Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Haywood's Re-Appropriation of the Amatory Heroine in Betsy Thoughtless

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Haywood's Re-Appropriation of the Amatory Heroine in Betsy Thoughtless

Article excerpt

Although Samuel Richardson's Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) continues to hold sway over critical accounts of the English novel, scholars have also argued that the influence of amatory fiction was not, in fact, silenced by Pamela's publication. Catherine Ingrassia, Patrick Spedding, and Kathryn King recently have suggested that the style and popularity of amatory authors such as Eliza Haywood continued at least into the 1750s. (1) The influential work of critics such as Nancy Armstrong, Michael McKeon, and William Warner has challenged Ian Watt's conception of realism in The Rise of the Novel, yet it still tends to leave Pamela at the center of the eighteenth-century literary tradition. (2) Critics such as Jane Spencer, Janet Todd, Ros Ballaster, and John Richetti, who have focused on amatory fiction, have done much to recover and reconsider Haywood's place in the context of the rise of the novel, but nonetheless see her as less important than Richardson, valuing her earlier work mostly for its political and cultural implications rather than its literary merit and influence. (3) It is worthwhile, though, to consider that while Pamela was different from amatory fiction, it was not necessarily more popular than other contemporary works. Pamela went through eight English editions in thirty-two years, and Haywood's The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) appeared in nine editions in thirty-three years. (4) In this essay, I suggest that critical accounts of the "rise" of the novel look very different when Haywood's Betsy Thoughtless is placed at the center of the tradition of the eighteenth-century domestic novel along with Pamela. If Haywood's amatory novellas inform and shape Richardson's Pamela, as Warner argues, then Betsy Thoughtless re-appropriates the resourcefulness of the amatory heroine that Richardson used as a negative example of female behavior and incorporates it into her supposedly "reformed" rhetoric that had come to exemplify her prose style of the 1750s. (5) By reading both Pamela and Betsy Thoughtless in the context of Haywood's amatory fiction of the 1720s, Iargue that the struggle to appropriate the narrative of the sexually experienced woman reveals the dialogic complexities of the relationships between amatory and domestic fiction in the mid-eighteenth century. (6) Or to put it more succinctly, domestic fiction, rather than rejecting amatory modes--especially scenes of seduction and stories of fallen women--incorporates them to promote their comparatively conservative outcomes.

The importance of Pamela to understanding the domestic novel at large tests on Richardson's insistence that sexual virtue is paramount in realizing a coherent female identity. Haywood, however, provides an alternative construction of female subjectivity based on sexual desire and the ways in which the experiences of seduction, rape, and sexual intrigue shape rather than degrade women's experience. Reading Betsy Thoughtless in the context of Haywood's amatory novellas of the 1720s challenges Richardson's aesthetic and moral ideology of virtue. Betsy Thoughtless thus exemplifies the ways in which the mid-century novel incorporates both the amatory and domestic forms. (7) Betsy is herself a transitional character in the history of the novel. Possessing the daring and vain, if flawed, qualities of an amatory protagonist, she also has the characteristics of later, domestic heroines; she is eventually thoughtful, always generous, and always virtuous. Her task is to negotiate the dangers of potential amatory plots--and to explore her sexual desires--in order to attain subjectivity. By contrasting their heroines to characters who fail to learn the authorial lessons they promote, Richardson and Haywood offer radically different versions of the domestic narrative and the novelistic heroine. In this regard, Haywood's strength lies in her crafting several foils for the heroine--a method that showcases her successful techniques as an amatory author in the 1720s--in order to develop a subjectivity for Betsy that resists a Richardsonian ideology of passive virtue. …

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