On Eliza Haywood’s Explorations of Gender Politics and Sexual Passion
From the History of Literature Podcast with Jacke Wilson
For tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using fictional devices to shape their worlds and communicate with one another. Four thousand years ago they began writing down these stories, and a great flourishing of human achievement began. We know it today as literature, a term broad enough to encompass everything from ancient epic poetry to contemporary novels. How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today? Hosted by Jacke Wilson, an amateur scholar with a lifelong passion for literature, The History of Literature takes a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known.
During her stormy and mysterious life, Eliza Haywood (1693?-1756) was one of the most prolific writers in England. Her “amatory fictions” were unapologetically sensationalistic, earning her the opprobrium of her mostly male critics. But in spite of being described (some might say slandered) by Alexander Pope in his Dunciad, Haywood kept going—acting, writing, translating, publishing—and set many trends even as she bridged the divide from one era to another. Today, she stands as a remarkable figure, with novels like Fantomina demonstrating her willingness to explore themes of gender politics, sexual passion, and contemporary scandals long before it was common to do so.
PLUS Jacke takes a look at one of the most famous letters in literature, Keats’s epiphanic description of Shakespeare’s “negative capability,” including the painting Keats had just gone to see.