Compassion or Contempt? Eliza Haywood and Frenemy Dynamics between Women

Thomas Gainsborough. “Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, The Artist’s Daughters,” c. 1756.  Victoria and Albert Museum, The Forster Bequest (1876)

“Frenemy” is a word that has been so commonly used in media and everyday conversations that it made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2008. A combination of the words “friend” and “enemy,” the OED defines “frenemy” as “a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry; a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy.” The first appearance of this term happened as early as 1953 when American journalist Walter Winchell used it in his article “How about calling the Russians our Frienemies?” but representations of this double-edged relationship exist from a much earlier date. Even in the eighteenth century, for instance, authors like Eliza Haywood portrayed this sensitive and ambiguous relationship in her works, especially that between women. Today, frenemy is more often used to refer to personal relationships between women so much so that it has become a stereotype, for as Alison Winch contends, “The figure of the toxic friend or ‘frenemy’ is pervasive in girlfriend culture” (57). This stereotype, however, comes from a long history of such representations. While the OED definition, with “a person” as its subject, implies a focus on the emotional attachment between individuals, Haywood’s novels, especially her final novel, show how the word “frenemy” can be applied to a broad and complex range of female relationships.

Although Winch, in her book Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood, focuses on present-day media representations of women’s friendships, her analysis offers a lens through which eighteenth-century narrative representations of the intersection between the personal and public aspects of female friendship can be examined. As Winch points out, conduct books today that “advise women on how to behave themselves in a neoliberal society where the self is perceived as an entrepreneurial project” (34) also “belong to a specific literary tradition rooted in the eighteenth century, whose objective is to govern gendered behavior as classed” (34). According to Winch, “Women [today] are looking to the lifestyle industries, but also to each other—to girlfriends—for normative performances of femininity” and in the case that “they do not conform to the normalizing impulses of the authors [of conduct books], then the reader is punished through shame” (34). More importantly, Winch introduces the term “gynaeopticon,” the condition in which “the many girlfriends watch the many girlfriends” (5); because “the male gaze is veiled as benign, and instead it is women who are represented as looking at other women’s bodies” (5), the regulating girlfriend gaze is often presented in an intimate manner and is thus “extended to viewers and users [of girlfriend media] in order to engage them in systems of surveillance” (5). Indeed, by shedding light on the significance of the dynamics between women today, Winch’s analysis suggests that there is much common ground in the past and present regarding the construction of gendered identity.

At this point, it is important to note that friendship in the eighteenth century had a different connotation than it does today. Although the term “friends” included the affectionate relationship between individuals as is now most commonly understood, it also referred to a much wider range of relationships in the eighteenth century. As Naomi Tadmor explains , “In the eighteenth century, the term ‘friend’ had a plurality of meanings that spanned kinship ties, sentimental relationships, economic ties, occupational connections, intellectual and spiritual attachments, sociable networks, and political alliances” (167). As such, rather than signifying a single specific type of relationship, “a spectrum of relationships [were] designated in the eighteenth century as ‘friendship’” (Tadmor 167). Understanding friendship in this sense, Winch’s argument about the less visible, but nevertheless strategic and political aspects of female friendship today was much more visible and widely accepted as such in the past. In other words, in contrast to the seemingly more intimate and personal relationships between friends in the present, eighteenth-century associations of the term itself implied a more complex interaction between the individual and the community; “Friendship relationships,” asserts Tadmor, “were major social relationships in eighteenth-century England” (171). In this sense, the political significance that was implied in the spectrum of friendship in the eighteenth-century context has continued on until today, albeit in a less apparent form.

Among this wide spectrum of friendships in the eighteenth century, friendships between women and their system of surveillance deserves particular attention because, as Amanda E. Herbert states, historians have often brushed away investigating the “construction and maintenance of early modern women’s social networks, and have largely ignored early modern women’s relationships with other women” despite the fact that “many women lived in largely ‘homosocial’ worlds” (1). Alone, women would read conduct books that were intended to “create a woman . . . who never stopped checking her behavior and thoughts against the standards of ideal womanhood. Once internalized, the rules of a conduct manual would create a completely self-regulating woman, who would always behave as if she were being observed even when she was alone” (Tague 22-23). These prescriptive guidelines, however, also emphasized social interaction as a requirement to be met: “The ability to relate to others, and especially to other women, was considered to be an essential component of this modern feminine identity” (Herbert 13). Herbert, moreover, writes that women were “taught to monitor themselves but were told simultaneously to monitor the actions, words, and attitudes of their female friends, to think carefully, constantly, and critically about the actions and behaviors of other women” (48); they were “reassured that to scrutinize the behaviors of their female friends was natural and desirable as well as rational and virtuous. Their personal papers attest that elite women did, in fact, practice this type of social surveillance” (48). The conflicting messages here which ask women to both relate through compassion and censure through surveillance seems to be the catalyst that initiates, or even encourages, the frenemy relationship between women and their network as a whole. As historians have discovered, in the eighteenth century, “many female-female interactions were marked by acrimony,” and women “fought with one another, slandered and censured the behavior of their female associates, and evaluated and criticized the bodies and moral characters of the women who surrounded them” (Herbert 4).

The clashing messages of compassion and censure in such conduct literature takes form in the frenemy relationships represented in fictional texts produced in the eighteenth century as well. Haywood’s novels, for example, often engage in examining this tense and precarious female friendship. Although Haywood is most commonly known as the prolific writer of amatory fiction that revolves around the passionate (and, more often than not, scandalous) romance between men and women, her interest in the wide spectrum of female relationships is consistently evident throughout her works. As Catherine Ingrassia states in her article “‘Queering’ Eliza Haywood,” “[Haywood’s] texts in multiple genres throughout the course of her career structurally and descriptively present same-sex relationships of varying degrees of intimacy” (9). This interest may have also been incited by the literary climate of the time, but Haywood’s well-known frenemy relationship with Martha Fowke Sansom early in her career may also have inspired her to contemplate and depict female frenemies in her novels.

In 1719, when Haywood was unsuccessful as an actress and was beginning her literary career, she became part of the “Hillarian Circle,” a literary coterie of both male and female writers that gathered around Aaron Hill. Poets Richard Savage and Martha Fowke were also part of this group and much has been speculated about the relationships and tensions among these four writers. One of the scandalous stories centers around the erotic triangle involving Haywood, Savage, and Fowke in which Haywood is framed as Savage’s shunned mistress and unwed mother of his child. However, Kathryn King points out that since not much about Haywood’s personal life is known, critics have often made conjectures inspired by a “desire to retrofit the pioneering novelist, playwright, actress, and journalist with a scandalous life” (“Savage Love” 723), and that Savage is misplaced as central to the two women’s rivalry: “The object of rivalry is not the ill-favored pimp but his charismatic friend Aaron Hill” (“Savage Love” 728). Hill seems to have been quite the popular figure for, as Christine Gerrard notes, “Many women found Hill irresistible” (67). In addition, “During the period 1720-8, Hill emerged as perhaps the most important, certainly the most ubiquitous, man of letters in London literary life” (Gerrard 62). According to King, Hill was also “a socially well-connected and culturally formidable figure, not to mention handsome, kindly, generous, charismatic, and genuinely devoted to the cultivation of new artistic talent” (“New Contexts for Early Novels” 264). Haywood and Fowke’s frenemy relationship, however, did not generate merely from competition for sexual desirability, but from literary aspirations as well: “Rather than romantic attachment or erotic longing, [Haywood’s verses on Hill] bespeak literary ambition, for in them Haywood attaches her efforts as a poet to the man who (as she tells it) spurred her on to feats of literary emulation” (“Savage Love” 732). Even so, King concedes that “the fact remains that Haywood does indeed stalk Sansom in print with a vindictive malice that certainly looks like sexual jealousy” (“Savage Love” 733). In the end, Haywood’s malicious portrait of Fowke as the sexually insatiable Gloatitia in Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724) resulted in repulsing the Hillarians and for Hill to refer to Haywood as “the Unfair Author of the NEW UTOPIA” (qtd. in Gerrard 95). Haywood’s frenemy relationship with Fowke does indeed seem like a complex one in which the two women’s sexual desires and literary aspirations were intertwined.

