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Modernité du (nouveau) roman

Eliza Haywood and the Languages of the Eighteenth-Century Novel

Orla Smyth
p. 73-90

Texte intégral

1Contemporary historiography of the eighteenth-century novel has veered away from the hermeneutic of progress that characterised the field for a long time after the publication of Ian Watt’s foundational study of the genre. While twentieth-century scholarship on the “rise of the novel” was significantly more complex than eighteenth-century accounts of the transition from the romance to the novel, it was not difficult to identify substantial convergence between the two on key issues bearing on the nature of that change. More recently, scholars have turned their attention to the implications of valorising one form of prose fiction over another, to the hidden agendas and unspoken assumptions implicit in narrativising as development the ideological and formal changes invoked as marking the transition from romance to novel. In his study of this transition, Leonora, Lydia et les autres: Études sur le (nouveau) roman anglais du xviiie siècle, Alain Bony makes a case for the relevance and soundness of the distinction between romance and novel and also of the Richardson-Fielding contribution and moment as decisive in the emergence of the new form. While he explores the fictional forms that heralded the mature fictions of mid-century, Bony is uncompromising in defending the premise of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the eighteenth century novel and the important watershed that constituted the novels of Richardson and Fielding.


2Despite the apparent concordance between late twentieth-century English-language historians of the novel and Leonora, Lydia et les autres on the writers to be championed as luminaries in this history, Alain Bony’s analytical apparatus in fact differs from that of the dominant Anglophone tradition and in ways that merit investigation. In making the case that Daniel Defoe’s Captain Singleton is not a novel, Bony outlines the grounds of his distinction in the following terms:

[L]a conscience réflexive qui transforme l’aventure en expérience. Singleton n’atteint jamais, sauf […] en de fugaces instants qui ne font pas trace dans une vie intérieure à peu près constamment lisse, cette conscience de la temporalité qui transforme la successivité des épisodes en destinée, cette relation à l’espace et au monde comme lieu habitable qui permet à l’homme d’accomplir son humanité. Il n’y a pas de nouveau roman sans cette double et systémique relation au temps humain et à l’espace humain. (Bony 95)

  • 1  See Lukács, particularly chapters 1, 3 and 4, 66.

3The operative concepts here are in fact close to those of Georg Lukács, without, most noticeably, the pathos characteristic of German-language histories of the novel premised on an understanding of Modernity as alienation. Like Lukács, Bony privileges the importance of inwardness, self-consciousness of one’s individual life as, precisely, individual. The self of the novel is a solitary subjectivity, a quester in search of a home, a place in this world.1 In both authors, it is estrange­ment from one’s environment which provides the motivation for the action) which constitutes the matter of the novel; the hero of the novel confronts an unwelcoming and imperfect world, and only the accretion of experience, real lived and integrated experience, will allow the self-realisation that is the condition of the narrative ending.

4The governing distinction Bony relies on here – ‘adventure’ vis-à-vis ‘experience’ – figures prominently in German-language studies in the distinction between Erfahrung and Erlebnis. In Benjamin, we remember, the rise of the novel constitutes an early symptom of the inexorable process of industrialisation progressively diminishing a human capacity for ‘experience’. Benjamin’s understanding of experience, like Lukács’s, is determined by a nostalgia for a lost era of human and natural community. For Benjamin the time of the storyteller, as opposed to that of the novel, is a time of experience as shared experience; in the world in which prose narrative passed from the mouth of the storyteller to the ears of the listeners, the meaning of life was a question for the collectivity. In Lukács, that oneness of being is traced back to the epic. The operative concept we find in Bony inverts the German perspective. In Bony the role played by the novel (as opposed to the romance) derives from its capacity to provide readers with the illusion that it is through experience that the individual comes to knowledge and, we might add, realisation of his or her true self. What is specific to the novel as opposed to the romance is this understanding of the self in terms of meaningfully lived and integrated experience (Erfahrung). In the romance the voyage in time and space constitutes the backdrop for characters who exit the scene as they entered it without having incorporated into their understanding of themselves the vicissitudes of their experience (Erlebnis).

