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November 14, 2007


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ENL 6236 Beauty and Violence in the Enlightenment


    Class 14: Betsy Thoughtless Vols. III and IV


    Assignments:

      Betsy Thoughtless, Vols III and IV and appendices
      Recommended: Gillian Skinner, "Women's Status as legal and civic subjects: 'A worse condition than slavery itself'?" in Women and Literature in Britain, 1700-1800 ed. Vivien Jones (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 91-110. Avail in course docs.
      Presentation: TBA
      DUE: Post #13; Recursive Reading Exercise-review

    Class Objectives:

    • To conclude discussion of Betsy Thoughtless
    • To discuss some critical history of the novel
    • To review the Clarissa Reading Journal and present the recursive reading exercise


    Notes and Discussion Questions:

    1. Betsy Thoughtless Volumes II and III

    Our discussion last week indicates the many ways in which reading Betsy Thoughtless adds to our knowledge and interpretation of Clarissa and at the same time the ways in which having read the latter informs our understanding and expectations for the former. We will continue that this week, although Haywood takes us where Richardson did not go (in Clarissa), i.e. what happens after the lovers get married. One of our guiding questions this week might be, what happens to the romance plot when we pursue it past the altar? Are all the fears articulated by Anna and Clarissa in their discussion of the marriage state realized? Is there a happily ever after?

    THE NOVEL FORM

    See the definition and distinction offered by Clara Reeve on page 641: "The Romance is an heroic fable, which treats of fabulous persons and things. - The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the times in which it is written. The Romance in lofty and elevated language, describes what never happened nor is likely to happen. - The Novel gives a familiar relation of such things as pass every day before our eyes, such as may happen to our friend, or to ourselves, and the perfection of it, is to represent every scene, in so easy and natural a manner, and to make them appear so probable, as to deceive us into a persuasion (at least while we are reading) that all is real, until we are affected by the joys or distresses, of the persons in the story, as if they were our own" (641).

    What are the essential expectations for the novel? To what extent does The History of Betsy Thoughtless fulfill them?

    Analyze the criticism from the Monthly Review, in particular the following statement: "...no other hand would have, probably, more happily finish'd a work begun on such a plan, as that of the history of a young inconsiderate girl, whose little foibles, without any natural vices of the mind, involve her in difficulties and distresses, which, by correcting, make her wiser, and deservedly happy in the end. A heroine like her cannot but lay an author under much disadvantage; for, tho' such an example may afford lessons of prudence, yet how can we greatly interest ourselves in the fortune of one, whose character and conduct are neither truly amiable nor infamous, and which we can neither admire, nor love, nor pity, nor be diverted with?" (638).

    Evaluate the justness of the criticism. Compare Betsy Thoughtless to other novels with faulty protagonists: Clarissa, Tom Jones, Evelina, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair, Jane Eyre, Mill on the Floss, or further afield, Madame Bovary or The Awakening. Others?

    As a coming of age novel – if we can call it that – how does it represent Betsy’s development? In what ways, if any, does she change?

    Note how Haywood's reputation, like Betsy's, must undergo reformation if she is to be accepted by the critics. For two versions of this see pages 636 and 643. How do these biographical/critical pieces represent Haywood's development? What, if anything, changes? What motivates such readings? What are the implications of such readings of the female novelist?

    Themes: Marriage - a change of station,

    To what extent does Miss Harriot serve as a foil to Betsy and why? Examine her reaction to Trueworth's first efforts at proposing:

      "[I]f you would have me believe your professions are sincere, forbear, I beseech you, to talk to me in this manner: - it is an ill-judged policy, methinks, in you men, to idolize the women too much, you wish would think well of you; - if our sex are in reality so vain as you generally represent us, on whom but yourselves can the fault be laid? - And if we prove ourselves so weak as to imagine ourselves such, as either the flattery, or the partial affection of the lover paints us, we shall be apt to take every thing as our due, and think little gratitude is owing, for the offering he makes us of his heart" (374).

    Such condemnations of gallantry are fairly common in writings by women, although less so in works authored by men. What does Miss Harriot's perspective show us about the verbal exchange of power expected between men and women? What view of woman emerges from her critique?

    Munden writes to Miss Thoughtless: "I know very well, that it is the duty of every lover to submit, in all things, to the pleasure of the beautiful object, whose chains he wears" (330). Here and elsewhere the language of enslavement describes the male lover's bondage prior to marriage. To what extent is the male role in courtship parallel to the wife's role after marriage? Where does power lie? What effect does this use of language in gallant courtship have on the representation of actual or lived experience in marriage?

    How does Betsy fare once she becomes the property of Munden?

    Skinner's article details the ways in which a woman's legal status - and with it her ability to own property and enter into contractual agreements - changes upon marriage. She notes that "fiction was fertile ground in which to produce the ideal of the companionate marriage, dealing as it so often did with the period of courtship and ending with the desired marriage, with scant regard for details of marriage settlements, every confidence in the happiness of the loving couple, and little investigation into the practicalities of married life" (96). What investment does this genre - particularly those novels written by women - have in the ideological concealment of the woman's transition into marriage?

