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.

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