Perhaps partially inspired by her frenemy relationship with Fowke, Haywood seems to have reflected on the complexities of friendships between women from early on in her career. Her earlier works certainly show toxic relationships between women, but neither is she blind to the more amicable and beneficial relationship that can arise between women. Read side-by-side, two of Haywood’s early novels written in the same year, The Masqueraders: Or Fatal Curiosity (1724) and The Surprise; or Constancy Rewarded (1724), particularly show how female friendship can be either toxic or beneficial. As Tiffany Potter points out in her introduction to the two novels, reading them together “offers the opportunity for a much clearer sense of the nuance and variation of Haywood’s first period so long dismissed as formulaic and repetitive” (4). Focusing on the relationship between two female friends, these two novels certainly present Haywood as an author with broader interests and insights.

In The Masqueraders: Or Fatal Curiosity, Haywood seems to depict the stereotypical frenemy relationship by illustrating the dangers of women sharing their intimate secrets–these secrets becoming the tools that generate envy, betrayal, and finally downfall. Dalinda is a stunningly beautiful widow and Philecta is less beautiful, but is more intelligent. Dalinda has a relatively long-term relationship with Dorimenus, but she makes the wrong decision of relating every detail of their relationship to Philecta:

Philecta, a young lady, on whose Wit, Generosity, and Good-nature [Dalinda] had an entire dependence, was the Person she made Choice of, to be interested with the dear burthen of this Secret; and while she related to her the particulars of her Happiness, felt in the delicious Representation a Pleasure, perhaps, not much inferior to that which the Reality afforded.—Having brought herself to make this Confidance, she no sooner parted from his Embraces, than she flew to her fair Friend, gave her the whole History of what had pass’d between them—repeated every tender Word he spoke . . . (73)

The language here is suggestive of intimacy and sensuality; Ingrassia asserts that this is an example of “[s}tructurally erotic friendships, formed by the oral transmission of narrative details of sexual encounters [that] populate Haywood’s work” (13). Dalinda is shown here to derive as much pleasure from narrating her story as when she actually experienced it. Potter argues, however, that Dalinda’s storytelling is proof of her vanity: “Dalinda requires that Philecta fantasize not about having Dorimenus, but about being Dalinda, and thus refuses her requests to observe an encounter with or to meet Dorimenus” (35). If what Potter contends is true, Dalinda’s intentions go terribly wrong, for Philecta “listen’d to her at first only with Compassion” (73), but soon she “began to envy the Happiness of her Friend” (73-74). As the novel’s full title suggests, Philecta then becomes so overwhelmed by her curiosity that she schemes to meet Dorimenus by herself, which only makes her fall in love with him and betray Dalinda. Soon becoming infatuated with Philecta, Dorimenus rejects Dalinda and thus enraged, Dalinda spreads word about Dorimenus and Philecta’s relationship to the whole town and irrevocably ruins Philecta’s reputation. By the end of the first book, Philecta has lost “her Virtue, her Reputation, and her Peace of Mind” (99); she is pregnant with Dorimenus’ child, but in the next book, he has ended his relationship with Philecta and soon marries another woman. It is telling that this is a novel about the properties of friendship for Dorimenus is merely “the objectified site of women’s sexual competition” (Potter 33). The sharing of secrets that was at first proof of Dalinda and Philecta’s friendship immediately becomes a vulnerability for Dalinda’s romantic relationship and for Philecta’s reputation. While Dalinda’s mistake was of revealing too much to her friend, she also recognizes contemptuous gossip as the most powerful weapon for revenge. In other words, Dalinda has misjudged the appropriate amount of secrets to share with Philecta, while knowing exactly how to destroy her by social censure.

In stark contrast to Dalinda and Philecta’s friend-turned-enemy relationship, Haywood also shows how compassionate friendship between women can achieve happy endings in The Surprise; or Constancy Rewarded. Written around the same time as The Masqueraders, it is indeed surprising how both novels depict women revealing secrets, but with very different results. Alinda has two suitors, Ellmour and Bellamant, but while favoring them amongst the others, she “felt not any of those violent Emotions which are the Characteristics of desire” (134). Upon seeing Bellamant, her friend Euphemia reveals her tragic history with Bellamant that ended with him leaving her before the wedding. Here, Alinda is portrayed as a very different character from either Dalinda or Philecta: “my dear Euphemia, I have for this time, put it out of my power to gratify that Inclination too many of our Sex have for blabbing everything that has the Appearance of a Secret” (136). Especially when comparing this novel to The Masqueraders, Haywood seems to be criticizing, through Alinda’s words, the tendency of women to lack compassion and to indulge in censorious gossip, which ultimately causes distressed women to suffer even more.

Haywood’s early interest in representing the complex dynamics between women seems to have persisted and developed throughout her career, for the opening of one of her later novels, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751), directly addresses this issue of compassion, or lack thereof, in relationships between women:

It was always my opinion that fewer women were undone by love, than vanity; and that those mistakes the sex are sometimes guilty of, proceed, for the most part, rather from inadvertence, than a vicious inclination. The ladies, however, I am sorry to observe, are apt to make too little allowances to each other on this score, and seem better pleased with an occasion to condemn, than to excuse; and it is not above one, in a great number than I will presume to mention, who, while she passes the severest censure on the conduct of her friend, will be at the trouble of taking a retrospect of her own. (27)

Beginning the novel with such commentary encourages the readers to take on a more compassionate stance in the judgement of its heroine. At the same time, this passage asserts how the “ladies” have assimilated into the culture of policing and harshly judging one another; they are “pleased with an occasion to condemn, than excuse” and “pas[s] the severest censure on the conduct of her friend.” This seems to imply that a sense of empowerment, however false, rises from condemning one of their sex. It also suggests that when a woman is assimilated into a culture in which her reputation, the public form of virtue, is often measured and rated against each other, women’s friendship attains the characteristic of frenemies.

In her final novel The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy (1753), Haywood extends her examination of female friendships, specifically placing the heroine in the position to condemn or excuse the conduct of other women. While Haywood’s earlier novels seem to focus more on the individual friendships between women, this novel pays more attention to women within a female community. This last Haywood novel seems to be curiously understudied in her oeuvre and is generally known as a moral and didactic novel which can be read as proof of the author’s reform from the author of amatory to moral, didactic fiction. John Richetti even states that Haywood is renouncing “her own version of romance and sexual sensationalism” (xxiii), but that does not seem to be the case; the many anecdotes of the characters’ experiences are direct echoes of Haywood’s earlier works. As King asserts, “the Haywood of the forties and fifties [should be regarded] as matured, not reformed” and should be appreciated as “an evolving deliberate literary artist every bit as interested as Richardson or Fielding, say, in expanding the ethical possibilities of the novel—and a great deal more interested than either in mapping the contours of female growth” (“Strange Surprising Adventures” 216). Haywood’s last novel certainly seems to focus on “the contours of female growth,” specifically in relation to the female network the heroine experiences first-hand.

As can be guessed from the title, The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy is the story of Jemmy and Jenny, distant cousins who were brought up by their parents with the hopes of getting the two married. When both of them become orphans, though well-provided for and come of age, Jenny suggests that they should postpone their marriage until they navigate the world further and discover what constitutes happiness in marriage. The effect of this proposal is that Jemmy and Jenny are separated from each other for the most part of the novel; while Jemmy enjoys the pleasure of a rake, Jenny mostly stays with her female companions (sisters Lady Speck and Miss Wingman) in Bath before entering her union with Jemmy.

Haywood’s choice of sending Jenny to Bath with her two friends seems to be a meditated choice that directs attention to the significance of female friendship. Bath was in itself a space where active female socializing happened in the eighteenth century. According to Herbert, spa cities such as Bath were extremely popular in the eighteenth century and these spas, “in addition to being gathering places for people of both sexes, were sites of same-sex sociability, as both women and men undertook distinct activities during their sojourns” (117) that “served as crucial sites for gendered identity creation” (118). “For many women,” writes Herbert, “spending time in female company rather than with men was a critical component of the experience of visiting the spa, both in the water and out of it” (124). In this sense, although much of the narrative presents Jenny and her two female companions in the company of other men, the location itself is suggestive of a heavy focus on homosocial interactions. Jenny also recognizes that “[h]er intimacy with Lady Speck and Miss Wingman was very much increased since she had been at Bath with them, by the participation they had in her secrets, and she in theirs” (347).

