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On Eliza Haywood: Pornographic Places, Virtue, and Womens Rights
Eliza Haywood had to use metonymic devices to further the advancement of womens equal rights in eighteenth century literature.
Love in Excess follows the amorous Count Delmont through a didactic journey of love and failed romances that renders him a changed man when he finally lands the woman of his desires and lives, what one may be lead to believe, happily forever after in "conjugal affection." (266) However, through his twisting journey of self-realization and quest for love, Delmont loses his first dalliance to a jealous father that banishes his daughter to a convent after discovering the budding romance of Delmont and Amena. After the dreadful lose of Amena and his first love lesson learned, Delmont marries the societal forward widow Alovysa only to lose her to his sword in a jealous rage prompted by the ingenious bedding of Delmont by Melantha. After the death of Alovysa, Delmont places himself into self-exile in Italy where he is 'raped' by bad-girl Ciamara. (Haywood)
The story, a picaresque journey through the hard won lessons of love, is an interesting tale of eighteenth century morality and customs that helped shaped the modern novel. Haywood illustrates a deeply complex attitude through death themes and captured loves towards her heroines and vanquished throughout seemingly setting the stage for further reductionism of her modern societies' view toward the female role in love, sexuality, and ultimately society. Haywood expertly uses pre-Barthesian code switching metonymically to represent the walled garden as a reference to a woman's virtues. (Barthes, S/Z) Haywood has to employ the code switch to circumvent the complexities of presenting sexuality to a pious 18th century audience. The patriarchal constraints on British society forced Manley, Behn, and Haywood to write in code repressing metaphors to protect them from the harsh eyes of the established literary community and their own virtuousness of reputation as a female. However, although there was a danger of censorship, societal and literary, arising from their novels, the fact that their books sold, and Haywood's particularly, it is evident a rising audience was present. (Black 251)
As Haywood explored and disguised the sexual virility of the eighteenth century, she was also reshaping the feminine role in society. Her writings played to the whims and desires of the rising middle class and to the women that had come from families or circumstances that allowed them to become educated and could read. Education created cultural anxiety that was led by "feminized men led by their emotions, and "empowered" women outside of their proper roles." (Black) The problem did not rest in the fact women were reading the popular fiction of the day, but in the fact that women, like Haywood and Manley, were writing fiction. Yet it was Pope in his quest to marginalize Haywood's works in The Dunciad that highlighted his own marginalization as Black quotes Ingrassia in his 2000 Article, 'Eighteenth Century English Politics: Recent Works,' in Albion:
Pope straddled the world of the elite and the popular, claiming the former as the rightful domain of the Virgilian model of his career, yet simultaneously exploiting the energy and opportunity of the latter. Her (Haywood's) commercial involvement, innovative texts, and departure from the existing literary hierarchy symbolically aligned Haywood with the feminized economic man, an alliance underscored by her representation of the sexual economy.
This new sexually charged female economy also lends to "an extensive reinterpretation of Eliza Haywood, whose role in the literary marketplace is seen as equally important in understanding the dynamics of eighteenth-century culture." (Black 252) Pope was afraid of the rise of the woman that was symbolized and lead by Haywood and Manley. He thought this "feminization of culture" would delimit the outward growth of society and societal mores. Pope saw Haywood's success in publishing as a threat to the patriarchal hierarchy of Britain. Haywood, indeed a threat and a unique voice in eighteenth century literature, offered a new, and feminine, insight into the desires and motivation of modern woman. (Black) Their desires and temptations were finding their ways out of the dressing chamber and into the drawing rooms of the day. In the span of fifty years, Haywood opened the door for authors like Mary Coyler that wrote about marrying for love rather than social or economic standing in Felicia to Charlotte and for truly innovative pre-feminist authors like Mary Wollstonecraft writing Maria: the Wrongs of Woman.
However though, paving the way for interesting insights into the female psyche, breaking through the literary glass ceiling, recreating, and even shaping the modern novel, and foundering a neo-feministic movement Haywood hid behind the language of the day to hide her true meaning through metonymic pandering. As I presented earlier, Haywood used Barthesian code switching to realize a pattern of deception to trick the reader into once reading about the protected walled gardens of a family manor but in actuality she is writing about the female vagina which holds the protected (walled, if you will) virtue of a young virgin. Barthes played with particular word switches through the current cultural phenomena of the day much as Haywood did two-hundred years before:
Confusing the particular words of a text with the cultural voice or pattern of thought of which these words are an actualization. As Barthes explained at 1969 conference, "Balzac's description of an old man as one who 'conservait sur ses levres bleuatres un rire fixe et arÃªte, un rire implacable et goguenard comme celui d'une tete de mort,' has exactly the same narrative function as any statement we might create which tells that the old man had something fantastic and funeral about him." The Balzac phrase, that is, is only one of the possible verbal actualizations of fantastic-ness, or of what in S/Z Barthes calls the code of the fantastic. (Rosenthal 127)
Haywood used the sensibilities of her modern reader to decipher the true meaning of her works. Absent of a chained chastity belt and an overbearing, sentinel of a father Haywood's Amena's virtue could not be protected by walls, however, Amena could protect her virtue with a will and resolve equivalent to a wall. Haywood's modern reader would have to decipher the metonymic device to decode the true meaning of her intent.
