied and believes he took Melliora’s virtue, he is shocked when Alovisa bursts into the scene, followed by Melliora. When he realizes what actually happens, he is shocked. By having Alovisa viciously killed, Haywood is able to concluded the second part with the fact that Melantha gets exactly what she desires, D’Elmont, and is not punished for it in the least. In fact, the reader is left to believe that she flourishes. Haywood does not punish her characters for using masquerade to get what they most desire. Heroines in Haywood’s novels who do not fall prey to the male plotter are those who manage to rival that power of scripting in their own person. Hence, the nameless heroine of Fantomina learns to maintain the interest of the young man who first seduces her by presenting herself to him for seduction in a series of ‘ masquerade’ disguises: a serving maid, a lonely widow, a mysterious masked aristocrat (Ballaster 205). The heroine notices the reaction of the men for the prostitutes and realizes that she would never get the same reaction from them because of her bourgeois status. She determines to disguise herself as a prostitute in order to discover how such women are addressed by the men. Behind the deception of the mask, she is able to have the freedom that Castle calls “ a kind of psychological latitude normally reserved for men” (44). Only the masquerade provides a sanctioned space for ‘ Fantomina,’ for “ a lifting of restrictions on women’s social mobility” (Ballaster 188). The theme of rape appears in both Love in Excess and Fantomina. It seems as if female characters who feel desire often find themselves fending off the advances of the very men they so desperately want. Both the characters of ‘ Fantomina,’ and Melliora. It is clear to the readers that Melliora wants D’Elmont, but she does not allow herself to act on that desire. She even resorts to manipulation to prevent him from raping her, saying, “ O cruel D’Elmont! Will you then take advantage of my weakness?. . . Leave my honour free!” (145-146). Similar to ‘ Fantomina,’ Beauplaisir takes all of her virtue away with the threat of rape. However, her character is quite the blame for the rape because she is disguised as a prostitute. Similarly, what happens to ‘ Fantomina’ is exactly what she sought after in the first place: the desire to be desired. And what is quite perplexing about these characters is how they are completely vulnerable to their emotions because they are women. They are the weaker sex, and are able to become raped. In the end, ‘ Fantomina’ loses her virtue, but realizes that she has nothing else to do but continue to show that she can still be desirable. By using a second disguise, the heroine decides to continue with her act of seduction through masquerade. She is no longer a virgin, and is able to be in charge of the next masquerade, no longer the innocent victim of Beauplaisir. At this point, she knows what she wants and pursues it vehemently. Madhuchhanda Mitra points out that Haywood “ gives the heroine the ability to act upon her desires by also granting her with skills ‘ in the act of feigning’” (155). By the time Beauplaisir is ready to move on to his woman, the heroine quickly moves on the next disguise, unable to succumb to the truth of her identity yet. Disguised as a poor, unfortunate widow, she once again succeeds in seducing him while allowing him to believe he is actually the seducer. Haywood successfully allows her male characters to fell strong while her readers are always able to know who actually the fool really is. However, Haywood seems to punish her heroine, ending her game with Beauplaisir, by announcing that “ She was with Child” (68). The character becomes powerless, unable to continue her game of masquerade, because she is unable to hide something as obvious as a pregnancy. Is Haywood punishing her character for losing her virtue through her loss of virginity? Yes and no. Sooner or later, Beauplaisir would lose interest, or catch on (even though his intelligence is questioned by how he could not find similarities between these four personas). The game could not go on forever, because it began with deceit. Perhaps if the heroine had seduced Beauplaisir under different circumstances with her honor and virtue still in tact, they would have been able to live happily under the confines of marriage. Perhaps Beauplaisir’s (similar to D’Elmont’s) wandering eye would have always lusted for something new and exciting. Haywood is clearing pointing out the fact that true love can never last on the foundations of lies and disguise. Alovisa and D’Elmont did not marry for the right reason, and there marriage was not successful. Although women’s fantasies, especially in fiction, include the fact that women may become pregnant in love affairs, they emulate men in making this a relatively minor consideration in the relationship, except in marriage, where, of course, the child of one man may be taken for that of another. Williamson points out that “ Although women’s fictions frequently deal with a result of pregnancy, they do not advocate women’s interests in their art, seeking instead to demonstrate how women may survive in a male universe, largely through bonding to other women. They do not seek to change male indifference, but, taking it for granted, seek to compensate for it’ (31). Haywood is pointing out that there is a double standard between men and women, and that women cannot as easily sleep around and not get caught. Even though the risk of disease is quite high during this time period, pregnancy is much a much quicker “ death” to the masquerade. In both those novels, Haywood never stray from feminist ideas and the notion that women are just as entitled to feelings of passion and desire as men are. Unlike men, for the most part, however, they may have to practice masquerade and deception in order to fulfill those desires. Even the most virtuous of women (‘ Fantomina’), are capable of such desires. Works CitedBallaster, Ros. Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684-1740. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Castle, Terry. Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in 18th Century English Culture and Fiction. Stanford: Stanford Unversity Press, 1986. Doody, Margaret Anne. A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1974. Haywood, Eliza. Fantomina and Other Works. Ed. Alexander Pettit, Margaret Case Croskery, and Anna C. Patchias. Toronto: Broadview Press Ltd., 2004. Haywood, Eliza. Masquerade Novels of Eliza Haywood. Intro. Mary Anne Schofield. Delmar, New York: Scholar’s Facsimiles and Reprints Inc., 1986. Merritt, Juliette. Beyond Spectacle: Eliza Haywood’s Female Spectators. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Mitra, Madhuchhanda. Educating the Eighteenth Century Heroine: The Lessons of Haywood, Lennox, and Burney. Diss. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1989. Saxton, Kirsen T. Introduction. The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood: Essays on Her Life and Work. Ed. Kirsten T. Saxton and Rebecca P. Bocchicchio. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 2000. Schofield, Mary Anne. Eliza Haywood. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985. Spencer, Jane. The Rise of the Woman Novelist. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1986. Spender, Dale. Mothers of the Novel. London: Pandora Press, 1986. Todd, Janet. The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing and Fiction, 1660-1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. Whicher, Dr. George Frisbie. The Life and Romances of Mrs. Eliza Haywood. New York: Columbia University Press, 1915. Williamson, Marilyn L. Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650-1750. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990.
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