Home ›   |   Publications ›   |   Persuasions On-Line ›   |   Volume 38 No. 1 ›   |   Reimagining Reputations: 2017 at Chawton House Library ›   |   Naming, Shaming, Reclaiming: The “Incomparable” Eliza Haywood

Naming, Shaming, Reclaiming: The “Incomparable” Eliza Haywood

3On the face of it, Eliza Haywood has little to do with Jane Austen.  Separated by almost a century, Jane Austen’s ostensibly genteel Regency world seems a great distance from the grub and bustle of Covent Garden, where Haywood lived in the early 1740s.  The polite courtship of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars is another species of romance from the passionate intensity of Haywood’s lovers, who burn and swoon and pant.  Such distinctions, however, are not entirely sustainable under pressure.  Austen’s cyclical Eliza narratives in Sense and Sensibility owe a debt to the earlier highly patterned amatory plots of her predecessor Haywood, and each of Austen’s novels encodes and gestures towards the sort of seduction narratives that generated Haywood’s initial rise to fame.  Haywood and Austen were dealing with many of the same ideological issues: the place of artlessness in a cynical world, the gendered double standard, the tension between passion and pragmatism. 

This exhibition thus seeks to introduce Haywood as an important literary predecessor of Austen’s, by charting the astonishing variety and vibrancy of her thirty-seven-year writing career.  Beginning with the rather unyielding biographical facts of Haywood’s life, the exhibition aims to paint a multi-faceted Haywood for audiences unfamiliar with her.  She is presented as a biographical uncertainty, and as an amatory writer, a great arbitress of passion.  She appears within her literary networks—as friend, as foe, as a “divinely-fir’d charmer” and a “cast-off dame,” as a scribbling seductress, and as an actress who learned from her early days on the stage how to make and remake herself.  Haywood was also a social and political commentator; satirist; writer of novels, plays, periodicals, and advice; translator; publisher.  Examples of her work in all of these different modes appear in the exhibition.  

Some eighteenth-century commentators portrayed a career arc for Haywood based around a sudden reform—the consequence of vicious criticism levelled at her by hostile writers like the poet Alexander Pope.  The argument that Haywood stopped writing semi-erotic and political scandal fiction and started writing moral fiction in her later career persisted for many years.  Today, Haywood scholarship has complicated this narrative, interrogating the ethics of her earlier works, exposing the hidden political meanings of her later ones, and unearthing the continuations between the two.  This work refutes any suggestion that Haywood abruptly changed her style because she was cowed by the critics (see King, “Afterlife”).  From the outset of her career, drawing on her knowledge of the stage, Haywood was an innovator, mashing genres together, masking political commentary with sex, desire with morality, conduct advice with scandal.  She refused categorization in ways that demonstrate her professionalism, skill, and self-awareness.  Looking forward from the eighteenth century, the last part of the exhibition considers the afterlives of Haywood’s fiction, style, and thematic concerns in late eighteenth-century literature, modern popular culture, and academia.

In the Great Hall 

Biographical fragments 

I have outwitted even the most Subtle of the deceiving Kind, and while he thinks to fool me, is himself the only beguiled Person.

Fantomina (1725)

There cannot certainly be an institution better calculated for the improvement of all moral virtues, and the putting vice and folly out of countenance, than that of the stage.

The Wife (1756)

Haywood was careful to request that biographical information about her be destroyed, so that untruths were not proliferated.  The information was destroyed, but the untruths proliferated anyway.  Haywood as the runaway wife of a clergyman, Haywood as mother to illegitimate children, Haywood as poverty-stricken hack forced to scribble for cash are just some of the portraits painted of her—all subsequently called into question.  Kathryn King’s 2012 political biography has been crucial in setting the record straight, and, along with Patrick Spedding’s bibliography (2004), provided an invaluable resource in putting together this exhibition.  We know relatively little about Eliza Haywood’s life.  She was probably born in 1693, and we first find her—Mrs. Haywood—working as an actress at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, in 1714.  By 1717 she was acting in London.  She was married, had two children, and was then widowed, although we know nothing of her husband or the fate of her children.  In a 1729 letter—one of just two that survive—she claimed that “an unfortunate marriage has reduc’d me to the melancholy necessity of depending on my Pen for the support of myself and two children.”  Her writing career had actually begun ten years earlier with her debut novel Love in Excess.  She continued writing until her death on February 25, 1756.

The following represent some initial written images of Haywood: a posthumous biography, a persona she created for her periodical, and—more playfully—an Eliza in an Austen novel.  All three are Haywood “at a distance,” demonstrating the difficulty of pinning down a clear identity for this elusive author.

David Erskine Baker. Biographia Dramatica, or, A Companion to the Playhouse Second edition. London: Messrs Rivington, T. Payne, L. Davis, T. Longman, G. Robinson, J. Dodsley, J. Nichols, J. Debret, and T. Evans, 1782. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

First published in 1764, Biographia Dramatica contained the first biography of Eliza Haywood, who died eight years earlier.  Baker called her “perhaps the most voluminous female writer this kingdom has ever produced.”  The shape he gives her biography continued to inform accounts of her until very recently.  Baker is aware of the way that Haywood’s fiction led to misrepresentations about her character, noting that “the world was inclinable, probably induced by the general tenor of her earlier writings, to affix on her the character of a lady of gallantry, yet I never heard any particular intrigues or connections directly laid to her charge.” 

