Fantomina

Critical reception

Haywood is notable as a transgressive, outspoken writer of amatory fiction, plays, romance and novels. Paula R. Backscheider claims that "Haywood's place in literary history is equally remarkable and as neglected, misunderstood, and misrepresented as her oeuvre" (xiii intro drama). For quite some time Eliza Haywood was most frequently noted for her appearance in Alexander Pope's The Dunciad rather than for her own literary merits. Even though Alexander Pope made her a centerpoint in the heroic games of The Dunciad in Book II—she is, in Pope's view, "vacuous"–he does not dismiss her for being a woman, but for having nothing of her own to say. Pope attacks her for politics and for, implicitly, plagiarism. Unlike other "dunces", however, Pope's characterisation does not seem to have been the cause of her obscurity. Rather, as literary historians came to praise and value the masculine novel and, most importantly, to dismiss the courtship novel and to exclude novels of eroticism, Haywood's works were rejected for more chaste or more overtly philosophical works.

In The Dunciad, the book sellers race each other to reach Eliza, and their reward will be all of her books and her company. She is for sale, in other words, in literature and society, in Pope's view. As with other "dunces", she was not without complicity in the attack. Haywood had begun to make it known that she was poor and in need of funds, and she seemed to be writing for pay and to please the undiscerning public.

Eliza Haywood is now regarded as "a case study in the politics of literary history" (Backscheider 100). She is also being re-evaluated by feminist scholars and rated very highly. Interest in Haywood’s work has been growing since the 1980s. Her novels are regarded as stylistically innovative. Her plays and political writing attracted most of the attention in her own time, and she was a full player in the difficult public sphere.

Her novels, voluminous and frequent, are now regarded as stylistically innovative and important transitions from the erotic seduction novels and poetry of Aphra Behn (particularly Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684)) and the straightforward, plainly spoken novel of Frances Burney. In her own day, her plays and political writing attracted the most comment and attention, and thus she was a full player in the difficult public sphere, but today her novels carry the most interest and demonstrate the most significant innovation.


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