5This brief excursion into German-language historiography of the novel is, I am suggesting, germane to an understanding of Etudes sur le (nouveau) roman. Alain Bony is coming to these questions – those bearing on the ‘rise of the novel’ – at a very different and much later historical moment from that of the German scholars hitherto referred to. The wistfulness of the earlier studies has disappeared and in its place we find a sanguine appreciation of the novel as a cultural artefact arising from and responding to an identifiable cultural and social need. It is this perspective which explains some of the less conventional aspects of Bony’s study: the attention paid to the critical anticipation of the novel – Swift’s parodies of the novel reader to come; Defoe’s fictions as harbingers of changes still under way; the periodical press as research laboratory trying and testing prose techniques and modes of fictional narration. Bony’s history of the eighteenth-century novel is in many ways the cultural history of the novel Jürgen Habermas hinted at, rather than sketched, in the The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere:

The reality as illusion that the new genre created received its proper name in English, “fiction”: it shed the character of the merely fictitious. The psychological novel fashioned for the first time the kind of realism that allowed anyone to enter into the literary action as a substitute for his own, to use the relationships between the figures, between the author, the character, and the reader as substitute relationships for reality. (Habermas 50)

6As Bony indicates, the three modes of fictional narration that were to prove most successful in these terms were travel narratives, confessional autobiographies and self-reflexive/metafictional narratives. All three proved signally apt to the task of cultivating the illusion that individuals can come to know themselves in and through experience (Bony 57). Like Habermas, Bony emphasises the specificity of the reading process that is novel-reading, so that finally the generic distinction between romance and novel relies also on the way in which the reader responds to the text:

C’est moins sous le rapport des critères génériques mettant en cause les structures énonciatives et les thèmes que peuvent s’opposer romance et novel, que suivant l’usage qui en est fait dans la lecture. (Bony 174).

7In the event, the critical readings which make up the body of Leonora, Lydia et les autres identify and analyse the specific features of prose narrative which lend themselves with greater or lesser success to the kind of reading that is novel-reading understood in these terms.

8One understands that in bringing together a series of individual author-studies which had initially appeared as independent publications, Bony felt obliged to include a new study directly addressed to the phenomenon of sentimentalism. In effect, as he recognised, whether approaching this history from the perspective of the text or of the reading experience, or more properly as a function of specificities bearing both on the text and reading, the socio-cultural phenomenon we designate by the term sentimentalism was decisive. Just as it was not conceivable to bring together a series of author-studies as a study of the eighteenth-century novel per se without reserving a place for sentimentalism, so too, a coherent mapping of the changes in prose fiction of this period required recognition of the role in that history of the ideological development which accompanied it.

9It was, as Bony suggested, the doctrine of sentimentalism which lent itself most effectively to the privileged themes of the novel: the perfectibility of humankind thanks to the tests and trials of experience, the positive influence of education and example, and the moral improvement to be derived from the exercise of self-analysis (Bony 265). Those self-same themes also provided a vindication of the novel-reading process itself: the sentimental reader keeps his/her critical faculties in abeyance when taking part in the action of the novel and experiences the happiness or misfortunes of the various characters feelingly. At the level of affect the reader enters into relations with the characters or the narrator/author in ways that are comparable to the interpersonal relations of social existence. The sentimental doctrine provided such experience, despite its fictional nature, with salutary effect of a moral order.


10If we accept with Bony that in distinguishing between the romance and the novel we must recognise the importance of the reflexive consciousness which transforms adventure into experience in a process inscribed in a particularised space and time, and if we accept also the important role played in this development by the doctrine of sentimentalism, we should be in a position to reframe some of the questions bearing on the women writers who preceded the ‘rise of the novel’. In what follows I will be focusing on one of those writers, Eliza Haywood, a writer who, as it so happens, was given short shrift in Leonora, Lydia et les autres, although she also haunted it throughout, because it was her fictions that were being voraciously read by its eponymous ‘heroines’: Leonora and Lydia. More seriously of course it is not because Bony as a scholar was himself not particularly drawn to the question of the women writers that the field should deny itself the lessons we can draw from his study.

  • 2 See in particular Brean Hammond on this question.