Eliza Haywood. The Female Spectator. Seventh edition. London: H. Gardner, 1771. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Eliza Haywood’s periodical, The Female Spectator, was published monthly between 1744 and 1746.  Although it was published anonymously, in the opening pages we are introduced to the female spectator, a reformed coquet, who, having spent her youth engaged in “a hurry of promiscuous diversions,” is now older, wiser, and ready to share “useful and entertaining” insights with the public.  This is just one of many writing identities that we are presented with in Haywood’s fiction, which is full of characters who disguise themselves with dress and letters.  Haywood’s female spectator stresses here that her “ambition was to be as universally read as possible.”  In this desire, at least, she might resemble Haywood.

Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility: A Novel in Three Volumes. By the Author of “Pride and Prejudice.” Second edition. London: T. Egerton, 1813. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


There is no indication that Jane Austen read Eliza Haywood.  But right at the heart of her first novel we find two seduced Elizas, mother and daughter, whose circular fates closely resemble the fates of many of the fallen women Haywood wrote about in her early career.  In a story initiated by problems with inheritance, as the Dashwood sisters lose out to their half-brother, there is also another inheritance being explored through the Eliza narratives, from mother to daughter.  The insertion of the Elizas acts as a cautionary tale but also perhaps as a nod towards Austen’s unacknowledged literary inheritances.  The Elizas are certainly evidence that elements of Haywood’s style and her concerns persisted long after she died. 

The lack of biographical records forms a marked contrast to the abundance of writing that Haywood produced.  Chawton House Library holds nineteen eighteenth-century items by Haywood, but she published at least forty-three works, and may have written up to seventy-two.  In her work, her extraordinary skill as a literary chameleon becomes clear.  She writes comfortably in many genres, and, despite attempts to “fix” her identity, Eliza Haywood was able to craft a name for herself in a way that no other woman writer of her period did.  

In the Tapestry Gallery

The great arbitress of passion  

She had only a thin silk night gown on, which flying open as he caught her in his arms, he found her panting heart beat measures of consent, her heaving breast swell to be pressed by his, and every pulse confess a wish to yield; her spirits all dissolved sunk in a lethargy of love, her snowy arms unknowing grasped his neck, her lips met his half way, and trembled at the touch . . . 

Love in Excess (1719–1720) 

Most of Haywood’s 1720s and 1730s work belongs to a genre now known as amatory fiction, which tells the stories of seduced women.  Aphra Behn (1640–1689) was the genre’s earliest practitioner.  Behn’s first novel, Love-Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister (1684–1687), follows the heroine, Silvia, as she is seduced and abandoned by her brother-in-law and then transforms herself into a powerful female libertine.  Until recently, amatory fiction was seen as the domain of three women writers:  Behn, Delarivier Manley (1663–1724), and Haywood.  But there were many other writers working in and taking influence from the genre.  These included some men; many anonymous and pseudonymous writers; and women, such as Mary Hearne, who dedicated her first book to Manley, and Jane Barker, who recycled some of Behn’s tales in her own work.

Haywood put her own spin on the genre.  Her ability to recreate in words the physical effects of love—sighs, languishing eyes, heaving bosoms—shaped her reputation as “the great arbitress of passion.”  But these stories are not simply erotica.  They are not Mills and Boon or Fifty Shades of Grey.  Cast adrift in a brutal dog-eat-dog world, amatory heroines have two choices:  plot and manipulate to survive, or become helpless victims of predatory lovers.  In exploring this dilemma, amatory fiction poses important ethical and political questions about the treatment of women in society.

Haywood was particularly interested in the clash between disguises that hide and bodies that reveal.  Many of her female characters use disguise to gain power, but they cannot always conceal their bodies—blushes, swoons, and pregnancies give them away.  In an age when we change, cut, chisel, paint, or veil our bodies to make them more or less attractive and when the internet offers new modes of disguise and anonymity, these questions about what aspects of identity make us who we are continue to resonate.  The items on display here are examples of amatory fiction with which Haywood was probably familiar.

Aphra Behn. All the Histories and Novels Written by the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn, Intire in One Volume. Sixth edition. London: JD for M. Wellington, 1718. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Like Haywood, Aphra Behn worked in multiple genres, had several different authorial guises, and was extremely self-aware about the ways in which she was perceived.  This collection, first published posthumously in 1696, went through nine editions until 1751, demonstrating its lasting popularity over fifty years.  Royal slaves, escaped nuns, female libertines, bigamists, murderers, unfortunate sisters, shipwrecks, lovers, and long-lost relatives fill its pages.  The attached biography is mostly fabrication, turning Behn’s own life into a romance narrative.  Attributions of several of these stories have recently come under scrutiny, but regardless of who wrote them, they proved immensely generative, influencing subsequent generations of writers. 

Mary Hearne [attrib.]. The Lover’s Week: or, the Six Days Adventures of Philander and Amaryllis. Written by a Young Lady. First edition. London: E. Curll and R. Francklin, 1718. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

8a   8b


Mary Hearne is a shadowy figure who wrote at least two amatory novels—this one and then a sequel, The Female Deserters (1719).  The dedication to Delarivier Manley asks her to “lend a Portion of [her] Light to cast a Lustre over these Pages.”  The author signs herself “M. H.”  Hiding behind these initials, she uses Manley’s name to stand in for her own, and to suggest the content of her own amatory tale.  Her use of the name “Philander” also nods towards the feckless hero of Behn’s Love-Letters Between a Noble Man and His Sister.  Other amatory writers used dedications, recycled plots, or character names to establish themselves within an amatory tradition. 

