Two Badass Bitches: or, Dissertation Drama Pt. 2

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So finally we have part two of my little dissertation diary project. Today, I thought I’d talk about the two wonderful lady writers that feature in my research project: Eliza Haywood, and Aphra Behn. I would hope you had heard of at least one of them (Behn is very popular for undergrad reading lists), but if not, you now have the opportunity to learn a little more. Both ladies led fascinating lives (as far as we can tell – we only have limited knowledge), and have rather lengthy bibliographies. I have named them my ‘badass bitches’ because both women paved the way for future professional female writers. Behn is often credited as the first professional woman writer (famously noted by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own), but Eliza Haywood also broke boundaries in her dedication to professional writing and the development of her own publishing imprint.

Eliza Haywood (~1693-1756)
Born Elizabeth Fowler, Eliza Haywood was most well known, in her own time, as both an actress and a writer of scandal and romance fiction. Although a popular writer of the long eighteenth century, unfortunately Haywood’s works have largely faded into the background. Reprints are starting to pop up but many seem to be academic editions; expensive and relatively hard to come by for most readers. Haywood wrote across genres, from fiction and drama, to poetry and periodicals. Not much is known in terms of her biography, but she provokes interest because of her potentially progressive views (in terms of female sexuality) and her outspoken Tory politics.

If you want to give Haywood a try, I highly recommend Fantomina, a short novel about sex, disguise, and trickery.

Aphra Behn (~1640-1689)
Fortunately, a lot more is known about Aphra Behn, a writer often cited as one of Haywood’s influences. She led a most fascinating life; not just as a writer, but as a socialite and as a spy (!) for Charles II. Her works are generally more well known and you’ve probably heard of titles such as OroonokoThe Rover, and Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister. Behn is considered a key figure of restoration theatre and although literary criticism surrounding her is generally split in terms of her quality, there is a lot to be learned from her about what it was like to be a woman writer in the eighteenth century. Her works also lend themselves to more progressive readings (the work of Behn and Haywood are often explored in terms of prospective proto-feminism) and Oroonoko is especially interesting in its dealings with race, and its arguably abolitionist sentiment.

For that, Oroonoko is definitely worth a read but I would argue that The Rover is more beginner-friendly with its scenes of carnival-time Venice and its rake-like crew of merry men on the hunt for female companions.

I do hope that you consider reading the work of these two brilliant ladies and do let me know below if you’ve already explored some of their work!

 

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