Furthermore, as Herbert asserts, “Spa cities were places where the female population was larger than the male population, and female residents of spa cities were socioeconomically diverse and widely visible” (127). This setting, therefore, also enables Jenny and her company to encounter and hear the three self-told narratives by three distressed young women. These three women are Mrs. M, the Fair Stranger, and Sophia. Despite their different stories, these women, as Karen Cajka points out, “share the misfortune of being completely unprotected” (48). Mrs. M, who is married to a wealthy man, decides to make her husband jealous by committing adultery with the libertine Celandine. When her relationship with Celandine is discovered, she becomes dependent on him and then stalks him to Bath. Upon seeing Celandine forcing himself on Jenny in the garden, Mrs. M mistakes Jenny as Celandine’s lover and tries to attack her.  This act sets the scene for her to tell her story to Jenny and company. Not long after, the company meets the Fair Stranger who has run away in order to avoid marrying a much older man. In her story, her father threatens her that if she does not marry the older man, he will cut all ties with her: “Then never think I am your father;—think rather of being an utter alien,—an outcast from my name and family” (185). Sophia, Jenny’s school friend, whose unfortunate narrative enters near the end of the novel, tells her story only to Jenny. Attracted to the handsome army officer Willmore, Sophia lends him money so that he can buy a commission and marry her. Before they get married, however, Willmore takes Sophia to a brothel disguised as his aunt’s home and tries to rape her. After escaping from the brothel, Sophia tries to get her money back by meeting several lawyers, but her attempts are unsuccessful and only soil her reputation. Cajka convincingly argues that “[n]one of the three [women] has a mother to guide her, and Sophia and Mrs. M are completely orphaned. Further, older friends and relatives who might offer the women material or moral protection fail to provide it, thus leaving the women to make their own uninformed and often dangerously precipitate decisions” (48).

Haywood’s particular interest in exploring the frenemy dynamics between women is strongly present in these three narratives. All of their stories include the figure of a frenemy who, in diverse ways, contributes to Mrs. M, the Fair Stranger, and Sophia’s respective unfortunate events. In the case of Mrs. M, “a female friend of more years and experience” (119) encourages her to put on coquettish airs before Celandine in order to incite jealousy in her husband. However, despite this bad advice, what seems to have pained Mrs M more is the presence of “an elderly woman, a relation of [her] husband’s” (122) who “with a stern voice and countenance told [her], that she was sent by him to take care of his family; and that [Mrs. M] must immediately go out of the house” (122). What hurts Mrs. M is not only the message from her husband, but the woman’s coldness in conveying it to her: “This message, and the manner in which it was deliver’d, stung [her] to the very soul” (122). In the case of the Fair Stranger, when she is forced to marry the older man she does not love, she laments her own misjudgment in seeking consolation from her sister, “who by the rule of nature should have pitied [her] distress, rather added to it by all the ways she could invent” (187). The Fair Stranger, furthermore, recognizes her sister as an accomplice to her father in her misfortune: “Indeed [my sister] never loved me, and I have reason to believe I owe great part of my father’s severity to her insinuations” (187). In the case of Sophia, Willmore lures her to the brothel by saying that he “had an aunt, an excellent good old lady” (326); when Willmore “said a great deal more in praise of these relations” (327), Sophia “was so much charmed with the character of [this] aunt [and her two young daughters] . . . that [she] almost longed to be with them” (327). Upon entering the brothel, Sophia is greeted by a “grave old gentlewoman whose appearance answered very well to the description Willmore had given of her” (327), but Sophia’s continued narrative shows that this was also an act on the old woman’s part, as she was complicit in Willmore’s scheme to take Sophia’s money. Although the old woman displays many acts of hospitality, when Sophia is almost raped by Willmore, “[the old woman] took Willmore by the arm, and drew him to a corner of the room, where they talked together for the space of several minutes” (333). Moreover, when Sophia mentions her intentions to make Willmore return the money he borrowed, the old woman suspiciously cries, “I am quite a stranger . . . [t]o all affairs between you; but I will go up directly and let him know what you say” (334) and immediately leaves her. As such, Mrs. M, the Fair Stranger, and Sophia’s narratives all feature women who they assumed would be friends, but actually proved to be enemies.

What is striking here is how these female “friends” become enemies by assimilating or contributing themselves to the judgments and plans controlled by men. Considering the long history of patriarchal control over gendered identity, the idea of male power controlling women may not be surprising; it is, however, significant that this hegemonic system can be seen even to affect the relationships between women as well. According to Winch, “Men in girlfriend culture are a foil to women’s own lack of power” and “the sphere of girlfriendship [is] where discontent over injustice and male power is redirected towards their bodies and the bodies of other women” (61). Winch further notes that “[t]he girlfriend gaze is a handmaiden to the male gaze. It is powerful because the handmaiden mocks and plays with the rules of patriarchy within the intimate space of a female cohort, while simultaneously being complicit in the enforcement of its power“(27-28). While Winch’s analysis focuses on women today evaluating the physical bodies of other women as an act of empowerment, the same surveillance seems to be happening in the eighteenth century regarding women’s virtue and reputation. It is, therefore, important to examine how acts of compassion and contempt between women intersect with patriarchy.

Even as Jenny and the company listen to Mrs. M and the Fair Stranger’s histories, a man is shown as trying to dictate and correct how the women should respond to these unfortunate narratives. When discovering Mrs. M swooning after her failed attack on Jenny, Mr. Lovegrove, Lady Speck’s suitor and one of Jenny’s company, cries, “Whatever she is, her figure, as well as the present condition she is in, seems to demand rather compassion than contempt” (116). Interestingly enough, the two sisters immediately engage in acts of “compassion” just like they are told: “On this Lady Speck and her sister ran to assist the charitable endeavor [Mr. Lovegrove] was making for [Mrs. M’s] recovery” (116). Jenny, however, “still kept at a good distance” (116), which may be natural considering that she was the intended victim of Mrs. M’s attack, but it could also be indicative of her nature and rationality to judge on her own rather than follow the judgment of others. Upon the appearance of the Fair Stranger, Mr. Lovegrove, “who had undertaken to be the speaker” (181) is again the one who begins the interrogation of the Fair Stranger’s identity; the word “judge” often appears in this section of the text, emphasizing the need to sentence the Fair Stranger as either guilty or innocent. When Lady Speck gives six guineas to the Fair Stranger, to which Jenny was “extremely scandalized at the meanness of the present” (197), Mr. Lovegrove, “who doubtless had his own reflections” (197), remedies the situation by purchasing a small snuffbox for ten guineas from the Fair Stranger and then returning it to her as a gift. Since, as Herbert writes, “Women of lower status could and did serve as a check on the behavior of elite women, especially when they felt that obligations of charity and pity had gone unfulfilled” (49), Mr. Lovegrove can be seen here to be correcting Lady Speck’s behavior. Jenny, however, who “did not think proper to discover her opinion of [the meanness of the present] at that time” (197), follows the Fair Stranger on her way out and secretly presents her with an extra five guineas. This action shows Jenny as a compassionate and autonomous agent in assisting other woman; she is also discreet so as not to insult Lady Speck in public.

Lady Speck, although her monetary contribution was viewed as uncharitable by Mr. Lovegrove and Jenny, nonetheless provides an additional service to the Fair Stranger. When hearing that the Fair Stranger needs a man and horse to travel, Lady Speck assures her that “[she] need not . . . be at the pains or expense of hiring a man and horse,” which was “joyfully accepted” (198). Interestingly, the narrator states that Mr. Lovegrove is at a loss to an answer when hearing the Fair Stranger’s lack of transportation. While particularly in Mrs. M’s case it is implied that the patriarchal perspective governs the way in which compassion or contempt is administered by and to women, in the case of the Fair Stranger, although the male figure seems to take control at first, the women can be seen actively to participate in assisting other women in distress.