Delarivier Manley. The Power of Love: In Seven Novels. First edition, second issue. London: C. Davis, 1741. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


The Power of Love is a collection of short stories first published in 1720.  Manley rewrites five tales from a much earlier source, William Painter’s anthology The Palace of Pleasure (1566–1567).  There are also two tales here—“The Physician’s Strategy” and “The Perjur’d Beauty”—from unknown sources, although the latter shares a title with one of Behn’s tales.  The narratives within include a woman who falls in love with a portrait, a diabolical plotting doctor, a gruesome act of revenge on a cheating husband, adulterous women buried alive and poisoned with salad, friendly hermits, and accidental incest.  Although sensational, these tales also adhere to a firm moral code that punishes vice and rewards virtue. 

Eliza Haywood built a name and a reputation for herself in the 1720s, publishing a huge volume of amatory works that established her as the leading and popular writer.  Doing so established her within networks of friends, but also left her vulnerable to hostile criticism. 

In the Exhibition Room 

Naming, shaming, reclaiming: Friends, foes & fractures 

I am not without Enemies, who, perhaps, may have represented me in a Light vastly different from what I am.

—Dedication to Memoirs of the Baron de Brosse (1725)

In her early career, Haywood was part of the circle of writers around dramatist Aaron Hill, which included Richard Savage and Martha Fowke Sansom.  This coterie—the Hillarians—encouraged and supported one another’s writing, exchanging complimentary poems in manuscript, some of which found their way into print.  Poems about Haywood effused about her capacity to move and inspire readers. Hill described her as “a Charmer whom, divinely fir’d / Ev’n her whole Sex’s Virtues have inspir’d,” while Savage praised her ability to evoke love and all its accompanying emotions with her “force of Language.” 

Haywood’s name became a brand: her readers knew what to expect from this name when they saw it on title pages, and both her publishers and other writers knew how to use it to advertise.  The careful positioning of Haywood’s name on the title page of the anonymous 1727 History of Gillian of Croydon no doubt meant that it sold, while an anonymous 1724 novel, The Prude, was dedicated “To the Incomparable Mrs. Eliza Haywood.”  Both were subsequently mistakenly attributed to Haywood. 

Eliza Haywood. The Rash Resolve: or, the Untimely Discovery. A Novel in Two Parts. First edition. London: D. Browne and S. Chapman, 1724. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Despite the published date, this novel actually came out at the end of 1723 and was Haywood’s third novel that year.  Contrary to conceptions that Haywood’s early work was thought of as trashy, the quality of the binding of this book suggests the high regard in which she was held, as Holly Luhning has suggested (3).  The dedicatory poem was written by Richard Savage.  The novel itself tells of the suffering heroine, Emanuella, who escapes a forced marriage and finds love, only to bear an illegitimate child, eventually dying of a broken heart.  A French translation appeared in 1801, giving the novel a very long afterlife. 

Anon. [signed MA.A]. The Prude; a Novel: Compleat in Three Parts. By a Young Lady. London: D. Browne and S. Chapman, 1726. Rpt. Garland, 1973. (On loan from a private collection) 

The Prude was published in three parts from 1724–1725 by James Roberts, before it was taken on by Dan Browne and Samuel Chapman.  All of these men had also published Haywood.  From its first publication, The Prude was advertised in close proximity to texts by Haywood, including Love in Excess, The Masqueraders, and The Fatal Secret.  The novel tells the stories of three different women, recounting Bellamira’s courtship, Emelia’s reunion with her long-lost family, and Elisinda’s repeated seductions of a series of men.  In the dedication to Haywood, the author praises her ability to evoke pity, citing Emanuella’s sufferings in The Rash Revolve as evidence of Haywood’s “matchless” skill. 

The harmony of the Hillarian circle was short-lived, although it seems that Haywood cast the first stone.  Increasingly jealous of the poet Martha Sansom’s high standing with both Hill and Savage, Haywood started to write about her rival, first depicting her as the cunning Baroness de Tortilée in The Injur’d Husband (1723).  Haywood’s most vicious attack comes in Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724–1725), in which Sansom appears as the sexually voracious Gloatitia, who has had an incestuous relationship with her own father.  This publication disgusted the Hillarians, who turned against her.  Sansom called Haywood a “Scorpion,” and Richard Savage satirized her in his poem The Authors of the Town (1725) as a “cast-off Dame” “panting” for fame.  The most lasting and famous attack on Haywood came from Alexander Pope, who also took issue with her scandal fiction.  His 1728 epic poem The Dunciad famously depicts Haywood as first prize in a urination contest between two booksellers.

Eliza Haywood. “To Hillarius, On his sending some Verses sign’d M. S.” (Chawton House Library Collection)  

This poem by Haywood to Aaron Hill was published in Haywood’s Poems on Several Occasions, which was included in the fourth volume of her 1724 Works.  The poem would initially have been shared in manuscript and was just one of many such poems of ecstatic praise that the Hillarians wrote to one another.  In this poem, Hill has sent Haywood some verses purporting to be by Martha Sansom (M. S.), but Haywood claims she sees through the disguise and recognizes in her soul that the verses are actually his own.  There is already the sense of a fracture in the group here in Haywood’s suggestion that M. S. is “Vulgar” compared to Hillarius, the “great Inspirer.” 

