Title

A Forgotten Masterpiece of an 18th Century Female Novelist

Subject Area

Gender Studies

Abstract

Today the earliest widely read female novelist in the English language is Jane Austen. Yet before her there were many very successful and popular female writers that are unjustly forgotten. I will speak about Eliza Haywood’s masterpiece, Miss Betsy Thoughtless, published in 1751, and arguably the best 18th century English novel written by a woman.

It can be read on many levels. For the women of today perhaps its most remarkable aspect is its “feminism,” for it is a story of a young woman that tries to have some measure of independence in a male-dominated society, and her courageous refusal to remain in an unhappy and degrading marriage. But the novel is also a Bildungsroman—the story of a vain, impulsive young girl that slowly, and sometimes painfully, achieves maturity. Again, Miss Betsy Thoughtless could be read as a historical novel, for it gives a very interesting—and realistic—picture of middle-class life in London of the 18th century. Finally, although Haywood could not have known it, her novel seems curiously forward-looking: like several great novels of the 19th century, it deals with a woman trapped in a loveless marriage.

Brief Bio Note

Helena Jeny has studied Comparative Literature, English, and Classics. She has read papers on Jane Austen's novels and several other novels written by women in the 18th and 19th centuries. She teaches Latin in a private school in Newport News, VA.

Keywords

women's novels; feminism; gender studies; 18th century literature

Location

Afternoon Session 3 (PARB 239)

Presentation Year

2019

Start Date

4-12-2019 5:45 PM

Embargo

11-26-2018

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Apr 12th, 5:45 PM

A Forgotten Masterpiece of an 18th Century Female Novelist

Afternoon Session 3 (PARB 239)

Today the earliest widely read female novelist in the English language is Jane Austen. Yet before her there were many very successful and popular female writers that are unjustly forgotten. I will speak about Eliza Haywood’s masterpiece, Miss Betsy Thoughtless, published in 1751, and arguably the best 18th century English novel written by a woman.

It can be read on many levels. For the women of today perhaps its most remarkable aspect is its “feminism,” for it is a story of a young woman that tries to have some measure of independence in a male-dominated society, and her courageous refusal to remain in an unhappy and degrading marriage. But the novel is also a Bildungsroman—the story of a vain, impulsive young girl that slowly, and sometimes painfully, achieves maturity. Again, Miss Betsy Thoughtless could be read as a historical novel, for it gives a very interesting—and realistic—picture of middle-class life in London of the 18th century. Finally, although Haywood could not have known it, her novel seems curiously forward-looking: like several great novels of the 19th century, it deals with a woman trapped in a loveless marriage.