Sunday, November 23, 2008


Sophia King's Waldorf; Or, The Dangers of Philosophy (1798) is basically a very conservative little book about how the logical endpoint of all radical philosophy is death. Death, death, and more death. And I hated it.

This book is badly plotted, ridiculously melodramatic, unbelievable, and eye-roll worthy in its 'down with the radicals' ideologies. Basically, Waldorf is a young man who falls in with Lok, a radical philosopher along the lines of William Godwin. And because he has adopted Lok's radical philosophies, Waldorf suffers a litany of misfortunes. These are just a few of them: he causes two women to die because of their trauma over his atheism (somehow?), he ends up killing the two brothers of one of the women, his lover runs away because she has been all fired up by his radicalism (?), his infant son is murdered, he is the cause of an innocent man's execution, and finally his lover dies and he commits suicide over her body. And we are somehow led to believe that if only he didn't listen to Lok, all of this would be avoided! Somehow.

I get that conservative thinkers were extremely worried about the effect that radical philosophies would have on the fabric of society. The turn of the eighteenth-century was a time of radical change, which can often be scary. But this is a weirdly Chicken Little kind of hysterical reactionary melodrama that is just irritating. Apart from being told that Waldorf's atheism is troubling to the two women he "kills", there is no explanation as to why it's so troubling that they can't do anything but die as a consequence. And since the rest of the drama takes off with their deaths, the whole novel is built on the flimsiest of notions.

In other words, I wouldn't recommend it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Injur'd Husband and Lasselia

As this edition of The Injur'd Husband and Lasselia draws together two Eliza Haywood novels, so I will review them together (and also because Lasselia is really short and this would be a really short blog post if I didn't.

The Injur'd Husband; or, The Mistaken Resentment (1723): This is a sexy, naughty little novel about a very evil woman. The Baroness has about six lovers going on at once. What is amazing is that none of the men ever figure it out. Of course, she gets her comeuppance (in a rather public manner), but the real fun of this novel lies in her (mostly successful) scheming. The "heroine" of the novel is a wet blanket in comparison, until she decides to flirt with cross-dressing as a man. This isn't my favourite Haywood novel (that distinction still goes to The Adventures of Eovaai, over Betsy Thoughtless), this is a whole lot of fun. And I really appreciated it's depiction of female sexual desire - while the sexual Baroness is evil, sexual desire in women is not seen as a bad thing because she doesn't really feel genuine sexual desire for anyone. Montamour, who feels genuine sexual desire for Beauclair, is seen as the exemplar (and, some have argued, represents Haywood herself).

Lasselia; or, The Self-Abandoned (1723): This is a slighter novel, both in length and in subject manner. Lasselia falls in love with a married man, and this novel charts both their histories and their love-affairs. There is an inset narrative which is loosely connected to the main action, but seems rather shoe-horned in (although I found the story of the sisters much more interesting than the story of Lasselia). While Haywood was extraordinarily prolific (she wrote a novel every three months for most of the 1720s), most of her novels don't seem rushed. Except for this one. I have the feeling that there is a more complex novel somewhere in Lasselia, but it never comes to fruition, and the novel ends rather abruptly. As it is so short, however, it's a very easy read, despite the incoherency.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Excursion

Frances Brooke's The Excursion (1777) is funny, sly, cheeky and very entertaining. It is very much in the vein of Fanny Burney's Evelina (but not quite as good). While I was reading this, I couldn't help but think how much I would have loved to have known Frances Brooke - she seems like she'd be a lot of fun!

The Excursion is about the "excursion" of a young lady to London. Maria, the young lady in question, has lived in the country her whole life, but starts to wish for a "coronet" (to marry a member of the nobility), so off she goes. Predictably, all sorts of wild and wonderful things happen there. She falls in love, spends way too much money, becomes briefly addicted to gambling, and has the play she has written rejected by a theater manager (a not subtle at all parody of David Garrick, who had some not very pleasant interactions with Brooke). I spent half the book being irritated with Maria for being so dumb, and feeling strangely maternal and protective towards her.

The best part of the novel is definitely Brooke's narrative voice. The narrator is like a proto-Jane Austen narrative voice - it's a bit sly, it's a bit ironic, but it's very sympathetic and wise. Brooke uses chapters very effectively to signal her way around the text, often ending a chapter by saying something along the lines of "okay, you've seen this scene. Let's look at another scene happening at the same time as this one". That could get irritating, but it really works for her.

I really enjoyed this one and will have to read more Brooke - especially The History of Emily Montague, which is considered to be the first Canadian novel.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Fortunate Foundlings

Eliza Haywood's The Fortunate Foundlings (1744) is much more obviously a "novel" than some of her earlier works: you can see by comparing her works of the 1720s to this one how the novel was developing as a form. For example, this book is divided into chapters, and follows a more or less linear structure, with much fewer inset narratives.