Eliza Haywood. Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia. First edition. London: Printed and sold by the booksellers of London and Westminster, 1725. (Chawton House Library Collection)

13a 13b

Although the title page reads 1725, the first volume of Memoirs came out in September 1724.  It is presented as a translation, and both author’s and bookseller’s names are withheld, in keeping with other political scandal novels.  In addition to providing political satire on the state of the country, and turning current news events into fiction, Haywood also used her first scandal novel to mount personal attacks.  On the page shown here, she critiques both the writing style and the seduction style of her rival Martha Sansom, casting her as desperate and promiscuous but ultimately unable to please the discerning. 

Personal attacks by Savage and Pope were echoed in the continuing alignment of Haywood’s life and her fiction in sexual terms.  Lord Egmont wrote in his diary in 1743 that Haywood had been “a whore in her youth, a bawd in her elder years, and a writer of lewd novels, wherein she succeeded tolerably well” (qtd. in Hartley 212).  Haywood was ridiculed, but she was also seen as a threat, partly due to the power she had to share secrets and ruin reputations by writing scandal fiction about real people.  Her name was also deployed in debates about the power of reading, in which novels were often framed as dangerous material for young, impressionable readers, who might be corrupted by them and seduced into improper behavior.  Haywood became a figure against whom other writers, such as Penelope Aubin, could compare their own morality favorably, while her novels themselves also became a sort of cultural shorthand for subsequent writers, used as props in characterization.

Penelope Aubin. The Life of Charlotta Du Pont in A Collection of Entertaining Histories and Novels, Designed to Promote the Cause of Virtue and Honour. London: D. Midwinter, A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch, J. and J. Pemberton, R. Ware, C. Rivington, A. Ward, J. and P. Knapton, T. Longman, R. Hert, S. Austen, and J. Wood, 1739. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Charlotta Du Pont was first published in 1723.  In her preface, Aubin was quick to dissociate herself from amatory writers.  She speaks with disdain of the “Female Authors my Contemporaries, whose Lives and Writings have, I fear, too great a Resemblance,” distinguishing her own “Christian” prose from the “modish,” “careless and loose” amatory style.  Moral distinctions have often been drawn between “pious” writers like Aubin, Jane Barker, and Elizabeth Singer Rowe and their amatory contemporaries, but such divisions ignore the tangled interconnections between these writers and the ways in which they are in dialogue with each other and also overlook the ethical aspects of amatory fictions.

Susan Smythies. The Stage-Coach: Containing the Character of Mr. Manly, and the History of His Fellow-Travellers. First edition. London: T. Osborne, 1753. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


The Stage-Coach is Susan Smythies’s first of three novels.  It went through four editions in England and was translated into French and German.  The action arises from the characters meeting by chance during a stage-coach journey.  The Monthly Review condemned the premise as “a superficial basis for as indifferent a superstructure.”  The novel tells us much, however, about how midcentury writers created a community of readers who understood what preferences for certain types of fiction meant.  A love of Haywood’s work is used to indicate the rakish Captain Cannon’s depraved and rather shallow tastes.  Smythies explicitly rejects Haywood’s amatory fiction but recycles both amatory plots and formal elements. 

Charlotte Lennox. Henrietta. First edition. London: A. Millar, 1758. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Henrietta was Charlotte Lennox’s third novel.  There are several similarities between this novel and Smythies’s Stage-Coach, including the use of Haywood’s name.  In Henrietta, Mrs. Eccles is a milliner but also “one of those convenient persons with whom a lady, upon paying a certain sum of money, might lie-in privately.”  Her recommendation of Haywood’s novels to the heroine as “the finest love-sick, passionate stories” suggests to readers in the know the less savory aspects of her character.  Lennox draws on a long-established trope, also used by Haywood herself, of a predatory character, usually male, attempting to seduce a naïve woman into bad behavior through enflaming fictions. 

Clara Reeve. The Progress of Romance, through Times, Countries, and Manners. First edition. Dublin: Messrs. Price, Exshaw, White, Cash, Colbert, Marchbank and Porter, 1785. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This literary history takes the form of the novel takes the form of a dialogue between two women, Sophronia and Euphrasia, and a man, Hortensius.  Together, they reflect upon the merits of various texts, writers, and literary trends.  Aphra Behn’s “Genius” is admitted, but her works are dismissed as belonging to a more licentious time.  Of Delarivier Manley’s political scandal novels, Euphrasia says, “I am sorry to say they were once in fashion.”  Behn and Manley are portrayed as seducing Haywood into writing in their style in her early career.  However, Euphrasia compliments Haywood’s later works as “labours [devoted] to the service of virtue.”  Reeve spared Haywood because “she repented of her faults, and employed the latter part of her life in expiating the offences of the former.” In doing so, Reeve established a narrative about Haywood’s career that had surprising longevity.

In the Exhibition Room

Naming, shaming, reclaiming: Playing the critics

Some will doubtless take me for a philosopher,—others for a fool;—with some I shall pass for a man of pleasure,—with others for a stoic;—some will look upon me as a courtier,—others as a patriot;—but whether I am any one of these, or whether I am even a man or a woman, they will find it, after all their conjectures, as difficult to discover as the longitude.

The Invisible Spy (1755)

Haywood’s first biographer, David Erskine Baker, believed her to have been genuinely chastened by Alexander Pope’s attack and suggested that her later work was an attempt to atone for the licentiousness of her early novels.  An early twentieth-century biographer, George Frisbie Whicher, claimed that she wrote almost nothing for a decade after The Dunciad.  Negative criticism of Haywood lasted posthumously, but its effect on her writing career during her life is often overplayed.  Haywood’s professionalism and her understanding of literary trends and reader demand enabled her to maintain her popularity by altering the forms that she wrote in, adapting to innovation.  She reclaimed her image from critics by fracturing it into many masks, by refusing just one version of Eliza Haywood.

