"That ladies would take example": gender and genre in Eliza Haywood's didactic writings

Patchias, Anna C, Department of English, University of Virginia
Spacks, Patricia, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Wall, Cynthia, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Fraiman, Susan, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Corse, Sarah, As-Sociology, University of Virginia

This study of Eliza Haywood's didactic fiction and nonfiction offers a close reading of one of the most important and prolific writers of the eighteenth century. It shows how Haywood broke new ground by experimenting with genre and form as well as with theme, content, and point of view. Most importantly, it also examines how, in a period when virtually every text advertised itself as morally instructive, her conduct books in particular explore the moral and pedagogical complexities of the Horatian dictum "to delight and instruct" and question the fundamental assumptions of didactic literature itself.

Conduct writing took many forms in the eighteenth century, ranging from published sermons and private letters to historical narratives and fictitious stories. All such writing upheld a program of self-regulation that rigidly prescribed human nature in general and female nature in particular. In spite of their variety, conduct books employ common topics, themes, and rhetoric to implement their reformative programs. I coin the term "rhetoric of conduct" to describe this set of moral and discursive strategies. I argue that Haywood's complex relationship to the rhetoric of conduct has yet to be fully understood.

While most eighteenth-century readers welcomed moral and practical guidance, modern readers have often had difficulty with the strident tones of didacticism. Literary and cultural historians have also been hampered by this bias as well, thereby obscuring our understanding of eighteenth-century works of all kinds, including Haywood's. Even scholars who celebrate the achievements of Haywood's erotic tales and scandal novels have been less adept at recognizing the innovations and experimentations of her didactic writings.

This study seeks to move beyond such biases to examine Haywood's particular blend of tradition and innovation in her didactic texts. Many of Haywood's conduct books invoke the rhetoric of conduct, thus participating in her culture's reformative program. But, as my study demonstrates, these writings also challenge the moral, social, and political status quo, often posing complex questions about human nature and the nature of virtue. Ultimately, Haywood's quest to "delight and instruct" her readers suggests new directions for literary study.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Haywood, Eliza Fowler -- 1693?-1756
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