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ENL 6236 Beauty and Violence in the Enlightenment

    Class 13: Betsy Thoughtless Vols. I and II


      Betsy Thoughtless, introduction and vols. I-II (pp. 1-325)
      Presentation: Lisa Mentzer -- Chaber, L. A. "Christian Form and Anti-Feminism in Clarissa". Eighteenth-Century Fiction v. 15 no. 3/4 (April/July 2003): 507-37.
      DUE: Post #12; Clarissa reading journal;

    Class Objectives:

    • To discuss the conclusion of Clarissa and its role as a narrative model for the fallen woman
    • To introduce and discuss differences in Haywood's novel
    • To discuss the article presented by Ms. Mentzer

    Notes and Discussion Questions:

    1. Betsy Thoughtless Volumes I and II

    Although our main focus during the course is on Clarissa we shift our focus to the novel by Haywood and discuss how this narrative represents some of the same cultural preoccupations in new ways. We will encounter numerous tales of courtship, seduction and fallen (and not so fallen women). How does the material fare in Eliza Haywood's hands? What does she owe to her predecessors? How is she original? If you have read Henry Fielding, you may want to draw some comparisons to Haywood's art based on his practice, especially Tom Jones.


    Examine the conventions of the novel form that Haywood employs. Note the structure of the book in chapters and volumes. Comment on the headnotes to chapters and the naming of characters. How do you understand these to function? How does this form compare with the artificiality of the epistolary form used by Richardson? To pick up on the discussion begun on the board last week, how does the form of narrative as "history" make this a different story than the allegorical tragedy of Clarissa?

    Discuss the narrator's voice. What is her/its tone? How does this compare with editorial control in Clarissa? Note that Haywood was the author of the popular periodical the Female Spectator - modeled after the successful Spectator papers of Addison and Steele. What influence does this have on her narrative style? Also note the influence or precedence of Fielding's narrative voice. How is it similar? How does it differ?

    Theme: Gallantry, Courtship and Marriage

    One of the central discursive preoccupation of eighteenth-century literature, by men and women alike is gallantry. I’ve offered a definition below and included an excerpt from Hume, which you already read, to illustrate. Gallantry is more than a discourse of courtship; it is a discourse of civility and honor among men as well as women. While notions of gallantry reach back to Renaissance courtier manuals and medieval chivalry, the enlightenment formulation of gallantry bolsters historically specific developments of civilization and the socio-political discourse that establishes England as a world leader in civility and politeness; this is the enabling discourse of progress and enslavement. At the heart of this powerful construction of cultural hegemony lies the image of refined and virtuous feminine beauty. NOTE: this is not the same as the angel-in-the-house of the nineteenth-century.

    Definition: Gallantry is a code of conduct that emerges from the overlap of polite and amatory discourses in the quasi-public sphere of sociability in the eighteenth century. It describes civilized behavior between parties of asymmetrical power relations, most commonly between men and women. Literally and conventionally, it is understood in terms of the voluntarily suppression or service of male violence in favor or protection of female beauty. Examine Hume’s quotation below for an eighteenth-century description. For further information, see my article “Beauty and Gallantry: A Model of Polite Conversation Revisited” Eighteenth-Century Life 25 (Winter 2001): 43-63. This is available through Project Muse.

    David Hume’s description:

    "Gallantry is nothing but an instance of . . . generous attention. As nature has given man the superiority above woman, by endowing him with greater strength both of mind and body, it is his part to alleviate that superiority, as much as possible, by the generosity of his behaviour, and by a studied deference and complaisance for all her inclinations and opinions. Barbarous nations display this superiority, by reducing their females to the most abject slavery; by confining them, by beating them, by selling them, by killing them. But the male sex, among a polite people, discover their authority in a more generous, though not less evident manner; by civility, by respect, by complaisance, and, in a word, by gallantry." (David Hume, "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences")

    As you read The History of Betsy Thoughtless, examine how the scenes of conversation among men and women in sociable spaces operate. These visits, routs, dinners, dances, theatre-events and other outings form the context for gallantry and provide the opportunity for the practice of politeness. See, for instance, how the sea captain fails the tests of politeness and why.

