Page 1

This article was downloaded by: [University of Arizona] On: 12 November 2009 Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 789363144] Publisher Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 3741 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Women's Writing

Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:

The debt to pleasure: eliza haywood's love in excess and women's fiction of the 1720s Sarah Prescott

To cite this Article Prescott, Sarah'The debt to pleasure: eliza haywood's love in excess and women's fiction of the 1720s',

Women's Writing, 7: 3, 427 — 445 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09699080000200114 URL:

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: This article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

Women’s Writing, Volume 7, Number 3, 2000

The Debt to Pleasure: Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess and women’s fiction of the 1720s

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009


ABSTRACT The fiction of Eliza Haywood, Penelope Aubin and Elizabeth Singer Rowe has been seen to represent two very different ways of writing novels in the 1720s: the amatory and the pious. The literary significance of these writers has also been described in terms of two traditions of women’s writing: the scandalous and the virtuous. This article suggests that these conventional dichotomies are unsettled by a comparative reading of Love in Excess alongside the fiction of Aubin and Rowe. A parallel reading of the work of these writers, in fact, reveals very close textual similarities which suggest that women writers of the 1720s were more indebted to Haywood than has hitherto been acknowledged. The article contends that Haywood should occupy a more central position in the history of early eighteenth-century literary culture and posits a conception of authorial influence between women as a process of dialogue and recognition rather than dismissal and rejection.

In Licensing Entertainment: the Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain (1998), William Warner argues that the “novel of amorous intrigue”, as practised by Aphra Behn, Delarivière Manley and Eliza Haywood, was “overwritten” in the 1740s by Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. This “overwriting” project was enacted through an explicit rejection of the techniques of amatory fiction but was also accompanied by a covert textual incorporation of some of the central concerns and commercial strategies of that fiction.[1] Although the 1740s are central to his argument, Warner also suggests that the first strand of this “overwriting” process is being adumbrated at an earlier stage in the novel’s development. In the 1720s, Warner argues, the fiction of Penelope Aubin, Jane Barker and Daniel Defoe already offered “an ethical alternative” (p. 150) to the style and approach of Behn, Manley and Haywood. As such, Warner explains the cultural devaluation of the fiction of Behn, Manley and Haywood in terms of a countermove by rival novelists to rescue consumers from the perceived dangers of 427

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Sarah Prescott reading amatory fiction. This is not a new argument, especially with regard to women writers. John Richetti’s influential book from the 1960s, Popular Fiction before Richardson, constructs a very similar division between the scandalous texts of Behn, Manley and Haywood and the “pious polemic” of Penelope Aubin, Jane Barker and also Elizabeth Singer Rowe.[2] Furthermore, feminist literary historians have tended to endorse Richetti’s dichotomy by either treating Behn, Manley and Haywood in isolation from their female contemporaries or discretely classifying women writers of the early eighteenth century as “daughters of Behn” (Manley and Haywood) or “daughters of Katherine Philips” (Aubin, Barker and Rowe).[3] What is suggestive about Warner’s argument, however, is his construction of Haywood and Aubin as commercial rivals for a share of the comparatively speculative market for fiction in the early eighteenth century.[4] As I have shown elsewhere, it is clear that Aubin was very concerned about the sales of her novels and as such it is a mistake to read her as removed from the competitive context in which both she and Haywood were operating.[5] Indeed, although notoriety and scandal have been interpreted as the main ways in which women writers were marketed in the early eighteenth century, the construction of a virtuous and moral persona was an equally effective marketing ploy. In this article, I want to respond to and revise Warner’s sense of Eliza Haywood’s significance for the early eighteenth-century novel by reading her first and most successful text, Love in Excess; or, The Fatal Enquiry (1719–20), alongside the work of two of her female “rivals” in the fiction market of the 1720s: Penelope Aubin and Elizabeth Singer Rowe. My argument differs from that proposed by Warner in that rather than viewing Aubin, and, by implication, Rowe, as producing fiction which rejects and therefore devalues Haywood’s work, I suggest that Haywood’s contemporaries exploited her success and responded in more complex ways to the content of her fiction than Warner’s analysis of Haywood and Aubin allows for. Instead of viewing the majority of women’s fiction in the early eighteenth century as being produced in horrified reaction to Haywood, I argue that it is more accurate to view Haywood as an important innovator whose fiction was capitalised on and reworked in a variety of ways. In response to Warner’s argument, I am suggesting that on one level, the “overwriting” process in its fullest sense of disavowal and appropriation can be applied to the 1720s and to women writers in particular. Therefore, rather than viewing women’s responses to Haywood in the 1720s as being a “real” ethical alternative to Haywood’s work, my analysis of the fiction of Aubin and Rowe will demonstrate that there are clear intertextual links between these writers. One claim that results from my repositioning of Warner’s thesis is that the 1720s are as important as the 1740s for an understanding of how the eighteenth-century novel developed, and that the fiction of women writers occupies a central place in this development. However, I would contest


