Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Eliza Haywood and Mothers of the Novel

Eliza Haywood (died 25 February 1756)


Born about the year 1693, Eliza Heywood was one of the most popular and prolific writers of her time--about her first novel, Love in Excess, David Oakleaf writes that it is "the spectacularly successful first novel of a spectacularly successful novelist." Following its 1719-20 serial publication, Haywood produced a novel "on average every three months" throughout the 1720s.

An engraving of Haywood,
1725
All this was accomplished while Haywood was still active in her first career, acting. She had begun her career on the stage in Ireland in 1715. Within two years she was in London, ultimately ending up at the Haymarket Theatre, where she worked with Henry Fielding. By the end of the decade, she was not only collaborating on an adaptation of his work (The Opera of Operas was a musical version of Fielding's play about Tom Thumb, Tragedy of Tragedies) but writing her own original plays, A Wife to be Left and Frederick, Duke of Brunsick-Lunenburg

In the following decades, Haywood wrote criticism (her Companion to the Theatre, first published in 1735, went through seven editions in twenty years), essays, conduct books, political histories and satire, translations, and a monthly periodical, The Female Spectator, which appeared from 1744 to 1746. In this first periodical to be written by a woman for women, Haywood, in the guise of distinctive literary personae, discussed marriage, education, and child-rearing, among other topics of interest to her female readers. She was working on another periodical for women, The Young Lady, at the time of her death. According to Oakleaf, in the last issue of The Young Lady, Haywood apologizes to her readers, saying that "she is too ill to continue writing.'

History was not kind to Eliza Haywood, however--while Defoe and Fielding were lionized as "fathers of the novel," writers like Haywood were forgotten. As Kirsten T. Saxton reminds us, however: 
. . . Eliza Haywood was a key player in the history of the British novel, and a leading figure in a brilliant and competitive London literary scene that included Johathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson. She came resoundingly to fame in 1719 with the publication of her first novel, Love in Excess, or the fatal enquiry, which, until the publication of Samuel Richardson's Pamela in 1740, was one of the three most popular works of eighteenth-century English fiction, an honor it shared with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Gulliver's Travels (1726).
But now, after decades of work by feminist scholars, Haywood's writing is once more available. You can read  free digitized versions at various sites like Project Gutenberg or Google Books, and free or very low-cost reprints are available through Kindle Books.

There are many high-quality, relatively inexpensive editions available as well, which include excellent biographical information and critical analyses. I recommend the edition of Love in Excess by David Oakleaf (quoted above). And among the dozens of short stories, novellas, and novels, I recommend The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, which is also available in a terrific paperback edition.

Although it's a bit pricey, Patricia Meyer Spacks's Selections from the Female Spectator offers an excellent introduction to the periodical literature of the eighteenth century, an assessment of Haywood's role as writer and publisher, and a wonderful sampling of Haywood's journalism. (Used copies are also available!)

For an excellent critical assessment of Haywood, I recommend Kirsten T. Saxton and Rebecca P. Bocchicchio's The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood: Essays on Her Life and Work.