Pass the Coffee: or, Dissertation Drama Pt. I

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It’s Sunday, and two days ago, I finally submitted my BA dissertation proposal.

Weeks of research and writing have culminated with the official start of my dissertation; even more weeks of research, writing, and countless cups of coffee. And so, I can now go into a little more detail regarding the basis of my project.

I am reading texts by two popular eighteenth-century women: Eliza Haywood and Aphra Behn. Specifically, I am looking at two of Haywood’s earlier fictions, Fantomina and Love in Excess, and Behn’s well-known drama, The Rover. I will be looking at these texts and considering whether readers can be seen as willingly complicit in the sexual transgressions and trickery of both the characters, and the authors themselves. Throughout my project, I’m going to be consulting various strands of feminism, genre studies, and reader-response theory. I’ve included a slightly adapted section of my proposal below to try and help explain this further:

I would like to ask whether readers of eighteenth-century amatory fiction can be seen as complicit in the trickery (and often accompanying sexual transgression) exemplified by the ‘heroines’ of Haywood and Behn, allowing themselves to be ‘duped’ in order to partake in the successful creation of amatory narratives. The sexual conduct of many of Behn and Haywood’s female protagonists can seem surprisingly frank to a modern reader familiar with the contrasting canon of the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, the blurb to the Broadview edition of Haywood’s Love in Excess speculates as to whether it was Haywood’s ‘frankness about female sexuality’ that may explain ‘the later neglect’ of the text in favour of others such as The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless. And yet it is this very frankness – something that she shares with Aphra Behn – that draws me and many others to the work of such women.

I’m so excited to dig through the troves of interesting research surrounding the work of Eliza Haywood and Aphra Behn. Despite the fact that I’m veering away from the political in my project, it’s especially interesting to read about their political lives (both women were very involved with Tory politics at the time) and consider how their views shaped the moral outcomes of their work. For example, many people have heard of The Rover but few would of heard of the ‘Part II’ that Behn wrote many years later; a play with a considerably harsher outcome for the sexually transgressive female characters. I’d really love to do a post on the two parts of the play when I have finally read the latter.

Obviously I haven’t dug too deep thus far but I am so ready to get stuck in! Hopefully I will be able to keep you guys updated as my project unfolds. Good luck to me!

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