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009


Warner’s use of the word “overwrite” and the sense of dominance implied in this phrase: it is no coincidence that Warner’s “overwriters” are predominantly male. In contrast to Warner, therefore, I want to emphasise that women writers of the 1720s are in dialogue with Haywood on an intertextual level, however much they may have been in competition with her in a commercial sense. Furthermore, in opposition to a model of novelistic development based on conquest and dominance, I want to posit a more fluid concept of authorial influence between women. The main focus of this article is the textual similarity between the work of Haywood and the fiction of Penelope Aubin and Elizabeth Rowe. As I will demonstrate, despite the perceived difference between these writers, the fiction they produced is remarkably similar when scrutinised on a detailed textual level. Aubin and Rowe both rely on the Haywoodian seduction narrative for the structure and motivation of their plots as well as employing very similar language to Haywood’s descriptions of seduction and desire. Indeed, for women writers, the basic themes of the seduction narrative were especially pertinent. The representation of seduction raises crucial questions for women concerning power relations between the sexes, the problem of representing female desire and the unequal gender balance of eighteenth-century society in general. Therefore, the seduction narrative, and its dominant tropes and themes, offered a number of women writers the opportunity to intervene in and shape constructions of femininity in the period. Penelope Aubin also displays her commercial acumen in the way she blends aspects of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with the amatory seduction narrative perfected by Haywood in Love in Excess (both books were published in 1719).[6] Aubin reconfigures the conflict between innocent female and predatory male as a confrontation between Christian and Muslim, thus allowing her to present contemporary anxieties about the cultural significance of chastity in terms of religious fidelity to the Christian faith. However, what is also clear is that the battle between, in Aubin’s terminology, Christian purity and “Infidel” perfidy, is reliant on the reader’s simultaneous investment in the sexual and amatory concerns which underpin this conflict. Similarly, although Elizabeth Rowe supplies a religious and admonitory framework for her tales, the content of these tales rely, to a great extent, on narratives of intrigue and seduction. The second strand of my argument is a more general claim about how to approach female authorship in this period. I want to contest the view that the early eighteenth century witnessed the formation of two distinct types of prose fiction by women and, by implication, two opposing types of women writers. My comparative reading of three writers who have been seen as diametrically opposed illustrates one way in which the conventional paradigms used to describe these writers can be challenged. This is not to say that all these writers were identical in terms of politics, religion and background, nor that they were all crudely formulaic in their writing practice. Indeed, as Kathryn King & Jeslyn


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Sarah Prescott Medoff have shown in relation to Jane Barker’s Jacobitism, a consideration of women’s political positions is another way in which we might modify our interpretation of their significance for literary history and the history of the novel.[7] As King & Medoff point out, a knowledge of Barker’s Jacobitism shows that her fiction actually has more in common with the politically coded narratives of Behn and Manley than the supposedly “pious” works of Penelope Aubin, with whom she is conventionally associated. In addition, Jane Spencer’s recent work on Aphra Behn, which stresses her continuing influence throughout the eighteenth century, has overthrown the Woolfian narrative of female literary history which insisted that women writers had to reject Behn in order to achieve their own literary authority.[8] Eliza Haywood’s posthumous reputation and place in the dominant narratives of literary history – of the novel and of women’s writing – have also obscured her particular achievements and her influence on contemporary and later women writers. In keeping with Spencer’s argument concerning Behn, therefore, I would suggest that, far from rejecting Haywood out of hand, the women writers who produced fiction in the wake of Haywood’s Love in Excess were indebted to Haywood and her success. Overall, then, I am claiming a more central place for Haywood in the history of the novel and the narrative of female literary history. I am suggesting that Haywood was an important influence on her female contemporaries and that her fiction can, as a result, be viewed as occupying a key place in the development of eighteenth-century fiction. To push this point one step further, it might also be argued that to reassess Haywood is to contribute to the current questioning of the canon of eighteenth-century literature in a broader sense. As Paula Backscheider has argued, “When the history of any part of the canon breaks down, so do all the images or reputations of authors, especially of key authors and of authors such as Haywood, who challenge the existing history”.[9]

Love in Excess The particular aspect of Love in Excess I focus on here is Haywood’s use of the seduction narrative. In the first part of the novel, the seduction plot is played out at its most basic level. The hero, Count D’Elmont, is indifferent to love but is more than willing to enter into a series of fashionable intrigues. His relationship with the besotted Amena is predicated on a discourse which posits an absolute polarisation between “lust” and “honourable intentions”. Amena’s father realises the threat D’Elmont poses to his daughter and prohibits her meetings with the Count. However, driven on by her passion, Amena is persuaded to leave the confines of her father’s house and enter the Tuilleries gardens with D’Elmont despite her initial protestations of virtuous resistance. What follows sets the scene for Amena’s ruin and also sets the tone for the typical Haywoodian seduction scene which writers like Aubin and Rowe were to adapt and capitalise upon:



’Twas now this inconsiderate lady found herself in the greatest strait she had ever yet been in; 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 the gentle breeze from adjacent gardens compleated the most delightful scene that ever was, to offer up a sacrifice to love. … What now could poor Amena do, surrounded with so many powers, attacked by such a charming force without, betrayed by tenderness within? Vertue and Pride, the guardians of her honour fled from her breast, and left her to her foe. (p. 63)[10]

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

In the second part of the novel, there are further variations on the seduction paradigm. D’Elmont is now transformed into a true lover by Melliora’s continued resistance to his desire. However, Haywood is at pains to point out that it is not Melliora’s love nor her desire that is open to question. Indeed, in the most often quoted scene from the novel – where D’Elmont is watching Melliora sleeping – it is clear that Melliora’s unconscious wishes contradict her external behaviour: By a most delightful gloom, a friend to lovers, for it was neither dark nor light, he beheld the lovely Melliora in her bed, and fast asleep; her head was reclined on one of her arms, a pillow softer and whiter far than that it leaned on. … He took an inexpressible pleasure, in gazing on her as she lay, and in this silent contemplation of her thousand charms, his mind was agitated with various emotions, and the resistless posture he beheld her in, rouzed all that was honourable in him; he thought it pity even to wake her, but more to wrong such innocence, and he was sometimes prompted to return and leave her as he found her. But whatever dominion, honour and virtue may have over our waking thoughts, ’tis certain that they fly from the closed eyes. … Melliora, in spite of her self, was often happy in idea, and possest a blessing, which shame and guilt, deterred her from in reality. (p. 121)

The presence of Melliora’s desire – “in spite of herself” – is precisely the point here. It is the conflict between desire and duty that is the key dynamic of the seduction narrative, and the plot of Love in Excess hinges on a series of cliffhangers concerning Melliora’s resistance to engage the reader’s attention. Of course, Melliora must remain chaste if she is to be “rewarded” with marriage to D’Elmont and he also must prove himself worthy to her by a period of abstinence and resistance to the charms of the other female characters in the novel. What is also interesting about this passage is the use of the “half-light” – “it was neither dark nor light” – which becomes a key feature of many of the seduction scenes I will be discussing. This twilight or “most delightful gloom” is also emphasised by Haywood in the scene depicting Amena’s seduction. In this episode, the moon is said to assist and raise the desires of the lovers: “and sometimes shone with all her brightness, as it were to feast their ravished eyes with gazing on each others beauty; then veiled her beams in clouds, to give the 431