11Michael Warner’s Licensing Entertainment is one of many (relatively) recent studies to have taken up the challenge of writing back into the history of the British novel the early women novelists and perhaps most particularly the writer referred to by Fielding (disparagingly of course) as Mrs. Novel and the self-same writer who in the eighteenth century, was, as Jerry Beasley notes, “more than any other native fiction writer… identified with the British novel” (Beasley 162). Alongside Warner, authors such as Ros Ballaster, Toni Bowers and Paula Backscheider have formulated such trenchant and sophisticated critiques of the unspoken ideological premises and question-begging assumptions that underlie the Fathers-of-the-English-Novel story that current historiography focuses on the process of “institutionalisation” of the novel rather than aligning itself with the ideological postulates underlying the object of its study: the eighteenth-century cultural elevation of the novel.2 In what follows I want to explore the hypothesis that it is possible to differentiate the reading experience of Haywood’s readers from the kind of reading called for, in different ways, by Richardson and Fielding. But I am going to do so from a perspective quite different from that adopted by Warner and more satisfactory in its ability to explain, without subscribing to, the kinds of value-judgement inherent in the mid-century institu­tionalisation of the novel. Seemingly paradoxically this approach nonetheless draws on the coherence of the arguments advanced by Bony on the specificity of the reading experience offered by the mid-century authors. In doing so however, it traces the key differences to what I will henceforth be referring to as “languages”.

  • 3   Sentimentalism is considered here as a ‘language’ in the sense J. G. A. Pocock uses the term in, (...)

12While the “language of sentimentalism” found its way into the parlance of eighteenth-century studies quite some time ago,3 it is quite otherwise with the language that constituted its principal rival, the language that could not simply cohabit peacefully the discursive world of the eighteenth century for the good reason that term by term it contested its elementary postulates – those which bore on the nature of man. Where this language has figured in literary historiography it has generally been as “possessive individualism” and broadly within the framework of interpretation provided fifty years ago by C. B. Macpherson. Albert Hirschmann’s more recent rewriting of that history was not just compelling, it engaged with authors – from Machiavelli to La Rochefoucauld and Nicole – who indisputably participated in the evolving history of the language. Hirschmann avoids attributing this language a name, perhaps because the most obvious candidate is the highly cumbersome “self of self-interest”. The most recent contribution to this area is that of Jean Rohou in his study, Le xviie siècle, une révolution de la condition humaine. Drawing on vast resources of primary and secondary sources, Rohou retraces the theorisation of the self of self-interest from its origins in Reason of State theory, through its incorporation into the literature of politeness and of the “honnête homme”. It is perhaps this French study which, more than any other previous work, allows us to take the measure of the importance of the language of the self of self-interest. A greater awareness of this language of self also sheds light on a tradition of prose narrative that preceded and rivalled the sentimental novel.

13The thesis being explored here is that, properly understood, the ‘before’ and ‘after” of the romance-novel history registers initially the rivalry between the two principal languages of the self at the time and finally, historically that is, the partial (rather than absolute) victory of one over the other. A better understanding of this aspect of the debates of the 1740s allow us to appreciate in non-judgemental terms the specificity of the prose fiction of the period preceding the Richardson-Fielding moment and most particularly that of, along with Daniel Defoe, the most important writer of the period, Eliza Haywood. In indicating the kinds of investigation this perspective opens up, two closely-related phenomena will be re-examined. The first of the two is what has come to be known as the Pamela controversy, and the second is the text with which Eliza Haywood herself intervened in that controversy.

The Pamela Controversy Revisited

14In their admirable documentation and analysis of the Pamela controversy, Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor identify three main kinds of scholarship which have addressed the phenomenon: analyses of the controversy as a milestone in literary history; studies of the event as an indicator and an agent in the emergence of a new commercial print culture; and readings of the text, and of the reaction to it, in light of the ideological politics of class and of gender. Any survey of the way in which the publication of Richardson’s novel touched the nerve of that culture’s “most pressing anxieties, conflicts and stress-points” should also, as the authors suggest, reserve mention for the theological implications of Pamela as a representation of virtue, an issue which spoke meaningfully to Richardson’s contemporaries although it is destined to figure less prominently in today’s research agendas (Keymer & Sabor). Another aspect of this print controversy also more or less escapes today’s scholarly purview although it featured perhaps most prominently of all in the discourse of the time. We can frame that question in a phraseology approximating that of the period: does it seem plausible from the readers’ point of view that Pamela was sincere, or is one not more inclined to suspect that she had rather her eye on the main chance? No one who has reviewed the literature would deny that that question, regardless of how one phrases it, was at the forefront of critical preoccupations in the debates that followed the publication of Richardson’s novel. What has seemed less evident is how literary criticism or historiography can in our time incorporate such a question meaningfully within its ambit. While it is true that that question re-entered the sphere of literary studies in the 1980s, notably as a consequence of post-structuralist interest in the over-determined signifier, it is at this stage high time to bring the findings of those synchronic studies back into a diachronic framework. Attention to the languages of the self engaging in the debate allows us to do just that.