    Conversation is a performative activity in eighteenth-century literature, and women as well as men are meant to shine. But conversation is also a test of character and understanding. How do the characters display themselves in these scenes? How do they "read" one another? Note how easy it is to misconstrue meaning, particularly around Betsy. Why does this happen?

    Beauty is the force of attraction and the power that orchestrates the behaviors of gallantry. Given the centrality of beauty’s function, reconsider the importance of beauty for female characters (and compare with that discussed in the poetry last week.) How is Betsy's beauty described? How does she regard her own beauty? How does she regard her own power over men? Given the counter-discourse of advice that runs through the novel, what alternative constructions of beauty coexist? How do other characters want to construct Betsy’s beauty?

    Note the language of power and dependence (even enslavement) that accompanies the courtship of Betsy. How can you understand this given Hume’s language regarding gallantry? See for example the figure of Munden p. 295.

    Hume’s description makes utterly clear that complaisance and gallantry serve as modern substitutes for unmitigated male violence toward women. How is violence manifested in this enlightened code of behavior? What role does violence play in the manipulation of female behavior? What role does dueling play? See in particular volume one chapter IX and chap. XXII and also page 189.

    The codes of politeness that govern sociability in the eighteenth century function parallel to the negotiation of gallant compliment and refined address. Note how the female characters are particularly aware of the signification of compliments and the difference between mere flattery and that which signifies a deeper meaning. And yet the structural ambiguities between the discourse aimed at love and that which is aimed at pleasantry necessitates constant vigilance and control. How is this tension developed in the narrative?

    Moreover, the issue of self-representation becomes contested in a discourse so dependent upon linguistic conventions. Why is it difficult for Betsy to represent herself and her desire to remain unmarried (see, eg. Pp. 44, 47, 76). How does this respond to or compare with discussions between Clarissa and Anna on remaining single. Note also how this anticipates Elizabeth Bennet’s difficulties in Pride and Prejudice.

    The sovereignty of self-representation becomes particularly vexed when the virtue of the female is compromised. Examine what lies at the heart of interpreting female character, particularly in the misconstructions placed on Betsy as a result of her association with Miss Forward.

    The introduction suggests that the main theme of the book – like that of Tom Jones – is that virtue alone is insufficient; one must also possess the appearance of virtue. While Betsy’s various monitors reiterate the theme in different ways, see Lady Trusty’s letters, her brother Francis and Mr. Goodman, for examples, Betsy consistently resists this need. What is at stake in her resistance? Is she merely the vain coquet the narrator would have us believe or is there something more to her neglect of form?

    See for example her eloquent refutation of male violence: “What would you have me do? I do not want the men to love me, -- and if they will play the fool and fight, and kill one another, it is none of my fault: (177).

    While Lady Trusty writes: “I see no real defence for you but in a good husband,” (207), Betsy writes, “ I know not how it is, I cannot all at once bring myself into a liking of the marriage state” (213).

    What is it about marriage that Betsy so dislikes? Recall the eighteenth-century legal interpretation of marriage from Blackstone's commentary.

    If this novel is a didactic tale about proper (or improper) female behavior, then it is also a survey of male behavior. What are Betsy’s suitors like? Beyond the name, how are we to know that Trueworth is destined to be her husband? What does the plot suggest about marriage thus far?

    At the heart of the novel lies the comparison between a man’s virtue (and sexual honor) and a woman’s. Trueworth’s affair with Incognita lies at the center of the plot (Volume II Chapter XXI), followed immediately by his legitimate courtship of Harriot. What does it mean that Betsy, while innocent of sexual misconduct, is vilified while the hero maintains his honor while conducting an illicit affair?

    What issues of class arise in the negotiation of courtship? To what extent are these consistent with the discourses of politeness and gallantry? To what extent are these necessitated by the legal status of the individuals in law? What purpose does the example of Mr. Goodman’s marriage serve?

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