Sarah Prescott lover boldness, and hide the virgins blushes” (p. 63). The concealment of Amena’s blushes suggests one effect of this use of the “half-light” in the seduction scene. The mixture of light and dark points to a similar blurring of the boundaries between right and wrong and, as such, the seduction scene asks the reader to suspend their sense of this moral dichotomy in order to participate vicariously in the dangerous pleasures depicted. Furthermore, any moral judgement on Amena’s actions is, at this point in the text, suspended by the narrative voice.

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Eliza Haywood and Penelope Aubin This is a very brief summary of two of the basic patterns of the Haywoodian seduction narrative: the respective fates of Amena (to a convent) and Melliora (marriage) represent the two main trajectories for female characters in amatory fiction. Rather than simply describing Love in Excess in more detail, I now want to compare this text to the work of Aubin and Rowe to give some examples of their dependence on Haywood’s writing style and narrative technique. A comparison of Aubin’s fiction to Haywood demonstrates that, despite the difference in presentation and authorial images, Aubin is writing in direct response to Haywood. For example, there are striking parallels between Aubin’s 1726 novel, The Life and Adventures of the Lady Lucy and Love in Excess. Haywood’s novel is structured around a series of parallel episodes which offset active and passive femininity. She presents the reader with a series of female characters who are distinguished by their virtue, or lack of it. This pairing of virtuous and promiscuous examples of female behaviour is echoed in Lady Lucy, where the perfidious and lustful Henrietta represents a contrast to the innocent virtue of the Lady Lucy herself. Henrietta is introduced towards the beginning of the novel as the heroine of an interpolated amatory narrative related by Lucy’s cousin, Lycidas. The language that Aubin uses to portray the seduction scene in this episode is comparable to that employed by Haywood. The following quotation describes Henrietta being seduced by Frederick (who is under the mistaken impression that he is seducing Lucy, with whom he has fallen passionately in love): Many passionate expressions pass’d on his Side, with a hundred Vows and Promises of eternal Love and Fidelity. She seem’d altogether so disorder’d that she scarce knew what she did or said; so that he taking Advantage of that too commodious Opportunity, with a little Force gain’d his Ends, for Love betray’d the Fort within, while he assail’d without. (p. 58)[11]

The terms on which Henrietta’s desire is constructed are very similar to Haywood’s description of Amena’s seduction in Love in Excess. Like Haywood, Aubin plays on the contrast between “outward” resistance and the desire “within” the female character; that is, the conflict between duty and passion. Likewise, the power of the male and the disorder of the female is stressed by 432


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

both writers, and the language of military assault to convey the force of seduction is also recognisably similar: words such as attacked, assailed and power are employed in each passage. However, the military imagery is also unspecific in the Aubin passage and the use of the words “force” and “betray’d” are intriguing and suggestive in this context. Indeed, far from being representative of equal combat, the use of the phrase “with a little Force gain’d his Ends. For Love betray’d the Fort within” implies a siege rather than a battle situation. The desire that Henrietta has for Frederick is compared to collusion with a traitor, which has weakened the fortress of virtue and allowed the entry of unlawful forces. Again, the seduction paradigm collapses moral distinctions as the woman’s virtue is won by subterfuge and chance advantage, not through a struggle between equals. In a similar way to Haywood, then, Aubin can be seen to condone the representation of female desire by a subtle deflection of attention away from the woman’s desire to the force and deception of the male. The rhetoric of love employed by Haywood throughout Love in Excess is also used in very similar form by Aubin. In the conclusion to The Life of Charlotta du Pont (1723), for example, after a series of trials induced by separation and slavery, the lovers Belanger and Charlotta enact their reunion in typical Haywoodian fashion: Belanger, clasping Charlotta in his arms, stood motionless, as if he meant to die in that posture, and that his ravish’d soul would make its way out of his panting bosom into hers; his eyes seem’d fix’d on her face, the big drops escaping them, whilst fiery love sparkled in his eye-balls, as if the raging flame within sent forth those crystal drops. (p. 165)[12]

Belanger and Charlotta marry after the reunion, and the narrator draws on the idea of elevated love as a mortal version of “eternal bliss” in heaven: What greater satisfaction can mortals attain in this life, than to possess the person they ardently love, especially when they have so long languished for one another and been so long separated? This is a pleasure none but lovers have a true notion of. Eternal bliss is comprehended in this one thing, viz. to possess all we desire, or is worthy of our affection; and whilst we are mortal, and on this side of the grave, nothing can equal the pleasure of possessing the person we love. (pp. 165–166)

Haywood’s definition of the love between D’Elmont and Melliora in Love in Excess also constructs true love as noble and semi-divine: [Love], where the interiour [sic] beauties are consulted, and souls are devotees, is truly noble; love there is a divinity indeed, because he is immortal and unchangeable, and if our earthly part partake of bliss, and craving nature is in all obeyed, possession thus desired, and thus obtained, is far from satiating; reason is not here debased to sense, but sense elevates itself to reason, the different powers unite, and become pure alike. (p. 250)