Jenny is often outside of this patriarchal control when it comes to her reflections on the stories of other women. In the case of Mrs. M, Jenny does not immediately respond until she has evaluated the story herself. In the case of the Fair Stranger as well, she holds onto her own reflections and acts accordingly. Her private conversation with Sophia shows how Haywood has left this final narrative to be reflected on by Jenny alone. Jenny’s reflections throughout the novel offer an intriguing insight into how her perspective oscillates between compassion and contempt towards women. While Jenny’s reflection on the perils of the women she meets encourages readers to engage in both censure and sympathy, her final thoughts are sympathetic, for as Cajak argues, “Jenny’s compassionate interactions with unprotected women . . . remind readers that although they may be unable materially to protect one another from unscrupulous men and the strictures of patriarchal society, they also need not be complicit in their punishments” (56). Jenny’s reason for delaying her marriage to Jemmy is, as she tells him, because “[she] think[s] [they] ought to know a little more of the world and of [themselves] before [the] enter into serious matrimony” (27) and because they need “to learn, from the mistakes of others, how to regulate [their] own conduct and passions, so as not to be laugh’d at [themselves] for what [they] laugh at in” others (31). In contrast to the Jenny in the beginning who is ready to “laugh at” the mistakes of others, it is highly unlikely that Jenny would be doing so when the novel comes to an end. Possibly, Celandine’s forcing himself on her also made her realize that not all misfortunes can be easily blamed on women in society. It must be noted that it is in this very moment of Celandine’s assault that Mrs M, the first of the three distressed women, comes into the scene, and Jenny and her company judge whether to feel sympathetic or critical about her story. Through her encounters with other women and their secrets, she has realized that it is not only an individual woman’s mistakes but also her circumstances that may bring tragic consequences.

One other change in Jenny is how she has learned to hide certain stories from men. In the beginning, she lightheartedly sets out to share the stories of other men and women she hears with Jemmy. However, this practice diminishes soon, and she doesn’t tell Jemmy about Celandine’s sexual assault in detail. As the narrator writes, “Never had this young lady given a greater demonstration of her prudence, than in thus shadowing over, as much as truth would permit, the insolence of Celandine” (287). Although the narrator only says that this was due to Jenny’s concern for Jemmy in case he runs into Celandine, it also suggests that the story, once turned public, would impact her and Jemmy’s respective reputations. At the end of the novel, Jenny finally marries Jemmy since she “had now done enquiring into the follies and mistakes of her sex, as she had seen enough of both to know how to avoid them” (395). Right before this statement, however, Haywood draws attention back to female friendships by providing an anecdote of Miss Chit and Lady Fisk’s frenemy relationship: “Miss Chit had quarrel’d with her great friend Lady Fisk . . . the animosity of these fair rivals was arriv’d to such a height, that they made no scruple of betraying to the world all the failings each had been guilty of, and of which they had been mutually the confidants” (395). In this sense, the novel consistently shows and draws attention to the dynamics and influences of female friendships individually and as members of a broader community of women.

Although the idea that Haywood’s later fiction changed its tone due to the moral demands of the market still seems to be pervasive, Haywood (like Jenny, who is portrayed as an astute reader and researcher) can be seen to have developed into a more insightful author in her representations of the complex female networks characterized by their frenemy dynamics in eighteenth-century society. Her final novel, The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, is an expression of her understanding of this network, especially since Haywood seems to have considered situating women within homosocial communities before her marriage as a matter of import. What this suggests is that in order to enter into a “happy” marriage, a woman needs to understand the frenemy dynamics between women first. Frenemy relationships within social networks become almost synonymous with the potential of being perceived with compassion or censure following the act of social surveillance. Haywood certainly advocates compassion. The frenemy dynamics between women can be seen to be borne from patriarchal order and to contribute to upholding it, resulting in women being quick to punish one another. What women need to understand, then, is how this dynamic works and to become more compassionate, rather than censorious. Today, too, this process of quick censure can be seen to happen through, for example, “slut-shaming,” which stems from “the traditional misogynist fear of the female libido” (Winch 5). Haywood’s message that the female community needs to lean toward compassion rather than contempt is as relevant to women today as it was in the eighteenth century.

Works Cited

Cajka, Karen. “The Unprotected Woman in Eliza Haywood’s The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy.” Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s. Ed. Susan Carlile. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP, 2011. 47-58.

Gerrard, Christine. Aaron Hill: The Muses’ Projector, 1685-1750. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.

Haywood, Eliza. The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy. Ed. John Richetti. Lexington, KY: UP of Kentucky, 2005.

—. The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. Ed. Christine Blouch. Peterborough, ON:  Broadview P, 1998.

—. The Masqueraders, or Fatal Curiosity & The Surprize, or Constancy Rewarded. Ed. Tiffany Potter. Toronto: U of Toronto UP, 2015.

Herbert, Amanda E. Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain. New Haven: Yale UP, 2014.

Ingrassia, Catherine. “‘Queering’ Eliza Haywood.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 14.4 (2014): 9-24.

King, Kathryn R. “The Afterlife and Strange Surprising Adventures of Haywood’s Amatories (with Thoughts on Betsy Thoughtless).” Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s. Ed. Susan Carlile. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP 2011. 203-218.

—. “Eliza Haywood, Savage Love, and Biographical Uncertainty.” The Review of English Studies 59.242 (2008): 722-740.

—. “New Contexts for Early Novels by Women: The Case of Eliza Haywood, Aaron Hill, and the Hillarians, 1719-1725.” A Companion to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel and Culture. Ed. Paula R. Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia. London: Blackwell, 2005. 261-275.

OED Online. Oxford: Oxford UP. Web. April 27. 2018.

Potter, Tiffany. “Introduction.” The Masqueraders, or Fatal Curiosity & The Surprize, or Constancy Rewarded, by Eliza Haywood. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2015. 3-59.

Richetti, John. “Introduction.” The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, by Eliza Haywood. Lexington, KY: UP of Kentucky, 2005. vii-xxxv.

Tadmore, Naomi. Family and Friends in Eighteenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Tague, Ingrid H. Women of Quality: Accepting and Contesting Ideals of Femininity in England, 1690-1760. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2002.

Winch, Alison. Girlfriends and Postfeminist Sisterhood. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

“Roguish Passions”: A Conversation About The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Scholars Joe Drury and Danielle Bobker discuss how a recent novel — The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee — evokes an “engagingly louche” eighteenth century for young adult readers.

Joe Drury: I’m not a great reader of historical fiction nor of YA fiction, so I felt some trepidation accepting your invitation to co-write a review of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. But the title and the blurb were just too delicious to resist: the protagonist and narrator, Henry “Monty” Montague, Viscount of Disley (why “of” I’m not sure), is the troubled son of an earl recently expelled from Eton and is now setting off on his Grand Tour with his friend Percy and sister Felicity, eager to indulge his “roguish passions” for gambling, late-night drinking, and philandering with both women and men.

Danielle Bobker: These premises are pretty compelling, I agree. As is Monty himself, right from the start. He’s on the top of my list of the book’s virtues.  I did some googling and it turns out this is Mackenzi Lee’s second novel. Her first book, This Monstrous Thing, a steampunk retelling of Frankenstein, won her a lot of fans. Monty’s voice makes it easy to see why she’s been so successful with YA readers.

Joe: Yes, he’s engagingly louche, isn’t he? One part witty Restoration libertine and one part James Boswell of the journals. I was interested to see that Lee cites Boswell’s journals as an influence in a note at the end and, as a Boswell fanboy, I couldn’t help but enjoy the moment when his travelling effects showed up in the second half of the novel.

Danielle: At the same time, Monty’s campiness belongs very much to our own moment: I mean in his attitude as much as his language. For instance, when he watches his best friend stretch himself in bed in the opening pages: “Percy’s showy about so few things, but he’s a damned opera in the mornings.” Or, when the two of them are actually at an opera house half way through and Percy needs help but Monty is stunned: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I’m fishing bare-handed in my stream of consciousness for some way to take charge of this situation and be what he needs, and I’m coming up empty.”

The style of Monty’s wanting is not that of any seventeenth- or eighteenth-century rake that I know. He’s more in the mold of the eminently likeable, and eminently marketable, Hollywood romcom rake: Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Or whoever the genderqueer boycrush of the hour is (I wish I knew).

On second thought, Monty’s really more like a typical romcom heroine. He loves Percy right from the beginning and waits in agony for signs that the feeling is mutual.