The Fortunate Foundlings is about twins (Horatio and Louisa) who are found abandoned under a tree by a wealthy bachelor. He brings them up, and then they go off and have their own adventures for various reasons. I found Louisa's story much more sympathetic and interesting than Horatio's, which is more predictable in its exploration of love and war. Louisa is a typical Haywood heroine - both very feminine and surprisingly strong and independent. At one point, she wanders around Italy on foot with very little money. While her stubbornness can be irritating at times, I ultimately found her extremely sympathetic and her story kept me gripped in a way that Horatio's didn't. Again, there is a certain proto-feminism inherent in the novel, as Louisa's story is very much about the vulnerability of women in a patriarchal society (and, on the flipside, the methods that women used to try and elude victimhood).

I didn't love this in the way I loved The Adventures of Eovaai (which I can't stop thinking about), but it was a fun and pretty absorbing read, especially in what it demonstrates about how the novel had developed since the time Haywood wrote Love in Excess.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Distress'd Orphan

This is more like it! I've just finished reading Eliza Haywood's The Distress'd Orphan; or, Love in a Mad-House (1726). Which I loved. It's predictable, it's melodramatic, but it's also really fun and surprisingly ahead of its time.

The Distress'd Orphan is, as its name suggests, about an orphaned girl brought up by her uncle. She is heir to a large fortune, and so aforementioned uncle is secretly plotting to marry her off to his son. Anyway, Annilia is not as pleased with her uncle's scheme as he had hoped, and she falls in love with somebody else. Her uncle is very much not pleased with that course of events, so he imprisons her in a mad-house (in which case her money would pass to him as next of kin).

This book was written 70 years before Mary Wollstonecraft's Maria, but there are many similarities. Both women are imprisoned as a result of unhappy marriages (or intended marriages, as the case may be). And despite Annilia's essential femininity, she demonstrates a strong resistance to laws that allow women to be bought and sold by unscrupulous family members. The Distress'd Orphan is much less political than Maria, but there is a definite political aspect to Annilia's cry for liberty.

This is a very short book, but I found it incredibly fascinating, especially when compared to Wollstonecraft's later text. I'm in such a Haywood mood at the moment because the more I read of her, the more I like her.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Wild Irish Girl

I've just finished reading Lady Morgan's (or Sydney Owenson's, as she was when she wrote the novel) novel The Wild Irish Girl. To which I say THANK GOD because I hated it.

Lady Morgan is not a great writer, as Jane Austen pointed out. This is a syrupy, silly melodrama, badly written and very predictable. The characters are all highly irritating and the storyline drags and drags until a rush of highly implausible events occur in the last fifty pages of the book.

The book's only real appeal lies in its very positive portrayal of pre-Union Ireland. That is the only possible reason one could have for reading this. That is the reason I read it, after all. Well, kinda - I am more interested in comparing her with another Irish novelist, Maria Edgeworth.

I think I will read some more Maria Edgeworth instead!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fantomina and Other Works

Broadview Press has been really great at publishing what would otherwise be obscure works by little known eighteenth-century novelists. Eliza Haywood, however, little known now, was a literary superstar of her day (arguably the most well-known and prolific novelist of the first half of the eighteenth century), but is not widely read today. This Broadview edition brings together four of her shorter works. Since these works are so short, I decided to review them together.

Fantomina, or Love in a Maze (1724): I found this quite hilarious. It is about a woman who manages to seduce the same man over and over again by adopting various disguises. Yes, really. He never picks up on the fact that he is sleeping with the same woman over and over again. The way Haywood transforms the "seduced maiden" story is very clever - she turns the seduced maiden into the seducer (much more daring than Clarissa!). While this will leave you wondering about the intellect of the man in question, it's a very clever, tongue-in-cheek work. I really enjoyed it.

The Tea-Table, or A Conversation between Some Polite People of both Sexes, at a Lady's Visiting Day (1725): The title really gives away what this work is about - it literally is a conversation over a tea-table. Most of the conversation centers around love and virtue, but they do veer off on tangents and some of the inset stories are quite lengthy. It is interesting, but a little disjointed. Much less a real conversation, I guess! I enjoyed the narrative sections much more than the theoretical conversations.

Reflections on the Various Effects of Love (1726): Again, the title gives the game away. This is basically an extended reflection on the nature of love. There is a lot of discussion on why some people behave so appallingly when they fall in love, and the conclusion that the narrator comes to is that love heightens our essential characteristics. For example, if you are subconsciously frivolous or morally loose, love "unlocks" that characteristic. On the flipside, if you are good, love will bring out that essential goodness. Again, there are quite a few inset narratives that serve to illustrate the narrator's point, which are the most enjoyable parts of the work.