15The correspondence between the French novelist Crébillon and his English friend Lord Chesterfield provides an example of a (mis)reading of Pamela that was shared by many. Crébillon was, on the face of it, a very unlikely ideal reader for Richardson, but he wrote to Lord Chesterfield a few months after the publication of the French translation of Pamela claiming to have been moved to tears more than once during his reading. The colder eye we might expect of Crébillon obliges him to point out that the translator, whatever other mistakes he may have made, was right in representing Pamela as English: kitted out as French she would have seemed simply ridiculous. The Crébillon we know finally comes to the fore when, as many others had done, he presents his own more jaundiced reading of the text:

Quant à moi, Mylord, j’ai trouvé Pamela plus vaine que vertueuse. Son orgueil est mécontent de ce qu’on l’attaque comme une gourgandine, et de ce qu’on prend avec elle des libertés, sans lui avoir dit auparavant la plus petite fleurette. Je parie avec M. B. qu’un petit maître François, qui auroit sacrifié à l’orgueil de Pamela quelques-uns de ces propos qu’il réserve pour une Duchesse, qui lui auroit écrit quelques billets doux, lui auroit cinq ou six fois baisé les mains, et se seroit jetté à ses genoux, l’auroit eue en moins de quinze jours. (Letter of 26 July 1742, reprinted in Funke 329)

16If we consider that analysis in terms of its vision of human nature it is easy to recognise that is precisely the same kind of “reading” of Pamela as that which underlies Fielding’s Shamela and, indeed, the short but meaningful scene in Joseph Andrews when Pamela shows up and keeps her eyes riveted on her own reflection in a mirror while engaging in conversation with Lady Booby (4.6). It is of course also the kind of reading that put Richardson to infinite pains of rewriting. Crébillon, like many other readers, occupied a mental universe which meant that they were instinctively, as we might say, led to reject the hypothesis that Pamela was sincere, inspired by virtue; these were the readers who, in the words of Crébillon, found her “more vain than virtuous”. One way of formulating what was happening would be to say that when these critical readers of Richardson misread or rewrote the Pamela story it was not because they did not understand what Richardson had wanted them to understand; simply put, they did not agree with the vision of human nature underlying the representation. That other vision of human nature or language of the self is sketched out at significant length in Haywood’s Anti-Pamela and it is for that reason worth looking at in some detail.

Haywood’s Anti-Pamela

17Haywood’s Anti-Pamela, or Feign’d Innocence Detected makes uniquely tangible the specific texture of the language of the self of self-interest. Ostensibly there are three narrative voices which guide the reader of the story of the protagonist’s rise and fall: that of the protagonist, Syrena, her mother and the moralising third-person narrator. Those voices are however in a real sense barely distinct: the mother provides her daughter with tactical advice, the daughter is a gifted pupil and the tension one might reasonably expect between the analyses of the two scheming characters and those of the narrator is deeply muted – when straight-forward narration gives way to commentary, it underscores the way in which the behaviour being narrated is founded on human nature.

18The epistolary interventions of Anne Tricksy, Syrena’s mother, essentially involve strategy analyses. The reader instantly recognises the allusion to the Pamela story, when she advises her daughter on the policy to be adopted in dealing with the first of her many suitors:

there is a wide Difference between Love and Likeing [sic]; the chief aim of the one is to make the beloved Object happy: That of the other, only to gratify itself. —Now your Business is by an artful Management to bring this Likeing up to Love, and then it will be in your power to do with him as you please. (66)

19She summarises herself the tenet of all the advice she will henceforth deliver to her daughter:

let your own Interest be your only Aim—think of nothing, but how to be fine yourself; and by keeping in that Mind [sic] you will be happy, and also make so,

Your Affectionate Mother (66-67).