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Sarah Prescott Again, there is clear evidence of direct textual parallels between the two passages. Both writers stress the centrality of love as the ultimate goal of human existence. The language used underlines the similarity in approach. Phrases such as “Eternal bliss is comprehended in this one thing, viz. to possess all we desire” (Aubin) and “if our earthly part partake of bliss, and craving nature is in all obeyed, possession thus desired, and thus obtained, is far from satiating” (Haywood) are so close, even in terms of the words chosen, that Aubin’s debt to Haywood is indisputable. The words “possess” and “bliss” are interesting in both passages. Both writers are attempting to provide a balance between a physical and a spiritual image of love. On one level, the passages attest to a spiritual dimension to the “bliss” of human love. Yet, both writers also include a strong sense of physicality in their definitions of love. Indeed, “bliss” can suggest both a physical and a spiritual state of joy which can stem from mortal delight as well as beatitude. Particularly striking here is the use of the verb “to possess”. Although possess can simply mean to own or to gain one’s desire, both passages invite a more sexual interpretation, which again emphasises the physical dimension of love as well as the spiritual.[13] Another central feature of Aubin’s texts which further demonstrates her dependence on the seduction narrative but more clearly shows her adaptation – rather than reproduction – of Haywood’s techniques is the confrontation between Christian women and Moslem men or, in Aubin’s phraseology, “Infidels”. The confrontation between different faiths is translated into a sexualised struggle between amorous Turks and resisting Christian women. Rather than the sexual conflict being enacted between two lovers, the contest is set up in terms of a Christian resistance to Moslem dominance, but the conflict is always gendered and sexualised. Indeed, in The Strange Adventures of the Count de Vinevil and His Family (1721), Ardelisa’s “lovely face” immediately marks her out as sexual prey for “some lustful Turk” (p. 18) and she receives love-letters from Mahomet who, like the typical Haywood hero, desires her on sight.[14] The letters are also identical to the conventional amatory rhetoric of Haywood’s lovers: “These Letters had no Name to them, but they were very amorous, and contain’d all the passionate Expressions in which a Lover could declare his Passion” (p. 22). However, the scene between Mahomet and Ardelisa is an extremely violent episode in which Mahomet threatens the Count de Vinevil with death if he does not give up his daughter: Show me to your Daughter’s Bed, and, with her Honour, buy that Life, which I, on any other Terms, won’t spare. Make me happy in her Arms and silently conceal all that shall pass this Night, or I will plunge this Dagger in your Heart, leaving nothing here but speechless Ghosts, and murder’d carcasses; then with Ardelisa I’ll return to my own Palace, and there force her to give all her Treasures up to me, and glut myself in her Embraces. (p. 35)



By showing this extreme version of male lust – rather than merely relating the scene in a less direct way – Aubin makes the power imbalance of the seduction narrative explicit. The fine line between persuasion and coercion is broken down and seduction is refigured as rape. The violence of Mahomet makes Ardelisa’s reaction more extreme – death is presented as preferable to rape. Yet, despite the extremity of the sexual and religious conflict, the situation is still based on one of the basic patterns of the seduction plot, as Ardelisa comments: “It is my Ruin the fierce Villain seeks, my fatal Face has been our Destruction” (p. 40). Indeed, as April London has suggested, it is difficult not to interpret Aubin’s mingling of amatory and Christian narrative paradigms as a deliberate commercial strategy:

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

The conflation of the two contemporary myths of the victimised female and the infidel heathen fuels [the] view of the beleaguered Christian. Innocence threatened was a staple of romance narratives, and the addition of infidel barbarians to the crowd of besiegers was a sensational twist.[15]

In The Noble Slaves (1722), Aubin includes another example of the typical persecuted maiden in danger of rape and this is again framed by a Christian– Infidel confrontation. Maria is a beautiful Christian slave who is in the service of the lustful son of the Persian general, Tanganor. Maria’s defence of her virtue is presented within the terms of the religious conflict but Aubin again exposes the imbalance of power inherent in the conventional seduction scene where the male has the physical and cultural advantage of the female: You are, said she, an odious Mahometan, and I a Christian: I am your Slave by Heaven’s Permission, but my Soul is free and can’t consent to such a hateful Deed. Leave me or kill me; for I prefer Death to a disgraceful Life. (p. 28)[16]

Tanganor promises to convert to Christianity, thus legitimating their marriage. However, Maria’s “fateful” beauty brings her to the attention of the Emperor of Persia who summons her to his quarters and in turn attempts to violate her chastity. Again, Aubin pushes the theme of persecuted innocence to its utmost and the exotic setting and religious conflict reinforce the roles played by the predatory male and the resisting female. This is underlined by Maria’s position as a slave and the Emperor’s position as ruler and monarch. Yet, this scene is also founded on the eroticism of virtuous resistance, which is at the heart of the seduction narrative. It is precisely Maria’s virtue that convinces the Emperor of his passion for her: Your Vertue charms me more than your Eyes. Now I am resolved never to part with you. Force must, I find, procure me now what your consent shall afterwards secure me of. (pp. 32–33)

This parallel reading of texts by Aubin and Haywood reveals key similarities in theme and content, which suggests that the “pious” fiction of Aubin and the


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Sarah Prescott “erotic” fiction of Haywood intersect in crucial ways. Both writers are preoccupied with the representation of female virtue and explore this concern by utilising variations upon the standard seduction narrative. Haywood and Aubin both suggest that female innocence, however sincere, is often precarious. The centrality of a female protagonist in relation to her social and sexual relations with men is also common to both writers. Indeed, the place of women in society and the particular codes of morality and conduct that prescribe and determine women’s behaviour is a central concern of the seduction narrative. The commonality of the seduction plot in the work of both authors points to its popular appeal in the 1720s. A parallel reading of their novels suggests not only that their audience was not substantially different but also indicates that a contemporary reader would not necessarily have recognised a marked divergence between the fiction of Eliza Haywood and Penelope Aubin – although the content of Aubin’s texts is considerably more violent. My discussion of the fiction of Aubin and Haywood points to the need to reconsider the terms of feminist literary history as it formulates conflicting traditions of female authorship in the early eighteenth century. As well as challenging the accepted view of Aubin and Haywood’s work as “moral” and “immoral”, or “pious” and “amatory”, I also contend that Aubin adapts and responds to Haywood’s fiction in a manner which reveals her debt to Haywood rather than her revulsion. The similarity between Aubin and Haywood also points to Aubin’s awareness of the market place towards which she pitched her literary production. She takes aspects from both the best-selling novels of 1719 – Love in Excess and Robinson Crusoe – and provides a careful blend of both approaches; although I would argue that her use of Haywood and the amatory seduction narrative is more sustained and integral to her plotting as well as to her interests as a woman writer.