Joe:  The fresh diction and familiar teen angst are great, I agree—and essential to Lee’s whole project of inviting young readers to imagine their way into the lives of the eighteenth-century elite. Interestingly there are good eighteenth-century literary precedents for this kind of approach. For instance, as many critics have pointed out, Ann Radcliffe’s novels are set in late-medieval continental Europe, but feature heroines with the values and sensibility of eighteenth-century English women. The historical dissonance between characters and the world through which they move is part of the fun in a Gentleman’s Guide too.

Danielle: Pointing to Radcliffe is especially apt—because when Monty, Percy, and Felicity find themselves in Venice, this travelogue / picaresque / coming of age story becomes a Gothic novel too.

Lately I find myself wondering about the ongoing appeal of the eighteenth century, both to academics and in the popular imagination. Seeing it through Lee’s eyes reminded me that at least one answer lies in the variety of interrelated escape fantasies that the period so readily supports. The fantasy of adventure, of novelty and discovery, definitely. But also the fantasy of total entitlement encapsulated in the figure of the irresistible young rake.

I like how Lee’s all-you-can-eat approach to eighteenth-century literary genres seems to amplify the energy and rashness of adolescence that the novel captures so well in other respects too. (Even if adolescence wasn’t really invented until the nineteenth century.)

And Lee gives us a nice point of reference for making sense of the novel’s generic wildness in Monty’s sister Felicity: Felicity initially appears to be to a female Quixote, but in fact she’s just put the covers of romance novels over the many other books, including medical treatises, that she really wants to read.

Joe: Yes, that bit was great. But there are other kinds of anachronism I found more jarring, only because they seemed unintended. The novel sometimes seems to be set in the early 1720s, or some point during the Regency in France. But other details—such as the reflections on the slave trade and the abolition movement—imply a much later setting. I found the descriptions of eighteenth-century fashion, carriages, and clothing delightfully vivid, but the portrayal of eighteenth-century institutions rather sketchier: Felicity appears to be on her way to some kind of late nineteenth-century European “finishing school,” while Monty is able to walk into the branch of a “French partner institution to the Bank of England” in Marseilles, though he does at least flirt with a male bank clerk to get his cash rather than use an ATM machine.

Danielle: And other things point back several centuries: the alchemy, for instance, which is especially focused around a mysterious ebony box that Monty steals from a duke’s chambers at Versailles, and the notion that people having epileptic seizures have been possessed by the devil.

Joe: Yes, although Lee would probably argue that many of those kinds of “pre-modern” or “superstitious” beliefs would have persisted into the supposedly enlightened eighteenth century. We have never been modern and all that.

And I wonder about Felicity as a character as well. She seems to be symptomatic of an annoying school of thought that assumes that for a work of art to be feminist, it has to depict “powerful,” ultra-capable women doing kick-ass things like Wonder Woman or Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, whereas I’m always trying to convince my students that a work of art can be just as, if not more, effective as feminist critique by representing women who are completely deprived of power and the capacity to act because of their circumstances and the society in which they live. Think of Clarissa or Calista or, even a character from a comic novel like Marianne Dashwood. In these stories, patriarchy isn’t so easy to overcome as it is for lucky Felicity. I’ve nothing against kick-ass women (and there are plenty of great ones in eighteenth-century literature, of course), but I felt Lee missed an opportunity with Felicity to give her readers a richer, darker, less comfortable view of what it would have been like to be a woman in eighteenth-century Europe.

Danielle: I see what you mean about Felicity. She is a composite ideal of Lee’s liberal feminist femininity: intellectually autonomous; literary; career-minded; not particularly invested in male sexual approval yet also attractive—above all, highly competent. The character of Percy, a stoic and unassuming person of color, is burdened with blandness in the same way.

Joe: Yes, it is just as easy for Percy to move through this world, even though he is an epileptic of mixed race who is in love with a man. People notice that he is not white and he and Monty have the occasional discussion about the difficulties of the closet. But these difficulties never become more than just opportunities for the expression of a rather pious liberalism. Why not show us what it would have been like to be the victim of homophobia or racism in eighteenth-century Europe rather than just have people talk about it?

Danielle: Although Lee plays with lots of genres, her attachment to the moral promise of sentimental fiction is quite rigid, especially to its central promise to punish or reform vice and reward virtue. Maybe this is the kind of reassuring moral universe that Lee believes YA readers prefer? (My six-year old children certainly do.) But the title makes it sound like vice and virtue will be embraced equally—like in Casanova’s autobiography or Dangerous Liaisons. It’s false advertising.

Joe: Yes, totally. There is, alas, far more virtue than vice in this book.

Danielle: And, ironically, by presenting Felicity and Percy as morally flawless, Lee actually recapitulates Monty’s basic socioeconomic, racial, and patriarchal privilege: only the rich white guy has the right to be complicated.

Hearing from Felicity and Percy as narrators would have gone a long way to redressing this imbalance, I think. I don’t necessarily agree that their suffering more would have made them better vehicles of critique. But I do think that Lee could have shown that, like Monty, but for good reasons often much more than him, these characters also have to learn to navigate, skirt around, or, occasionally, go head to head with dominant power structures. Even Pamela Andrews has edges.

Joe: Fair enough, although just as he is the only one who is allowed to be complicated and flawed, I’d argue that Monty is also the only character who really suffers and the only one as a result who undergoes any kind of moral development. The ending reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones, where unsympathetic characters like Jaime and Theon only begin to acquire moral feeling and complexity once they’ve been disabled or mutilated in some way. But George R. R. Martin and co also show us what it feels like to be a dwarf or a bastard or a woman in Westeros. In this novel, it feels as if the woman and the black man are just there to be props for the white male protagonist’s liberal moral awakening. Why couldn’t Felicity actually behave like one of Haywood’s heroines instead of just pretending to read about them? My understanding is that YA fiction often goes to these darker places these days—I’ve seen The Hunger Games!—so I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of audience. And as you say, eighteenth-century literature often has a harder, Hobbesian edge so it’s not a question of period authenticity either.

Danielle: Yes, it’s disappointing that, rather than using the past as a pretext to explore ongoing ethical dilemmas, Lee simply encases her fixed contemporary moralism into this vaguely historical package. So, ultimately, I guess we suggest enjoying The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, then chasing it with something a little stronger.

Further reading recommended by Joe and Danielle:

Literature of libertinism

  • John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, Poems
  • Eliza Haywood, Love in Excess, Fantomina, The Masqueraders, Anti-Pamela, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless
  • Casanova, Memoirs
  • James Boswell, The London Journal, The Grand Tour
  • John Cleland, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure
  • Choderlos de Laclos, Dangerous Liaisons
  • George Etherege, The Man of Mode
  • Aphra Behn, The Rover
  • William Wycherley, The Country Wife
  • The Libertine Reader: Eroticism and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century France
  • When Flesh Becomes Word: An Anthology of Early Eighteenth-Century Libertine Literature

Other literature of the period

  • Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian, The Romance of the Forest
  • Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote
  • Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela

Relevant academic studies

  • George Haggerty, Men in Love: Masculinity and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century
  • Susan Lanser, The Sexuality of History
  • Alan Bray, The Friend
  • Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution
  • Rictor Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England, 1700-1830
  • Karen Harvey, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture

Keeping Marriage Spicy With Jane Austen

Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan

“It can be a pleasure to meet one’s wife as a stranger.”

When friends and colleagues heard that I was reporting on the eccentric world of Jane Austen superfansone question was uppermost: Do people hook up at Jane Austen camp? At first, I grew irritated at these inquiries, which seemed to assume that Austen cosplay is somehow centrally about sex. (It’s not, really; it’s mainly about books, and only a little about sex.) Still, as I spent more and more time in the world of the Janeites, I came to meet quite a few older couples for whom the Jane Austen summer camp doubled as a romantic getaway—a chance to rediscover the pleasures of flirting with one’s spouse.

Some, in the tradition of R.W. Chapman and Katharine Metcalfe, had fallen in love with each other in part through discovering a mutual love for Austen, and there are various academic power couples across the world whose unions owe their beginning to an indiscreet moment at an Austen conference; as Kipling’s narrator says in his 1924 short story “The Janeites,” Austen remains a “bit of a match-maker” even in death, and at the larger conferences I occasionally met a child conceived (the parents told me) with the aid of Austen’s prose as aphrodisiac.