The reform narrative was one that Haywood herself encouraged to some extent. In the opening volume of her periodical The Female Spectator (1744), she described herself: 

I never was a beauty, and am now very far from being young; . . . I shall also acknowledge, that I have run through as many scenes of vanity and folly as the greatest coquet of them all.—Dress, equipage, and flattery, were the idols of my heart. . . . My life, for some years, was a continued round of what I then called pleasure, and my whole time engrossed by a hurry of promiscuous diversions. But whatever inconveniencies such a manner of conduct has brought upon myself, I have this consolation, to think that the public may reap some benefit from it. 

Her life experience is here refigured as experience that might prove useful and instructive to new readers, rather than corrupting.  This was just one facet of Haywood, however, as her teasing introduction to The Invisible Spy suggests.  In her early novels Haywood was fascinated by women’s ability to make and remake themselves via dress or disguise.  Her amatory novella Fantomina sees the heroine adopt four different disguises to repeatedly seduce the same man.  The mutability of Haywood’s heroines translates to her own writing as she effortlessly switches between genres, and crafts different writing personae in doing so.  In The Female Spectator, for example, she writes as four different women.  Her theatrical experience and her translation work allowed her to refine these skills.  The items in this display give a sense of the variety and diversity of Haywood’s output.

Eliza Haywood. The Female Spectator. Seventh edition. London: H. Gardner, 1771. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

The frontispiece to volume four of The Female Spectator shows a woman forced to choose between marriage (pin money was pocket money given to wives) and the excitement of the masquerade.  The woman’s choice between duty and inclination is one that Haywood considers throughout her career.  The contents, however, are far more diverse than the frontispiece suggests.  This volume alone includes topics as varied as herbs, the planets, responses to contemporary poetry, forced marriage and parental tyranny, and false news—“the little fictions with which our news-papers every day abound, [which] by their manifest contradictions and improprieties are highly diverting to the reader.”  The content of The Female Spectator purports to be made up of letters from male and female readers interspersed with editorial commentary, and it thus allows Haywood to present a range of opinions, some more radical than others. 

Eliza Haywood. Life’s Progress through the Passions: or, the Adventures of Natura. First edition. London: T. Gardner, 1748. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Eliza Haywood. A Wife to be Lett. A Comedy. As it is Acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, by His Majesty’s Servants. Re-issue. London: W. Feales and J. Osborn, 1735. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Life’s Progress through the Passions is a play on philosophical treatises about the development of the mind and the passions.  The introduction stresses the complexity of the human character, which is never fully good or bad, but chequered.  Characters, it claims, should not be too virtuous or too monstrous, as they often are in “romances, novels, and whatever carries the air of them.”  Realism is important, the narrator states, so that readers can identify with characters and learn from them, copying their virtues and avoiding their vices.  Haywood reiterates a point about unrealistic and potentially dangerous romances often made by her contemporaries, although truth claims of a similar nature to those here were made in many amatory texts. 

A Wife to be Lett was Haywood’s second play and only comedy.  It is an adaptation of Aphra Behn’s 1686 comedy The Luckey Chance; or, the Alderman’s Bargain.  The main plot involves Graspall’s attempt to rent out his long-suffering wife.  It was staged at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1723, with Haywood herself playing the lead character, Mrs. Graspall.  The Dramatis Personae suggests that the links between authorship, self-construction, and acting were on Haywood’s mind from a very early stage of her career, and that her ability to shift between different narrators and genres in her later career was partly learned from the stage.

Madeleine Angelique Poisson de Gomez. Les Journées Amusantes, Dedie’es Au Roi Par Madame De Gomez. Third edition. Amsterdam: Aux dépens de la Compagnie, 1736. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Eliza Haywood. La Belle Assemblée: Or, the Adventures of Six Days. Second edition. London: D. Browne and S. Chapman, 1725. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Eliza Haywood. L’Entretien des Beaux Esprits. Being the Sequel To La Belle Assemblée. First edition. London: F. Cogan and J. Nourse, 1734. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Haywood’s first translation of Gomez was, according to Patrick Spedding, one of the most popular of her works.  It was published anonymously between 1724 and 1734.  As Spedding notes, Haywood acted in a play called The Blazing Comet in 1732, and had her name written as “Madam de Gomez” in the advertisement, again demonstrating her canny exploitation of the links between authorial identity and the stage (lv).  The sequel, a translation of the first volumes of Gomez’s Les Cents Nouvelles (1732–1739), was much less popular. 

Haywood’s assurance that she “never wrote anything in a political way” after she was arrested for seditious libel in December 1749 was an outright lie.  Gender and sexual politics had occupied Haywood throughout her writing career.  Her novels The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) and The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy (1753) scrutinize marriage and draw attention to the power men have over women.  Haywood was skeptical of the idealized version of feminine innocence that Richardson advocated in Pamela, his phenomenally popular 1740 novel, and this skepticism informed her parody, Anti-Pamela: or, Feign’d Innocence Detected (1741). 