Eliza Haywood and Elizabeth Singer Rowe Elizabeth Singer Rowe holds a key place in the history of women’s writing and the novel. In addition to her contemporary popularity and fame, Rowe’s devout and virtuous image is seen to justify the claim that by the mid-eighteenth century female literary production was primarily authorised by the woman writer’s status as moral exemplar and spiritual guide. In this narrative, the woman writer rejects the amatory misdemeanours of previous women novelists, in life and in fiction, to uphold an acceptable ideal of femininity and domestic virtue.[17] The didactic effect of a woman’s texts therefore depends on a knowledge of the woman writer herself as an “actual” example, adding weight to the exemplary models of virtuous sentiment contained in her work. Elizabeth Singer Rowe has been credited with inaugurating this shift in women’s writing and her critical reception and popularity have been viewed as an early example of the increasingly restrictive “terms of acceptance” for the woman novelist in


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009


particular. The idea that this is a “new” label to put on the woman writer is clearly inaccurate, as the status of Katherine Philips in the previous century is evidence of precisely this justification of the woman writer through a carefully marketed “virtuous” persona.[18] In 1728, Rowe published the work that was to consolidate her fame and posthumous reputation: Friendship in Death: In Twenty Letters from the Dead to the Living. Although she had achieved a great amount of contemporary fame as a poet throughout the early eighteenth century, her posthumous significance mainly rests on the huge popularity of Friendship in Death and its companion piece, Letters Moral and Entertaining (3 vols, 1729–1733). The preface to Friendship in Death emphasises the mix of discourses that inform early eighteenth-century prose fiction. The work is characterised as “serious entertainment” and draws attention to its status as both morally improving and pleasurably diverting. The didactic effect of the text rests precisely on its capacity to provide amusement and to inculcate virtue through the habitual and familiar – to tailor “doctrine” or didactic purpose to the strategies of novelistic prose. The belief in the soul’s immortality will come about by “an Habitual Persuasion of it, by Writings built upon that Foundation, and address’d to the Affections and Imagination”.[19] In one sense, then, the probability of Christian truth – that virtue leads to eternal bliss in heaven – parallels and mimics the claims made by early novels to persuade the reader to believe in the probability or veracity of the narrative content. The prefatory comments also make it clear that a combination of familiarity, affective purpose and imaginative identification are not at odds with the text’s reception as “Doctrine”. Indeed, within the moral framework of letters from the dead to the living, Friendship in Death presents a series of amatory and novelistic tales about passion, duty, incest, unlawful love, revenge, ruin and the familiar trope of female innocence seduced by the libertine male.[20] In Letters Moral and Entertaining there are also adventure stories concerning shipwrecks, slavery and Turkish cruelty. Therefore, although the overall aim of the text is to make readers aware of the eternal dangers of worldly vice – that is, damnation – the content and concerns are those of amatory fiction. Letter II of Friendship in Death epitomises Rowe’s approach. The letter is by a young man, Altamont, who is writing from beyond the grave to his friend Beville in order to describe his death in Constantinople and thereby convince the reader of the superior joys of heavenly existence. However, the description of his death and the events on his reaching heaven are clearly figured in terms of the pastoral romance as well the biblical precedent of the Canticles, which greatly influenced Rowe as a poet.[21] While walking in “one of those delicious Gardens that adorn the Shore of the Bosphorus”, Altamont finds his spirits sinking towards death, and “retiring to a Cypress Shade, I threw myself on a flowr’y Bank for some Refreshment” (p. 10).[22] In keeping with Altamont’s


Sarah Prescott posture as pastoral lover, on his death the first sound he hears is the voice of his beloved Almeria: The first gentle Spirit that welcom’d me to these new Regions, was the lovely Almeria; but how Dazling! how divinely Fair! Extasy was in her Eyes, and inexpressible Pleasure in every Smile! her Mien and Aspect more soft and propitious than ever was feign’d by Poets of their Goddess of Beauty and Love: what airy Fiction there, was here all transporting reality. (p. 11)

Heaven itself is also described in terms of a pastoral idyll, the sense of which is increased by Rowe’s presentation of the afterlife as a superior version of the amatory scenes of popular fiction. The letter enacts the reunion of two lovers and describes in heightened language the bliss resulting from the gratification of human love in a manner that recalls my discussion of Aubin and Haywood’s mingling of the physical and spiritual.[23] The description of Heaven adds to the amatory framework of the letter as the divine landscape is, above all, propitious to love:

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

How shall I describe this fair, this fragrant, this enchanting Land of Love! The delectable Vales and flowr’y Lawns, the Myrtle Shades and rosy Bowers, the bright Cascades and chrystal Rivulets rolling over Orient Pearls and Sands of Gold. (p. 11)

Rowe’s central point here is that divine love outshines anything experienced by mortals – heaven is so delightful that it would be folly to act in any way which would be detrimental to achieving this divine bliss. Yet, the way in which this bliss is described acts as an amatory enticement to mortal lovers and the divine scenes are depicted as gratifying desire and raising joy. Again, there are echoes of Aubin and Haywood’s use of the language of divine love to signify sexual passion. However, the particular amatory context of this letter – the reunion between Altamont and Almeria – suggests that the particular joys are those of erotic love now free from the taint of sin associated with earthly love: What-ever can raise Desire, what-ever can give Delight, what-ever can satisfy the Soul in all the boundless Capacities of Joy is found here: Every Wish is replenish’d with full Draughts of vital Pleasure, such as elevate angelick Minds, and gratify the noblest Faculties of immortal Spirits. (p. 12)