Read the rest of this excerpt on Slate, and buy Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan from your local independent bookstore, or from Amazon.

Manuscript Fiction in the Archive

The Life of Frederick Harley by Lady Katherine Howard

The Life of Frederick Harley by Lady Katherine Howard, Chawton House Library

“As these sheets will never appear in the form of a book, and I have not the fear of the Reviewers last before my eyes . . .” writes a wise older friend in the introduction to a novel written to a young woman in the middle of a years-long lawsuit.  Another young woman writes a novel in 1799 as a gift to a friend she loves so much that over forty years later they will be buried side by side.  These novels—and many others—survive in single copies, often all-but lost in the corners of unlikely archives, never brought together.  Until now.

This project will create a vocabulary and taxonomy for discussing manuscript fiction in the age of print (c.1760-1880).  While significant and exciting research has been done on the process of manuscript circulation and “publication” by scholars such as Margaret Ezell, Harold Love, and others following in their wake, those accounts of manuscript culture do not extend themselves very far (if at all) into the eighteenth century.  Moreover, studies of later eighteenth and nineteenth-century manuscripts concentrate on those that achieve fame by association (the Brontë juvenilia, the Dickinson fascicles, the working manuscripts of various published authors) or those that have value as social documents (friendship books, copybooks, etc.).  The 2015 conference “After Print: Manuscripts in the Eighteenth-Century” at the University of California Santa Barbara gathered together those interested in manuscript in this period, but most of those researchers worked on manuscripts that ultimately saw print, political, or scientific nonfiction, and the literary form most common in manuscript culture:  poetry.

Where is fiction in manuscript during the age of print?  While difficult to find the archive, it exists, and I collect it.  Since 2009, I have collected examples of what I call “manuscript fiction”:  a term I use to describe works (complete or incomplete) of fiction that survive during the age of print culture, despite never seeing print.  (You can see my early work on this here).  Some are found in the archive bound and resembling print in sizes ranging from heavy tomes to tiny packets, while some survive only in fragments.  Some resemble print editions closely and include elaborate title pages, while others are barely decipherable without intense deciphering.  Some contain chapters and a clear plot, and some ramble in ways worthy of Smollett or Richardson (or are, indeed, parodies of those famous novelists).  Some are written by those famous in other fields (such as playwright/actor Charles Dibdin or Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings), while some linger just on the edges of the historical record.  While a few may have been imagined as future printed books, none of them made that leap.  Most challenging, none of it appears in obvious ways in any cataloguing system.

I currently have thousands of pages of this material from the American Antiquarian Society, Chawton House Library, the National Library of Scotland, the British Library, and the London Metropolitan Archive.  At the time of this writing, I am preparing to collect more examples from the University of Pennsylvania, the New York Public Library, and Princeton University,  and I know of examples at Newberry Library and Yale University.  From meticulous searching of various finding aids, I also have evidence of more in various libraries, public records offices, and other archives in the United Kingdom and the United States.  Together, this growing collection provides exciting and illuminating insights into the writing and reading lives of the period.

Dr. Freidman and Kelsie Shipley

Dr. Friedman and Kelsie Shipley

Thanks to in-kind support from Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts information technology and digital projects departments, as well as internal grant funding from the College, a two-year University-level seed grant, and support from the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, I am creating a database that includes full-text transcriptions of these texts.  These texts will be fully encoded according to best practices so that they can be used for the full range of digital projects, including easy interface with many other projects in eighteenth and nineteenth-century studies, such as the aggregation tools 18th Connect and NINES.

The first phase will use the currently collected material to create a text-only proof-of-concept database, designed to include later images of the manuscript pages themselves in another phase if possible.  In fall of 2016 Auburn’s metadata specialist Dana Caudle has pledged at least 40 hours of her time to create the data dictionary that is the foundation of the project.  During the 2016-17 academic school year, I will be training (with assistance from Dana) both undergraduate and graduate students in the finer points of transcription, TEI markup, and metadata tagging.  One student, Kelsie Shipley, was awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship, while others are members of my year-long Honors Research Seminar and will receive course credit for their contributions to this project.

In the summer of 2017, I will return to the UK to access relevant manuscripts I know to be in the collection of the Yorkshire Archeological Society.  The holdings of the YAS are being moved to the University of Leeds and will not be available in any form until the transfer is complete in 2017.  I am hoping by that time I will have still more leads for further collection.  This is the challenge of this project:  because these are works that are not often catalogued specifically in library holdings, I often rely on word of mouth from the knowledgeable archivists and librarians who know their collections.

Waverley, Scotland’s Referendum, and Scottish Identity

Joseph Slater, active 1803–died 1847. A Sketch of Sir Walter Scott in a Garden (undated).  Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Joseph Slater, active 1803–died 1847. A Sketch of Sir Walter Scott in a Garden (undated). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Before the referendum on Scottish independence this past September, commentators pointed out that the historic vote was taking place during the septcentennial of the Battle of Bannockburn, in which Robert the Bruce led an outnumbered Scottish army to victory over English forces.  They speculated this timing would inspire Scots to fight for their freedom from English influence once again.  (Commentators did not point out that election day itself fell on the birthday of Samuel Johnson, who contributed more than his fair share of anti-Scottish jibes.)

Now that Scots have voted to remain with the United Kingdom, perhaps it is more appropriate to recognize that the vote was also held during the bicentennial of Walter Scott’s Waverley—a novel that at once celebrates a distinctively Scottish identity and defends the established Union as a valuable political arrangement.  This complex statement of Scotland’s union with England has echoes in the referendum itself.

Scott’s first novel concerns Edward Waverley, an aimless young officer in the British army who becomes immersed in Highland culture and political intrigue in the weeks leading up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745.  A number of factors inspire Edward to eventually join the Jacobite cause; perhaps the most important is that the romantic atmosphere and culture of the Highlands excite his vivid—but undisciplined—fancy.  A “creature rather of imagination than reason,” Edward is captivated by the region’s natural beauty, the power of its poetry and music, as well as the hospitality, civility, and strength of its people [1].  Even Bonnie Prince Charlie himself is “generous . . . courteous . . . [and] noble-minded” (312).  Edward is not wrong to recognize the value of these traits; his mistake is letting them overcome his reason and seduce him to Jacobitism.  (When describing Robert Burns’s political sympathies, Scott used language very much like what he used to describe Edward’s flirtation with treason:  “I imagine his Jacobitism, like my own, belonged to the fancy rather than the reason” [2].)

In addition to depicting the romance of the Highlands, Scott elevates elements of Scottish law.  When Edward’s friend Fergus Mac-Ivor, a Highland chief complicit in the Jacobite Rising, is condemned to death, he scoffs at the notion that the English were more civilized and enlightened than Highlanders.  He describes the brutal punishment awaiting him—he would be hung (though not to the point of death), disemboweled, decapitated, and then publicly displayed.  Fergus remarks:

This same law of high treason . . . is one of the blessings, Edward, with which your free country has accommodated poor old Scotland—her own jurisprudence, as I have heard, was much milder.  But I suppose one day or other—when there are no longer any wild Highlanders to benefit by its tender mercies—they will blot it from their records, as levelling them with a nation of cannibals.  The mummery, too, of exposing the senseless head—they have not the wit to grace mine with a paper coronet; there would be some satire in that, Edward.  (348)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, and in a remarkably bitter tone, Fergus contends that Scottish law was more humane and civilized before reform imported the “tender mercies” of the English.  The English have barbarized the Scots, not civilized them.

Scott ends the novel by emphasizing the positive elements of Highland culture, mourning that it “has now almost entirely vanished from the land, and with it, doubtless, much absurd political prejudice; but, also, many living examples of singular and disinterested attachment to the principles of loyalty which they received from their fathers, and of old Scottish faith, hospitality, worth, and honour” (363).  The single negative trait he identifies in this passage—“political prejudice”—refers to Jacobitism, but some English characters harbor misguided anti-Scottish political prejudices, so there can be no sense that such bigotry is a purely Scottish shortcoming.  Scott explains that the novel was an attempt to ensure that Highland virtues were not completely lost, to “preserv[e] some idea of the ancient manners of which I have witnessed almost the total extinction” (363).  Saree Makdisi has described such passages as “claims to a sentimental Jacobitism, to the trappings and rituals of a mythic Highland past” by which Scott tries to preserve the “anti-modern otherness” of the Highlands [3].

