In the week running up to International Women’s Day on 8th March 2015, we are celebrating women writers who paved the way for the early feminists and are still inspiring women to Make It Happen today.
There is still work to be done for greater equality around the world but let’s take a moment to remember the women who helped us come this far…
3. Eliza Haywood (1693-1756)
“With this experience, added to a genius tolerably extensive, and an education more liberal than is ordinarily allowed to persons of my sex, I flatter myself that it might be in my power to be in some measure both useful and entertaining to the public.”
Eliza Haywood, The Female Spectator, 1744
Today, in the run up to International Women’s Day, we pay tribute to Eliza Haywood. The information we have on Eliza Haywood’s personal life is hazy to say the least, with debate over her parentage and her marriage and even whether or not she had children. Not so her writing career, which was prolific and varied, with seventy-two works including novels, plays, poems, conduct books, translations and theatre history. Her earlier work focussed on ‘amatory’ fiction, narratives concerned with love and seduction in all its guises. The best known of these prose fictions was Love in Excess (1719), a highly successful bestseller in its time, which went into several editions. Although popular with her reading public, Haywood was berated by some of her contemporaries for writing scandalous and licentious books.
In the 1740s, Eliza Haywood started The Female Spectator. This periodical was a direct play on the existing Spectator, which was written by men for men, and was instead written by women for women. The journal featured romantic and satiric fiction, moral essays, social and political commentary and covered everything from the craze for tea drinking to the problem of gambling, to politics, war and diplomacy and the importance of science and natural history. Chawton House Library named its own newsletter The Female Spectator in homage to the original.
In her later years, Eliza Haywood became a respectable novelist. In 1751, she published The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless in which the heroine marries the wrong man and the repression of eighteenth-century women within the bounds of wedlock is vividly portrayed. Freed from unhappy marriage by her husband’s death, the heroine does eventually marry the man she loves after she has painfully learnt from her mistakes and has begun to grow up. This theme is later echoed by such writers as Charlotte Lennox (1730-1804) in The Female Quixote, Frances Burney (1752-1840) in Evelina and Jane Austen (1775-1817) in Emma.
Which women writers have inspired you? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, commenting on https://www.facebook.com/ChawtonHouseLibrary or tweeting @ChawtonHouse #makeithappen #womensday