Chawton House and the ‘Incomparable’ Eliza Haywood

Eliza Haywood, 1693(?)-1756

On Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of an exhibition at Chawton House Library on the life and works of one of Smith’s predecessors, Eliza Haywood. (The perks of being a Visiting Fellow!) We were treated to an early view of the exhibition itself as well as an introductory talk from the exhibition’s curator, Dr Kim Simpson, Postdoctoral Fellow at Chawton House.

Even more of a prolific writer than Smith, Haywood produced a periodical, novels, conduct books, plays, poetry (and, perhaps, more!) As Simpson noted in her talk, Haywood was infamous for her ability to play with personae, and the biographical information we have access to is scanty at best, so to this day we do not know how much writing she produced or, indeed, much about Haywood altogether. What we do have are a number of her works that have been identified, as well as portrayals of Haywood in the works of other writers – the most famous example being Pope’s The Dunciad Book II, in which Haywood is satirically depicted as the ‘prize’ in a literal pissing contest:

“Who best can send on high

The salient spout, far-streaming to the sky,

His be yon Juno of majestic size,

With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes.

This China Jordan let the chief o’ercome

Replenish, not ingloriously, at home.”

Osborne and Curll accept the glorious strife

(Tho’ this his son dissuades, and that his wife);

One on his manly confidence relies,

One on his vigour and superior size.

(Pope, The Dunciad, Book II, 161-170)

Haywood’s works and representations of her in the works of others are at the heart of this exhibition entitled ‘Naming, Shaming, Reclaiming: The “Incomparable” Eliza Haywood’.

The exhibition itself is spread over several rooms within the library and consists of a number of displays containing first edition works, as well as modern critical editions which can be perused by visitors. One particularly thought-provoking and entertaining display compares eighteenth-century conduct book literature written by Haywood and others, describing how to be a good wife or good husband, with modern-day magazine and online articles in a surprisingly similar vein  – demonstrating how much things have not changed, despite the fact that we might like to think they have!

I highly recommend visiting this exhibition. If you are in the area between now and 4th June, be sure to have a look and learn more about this brilliant and enigmatic writer. Please see the link below for more information.


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