    Skinner then claims that Betsy Thoughtless is the exception: "But nowhere are the political bones of eighteenth-century marriage laid so bare as they are in Eliza Haywood's The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless" (96). With Betsy's marriage to Munden, "the novel is transformed from one of courtship to one concerned with aspects of eighteenth-century married life rarely depicted in such detail" (97).

    How does the novel depict a woman's position in marriage? What role do her "friends" play in her survival? What role does the law play? What role - perhaps centrally - does money play? And finally, in what ways are these problems anticipated or not in the first half of the novel - the courtship plot(s)?

    More controversially, Skinner asserts that the ending of Betsy Thoughtless overturns the social criticism of the Munden plot: "The ending retreats from the legal and economic analysis of marriage into the conventional treatment of marriage as ending, its obvious felicities needing no elaboration" (99). To what extent do you agree with this assessment?

    Alternatively, how is the patriarchal system of protection represented in the novel overall? For example, what role do Betsy's brothers play in securing her marriage to Munden and why? What does it take for Betsy's brothers to eventually take care of her? How does the story of Thomas Thoughtless illustrate a crucial difference between the sexual conduct of a man and that of a woman?

    Examine the circulation of the French mistress in the novel. What role does she play in Betsy's story? Why is the "History of Mademoiselle Roquelair" given such prominence (p. 571)? How does her story underscore cultural as well as sexual differences in the treatment of women?

    Betsy reflects: "Neither divine, nor human laws...nor any of those obligations by which I have hitherto looked upon myself as bound, can now compel me any longer to endure the cold neglects, the insults, the tyranny, of this most ungrateful, - most perfidious man. - I have discharged the duties of my station; I have fully proved I know how to be a good wife, if he had known how to be even a tolerable husband: wherefore then should I hesitate to take the opportunity, which this last act of baseness gives me, of easing myself of that heavy yoke I have laboured under for so many cruel months?" (590).

    Examine the representation of divorce in this novel. What proceedings take place and why? What is at stake for the married couple? How is it ultimately resolved and what are the implications for the fiction?

    2. Recursive Reading Exercise

    Recall Sherry Linkon's article "The Reader's Apprentice: Making Critical Cultural Reading Visible," which I assigned early in the semester. It is in our course docs. One of the major points I took away from that article on pedagogy is the need to make the process of cultural, critical reading visible to students. To do so, I have asked you to keep a Clarissa Reading journal to record your interaction with the text and to make you conscious of the process of reading. That in itself is a good thing and may have served your purpose in making you a more expert reader.

    Another major idea that I took from Linkon's article is the importance of distinctions between novice readers and expert readers, one of which is that expert readers know their understanding of literature changes over time and with re-reading. These changes happen for many reasons, including further conversations about the work, additional information about the contexts for the work, greater personal understanding of the work, and more. I've tried to create some conditions for this developing sense of understanding literature in this class (as do most classes). It is my hope that by going back through your reading journal, you will find that you have indeed developed fuller understanding of some difficult aspects of Clarissa, and that you may in fact have changed your views on certain things. You may continue to withhold reaching certain conclusions about the meaning of the work until you have more information. At whatever stage your thinking is, I would like for you to write an evaluation of the recursive reading project that allows me to see how conscious you have become of your own critical, cultural reading practice.

    To do so, I would like for you first to re-read your journal and write a response to the process that is recorded in that writing. That can be as long as you like, but I would like for you to convey to me (and to the class) what form your journal writing took, a sense of how often you wrote, and some key moments in the journal that indicate the process of critical cultural reading -- your struggles with and successes in interpreting Clarissa. In some ways, this journal can be a record of how you as an individual learn, and as such it can provide you valuable insight into your own learning processes.

    As a second part of this write-up, I would like for you to revisit some of the passages from the novel that struck you at the time, and reread them now. I imagine these passages may be involved in your final paper, and so rereading the passages may be affected by some of the secondary resources (scholarship and criticism) you have read. Consider these passages as specific examples of how the cultural critical reading process works. Examine your personal, critical exploration of meaning in these passages and record for us the insights, questions, plans you have based on reading.

    What we will do: in class I will share with you my critical, cultural reading and the insights I have drawn from the process. This is part of my making visible to students the WAY that criticism happens. It is not really mysterious, although much of it can take place in unconscious ways. Then we will go around the room, and I will ask you to share your experiences with this recursive reading project. While I am interested in hearing the successes, I also know that becoming consious of failures (that is, failures in the understanding or struggling with meaning) can also be very productive. You may bring your entire journal to class if it is convenient, or if not, bring sufficient evidence of the journal as it relates to your recursive reading project.

    You will leave with me the written evaluation described above. You can take home the journal (or the parts that you bring) after I take a look at it. As indicated in the syllabus, "Grading of this assignment will be based on completeness and level of involvement in the critical reading process." I will determine this both through your own assessment of the project and the samples that you bring to class. Because this is an experimental assignment, I am very interested in hearing from you how it worked.


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