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
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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. 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
Crital analysis of Love In excess