Haywood, Eliza

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Haywood, Eliza (?1693-1756): English Writer.

Eliza Haywood was a novelist, playwright, actress, journalist, literary critic, poet, translator, and publisher. Responding to changing readers' tastes and values, Haywood published a great deal of amatory fiction in the 1720s, then in the 1740s and '50s switched to the kinds of sentimental, didactic novels that had become popular.

The details of Haywood's birth and early life are uncertain and incomplete. She appears to have come from a relatively prosperous merchant family named Fowler and to have received a relatively good education. She must have married a Haywood before 1715, since on that date a Dublin theater playbill for Timon of Athens, in which she played Chloe, lists her as Eliza Haywood. Sketchy evidence suggests that she was no longer living with her husband by 1719, that she had entered a liaison with the writer Richard Savage by 1723, and that by 1724 she had begun a relationship with the playwright William Hatchett, with whom she lived for more than twenty years. She had two supposedly illegitimate children, a situation publicized by Pope, Alexander in The Dunciad.

In 1719, Haywood published the amatory novel, Love in Excess, which sold so well that only Defoe, Daniel's Robinson Crusoe and Swift, Jonathan's Gulliver's Travels competed with its sales in the first half of the century. This work was followed by some forty novels and novellas in the 1720s, as Haywood capitalized on the taste for risqué romances.

In the 1730s, Haywood turned her literary and theatrical talents toward the service of politics. She wrote at least three plays, including the Opera of Operas (1733), a parody of Fielding, Henry's Tragedy of Tragedies, satirizing operas and politics. She wrote a novel satirizing Robert Walpole, Adventures of Evoaii (1736), and she acted in Fielding's theatrical company at Haymarket, where the politically charged drama staged in the mid 1730s was partly responsible for the Licensing Act of 1737. In this phase of her career, Haywood also published The Dramatic Historiographer (1735), which includes a theoretical discussion of drama and the stage, as well as plot summaries of recent plays. Later retitled The Companion to the Theater, the book was popular enough to go into at least seven editions by 1756. Haywood published a periodical, The Female Spectator, from 1744 to 1746, and wrote several sentimental novels in the last two decades of her life. The best known of her later novels are The Fortunate Foundlings (1744), The History of Miss Betty Thoughtless (1753), and Jenny and Jemmy Jessamy (1753).

Because of her involvement in the theater, considered an immoral milieu for women, her politics, her personal affairs, and the supposedly salacious nature of her fiction, Haywood was attacked in print by Jonathan Swift, Horace Walpole, and Alexander Pope. In portraying strong-willed, independent women who pursued fulfillment of their desires--even if those desires sometimes seemed immoral--Haywood made an important contribution to what was called the Woman Question in England, the public debate that would eventually lead to advances for women and the development of a truly efficacious feminism. Her fiction was not nearly as erotic, however, as her detractors claimed. In her depiction of distressed virtue and persecuted innocence, Haywood also voiced another, more conventional version of feminism, which emphasized the victimization and exploitation of women in a patriarchal system. In both her amatory and her didactic fictions, therefore, Haywood raised in different ways issues that would arise in later Enlightenment discussions of political equality and liberty for all people.

Further Reading:

Christine Blouch, "Eliza Haywood and the Romance of Obscurity," Studies in English Literature 31 (1991): 535-552.

Glen Colburn

Morehead State University