In a more direct engagement with partisan politics, Haywood published a number of political scandal novels in the roman à clef style popularized by Delarivier Manley.  Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724–1725) attacked the corruption of contemporary Britain, focusing on economic events like the South Sea Bubble.  By 1736, her Adventures of Eovaai was more pointed in its opposition to Robert Walpole’s government.  From 1741 to 1744, Haywood ran a pamphlet shop in Covent Garden, from which she sold anti-Walpole materials.  While Haywood has often been painted as less political than Manley or Aphra Behn, both of whom were outspoken Tories, several scholars, including Toni Bowers, Margaret Rose, and Kathryn King, have drawn attention to the political meanings encoded in Haywood’s work, even in unexpected texts ostensibly geared towards didacticism like The Female Spectator and Epistles for the Ladies, its sequel.  King suggests in her biography that these texts “take the deliberately misleading form of ‘polite’ offerings to the ladies” (95).  Again, Haywood’s knowledge of disguise is a crucial tool in masking her political writing.

Eliza Haywood. The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. Fourth edition. London: L. Gardner, 1768. (On loan from Professor Roger Lonsdale) 


Betsy Thoughtless was first published in 1751.  Patrick Spedding notes that the novel went through nine English editions and ten translations and was in print for thirty-three years, making it Haywood’s most popular novel.  It tells the story of a young, coquettish heroine, who has to negotiate a world of predatory men and two-faced women and deal with an unhappy and abusive marriage, before being allowed a happy ending.  While it capitalizes on the popularity of midcentury sentimental writers like Samuel Richardson, the novel also represents a continuation of many of the early concerns of Haywood’s career, particularly the tensions between true virtue and surface reputation, and the dangers faced by women in society. 

Eliza Haywood. The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy. First edition. London: T. Gardner, 1753. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


One of Eliza Haywood’s last published novels, this text concerns the long-delayed marriage of distant relatives Jemmy and Jenny.  Jenny does not want to rush into marriage and instead proposes that the couple should know more about themselves and the world before they commit.  Jenny’s sensible approach represents an example of Haywood’s didactic impulses and one that also informs ideas about marriage in Betsy Thoughtless.  In documenting the dangers Jenny faces and the exploits Jemmy enjoys, Haywood betrays a keen awareness of the differing expectations for male and female behavior.  The long awaited marriage is ultimately predicated on female forbearance. 

Eliza Haywood. The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy. Fourth edition. London: Harrison and Co., 1785. (On loan from Professor Ros Ballaster) 


Patrick Spedding notes how for Walter Scott, Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy became representative of inane sentimental circulating-library fiction (568).  But Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy proved another popular work, with six English editions and French and German translations.  This later edition was printed as part of the Novelist’s Magazine series, which ran from 1779 to 1788 and reprinted a series of earlier novels, creating a canon of sorts.  Charlotte Lennox’s Henrietta, which disparaged Haywood, appeared in the same series that year.  The illustration here intimates the sentimental content, obscuring Haywood’s more skeptical treatment of aspects of the sentimental novel, both in this text and in overt satires like Anti-Pamela.

Eliza Haywood. Anti-Pamela: or, Feign’d Innocence Detected. First edition. London: J. Huggonson, 1741. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


When Samuel Richardson published Pamela in 1740, it was an instant success, generating a huge array of responses and merchandise.  The novel relates, in letters, the story of a young servant girl who is repeatedly sexually harassed by her master, Mr. B.  Eventually, after reading her letters, he reforms and marries her.  Some readers admired the characterization of Pamela and the way in which her virtuous resistance was rightly rewarded; others were skeptical about Pamela’s motivations.  Henry Fielding’s Shamela (1741) recast the heroine as a cunning social climber.  Haywood’s own response came out just seven months after Richardson’s novel and satirizes the original for its impossible standards of femininity. 

Delarivier Manley. Secret Memoirs and Manners of Several Persons of Quality, of Both Sexes. From the New Atalantis, an Island in the Mediterranean. Third edition. London: John Morphew, 1716. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


First published in 1709, Delarivier Manley’s New Atalantis became notorious, and the word Atalantis was repeatedly used in the titles of later works as a marketing tool, promising salacious gossip.  The book is a catalogue of sexual transgressions, aimed at discrediting powerful Whigs.  Many of the characters represent real people, and a key was published explaining who was who for curious readers.  Manley documents the ruin of at least nine women at length, showing that her Tory party politics came before her solidarity with other women.  She was arrested for libel a few months after the book was published, but the charges were dropped. Manley’s scandal fictions almost certainly influenced Haywood.

Eliza Haywood. Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo: A Pre-Adamitical History. First edition. London: S. Baker, 1736. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Eovaai is an exciting and experimental blend of genres that demonstrates Haywood’s dexterity as a writer.  It begins when Princess Eovaai loses the protective jewel given to her by her father and is then overthrown and abducted as her country is plunged into civil war.  Both political and amatory, the novel mounts a satirical attack on the prime-minister Robert Walpole in the guise of an oriental tale.  According to Patrick Spedding, Eovaai was one of Haywood’s least popular works.

In the Oak Room

Writing advice 

In 1743, Haywood wrote her first conduct book:  A Present for a Servant Maid; or, the Sure Means of Gaining Love and Esteem.  The following year she began writing her periodical The Female Spectator.  Haywood’s design in her periodical was to print letters purporting to be from readers of the journal and then to reply to those letters with stories and editorial comments.  Advice on conduct was a crucial part of this project.  Haywood wrote as four different characters: Mira, the witty and good wife, who goes on to write Epistles for the Ladies; Euphrosine, the accomplished daughter; the Widow of Quality; and lastly the Female Spectator herself.  These different personae allowed Haywood a wonderfully wide range of perspectives on topics including prejudice, lying, imagination, astrology, modesty, conversation, taste, Europe, education, and conduct in the bedchamber.  In 1756, Haywood returned to the conduct book form with The Wife, for married women, and later that year, The Husband: In Answer to the Wife.  Haywood covered myriad aspects of the married state, from dealing with in-laws to flirtatious behavior, overbearing servants and precocious children.  As in her periodicals, Haywood made her advice eminently readable by interspersing it with stories as examples to support and illustrate her point, and the works were well received by reviewers. 