Yet the novel is certainly not an unalloyed celebration of all things Highland, nor a dive into history’s dumpster to retrieve Jacobite ideals.  Scott challenges the premise of the ’45 when Edward, before he joins the cause, contemplates:  “Since [James II’s abdication in 1688] four monarchs had reigned in peace and glory over Britain, sustaining and exalting the character of the nation abroad and its liberties at home.  Reason asked, was it worth while to disturb a government so long and established, and to plunge a kingdom into all the miseries of civil war, for the purpose of replacing upon the throne the descendants of a monarch by whom it had been wilfully forfeited?” (149).  And because Edward’s eventual allegiance to the Jacobite cause is grounded in Quixotic folly, it does not withstand its early encounters with the enemy.  Just before his first battle against the British forces he abandoned, Edward recognizes the foreignness of his new army:  “he saw the wild dress and appearance of his Highland associates, heard their whispers in an uncouth and unknown language, looked upon his own dress, so unlike that which he had worn from his infancy, and wished to awake from what seemed at the moment a dream, strange, horrible, and unnatural” (236).  The Highlanders are too foreign, too distinct from Edward’s experience of Britain, for him to feel that he belonged in their army.  The “anti-modern otherness” of the Highlands is too much for Edward.

Jacobite foreignness is an important part of the pro-Hanoverian thread in Waverley.  Because they fought to re-establish the Stuarts as the monarchs of the United Kingdom (and not to separate Scotland from that kingdom), Jacobites can be considered Scottish nationalists insofar as the Stuarts themselves were Scottish, and therefore more British than the German Georges.  Yet Scott challenges even the superior British-ness of the Stuarts, frequently reminding readers that Prince Charles and his allies were as continental as they were Scottish.  Kenneth McNeil argues that Fergus in particular “embod[ies] a particular mode of French masculinity that Scott elsewhere associates with the failings of French culture” [4].  This guilt by association with the French would have been especially damning when the novel was published, just at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

The blend of Hanoverian unionism and Scottish nationalism apparent in Waverley is also manifest in Scott’s own life.  He helped organize King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822, staging elaborate ceremonies to commemorate the first visit of a British monarch to the Scottish capital in nearly two hundred years.  But he also fought parliamentary efforts to reform the Scottish jury system to more closely resemble England’s, and others to prohibit Scottish private banks from issuing notes of currency under five pounds.  Scott’s protests against the former ultimately failed; he was successful in the latter, which is why his portrait still graces all notes minted by the Bank of Scotland.

Which brings us back to the recent referendum.  In its editorial endorsing a vote against independence, the Edinburgh newspaper The Scotsman, asked: “Does the Union cast a dark shadow over us?  It does not seem that way, Scotland is a prosperous, peaceful, successful country.  We are confident in our national identity with our own distinctive society.  We have our history and our heritage.”  This expresses simultaneous, not divided, loyalty to the United Kingdom and Scotland.  Based on such sentiments, one may infer that the 27% of Scots who voted “no” out of “a strong attachment to the UK and its shared history, culture, and tradition” also felt a strong attachment to Scotland and its own distinctive history, culture, and tradition.  It is a fresh version of the complicated patriotism that Scott depicted vividly in Waverley and elsewhere.

I doubt that many Scots were asking themselves, HWSV?—How Would Scott Vote?  But Scott’s simultaneous embrace of Hanoverian rule and celebration of Scottish identity help clarify some of the impulses behind the results of the referendum [5].

———————————–

Notes:

[1] Walter Scott, Waverley, 138.  Subsequent citations will be provided in the main text.

[2] John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, 4.181.

[3] Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity, 97.

[4] Scotland, Britain, Empire: Writing the Highlands, 1760-1860, 98.

[5] For a broader consideration of Scottish literature’s relevance to the referendum, see Evan Gottlieb’s recent piece in the The Huffington Post.

Jane Austen Summer Program

jasp-2014-flyer-as-pngDon’t miss this year’s Jane Austen Summer Program:  held on UNC’s campus June 12-15, 2014.

This four-day summer program takes a closer look at Sense and Sensibility. Learning experiences include lecture formats and discussion groups daily. Discussions will focus on Sense and Sensibility in its historical context as well as its many afterlives in fiction and film. Additional events include a Regency ball and the chance to partake in an English tea.

The Austen Summer Program is designed to appeal to established scholars, high school teachers, graduate students, and undergraduate students:  anyone with a passion for all things Austen is welcome to attend!

Learn more and register at http://janeaustensummer.org/

Flyer for JASP 2014

Blurred Lines: When Fiction Tells the Truth

Olaudah Equiano was most certainly a key figure in the abolition movement of the eighteenth century.  His narrative, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African (1789), is one of the best known of the ere and represents the story of thousands of Africans captured and forced to live a life of misery and captivity in foreign lands.  However, in a 1999 issue of Slavery & Abolition, Vincent Carretta argues that Equiano may have been born in South Carolina and therefore falsified the parts of his narrative that described his journey across the Atlantic.  I argue that the information, if true, does not detract from the value of the narrative.  In fact, I suggest that Equiano’s representation of the truth is merely a reflection of how difficult it is to make a distinction between fact and fiction.  What Equiano testified to is the traumatic experience many of his friends and family had to experience; he was simply the most proactive and vocal in sharing the truth.  Writing his story while including small embellishments based on the honest and painful truths of others around him does not make him a liar.  They make him an author of historical fiction.  Authors of historical fiction desire to tell the truth, and in order to do so, they must exist slightly outside the realm of known fact.  In his novel Someone Knows My Name, originally published as The Book of Negroes (2007), Lawrence Hill reveals heart-wrenching details of the slave trade and ends up portraying history authentically.

Set in the mid- to late-eighteenth century, Someone Knows My Name begins with an aged Aminata Diallo (an African who was captured and sold into slavery at age 11) looking back on her life.  She has found herself in London working with the British Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  They have asked her to write a memoir in the fashion of historical author Olaudah Equiano.  This frame for narration allows Aminata to recall painful events in her past with accuracy and with the wisdom of age.  We learn that as a young child she watched both of her parents brutally murdered by her captors.  She travels months on foot to a port on the coast of Africa, where she then experiences the horrors aboard a slave ship.  Once she arrives in America, she is sold to a South Carolinian indigo plantation owner.  Her memories include both beautiful and painful recollections as well as her impression of the world as a child.  For authors of historical fiction, including Hill, the overall goal is to create an authentic representation of life in the past.  Much of the authenticity in a novel comes from a recreation based on fact, artifacts, and firsthand accounts.  Difficulty arises when the author includes too much historical description and overwhelms the reader or not enough knowledge and the novel thus loses some of its desired impact.  In order to include authentic details of the slave trade, Hill must address controversial issues like imperialism, religion, and rape.

Lawrence Hill does not hesitate to address the tough and often gruesome aspects of slavery.  The authentic portrayal of life as a slave, from capture to eventual freedom, creates a dynamic backdrop for the character-driven novel; however, his attention to detail does not derail the effect of the novel.  On the contrary, the authenticity enhances the novel’s aim.  Fortunately for historians, the slave trade industry kept detailed and extensive records.  Upon investigating many of the specific details about slavery in the novel, Hill’s research becomes evident.  The description of the slave ship Aminata travels on is a perfect example of the type of authenticity Andrew Beahrs describes [1]:

Everywhere I turned, men were lying naked, chained to each other and to their sleeping boards, groaning and crying. Waste and blood streamed along the floorboards, covering my toes…Piled like fish in a bucket, the men were stacked on three levels—one just above my feet, another by my waist and a third level by my neck…The men couldn’t stand unless they stooped—chained in pairs—in the narrow corridor where I walked. On their rough planks, they had no room to sit. Some were lying on their backs, others on their stomachs. They were manacled at the ankles, in pairs, the left ankle of one to the right ankle of the other. And through loops in these irons ran chains long enough for a man—with the consent of his partner—to move only a few feet, toward the occasional cone-shaped bucket meant for collecting waste. (63-64)

The passage above is an example of Hill’s authenticity in the novel.  Details like the exact location of the chains on the men’s ankles and the horrific conditions match descriptions found in history books.