20This “affectionate mother” will have reason to be pleased with her daughter’s aptitude in assimilating her advice, and acquiring with such seeming promptitude “such just Notions of what is [her] real Interest” (108). Over the course of Syrena’s very unromantic adventures, she essentially never deviates from this plan of action, single-mindedly pursuing the path of self-interest. Very early on in the narrative she has, as the narrator indicates, already “said enough to convince her Mother [and indeed the reader], that she had no regard for any Thing in Competition with her Interest” (71). The mother is described by the narrator as a character who “being past the Pleasures of Love herself, was solely devoted to Interest” (160) and the text is explicit about the nature of the relationship linking the two characters. There where the sentimental tradition would spontaneously rely on a natural “maternal affection” Haywood’s text underlines the fact that the two characters are bound by a mutual interest. If Syrena manages to get herself a wealthy husband, both characters will be, as the text indicates “made forever” (180). Narrative suspense is minimal in the narrative ; to the extent to which it does exist, it depends on pitting the interests of short-term pleasure against those of long-term gain.

  • 4  Later on in the novel Syrena, being maintained by a mercer, is attracted to a “Gallant” who, the t (...)

21Were it the case that these voices came to the reader refracted by a narratorial voice resonating disjunctively with this interpretive framework of human behaviour, the text would be quite a different one. As it is however the text is saturated quite thoroughly in this language of the self of “self-interest”. Not just the main characters, but also the minor characters speak and take fictional form in this language of self.4 The language of Haywood’s Anti-Pamela has a distinct and identifiable lexical field within which the key terms – interest, vanity, pride and ambition – serve as linguistic lynchpins in the explanation of human behaviour. It is the interplay between these conceptual attributes of human make-up and their rival claims pitted against the lure of sexual pleasure that subtends the narrative of human experience the text provides.

22The self of self-interest had, as the studies of Hirschmann and Rohou indicate, a long history. It is of course the language of the Maximes tradition, it is also the language of self underlying Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, as also that of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Writers of narrative prose could draw on a language already rich both terminologically and conceptually and they could rely on public recognition of a language that incontestably resonated meaningfully in terms of their social experience. From another perspective however the task of narrativisation was eminently challenging – that language had hitherto served more contained purposes and considerable innovation was required if it were to serve the new agenda set by the novel: the transformation, in the idiom of Alain Bony, of adventure into experience, in German of Erlebnis into Erfahrung. Theoretical knowledge of the human subject is subjected to maximum stress when confronted with the challenge of endowing individual experience with semantic coherence – sense and value. The novel assumes increasing cultural prominence at this time because it responds to the challenge of providing readers with a language allowing them to make sense of their experience.

23It is perhaps necessary to add a caveat with regard to the premises underlying this analysis. In her study of the long-eighteenth-century novel Nancy Armstrong stressed the capital insight of Michel Foucault’s Histoire de la sexualité: the untenability of the assumption that modern sexuality is prior to its written representation. Although Armstrong’s focus was on desire, a key tenet of her study was also that “written representations of the self allowed the modern individual to become an economic and psychological reality” (8). The point I am making here is a similar one: that the narratives of individual human and social existence that we find in prose fiction of the eighteenth century, both the novels of amorous intrigue and sentimental novels, are simultaneously drawing on existing languages (or proto-languages) of the self and themselves forging those languages. Charting the changes of the 1740s requires recognition of the specificities of the languages being championed or opposed by the pro- and anti-Pamelists.

  • 5  Quite logically Haywood’s Anti-Pamela addresses itself to a male rather than female readership, it (...)

