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Eliza Haywood and Her Romantic Novel The History Of Miss Betsy Thoughtless
The fascinating intrigues that surround the fictionalized search for love, both legitimate and otherwise have oft been the topic of titillating drama. Eliza Haywood in The History of Betsy Thoughtless (1720-1805) is nothing less than a compilation of the wanderings of a young fictional character trying to assert a very culturally limited level of control over the decisions surrounding her love life and that of her friends. The reasons for the creation of this work are no doubt countless and yet the historical representation of the work traditionally has been a work created for the sole purpose of the earning of a living. Even in 1720 "sex sells." More recent scholarship has been focused on the idea that Haywood and her literary partners were not just selling books but giving life to a whole new genre, that of the modern novel and with that life giving they were also attempting to give life to feminist reform. Contemporary male authors who wrote similar works for profit may have received greater acknowledgement and greater monetary reward yet a hindsight reflection of Haywood's works prove not only literary skill but the fact that Haywood was able to eek out a living in a changing, commercializing literary climate proves the validity of her skill as a compelling artist.
Interest in Haywood has revived recently as a function of a wider concern with the 'mothers of the novel'. Pope's (Haywood critic) satirical method of collapsing personal into aesthetic judgements is deemed to have caused an enduring neglect both of the writer and of the genre (romantic fiction) in which she wrote. (Hammond 196)
Furthermore, modern scholarship clearly elevates The History of Betsy Thoughtless as Haywood's most successful and most influential work because she so successfully attempted to meet her contemporaries in using the new genre of the novel to elicit reform and especially the reforms of the standards education of women and the readdress of the position of women in marriage and family life alone. Though the form of the end of the novel eventually takes that of the didactic tradition the novel itself is much more complex and telling of the thoughts and needs of women during Haywood's time.
Betsy Thoughtless is Haywood's most important novel in terms of its influence on women's literary history. It is the first major English novel to focus on the plot of female education or the "reformed heroine plot," which Jane Spencer identifies as the "central female tradition in the eighteenth-century novel." The roots of this tradition lay, of course, in woman's role as educator, teaching having become during the eighteenth century one of the few respectable professions open to women. Woman's role as novelist similarly gains respectability when her texts serve -- or at least masquerade -- as tools of moral didacticism. In Betsy Thoughtless, Haywood calls attention to the novel's potential benefits as instructive literature by dramatizing the process by which popular literature acts as the agent of reform. (Nestor 1994, 529)
The literary abilities of Haywood are attested to further in a description of her use of different styles of descriptive language to both arm her heroin and honor her chastity is made by Barbara Benedict in 1998 Studies in the Novel.
The novelistic treatments of female inquiry as liberation and disaster provide a heritage for women writers of the late eighteenth century who sought to endow their heroines with the Romantic virtues of both rebellious inquiry and sentimental purity (Benedict 1998)
Benedict asserts that Haywood's narrator uses language that describes the heroine as both seeking competition through violent adjective usage and expressing remorse for the damage the competition has inflicted, as the proof of her virtue.
Eliza Haywood (Fowler) (1693? -- 1756) was an English author. Haywood separated from her husband, and then she supported herself and her two children by writing plays and novels. "Two of her books, Utopia (1725) and The Court of Carmania (1727), scandalized well-known society figures, and earned her the disapproval of Pope who satirized her in The Dunciad. She also conducted the periodical the Female Spectator (1744 -- 46)." (Columbia Encyclopedia 2000, 21069) Though there is a significant amount of new evidence about Haywood being a widow and having two illegitimate children, a charge made by Pope in Duncaid the access…[continue]
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