In Love in Excess, Haywood's use of the metaphorical gardens are the haunt and desire of everyman, especially Delmont, in the guise of that most fragrant of manly wants-the protected female virtue. Parts I and II of the book find Delmont seeking his claim first within the beautiful spaces of Amena's family garden. However, Delmont is twice blocked first by the staring eye of Amena's father's dressing room window and then by the locked gate to her "holy garden." Armed with a Barthesian metonymic device it is not hard to imagine the gardens representing that which holds the possession of Amena's virtue and that which Delmont exacts to conquer-all of course armed with a societal repressed libido that leaves Delmont with a burning in his loins and a young girl fretfully designing to protect herself from the wicked feelings of her personal wants and desires. As April London argues, "the garden retains its material status as property, with the attendant issues of ownership, consumption, productivity, and improvement." (London 102)
Steamy scenes like this would be common in a society protected, and terrorized, by primogeniture. The sense of property and propriety weighed heavy on the shoulders of all English citizens. Using her coital gardens as a backdrop, Haywood "writes within, and about, the society in which the male landowner/gentleman possesses and controls the garden/female body; hence the passivity typical of the woman seduced in the literary garden. (Oakleaf 20) The success and freedom of a woman's life was directly attributable to the philanthropy of family or to her hit or miss luck in the marriage market. In addition, for younger sons or eldest sons that were victims of spendthrift fathers or spendthrifts themselves, the dangers of losing wealth over title created a caste system of mercenaries hell bent on marriage for money rather than love. Moreover, prearranged marriages to extend family names, title, property, or pensions were not only common but also a disastrous necessity. Primogeniture forced families and future husbands to look for marriages of convenience or of wealth to recharge the family fortune.
A genuine war hero wounded in France Delmont returns to England broken financially and spiritually. He has to aim for a future mate that will support the inherited title and estate his family left to him. He finds his invested lover in the likes of Alovysa who possesses "one of the greatest fortunes in France." (Haywood 75) The "ambition" to marry a woman of means drove the beautiful Delmont to seek out the loves of a woman that would fit into his scheme of "ambition." However, while he searched, he looked to Amena, a poor and poorly titled girl to fulfill his manly desires. He is taken with her libidinously, however, her current financial condition "would in no way agree with his ambition." (13) Although her financials are not up to par with Delmont's needs, her sexual accoutrements are more than ample to keep him interested in the wild throes of passion while he seeks out the wealth of Alovysa.
Delmont meets the virtuous Amena at a dance while the secretive and conniving Alovysa pursues him. He, although knowing Amena comes from a family background below the means of wealth he seeks, Delmont invites Amena to "favour him so far as to take a turn or two with him in the palace-garden." (Haywood 42) The garden here represents the public sphere that announces the intentions of Delmont and Amena to public scrutiny. For eighteenth-century lovers, a 'turn' through a public garden would be an admission of their intentions to marry. However, once Amena's father learns of Delmont and Amena's designs to appear in public, Amena is chastised for nearly foisting the family name into "a shameful situation." The father, mistakenly, forces the two wayward lovers underground and into the family garden-a place of solitude and protection and a place that stokes the libidinal fires of little lady Amena. (Haywood) The separation of the lovers leaves Amena ready to break down the walls and allow Delmont into her holiest of gardens. She writes him, against the grain of eighteenth century societal approbation, a letter to invite him into her garden-literally and metaphorically. However, shocked by her own forwardness and break with her own moral sense she abrades her self:
"No, let me rather die!" said she, starting up, and frighted at her own designs, "then be guilty of a meanness which would render me unworthy of life; Oh! Heavens, to offer love, and poorly sue for pity Tis insupportable! What bewitched me to harbour such a thought as even the vilest of my sex would blush at? To pieces then," added she tearing the paper, "to pieces, with this shameful witness of my folly, my furious desires may be the destruction of my peace, but never of my honour, that shall still attend my name when love and life have fled." (Haywood 44)
This outburst proves the impropriety that women held even over their own desires. The societal domain of male ownership over even the female libido, desires, and wishes are exactly the barriers Haywood strove to destroy.
Now, foisted out of the public and into the private Delmont sets his desires into overdrive to, like an armored knight, break through the walled-gardens of Amena's defenses. Following the Barthesian belief "everything signifies something," one must break down the metaphorical scene that ensues when Amena and Delmont dare a tryst in the darkened nightly confines of the Tuileries. (Barthes 51) Through comical plot twists, turns, female changes of mind, and divisive servants, the lovers finally meet in the walled garden and move their dalliances this time from the protection of the walled garden and into the public sphere in a nighttime stroll through the Tuleries. The move from the walled-garden to the outside world signifies that the lovers will soon discover the lust of loins and desires that they have so eagerly sought:
Delmont having placed her on one of the most pleasant seats, was resolved to loose no time, and having given her some reasons for not addressing to her father; which tho' weak in themselves, were easily believed by a heart so willing to be deceived as hers, he began to press for a greater confirmation than her words; and 'twas now this inconsiderate lady found herself in the greatest strait she had yet been in; (58)
In a Barthesian deconstruction, it is easy to see that "what strikes most of us first about the passage is its obvious, even heavy conventionality. Noticing that every phrase is a clichÃ© associated with lovemaking and that the clichÃ© is piled on clichÃ© to create a sentence that almost sinks under the weight of its conventionality." (Rosenthal 128) For Haywood, she takes the tone that she may be judging the decisions and morals of the girl. However, upon closer reading and in the story as a whole, she attempts to reconcile the worthy woman with the rights and ownership of her body.