Eliza Haywood. Epistles for the Ladies. First edition. London: T. Gardner, 1756. (Chawton House Library Collection)


27bEpistles for the Ladies
comprises twelve books written in epistolary format.  The chapter heading here is “on the Wickedness of Scandal, and the inhuman Pleasure some People take in exposing real Faults, and broaching fictitious Ones, to the Ruin of the fairest Reputation.”  On the surface, it seems to imply Haywood’s rejection of some of her earlier work, which certainly took part in the exposure of faults, sometimes for personal gain, and sometimes for political commentary.  Many of the letters are written by one of the “editors” of The Female Spectator, Mira, but Epistles is more overtly political than the previous work.  Kathryn King has called the Epistles “a major political periodical,” noting that it addresses topical issues and does so for a specifically female audience (155).

Eliza Haywood. The Wife by Mira, One of the Authors of The Female Spectator and Epistles for the Ladies. First edition of the 2-volume set. London: T. Gardner, 1749. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Haywood’s final three works were The Wife, The Young Lady, and The Husband.  Haywood used the names of her Female Spectator editors as the authors of these works.  As a married woman, Mira was well placed to give advice on married life in The Wife and The Husband, while Euphrosine was the narrator of The Young LadyThe Wife includes advice, such as, “Some men have such a plenitude of fiery particles in their composition, that the least trifle which contradicts their present humour sets them in a blaze, . . . but then these turbulent emotions are seldom of any long continuance;—a wife therefore must be very imprudent who makes any efforts to stem the torrent at its height;—she ought to wait ’till it subsides of itself.” 

Eliza Haywood. The Husband: In Answer to the Wife. First edition. London: T. Gardner, 1756. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

The Husband was, according to the introduction, “address’d to all who either already are, or ever intend to become Husbands.”  Topics include marital finances, excessive drinking, treatment of stepchildren, and how a husband ought to behave if his wife is unfaithful.  Some of the content mirrors the same ethical themes and subjects that Haywood had pursued in other genres during her writing career, particularly regarding gendered double standards.  Haywood’s question, “What degree of affection or regard is it likely a woman can retain for a man, who having treated her with the lowest and most fawning submissions while her lover, no sooner becomes her husband than he affects to be her master?” looks forward to concerns voiced much later by Mary Wollstonecraft. 

It might feel like we are a world away from the sort of conduct books that Eliza Haywood was writing, but the market for advice continues to grow.  Today, we find advice on issues from make-up, weight loss, and the latest fashions, to child care, married life, and how to be a domestic goddess.  Gossip magazines, advice columns, etiquette guides, and self-help or improvement manuals all offer forms of advice and promote forms of femininity and masculinity.  This advice often provokes critique or ridicule in online forums and articles or in printed satires like the Ladybird “How it Works” series.  For example, The Wife, a book in this series, puts the following caption next to an image of a mother and child:  “This is a wife.  Looks happy doesn’t she?  That’s because she’s on her second glass of wine.”

In the Long Room

Today's Haywood

In a 1916 review of George Whicher’s The Life and Romances of Mrs. Eliza Haywood, Virginia Woolf spoke of Eliza Haywood as a “writer of no importance,” noting dismissively that “people who write books do not necessarily add anything to the history of literature” (78).  Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, Haywood was mostly ignored.  Now, thanks to the feminist recovery project, Haywood is an established figure in eighteenth-century scholarship, and academics are engaging with every aspect of her work, unpicking the stories inherited from hostile eighteenth-century critics and tracing her untold afterlives in the eighteenth century and beyond.  Haywood studies are only growing with the advent of digital humanities, which makes her work more accessible and which makes links between her early and late fiction easier to unearth.  Her lesser-known works are coming under increasing scrutiny, while her more popular works are available in scholarly editions and are taught in many universities.

From Clélie to Evelina: Mothers, Daughters, and Networks of Romance 

French romance, which focused on love and privileged women’s experience, was an important influence on Eliza Haywood.  Although there was little room for female desire in these early romances, the map of love, or “Carte de Tendre,” that appeared in Madeleine de Scudéry’s ten-volume romance Clélie (1654–1661) depicts a landscape that many subsequent literary heroines had to negotiate, from Fantomina and Betsy Thoughtless to Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre.  Many of Haywood’s heroines do not take the straightest path to love.  Some, led by unbridled passion, are shipwrecked on the Dangerous Sea, while others are stranded on the Lake of Indifference.  Some are given second chances:  Betsy Thoughtless suffers the consequences of a rash marriage to the tyrannical and abusive Mr. Munden before finally wedding the appropriately named Mr. Trueworth.  Haywood’s frank examination of an unhappy marriage in this novel foreshadows later novels that document abusive marriages, such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798) and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).  More broadly, Haywood’s interest in the obstacles faced by young, naive women as they are introduced into the world situates her work within a tradition of coming-of-age novels, including those by Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen.

