A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood

A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood

A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood

A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood

Synopsis

While under arrest in 1750 on suspicion of producing a seditious pamphlet Eliza Haywood insisted she 'never wrote any thing in a political way'. This study of the life and works, the first full-length biography of Haywood in nearly a century, takes the measure of her duplicity.

Excerpt

While under arrest in 1750 on suspicion of producing a seditious pamphlet, Eliza Haywood insisted that she ‘never wrote any thing in a political way’. This was a flat out lie, of course, but to some it will come as news that an author known for her scandalous novels of sexual passion wrote anything in a political way, never mind that her politics might be the subject of an entire book. Others may be surprised that facts enough exist to fill out a full-scale biography, political or otherwise. Haywood is without question an uncooperative biographical subject. Just four letters survive, each an attempt to secure patronage, and as her bibliographer Patrick Spedding has noted, the manuscript sources total fewer than one thousand words. If contemporaries recorded their impressions of Haywood their comments have gone missing, with a few notorious exceptions. She was a voluminous writer and readers will find that her imaginative works abound in fascinating self-inscriptions and authorial self-representations, but apart from some prefaces and dedications, mostly from the 1720s, she seldom speaks in propria persona or comments directly on herself. Autobiography was ‘almost the only form of writing not attempted by Eliza Haywood in the course of her long career as an adventuress in letters’, an early biographer noted. It seems unlikely at this date that even the most strenuous archival digging will yield up the diary, journal or cache of personal letters that would throw light on the personal or private life. A century ago George F. Whicher wrote that ‘Mrs. Haywood’s one resemblance to Shakespeare is the obscurity that covers the events of her life’. We reject today the condescension of an earlier generation, but the stubborn fact remains that little in the way of biographical data survives.

In short, Haywood presents the biographer with something of a conundrum: she is a scandalous figure without a personal life. But for over four decades she performed in the public eye as an actress, novelist, translator, playwright, publisher, essayist and political journalist, and that life is amply documented. From the mid-1730s she wrote ‘in a political way’, developing a flexible feministinflected Patriot politics very much her own which enabled her to comment on contemporary affairs while continuing to subject female existence to the searching examination she began in the amatory fictions of the 1720s. The present . . .

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