Love Letters on All Occasions lately passed between Persons of Distinction (1730): This is basically a set of individual love letters. While some letters are followed by a reply, most exist in isolation, so we never actually know 'what happens next'. The longest sequence of letters (which runs over approximately 10 pages) is similarly incomplete - the lovers are just about to be reunited when all of a sudden Haywood switches her attention to another couple. What is interesting is that each letter is about a different facet of love. There are letters about unrequited love, jealousy, constancy, absence - everything you can ever imagine. It's actually quite remarkable. While the fact that there is no actual narrative means it's hard to get into the book, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. And I wanted to know more about everybody! It's like 80 pages of tantalizing hints at longer stories. Very frustrating, but very enjoyable at the same time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo

The Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo, by Eliza Haywood (1736), is one of the strangest novels I've ever read. Part oriental fantasy, part political satire, part romance, and part soft pornography, it's a very strange, but very enjoyable read. It takes place in a "pre-adammatical" period. Haywood's explanation for this strange choice of setting - before any humans were supposed to have existed - is that the world was destroyed and reborn a few times before this world was created.

The political satire comes from the fact that Haywood is obviously satirising the corruption of Robert Walpole, who was what could be considered the first Prime Minister of Great Britain (the position wasn't recognised as such then, but he basically acted as Prime Minister). The character that represents Walpole in the novel is an evil magician. That should tell you that this is not a gentle satire, or a satire that merely makes its subject ridiculous. Rather, the satire is downright vicious. Walpole is represented as nothing short of the embodiment of evil. The political satire doesn't end with Walpole, though - Haywood represents most of the major political figures of the day through the course of the work. It's amazing to see just how politically engaged a female novelist could be, so early in the development of the novel as a form. This is definitely not a domestic novel!

It's also a surprisingly postmodern novel. Throughout the text, which is presented as if it is a translation of an ancient text, there are extensive footnotes, or "commentaries", by an unnamed narrator. The narrator comments on the action and constantly draws attention to the text as a text, but is by no means unreliable. Rather, the commentator makes misogynistic statements or claims that the characters don't really mean what they have appeared to say, but actually mean something else. It's all very metatextual and interesting. It's a very knowing text - Haywood clearly intends to be experimental, obviously mixing generic forms and tipping her hat to the reader in recognition of this. This is why it makes me mad when certain modern authors think they are being oh-so-experimental by doing stuff with unreliable narrators or textual commentary - it was being done in 1736!

I really enjoyed this book, and I think it's a book that will stand up well to re-readings. It's a short novel, but there's a lot to take in. Knowing a lot about the politics of the time is non-essential if you read the Broadview edition, too, as the introduction is excellent and the editor points out a lot of the more subtle references to early 18th-century politics that would otherwise be lost on the 21st-century reader.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I'm not entirely sure what I think of Vivian, by Maria Edgeworth (1812). I felt it started off as one kind of novel, then became another kind of novel.

Vivian is basically a novel of ideas. The central idea in the novel is education. There are a number of portraits of the different kinds of education a man or a woman in the eighteenth-century might receive. What the novel is concerned about is the limitations of these forms of education, and the errors that people fall into as a result of imperfect education.

Vivian's main flaw is that he is easily led. In fact, he is so impressionable that his opinion usually coincides with that of whoever he has last conversed with. This seems to set the novel up as a bildungsroman, but Vivian never seems to learn anything at all, despite falling into numerous mishaps as a result of his inability to decide anything for himself. This can become extremely tiring. However, somehow Edgeworth avoids making her hero too irritating. I found myself liking Vivian despite myself. And Edgeworth's careful examination of the effect of education was interesting, especially given her expertise in the area (she published educational textbooks with her father).

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, there is a surprising amount of humour in the book, especially surrounding the character of the self-absorbed author and actress, Miss Bateman (or the Rosamunda, as she is known). When the novel was published, it was rumoured to be a portrait of another Irish novelist, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), but Edgeworth always denied this.

This novel finishes on a much more bleak note than I initially expected. Which is why I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. I felt like there was something missing in the novel, and it does end rather abruptly. However, I did feel sorry for pretty much all the characters, and I found one scene in the novel almost up there with similar scenes in the novels of Jane Austen (hint: it involves a woman refusing a proposal of marriage).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Things That Annoy

You may or may not have heard that a new edition of Frankenstein, edited by Charles E. Robinson, has recently been published. This edition credits the novel to Mary Shelley (with Percy Shelley).

Um, excuse me?

Certainly, Percy Shelley edited the novel. He no doubt discussed it heavily with Mary. He made many suggestions. We have manuscript evidence of that fact.

But that doesn't make him a co-author! Anybody who has ever written anything at all knows that every piece of writing in a collaborative effort. Most people have a whole litany of assistants, from thesis supervisor to editor to supportive partner.

I don't think I'm over-reacting to read heavy doses of sexism into this. Of course, a 19-year-old woman could never have written one of the most enduring classics of literary history all by her lonesome. No, she could only do it with the help of her husband! So lovely of him to give up his time to help his helpless little wife churn out a good story. Please.

And, of course, I highly doubt that attributing co-authorship to a wife in the case of a famous MALE writer would ever be seriously considered.