Madeleine de Scudéry. Trans. John Davies. Clélia, An Excellent New Romance: The Whole Work in Five Parts, Dedicated to Mademoiselle de Longueville. Written in French by the Exquisite Pen of Monsieur de Scudéry, Governour of Nostredame de la Gard. First edition. London: H. Herringman, D. Newman, T. Cockerel, S. Heyrick, W. Cadman, S. Loundes, G. Marriot, W. Crook, and C. Smith, 1678. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This impressive tome was first published in French in ten volumes between 1654 and 1661 under the name of Madeleine de Scudéry’s brother.  The action of the novel takes place in sixth-century Rome against a backdrop of rebellion and war, following the heroine, Clelia, on the path to her eventual marriage to Aronce.  The text refers to real people and events in French society, transposing them into an historical setting. 

Susan Smythies. The Brothers. First edition. London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1758. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


The Brothers was the third and final novel of the little-known writer Susan Smythies.  Her first novel had used a preference for Haywood’s fiction to indicate a rakish character.  In this novel, the continuing cultural currency of French romance is demonstrated.  The heroine, Phoebe Prado, describes Mrs. Foster’s library in a letter to her father.  The “showy” but rather old-fashioned library includes Ibraham, a romance by Scudéry, and two romances by Gaultier de Coste, Seigneur de La Calprenède:  Cleopatra and Cassandra.  Also listed are some religious books, an atlas, a French dictionary, “Grey’s Love Letters” (probably Aphra Behn’s Love-Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister), Behn’s novels, and Delarivier Manley’s New Atalantis, alongside beauty recipes and cook books.  Haywood, however, does not appear. 

Eliza Haywood. The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. Sixth edition. London: Harrison and Co., 1783. (On loan from Professor Ros Ballaster) 


This edition of Betsy Thoughtless was printed in 1751.  Patrick Spedding notes that the novel went through nine English editions and ten translations and was in print for thirty-three years, making it Haywood’s most popular novel.  It tells the story of a young, coquettish heroine, who has to negotiate a world of predatory men and two-faced women and deal with an unhappy and abusive marriage, before being allowed a happy ending.  While it capitalizes on the popularity of midcentury sentimental writers like Samuel Richardson, the novel also represents a continuation of many of the early concerns of Haywood’s career, particularly the tensions between true virtue and surface reputation, and the dangers faced by women in society.  

Frances Burney. Evelina, or, a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. First edition. London: T. Lowndes, 1778. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


The first person to point out the similarities between Burney’s popular first novel, Evelina, and Betsy Thoughtless, published 27 years earlier, was John Dunlop in his 1814 History of Fiction.  Like Betsy, the young and naive Evelina has to negotiate a perilous London society peopled with inappropriate guardians, embarrassing family members, and dangerous men.  In its focus on a female character’s inner life as she finds love and its concerns over birth and nobility, the novel looks back to earlier romance, but its location in an eighteenth-century London that would have been highly recognizable to readers gives it a fashionably modern twist. 

Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan. France. First edition. London: Henry Colburn, 1817. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Lady Morgan is best known for her 1806 novel The Wild Irish Girl, but she also wrote poetry and several travel narratives, of which France was one.  On these pages, Morgan notes the lasting popularity of “Betsi Tatless” in France, alongside Richardson’s “divine” novel Clarissa.  Such praise of the “jewel” Betsy Thoughtless led Morgan to search for a copy on her return to England.  She even calls it “the first genuine novel . . . written in the English language.” She is unable to find a copy upon her return to England, however, suggesting that while Haywood remained popular in France, in England Betsy Thoughtless had disappeared from the literary consciousness. 


Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, by the Author of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” &C. with an Autobiographical Notice of the Author. First edition. London: John Murray, 1818. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


We hope that you have enjoyed your visit to Haywood’s world and that we have been successful in painting her in the many guises that do justice to her professionalism and versatility.  The exhibition ends with our first edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (on display in the lower reading room), both as a means of gesturing towards our next exhibition on Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël and as a way of situating Eliza Haywood in Austen’s literary lineage.  Both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion have much to say about the dangers of reading, with Catherine Morland’s penchant for the gothic and Captain Benwick’s indulgence in Romantic poetry both provoking commentary.  They provide links among the criticism of Haywood’s more “enflaming” works, Haywood’s own sentiments about dangerous reading, and the conversations that were occurring about reading almost a century later.


We gratefully acknowledge the Garfield Weston and Foyle Foundations; English and the Public Engagement with Research Unit at the University of Southampton; Roger Lonsdale; Ros Ballaster; Kathryn King; Patrick Spedding; Darren Bevin; and Vanessa Jackson.

Works Cited
  • King, Kathryn R. “The Afterlife and Strange Surprising Adventures of Haywood’s Amatories (with Thoughts on Betsy Thoughtless).” Masters of the Marketplace: British Women Novelists of the 1750s. d. Susan Carlile. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh UP, 2011. 203–18
  • _____. A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood. London: Pickering, 2012.
  • Hartley, Cathy. A Historical Dictionary of British Women. London: Europa, 2003
  • Luhning, Holly. “Literary Status and Material Culture: Eliza Haywood’s Early Books.” The Female Spectator 12.1 (2008): 2–4.
  • Spedding, Patrick. A Bibliography of Eliza Haywood. London: Pickering, 2004.
  • Woolf, Virginia. “A Scribbling Dame.” Rev. of The Life and Romances of Mrs. Eliza Haywood by George Frisbie Whicher. The Times Literary Supplement 17 Feb. 1916.
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