Yet, despite Rowe’s moral framework, it is clear from this letter that the fictional paradigms she employs are those of the amatory novella. The description of love is, again, very similar to Haywood and Aubin’s use of divine metaphors to describe passion. The morality of Rowe’s text is also based on the same assumptions as Haywood’s exploration of desire in Love in Excess, that is, the avoidance of worldly lust and the cultivation of human love in terms of divine adoration. This mingling of amatory concerns and didactic purpose is characteristic of women’s fiction of the 1720s in particular, and when Rowe’s


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009


work is read alongside that of her female contemporaries, it is more accurate to describe her fiction as novelistic rather than as a prose version of divine love poetry or evidence of her exemplary character. The similarity of Rowe’s epistolary plots also points to the didacticism of Haywood’s novels and enforces the idea that amatory intrigues are always framed by the moral and social issues inherent in the representation of heterosexual relations. This practical didactic message to women about the dangers of seduction and guilty passion is evident throughout Friendship in Death and also Letters Moral and Entertaining. Letter XIII of Friendship in Death employs fictional representations of love intrigues in order to warn unsuspecting women of dangerous male passion. The use of fiction as warning is made explicit by the framework of Friendship in Death as the warnings are issued from the omniscient perspective of the spirit world then presented to the recipient in letter form. This letter to Climene is written by a former male admirer whose affection for her is unchanged but whose concern for her is now “more tender and disinterested than ever” in his adoption of the role of “Attendant Angel” (p. 75). The situation which elicits the advice is, however, the staple of the amatory novella – Climene is involved in an amatory intrigue which threatens her reputation, her virtue, and her hopes for heaven. The author of the letter assumes the role of mentor and also takes the place of the admonitory narrative voice found in Aubin and Haywood’s novels: You are, O too credulous Fair! on the very Brink of Ruin: Treachery and Delusion are in Alcander’s Eyes and Tongue, and if you keep this Night’s Appointment with him, you are undone, Infamy and Perdition are before you. (p. 76)[24]

The fate outlined for Climene if she submits to the profligate wishes of her would-be seducer describes the familiar fall of the seduced woman from virtue to vice that is central to the seduction narrative: Your [fate], unhappy Maid, will be a Fall from the Heights of Honour, from the very Triumph of Virtue. What can Man believe? What can the Sex boast, when such Innocence, such Truth, such Modesty as yours, are perverted? Vice will insult, to find Climene among her Votaries, and hardly believe her own Conquest. (p. 77)

Climene’s state of mind is also that of the fatally enamoured heroine of seduction fiction. She is filled with “Remorse and Confusion” and “disorder’d” by her struggle to overcome passion (p. 78). However, in contrast to the typical heroine, Climene has the advantage of direct advice from a divine perspective which reveals the real treachery of her lover: You have a few Hours to recollect yourself, and sure you will not give up an unblemish’d Reputation with all the Peace and Innocence of your Mind, to this blind extravagant Passion. Besides, the Injustice to the unhappy Silvia, to whom Alcander is engag’d by a thousand Vows, and who now 439

Sarah Prescott

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

pines away in Obscurity, a Victim to his Falshood and Perjury. Be virtuous and compassionate, be kind to her, and just to yourself. (pp. 78–79)

It can be seen, then, that the issues raised by Aubin and Haywood are also negotiated by Rowe: how to present virtue while representing its vicious opposite, the definition of female virtue as a successful resistance to male “lust”, the dependence of the moral message on the representation of female sexuality, and the dichotomy constructed between noble love and dishonourable lust. The plots of the letters also replicate the structures of popular narrative. The heroines are faced with a choice between passion and duty and their eventual fates are similarly characterised by either a fall to ruin or a successful recuperation of their reputation and status. The role that death plays in Rowe’s text could also be seen in terms of the alternative endings available for the feminocentric plot of seduction or resistance. If the heroine is virtuous she achieves eternal bliss, if she gives in to erotic temptation she is damned. In effect, Rowe makes the didactic message of the seduction or amatory plot more explicit by her overall framework, but the way in which moral instruction is achieved is through the familiar narrative themes and structures of Haywood’s Love in Excess. Letter I in the 1729 volume of Letters Moral and Entertaining concerns Philario’s “unhappy amour” with Amasia.[25] The plot is again structured from the conventions of the Haywoodian novella. Philario reacts against his father’s choice of a bride and instead falls in love with Amasia. Amasia herself fits the model of the fictional heroine – she is virtuous and reserved and has “a temper rather serious and pensive, than gay” (p. 5). Philario falls violently in love with her but her mother forbids their correspondence. It is not until the mother’s death that Philario can seize an opportunity to bribe a servant and enter Amasia’s chamber without her knowledge. The seduction scene that follows encompasses all the themes and rhetoric practised by Aubin but the language and style is particularly reminiscent of Eliza Haywood’s descriptions of passion. Again, there is the “struggle between a tender inclination” and the external “restraints of conscious honour”: Never did her charms appear to such advantage: The soft surprize, the modest confusion, the struggle between a tender inclination, and the restraints of conscious honour, gave her a thousand nameless graces; whether the yielding beauty, with a gentle languishment, betrayed the passion she had long disguised, or whether, recovering herself with all the pomp of virtue she reproached my attempt, still she put on resistless charms; but in every transporting variety of her temper, I saw my own advantage, nor left the conquest unfinished. With deep repentance I now confess, it gave me an impious pleasure to find love triumphant over all the pride of virtue. (p. 82)