24Ostensibly at least the Pamelists had a stronger hand to play: their language of self lent itself much more readily to narrativisation of individual human experience as meaningful. As Bony points out in his study of sentimental literature, “cette doctrine permet tous les espoirs de perfectibilité par l’épreuve, l’éducation, l’exemple ou l’analyse intérieure” (265). The human heart being naturally drawn to the Good and to benevolence, the trials and tests of experience put to the proof the mettle of the heart of the characters (while simultaneously proving the thesis of sentimentalism). The premise of the perfectibility of the individual lent substance to the edifying value of educational experience and to the positive influence of example (while also vindicating the reading process itself). Self-analysis was the performance of a salutary enquiry into the workings of the human heart (a process in which the reader participates vicariously making it his or her own). From the point of view of narrative, the language of the self of self-interest shared none of these advantages. If one considers that interest, vanity, pride and ambition constitute the primary and dominant constituents of human nature, narrativisation of experience can at most serve a cautionary function (and this is, of course the edifying purpose advanced by the writers who wrote in this language).5 The events that are narrativised can illustrate the theses of the language, but they are from a purely logical point of view, bound to a form of repetition. From the perspective of the reader, each episode illustrates in its own way the same object lesson: beware of one’s fellow human beings; this is how human beings are, this is how society is; know your own interest. From the perspective of the characters given fictional form in the language of the self of self-interest, narrative events can only be thematised in terms of conflicting interests; short term interests can be pitted against long-term; the interests of sexual desire can be pitted against those of financial gain (as in Haywood’s Anti-Pamela). Interpersonal relations can be figured as strategic alliances or in terms of competitive rivalry. Self-knowledge insofar as it can be thematised in this language can only be figured in binary terms: blindness and insight. In Fantomima (1725) Haywood innovated in terms of her earlier fiction by incorporating the knowledge of the cautionary tales into the narrative of her heroine’s passage from blindness to insight, and her subsequent acting on the knowledge of the earlier lessons. In Les Ếgarements du cœur et de l’esprit Crébillon narrativised the same opposition by splitting the (blind) vision of the protagonist from the (knowing) vision of the narrator, although he apparently balked at the prospect of narrativising the passage from one to the other.

25In the 1740s both of these languages were making claims to a truth status and, opposed as they were as regards their fundamental tenets on human nature, they were also of necessity competing with each other. Crébillon might have sobbed while turning the pages of Pamela but he was at no moment ready to accept the idea that the good-natured heroine corresponded to any reality he had first-hand knowledge of. Whatever he or whatever many others may have felt about the language which was more true to experience, in the history of the novel one has to admit the victory of the language of sentimentalism. It is not the case that the self of self-interest disappeared from narrative prose. It would be more accurate to say that its figuration was subsumed within narratives of individual experience which drew their themes, their plots and their conceptualisation of individual and social existence from the language of sentimentalism. One thinks of the Mr. B. and Lovelace characters and of their avatars stalking so many of the later sentimental novels. The self of self-interest continues to roam the land of sentiment, notably of course as the villain of the piece. The sentimental novel revels also in staging its ascendancy over its old rival by welcoming the reprobate back within its fold, for the small fee of a timely conversion.


26I want to conclude this analysis with first of all some words of clarification with regard to the readings I have been advancing of Eliza Haywood’s prose fiction, and finally with some more general remarks on the implications of this approach to understanding the transition from romance to novel. It will have escaped no scholar of the early eighteenth-century women writers that the framework of interpretation I have offered here for understanding Haywood’s fiction is partial, and most evidently so with respect to her earlier fiction. One cannot deny the importance in her fiction of staging the opposition between passion and reason, and that has not been my intention: the most cogent work on her fiction to date has drawn its lights from recognition of the centrality of that theme. What I have been doing here is offering a corrective. It seems important to me to recognise that Haywood was at once drawing on a language of self and herself contributing to forging that language. Fiction of the early eighteenth century had seized the narrative possibilities of thematising the fatal powers of passion, but it also drew on the language of self which had nourished the literature of “mondanité” and of the “Moralistes.” In revealing to readers the inner workings of the court of Henri ii, Madame de Lafayette had laid before them a world in which love and ambition constituted the prime movers of all the human activity animating that court:

L'ambition et la galanterie étaient l'âme de cette cour, et occupaient également les hommes et les femmes. Il y avait tant d'intérêts et tant de cabales différentes, et les dames y avaient tant de part, que l'amour était toujours mêlé aux affaires, et les affaires à l'amour. (59)

27Haywood drew on this self-same language of self and of human motivation and that is why her narrative plots hinge so often not just on the rival claims of reason and passion but also and equally significantly on the rival claims of ambition and passion.