Very few firsthand accounts exist describing life as a captured African aboard the slave ships, but Equiano shares the collective experience of many Africans in his memoir:  “The closeness of the place, and the heat and the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us.  This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable.”  As Carretta concludes in Equiano, the African: Biography of A Self-Made Man, the memoir is enhanced by the apparent fabrication because Equiano becomes the voice of the voiceless.  While he might not have experienced firsthand a slave ship, the power of his written voice moved people into action.  His purpose was to tell the truth of slavery, and whether or not he experienced every single gruesome detail is irrelevant in the end.  In order to tell the truth, Equiano needed to move outside the lines of personal history for an authentic representation of the entire slave journey.

In the same way, Hill romances history in order to tell the overall truth of the slave trade; the detailed and fictional accounts of Aminata’s thoughts and feelings humanize an often number-based representation of history.  Someone Knows My Name fleshes out the skeleton  that history books give us; Aminata’s journey resonates because she is human.  We can picture the young girl raped and forced to carry on working as if nothing happened (Hill 161) in a way not permitted through the statistics presented in textbooks.  Using Aminata’s life as a framework, Hill demonstrates the devastating effects of each part of the slave trade industry.  The novel exists successfully in the realm of historical fiction because Hill balances authenticity with accessibility and creates an accurate portrayal of life as a slave and, subsequently, the freed slave.  The familiar human emotions of fear, love, and hope enhance the experience and are not outweighed by the strange elements, like slavery or life in the 1700s.  Delicately interwoven with fact, the romance of history in Someone Knows My Name brings to life a difficult and often obscure part of history.  Hill’s novel is a work of historical fiction that reveals more about historical events than any textbook ever could.

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Note:

[1] Beahrs, Andrew.  “Making History:  Establishing Authority in Period Fiction.” The Writer’s Chronicle 38, no. 1 (September, 2005):  34-40.

The Eighteenth-Century Settings of Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels

Sir Walter Scott, 1771 - 1832

Sir Walter Scott, 1771 – 1832.  National Galleries Scotland

This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Waverley, Walter Scott’s novel about a naïve English soldier’s involvement in the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.  Scott’s first novel and the nearly 30 works that constitute the Waverley Novels had a dramatic effect on the course of not only fiction, but history writing as well.  Scott’s synthesis of historical subject matter, supernatural mystery, and romantic intrigue made his novels both enormously popular and critically acclaimed—no small feat considering the depths to which the genre’s reputation had sunk by the early nineteenth century, as Ina Ferris has shown.

Scott’s influence extended across Europe and into the United States.  His works inspired paintings by (among many others) J.M.W. Turner, John Everett Millais, and Eugène Delacroix, as well as operas by Gaetano Donizetti and Arthur Sullivan.  When Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery, he chose his new name based on a character from Scott’s poem The Lady of the Lake.  In the Virginia town where I grew up, there is a street called Waverly [sic] Way, not far from Rokeby Farm Stables; I currently teach about 100 miles away from the town of Ivanhoe, VA.  Along Central Park’s Literary Walk, a statue of Scott accompanies ones of Shakespeare and Robert Burns.  Even his critics acknowledged his enormous influence: Mark Twain blamed the Civil War on Scott, “For it was he that created rank and caste [in the South], and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them.” To illustrate his distaste, Twain named the wrecked steamboat in Huckleberry Finn the Walter Scott.

In short, Scott was enormously popular and influential as both a poet and a novelist—but few people today read his work for pleasure. [1] Go to a bookstore, and you’ll find maybe one or two of his novels, while his contemporary Jane Austen has rows and special displays devoted to her work, not to mention sequels and rewrites featuring zombies and vampires.  Scott’s broader cultural presence has declined as well.  Although Season 3 of Downton Abbey included a couple of references to his poetry, to my knowledge the BBC hasn’t adapted a Walter Scott novel since it produced Ivanhoe in 1982. The 1995 film Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, bears no relation to Scott’s novel of the same title.  Perhaps the most recent popular film at all relevant to Scott is the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, in which Andie MacDowell’s character scolds Bill Murray’s with lines from Lay of the Last Minstrel.  (Murray, who plays a weatherman, expresses surprise when she tells him the author of the lines: “I just thought that was Willard Scott.”)  Outraged politicians occasionally recite Scott’s lines from Marmion—“O, what a tangled web we weave, / When first we practise to deceive!”—but invariably attribute them to Shakespeare.

Why is Scott so forgotten?  The scholar Ian Duncan explains that he “tell[s his] students: everybody loves Jane Austen.  The real challenge is to say you love Walter Scott.” [2] And a challenge it can be, for a handful of reasons, including Scott’s convoluted plots, digressive narratives, and heavy use of dialect.  But perhaps what deters most general readers from picking up a Scott novel is precisely why most readers of this website would be interested in doing so: the novels draw their dramatic intensity from specific historical events—and very often these events are rebellions, riots, invasions, and other crises of the eighteenth century.

It’s only a slight overstatement to say that the Waverley Novels can be understood as a fictional history of the eighteenth century, albeit from a distinctively Scottish perspective rather than the England-centric model to which most readers may be accustomed.  Scott himself explained that his first three novels were meant “to illustrate the manners of Scotland at three different periods. Waverley embraced the age of our fathers, Guy Mannering that of our own youth, and the Antiquary refers to the last ten years of the eighteenth century.”  Scott’s interest in the eighteenth century continued after this initial trilogy and he would return to Jacobite intrigue.  His fourth novel, The Black Dwarf, involves James III’s failed effort to invade Britain in 1708; the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 lurks in the shadows of Rob Roy; and Redgauntlet concerns a fictional aborted Jacobite conspiracy of the 1760s (and, unlike his other novels, is told in the very eighteenth-century epistolary style).  But Scott wasn’t exclusively a chronicler of various Jacobite failures.  The historical event behind The Heart of Midlothian is the more obscure 1736 Porteous Riots in Edinburgh, and The Bride of Lammermoor depicts the contrasting consequences of the Act of Union for two Scottish families.  (In the original edition of The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819, Scott set the action around the time of the Glorious Revolution.)  “The Highland Widow” and “The Two Drovers,” stories from Chronicles of the Canongate, portray Scottish characters struggling to reconcile their beliefs and customs with their nation’s union with England; the third and longest tale, “The Surgeon’s Daughter,” revolves around characters’ attempts to find fortune in India in the late-1700s.

Scott’s eighteenth-century résumé expands if you follow the lead of many scholars and broaden the timeline to include the Restoration.  Old Mortality concerns the Killing Time of the late 1600s, when Scottish Covenanters clashed with the government of Charles II; The Pirate is set in the Scottish islands of 1689 (and contains countless references to John Dryden and Restoration theater); and the Popish Plot is a major plot device in Peveril of the Peak.  These settings and events afforded Scott opportunities to explore his favorite themes, including the contentious and often violent transition from one set of laws and traditions to another, whether it be the last gasps of Highland feudalism in Waverley or efforts to reform the Northern Isles in The Pirate.

Although I have been emphasizing Scott’s interest in eighteenth-century subject matter, his interest in the period extends beyond that.  He was informed by eighteenth-century thinkers, particularly Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, and devoted much of his career to the study of eighteenth-century poets and novelists.  He published editions of John Dryden and Jonathan Swift, for which he also wrote biographies; and he was involved in an early attempt to canonize the British novel, contributing biographies of Daniel Defoe, Tobias Smollett, Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, Horace Walpole, and others to Ballantyne’s Novelists’ Library.

I don’t expect Walter Scott’s novels to be re-imagined to include kilt-wearing vampires any time soon.  But I am confident that readers interested in the eighteenth century would be drawn to Scott’s representations and interpretations of what he recognized as a tumultuous and exuberant age.

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Notes

[1]   My point about Scott’s lack of an audience pertains to general readers; among scholars, he has been enjoying a revival for some time.  Edinburgh University Press recently completed its new scholarly editions of the novels and has begun work on editions of the poems.  This is in addition to the many scholarly books and articles about Scott’s work that have been published in the last two decades.

[2]  Approaches to Teaching Scott’s Waverley Novels, 19.