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009


This passage also includes the siege imagery I identified as central to the seduction scenes of Aubin and Haywood: Amasia is “betray’d” by her passion, Philario seizes the “advantage” in order to achieve his “conquest”. As a result of her seduction, Amasia falls ill and on her deathbed she writes a letter to Philario imploring his help before the heavenly tribunal. Despite her fears of damnation she still loves Philario and calls on his amatory eloquence to plead instead for heavenly influence: “Can you make no reparation? Cannot you reverse the injury, and talk as well in the cause of heaven, as you did in the interest of hell?” (p. 84).[26] Amasia, of course, dies a horrific death because of her earthly sins and even though the letters are now penned by the living, death is still used as a way of rewarding or punishing behaviour in amatory and familial situations. Despite the overtly didactic frame of Rowe’s tales, then, it is clear that the content and style is remarkably similar to the fiction of Aubin and Haywood. The seduction scenes are fully presented and the dynamic of the plot and its moral success is contingent on an engagement with the sufferings and torments of lovers. The erotic element is also present in Rowe’s work and, like Aubin and Haywood, the didactic effect of the text cannot be separated from its thematic concerns and formal structure. Letter IV, for example, is from a woman who describes her past seduction and laments her fall from virtue. Yet, the seduction scene is still described in terms which display the attractions of love as well as the dangers: Time and place, the evening gloom, and verdant shade, every circumstance conspired to my undoing. The whispering gales, the falling fountains, the green retreats, and flowr’y scenes, heightened the soft temptation: All nature served to sooth the tender passion, and gave my charming seducer new advantages; his form, his aspect acquired unusual graces, and his language was all enchantment. (pp. 107–108)

If this passage is compared to D’Elmont’s seduction of Amena in the first section of Haywood’s Love in Excess, the similarities are particularly striking: the dusky half-light is again emphasised and the garden location is described in very similar terms in both passages: 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 to love. (p. 63)

In addition, the passages contain almost exactly the same phrase when referring to the way in which the garden scene assists seduction: “All nature served to sooth the tender passion” (Rowe); “All nature served to favour his design” (Haywood). In the Rowe passage there is again the sense of seduction as siege rather than equal combat, shown by the choice of language: conspired, served, advantages, enchantment. Even the phrasing of these two passages is identical as 441

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Sarah Prescott both writers build up the atmosphere of seduction through a four-stage description: “whispering gales, falling fountains, green retreats, flow’ry scenes” (Rowe); “pleasantness of the place, silence of the night, sweetness of the air, perfumed with a thousand odours” (Haywood). As is the case with Aubin, the similarity of Rowe’s fiction to Haywood’s approach has been neglected in favour of a stress on Rowe’s exemplary image. However, just as there are clear similarities between Aubin and Haywood’s work, the influence of both these writers on Rowe is evident in her prose and the plots and language of her fiction. In effect, once we break through the model which divides Aubin and Haywood, it is possible to read all these writers in context and as contemporaries rather than insisting upon “new” traditions being forged and oppositions reified. Such a parallel approach also allows for an acknowledgement of the diverse uses to which Haywood’s work is put and demonstrates her ongoing influence on early eighteenth-century fiction. As I have shown, it is perhaps more pertinent to consider Rowe and Aubin’s fiction as providing the same narrative pleasures as Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess despite the different ways in which these writers were presented and marketed. An analysis of the similarity of Haywood’s fiction to that of her female contemporaries therefore provides further evidence of the need to rethink the accepted model of “two traditions” of women’s writing and suggests more complex links between writers previously seen as opposites. Furthermore, an awareness of the textual affiliations between the writers I have discussed here suggests that while Warner’s model of “overwriting” is helpful for relocating the previously neglected 1720s as an important phase in the history of the novel, the implications of the term “overwriting” are not wholly appropriate for women’s literary history. In Warner’s terms, “overwriting” is the effacement of an influential strand of women’s fiction by male writers. Yet, when male writers rework the texts of other male writers, this process is conventionally described in terms of sophisticated patterns of allusion, paternal influence or Oedipal anxiety.[27] The question I have been implicitly posing throughout this article, then, is: how do we describe the connections between women writers in a way that does not hinge on a narrative of erasure and rejection or male models of authorial influence? What I have demonstrated in this article is that the relationship between Eliza Haywood, Penelope Aubin and Elizabeth Rowe can be conceived of in terms of textual affiliation and dialogue rather than anxious rejection or simple repetition. Overall, what I have attempted to show is that not only was Haywood herself an important influence on other women writers, but also that the seduction narrative, which proved so successful on the publication of Love in Excess in 1719, continued to resonate as a significant and productive part of women’s fiction throughout the 1720s.



Correspondence Dr Sarah Prescott, Department of English, University of Wales Aberystwyth, Hugh Owen Building, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3DY, United Kingdom (

Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Notes [1] See William Warner, Licensing Entertainment: The Elevation of Novel Reading in Britain, 1684–1750 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). According to Warner, the process of overwriting, as practised by Richardson and Fielding, operates in the following way: “first by defacing the novel of amorous intrigue, and then by providing their own novels as replacements for novels they characterize as degraded and immoral. These new novels overwrite – by disavowing but appropriating, tossing out but recycling – the novels they spurn” (p. 42). [2] John J. Richetti, Popular Fiction before Richardson, Narrative Patterns: 1700–1739 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969). [3] Nancy Cotton was one of the first critics to point to a division between Behn and Philips. See chapter 7 of Women Playwrights in England c. 1363–1750 (London: Bucknell University Press, 1980). Cotton characterises Behn as a “model for the commercial woman writer” and Philips as “the model for the authoress as the graceful amateur” (p. 200). Although she appreciates the problems of this dichotomy, Cotton nevertheless imposes it on early eighteenthcentury women writers, whom she labels as either “Astreas” or “Orindas”. This opposition is reified in Marilyn L. Williams’s book, Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650–1750 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990). Although Ros Ballaster’s individual treatment of Behn, Manley and Haywood is convincing and sophisticated, she also reads Haywood’s work in isolation from that of her female contemporaries. See Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). [4] James Raven estimates that novels only constituted 1.1% of book production in the period 1720–29. See British Fiction 1750–1770: A Chronological Check-List of Prose Fiction Printed in Britain and Ireland (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987), p. 10. However, the statistics do not account for the cultural perception concerning the presence of novels in the market place. As Warner comments, “Although they represented only a small part of print culture in the early decades of the eighteenth century, by the 1720s novels comprised one of the most high-profile, fashionable, and dynamic segments of the market”, Licensing Entertainment, p. 6. [5] Sarah Prescott, “Penelope Aubin and The Doctrine of Morality: A Reassessment of the Pious Woman Novelist”, Women’s Writing, 1 (1994), pp. 99–112. [6] For a discussion of Defoe and Aubin, see Paula Backscheider, Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation (Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1986). For a discussion of Aubin in relation to contemporaneous “captivity narratives”, see