28In my analysis of the Richardson controversy and of Haywood’s Anti-Pamela, I suggested that two languages were at that time staging competing claims to explanatory truth, and it was also implied that one could identify two different language communities. This sense of a shared language illuminates, as it seems to me, the elective affinity that drew Haywood to translate Crébillon’s Le Sopha (1742), and Crébillon to adapt Haywood’s Fortunate Foundlings (1744) in Les Heureux Orphelins (1754). To posit the existence of two languages co-existing at any particular time period is to imply the existence of relatively coherent conceptual worlds and also to recognise that languages have historical specificity, life-spans as such. Haywood’s later fiction deserves to be examined in this light, for what we find in those texts is very badly described as a “moral reform.” In The History of Betsy Thoughtless, Haywood quite clearly draws on the language of sentimentalism. We find dispersed throughout the text references to her heroine’s “sensibility”. The reader is reassured that Betsy, like any other heroine of sentimental fiction, “had a certain softness in her disposition, which rendered her incapable of knowing the distress of anyone, without affording all the relief was in her power to give” (115). Nevertheless, the claim made by the narrator/Haywood persona in the opening lines of the novel is not without its truth either: there it is claimed that the author has always subscribed to the vision of human nature underlying the representation we find in the text. “It was always,” we are told “my opinion, that fewer women were undone by love, than vanity” (9). The propensity to self-love and vanity, constitutes, as we know, the substrate for the narrative themes explored in the novel. We can suppose that for the purposes of narrativisation of human experience the language of sentimentalism has proven its superior strengths, but we cannot for all that assume that Haywood has simply shifted allegiances. In fact what we find is a narrativisation of experience which draws on the resources of both languages.

29I want to close my remarks on Haywood with some words on recent scholarship edging study of the novel in new directions. Jonathan Brody Kramnick, James Drury and Rebecca Tierney-Hynes have taken the issues familiar to Haywood criticism and refigured them by articulating the enquiry in terms of discourse that is broadly contemporary with the period in which she is publishing. Central to this enquiry has been the issue of representations of the self. Like Kramnick, Drury draws heavily on the philosophy of John Locke, but also on other turn-of-the-century moral philosophers, in their attempts to reconcile the new philosophy with Free Will and he casts Haywood’s figuration of the desiring but also conscious subject in her early fiction within that framework. Tierney-Hynes retraces Haywood’s increasingly self-conscious dialogue in the space of her fiction with contemporary philosophical discourse on the self and most particularly on the passions. This scholarship establishes a meaningful and indeed illuminating relationship between early eighteenth-century prose fiction and Early Modern English philosophy, and their shared difficulties negotiating the determinism or voluntarism that from the time of Hobbes bedevilled attempts to conceptualise the subject. All of these scholars share Armstrong’s conviction that “written representations of the self allowed the modern individual to become an economic and psychological reality” and, like Armstrong, they resist the impulse to project onto the early modern novel suppositions about how we conceive the world and ourselves in this world that derive from a much later historical standpoint. As those studies illustrate, the career of Eliza Haywood as a writer of fiction, from her earliest novels through the pages of the Female Spectator, from Life’s Progress through the Passions, or, The Adventures of Natura (1748) through the novels of the 1750s, testifies to a self-conscious understanding of the writer of fiction as writer of the self. As Rebecca Tierney-Hynes points out, “Haywood’s fiction functions as a forum for narrative explications of philosophic ideas, but more importantly, it demands that we understand fiction and philosophy to be engaged in the same epistemological quest to define the self” (155).

30To return finally to Bony’s thesis concerning the specificity of the reading experience that was novel reading, on the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of the romance-novel history conceived in terms of an opposition between experience and adventure, it is now possible to see the way in which his framework of interpretation lends itself to reading of the transition from romance to novel without subscribing to the value judgements that found their way from eighteenth-century novel historiography into twentieth-century scholarship on the field, but also without ceding the significance of a transformational change. We have seen the way in which the language of sentimentalism fostered and advanced the idea of human perfectibility by virtue of trials, education, example and self-analysis, and we have also seen the way in which those concepts proved singularly adapted to the narrativisation of individual human experience as meaningful. In the 1720s and 1730s writers like Eliza Haywood or John Gay made sense of their contemporary world in terms of another language, the language of the self of self-interest. It would clearly be difficult to maintain that that language possessed less “truth” with regard to its conceptualisation of human nature. The enormous success, not just of Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees but also of The Beggar’s Opera and the fictions of Haywood attest abundantly to the fact that those writers communicated in a language that resounded meaningfully in their day. The weakness of that language had quite certainly nothing to do with a lesser truth content, but rather with the way in which its tenets proved hostile to the very particular understanding of experience promoted by the novel. The novel came to play the paramount cultural role we know it assumed in the eighteenth century because it cultivated the belief that individuals could come to know themselves and find their place in this world by surmounting trials, by learning from others, by following the right examples and by analysing what was going on in their own hearts. The extraordinary discovery of the sentimental novel was of course that empathetic identification with fictional characters could allow one to procure all of this improving experience feelingly without stepping outside one’s door.