In this scene, the hapless young lady is not only the owner of her desires but is willing seeking to take control of them and foist her new, and shortly possessed ownership, back unto the licentious desires of Delmont.
All nature seemed to favour his design, the pleasantness of the place, the silence of the night, the sweetness of the air, perfumed with a thousand various odours wafted by gentle breezes from adjacent gardens compleated the most delightful scene that ever was, to offer up a sacrifice of love. (Haywood 58)
What was this 'sacrifice of love?'--obviously the virginity of our wayward young lover. However, once again, Haywood delivers the diatribe in a tone and tenor that the modern reader would be unsure of the narrator's empathy. Haywood leaves the reader guessing if the narrator is sympathetic to the plight of the young lady, or applauding the young lady for choosing her own destiny. The lovers quickly move toward the coital alter of sacrifice:
The heat of the weather, and her confinement having hindred her from dressing that day, she had only a thin silk nightgown on, which flying open as he caught her in his arms, he found her panting heart beat measures of consent, her heaving breast swell to be pressed by his, and every pulse confess a wish to yield; her spirits all dissolved sunk in lethargy of love, her snowy arms unknowing grasped his neck, her lips met his halfway, and trembled at the touch; in fine, there was but a moment betwixt her and ruine. (58)
To steal a term from a modern day version of the amatory novel, this is the money shot. However, a house servant interrupts our star-crossed lovers. The servant fearing for her masters virtue screams 'fire' and breaks up the lovers before that most penetrating of moments.
After she is 'saved' from her garden's imminent deflowering, Delmont and Amena attempt to get her back into the family garden. Does this signify a return to her virginity? A return of the lost reputation that will surely accompany her if the secrets of her midnight tryst are revealed? Is Haywood trying to signify to the reader that once the feminine moves out of the protection of the family compound she can never return? All Haywood gives us in the way of an answer or inclination is "the lovers return to find their absence noted, Amena's house smouldering, and their return to her garden blocked." (Schofield, Eliza Haywood 19)
The message Haywood conveys is obvious to the modern reader. However, through the metonymic devices she employs and the tone she uses to hide her message would have left her modern reader perplexed or at the least having to read closely between the lines to discover the true intent of her meaning. Taken at face value, Love in Excess is an anti-woman treatise. Did Haywood foist this idea upon us to protect herself from censure or to further her feminist idea through irony? She attacks the establishments of condescension, virtuousness, and the deportment towards the female's role with the opposite sex. Throughout the story, the virtuous women are portrayed as weak and unmastering, or non-owners, of their own desires and whims. Only under the pre-coital spells of Delmont and the equally as debonair Monsieur Frankville are the virtuous heroines Melliora and Camilla driven to sexual misadventures that fling them into fits of sexual rage.
However, under close scrutiny, one must also view Love in Excess as a pro-woman treatise. To not, one would be going against the literary grain of Haywood's aspirations. We have to look at the authoress as a single mother with two children, an entertainer of multiple lovers, and an independent business woman through her writing, acting, and publishing career. To assume Haywood as anti-woman is myopic; contrarily we have to see her as staunchly pro-feminist. By using metonymic devices, Haywood is ultimately asking society to stop murdering the desires and wishes of its independently minded women. Haywood wants them to break the conventions of patriarchal England and live and seek what they desire. The eighteenth centuries refusal to allow women the freedom and right to seek their wanton desires, possess their own intellect and body, and speak with a free voice is a blight on Haywood's views of womanhood. Haywood strives for this independence like hers rather that the 'back of the bus sister' attitude that was prevalent in eighteenth century England.
Barthes, Roland. S/Z. Trans. Richard Miller. New York, NY: Hill amp; Wang, 1974.
Black, Jeremy. "Eighteenth- Century English Politics: Recent Works." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 32 (2000): 248-72.
Conrad, Peter. Cassell's History of English Literature. London: Cassell Guides, 2020.
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota P, 1983.
Haywood, Eliza. Love in Excess : Or, the Fatal Enquiry. Ed. David Oakleaf. New York: Broadview P, 2000.
Haywood, Eliza. Love in Excess : Or, the Fatal Enquiry. Ed. David Oakleaf. New York: Broadview P, 2000. 7-24.
Rosenthal, Peggy. "Deciphering S/Z." National Council of Teachers of English 37 (1975): 125-44.