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009

Sarah Prescott Joe Snader, “The Oriental Captivity Narrative and Early English Fiction”, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 9 (1997), pp. 267–298. [7] Kathryn R. King with the assistance of Jeslyn Medoff, “Jane Barker and Her Life (1652–1732): The Documentary Record”, Eighteenth-Century Life, 21 (1997), pp. 16–38. [8] Jane Spencer, Aphra Behn’s Afterlife (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); “The Rover and the Eighteenth Century”, in Aphra Behn Studies, ed. Janet Todd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 84–106; “Adapting Aphra Behn: Hannah Cowley’s A School for Greybeards and The Lucky Chance”, Women’s Writing, 2 (1995), pp. 221–234. I would like to thank Jane Spencer for allowing me to read chapters of Aphra Behn’s Afterlife in manuscript. For a discussion of Jane Barker’s intertextual debts to Behn’s fiction, see Jacqueline Pearson, “The History of the History of the Nun”, in Rereading Aphra Behn: History, Theory, Criticism, ed. Heidi Hutner (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), pp. 234–252. [9] Paula Backscheider, “The Shadow of an Author”, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, 11 (1998), pp. 79–102 (p. 85). [10] Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess; or, The Fatal Enquiry, edited with an introduction by David Oakleaf (Ontario: Broadview Press, 1994). All references to Love in Excess are to this edition. [11] Penelope Aubin, The Life and Adventures of the Lady Lucy, introduced by Josephine Greider (New York: Garland Publishing, 1973). All references are to this edition. The volume also includes Haywood’s The Rash Resolve; or, The Untimely Discovery (1724). In her introduction, Greider remarks that although the two novelists seen to be “unlikely” companions, the fictional techniques of the texts reprinted are “remarkably similar” (p. 5). [12] In A Collection of Entertaining Novels and Histories, 3 vols (London, 1739), III, p. 165. All references are to this edition. [13] My sense of Aubin and Haywood using “possess” in a sexual sense is upheld by the OED’s examples of the word being used in this way in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries The examples offered by the OED include Rochester, Poems (1680) – “Mad to possess himself he threw, On the defenceless lovely Maid!” – and Smollett’s translation of Le Sage’s Gil Blas (1749): “The four bandetti expressed an equal desire of possessing the lady who had fallen into their hands, and talked of casting lots for her”, The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). [14] The Strange Adventures of the Count de Vinevil and his Family (London, 1721). All references are to this edition. [15] April London, “Placing the Female: The Metonymic Garden in Amatory and Pious Narrative, 1700–1740”, in Fetter’d or Free? British Women Novelists, 1670–1815, ed. Mary Anne Schofield & Cecilia Macheski (Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1968), pp. 101–123 (p. 112). [16] The Noble Slaves; or, The Lives and Adventures of Two Lords and Two Ladies (London, 1722). All references are to this edition.


Downloaded By: [University of Arizona] At: 18:47 12 November 2009


[17] This is Ros Ballaster’s argument in the conclusion to Seductive Forms. [18] For an essay which emphasises Katherine Philips’s awareness of the literary market place and her desire for fame, see Maureen E. Mulvihill, “A Feminist Link in the Old Boys’ Network: The Cosseting of Katherine Philips”, in Curtain Calls: British and American Women and the Theater, 1660–1820, ed. Mary Anne Schofield & Cecilia Macheski (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991), pp. 71–104. [19] Elizabeth Singer Rowe, Friendship in Death: In Twenty Letters from the Dead to the Living (London, 1728). All references are to this edition. The preface has no pagination. [20] John Richetti makes a similar observation but for the purposes of a different overall argument. See John J. Richetti, “Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe: The Novel as Polemic”, PMLA, 82 (1967), pp. 522–529. [21] Rowe composed various biblical paraphrases, including “A Paraphrase on the Canticles”, which was published in Poems on Several Occasions. Written by Philomela (London, 1696) as well as in John Dunton’s Athenian Mercury. [22] This posture is comparable to that of D’Elmont in Love in Excess. After his separation from Melliora, D’Elmont is shown to have “preferred a solitary walk, a lonely shade, or the bank of some purling stream, where he undisturbed might contemplate on his beloved Melliora” (p. 183). [23] Just as the word “bliss” has both physical and spiritual connotations, “ecstasy” also includes a notion of physical and mental transport. In terms of the seduction narrative, it is significant that an ecstatic state is predicted on the losing of consciousness. This recalls the bewildered and unconscious state of the amatory heroine on the point of seduction. [24] This warning to women is very similar to Ros Ballaster’s conception of Haywood’s didactic purpose: “Haywood presents her romances as a means of protecting women, providing them with the worldly knowledge they need, while warning them against the dangers of the practice”; see “Preparatives to Love: Seduction as Fiction in the Works of Eliza Haywood”, in Living by the Pen: Early British Women Writers, ed. Dale Spender (New York: Teachers College Press, 1992), pp. 52–63 (p. 61). [25] Elizabeth Singer Rowe, Letters Moral and Entertaining, in Prose and Verse (London, 1729). All references are to this edition. [26] This situation recalls Amena’s letter to D’Elmont from the convent just before she is to take the veil in part one of Love in Excess. [27] Warner’s Bakhtinian inflected discussion of Fielding’s reaction to Richardson is considerably more complex than the “ethical alternative” model he constructs for Haywood and Aubin. See chapter 6 of Licensing Entertainment, “Joseph Andrews as Performative Entertainment”, especially pp. 269–271.



Crital analysis of Love In excess

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you