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Primary Sources

CrÉbillon (fils). Les Égarements du cœur et de l’esprit. 1736. Paris : Flammarion, 1995.

CrÉbillon (fils). Le Sopha. 1742. Paris : Éditions Classiques Garnier Numérique, 2000.

CrÉbillon (fils). Les Heureux Orphelins. 1754. Maestricht : Dufour et Roux, 1779.

Fielding, Henry. The History and Adventures of Joseph Andrews. 1742. New York: Norton, 1987.

Gay, John. The Beggar’s Opera. 1728. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2003.

Haywood, Eliza. Fantomima and other Works. 1725. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2004.

Haywood, Eliza. Anti-Pamela : Or, Feign'd Innocence Detected ; In a Series of Syrena’s Adventures. 1741. Ed. Catherine Ingrassia. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2004.

Haywood, Eliza. The Female Spectator. 1744-46. Ed. Patricia Meyer Spacks. Oxford: OUP, 1999.

Haywood, Eliza. Fortunate Foundlings. 1744. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Cengage Gale, 2009.

Haywood, Eliza. Life’s Progress through the Passions, or, The Adventures of Natura. 1748. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Cengage Gale, 2009.

Haywood, Eliza. The History of Betsy Thoughtless. 1751. Oxford, New York : OUP 1997.

Lafayette, Madame de. La Princesse de Clèves. 1678. Paris : Le Livre de Poche, 1999.

Mandeville, Bernard de. The Fable of the Bees. 1714. Oxford: Clarendon, 1966.


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1  See Lukács, particularly chapters 1, 3 and 4, 66.

2 See in particular Brean Hammond on this question.

3   Sentimentalism is considered here as a ‘language’ in the sense J. G. A. Pocock uses the term in, among other studies, Politics, Language and Time.

4  Later on in the novel Syrena, being maintained by a mercer, is attracted to a “Gallant” who, the text informs us, is pleased to discover that he can “render his Acquaintance with her serviceable, as well to his Interest, as he had found it to his Pleasure.” The mercer’s resources running dry, Syrena is predictably abandoned by the lover “who neither loved nor regarded her, but for Self-Interest.” Syrena’s final adventure involves a married man who entertains no illusions as to her supposed virtue: “his Opinion of her was, that if she had fallen, it was merely for the Sake of Interest, and that if he gain'd any Favours, they would be the Effect of Love”. It is only in the latter assumption that he is mistaken. His wife finally exacts the vengeance which ends the narrative and has as consequence the banishment of the heroine to the far reaches of Wales.

5  Quite logically Haywood’s Anti-Pamela addresses itself to a male rather than female readership, it is, we are told in the title “Publish'd as a necessary Caution to all Young Gentlemen.. The narrative aim of the text is to reveal human nature as it really is, and not, as Richardson had done, might ideally be; as such it arms male readers against “a partial Credulity.”

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Orla Smyth, « Eliza Haywood and the Languages of the Eighteenth-Century Novel », XVII-XVIII, HS3 | 2013, 73-90.

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Orla Smyth

Maître de conférences à l’Université du Havre, enseigne dans le département d’anglais et dans le département de lettres. Ses publications portent sur le roman du XVIIIe siècle (« La sympathie des belles âmes –réflexions sur la théorie des belles lettres au début du XVIIIe siècle », Les discours de la sympathie. Enquête sur une notion, de l’âge classique à la modernité, éd. Thierry Belleguic, Éric Van der Schueren et Sabrina Vervacke, PU de de Laval, 2007 ; « Du moralisme aux plaisirs de l’illusion romanesque », Le Romanesque, éd. Gilles Declercq et Michel Murat, Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2004. Elle prépare actuellement un livre, The Legitimation of the Novel.

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