All things considered, it is nothing less than astonishing that most people are not familiar with Eliza Haywood’s first novel, Love in Excess. Even those who never read a book have at least heard of Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels. Those two classics just so happen to be the only two novels that sold more copies than Love in Excess throughout the first half of the 18th century. And yet, today, Eliza Haywood and her scandalous novel are all but forgotten and unknown.
The book was nothing less than a bona fide literary sensation and one of the essential publishing phenomena vital for public acceptance of this critically lambasted new form of literary expression calling itself the…novel. Haywood lived long enough to five editions of her novel get published. This accomplishment becomes all the more remarkable consider that not only was Haywood working within a disreputable medium, but she was breaking several longstanding unwritten literary rules. Her heroine not only engages in behavior hardly consider virtual, but she actually enjoys doing so. Scandal could even have been avoided on those grounds had her heroine at least been appropriately punished for such enjoyment in the service of teaching a greater moral lessons for readers.
Instead, Haywood may have become the first female novelist in the English-speaking world to simultaneously learn and benefit from what would become one of the most steadfast rules in publishing: scandal sells. Which Love in Excess did, in excess.