Monday, July 20, 2009

Sex! Scandal! Political Intrigue! (What Else is New?)

Those who, like your ace reporter, avidly track the national SPRM (Sex&Politics-Related Meltdown) count will have noticed the recent spike in SPRM motility; the press has been absolutely pregnant with recent news from this fertile field of government.

Nothing new here to report except that this is nothing new - really nothing new. Presenting:

01086_title_2.jpgThe Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania, a roman à clef from 1727 that tore the royal bedsheets off the reigning monarch's bedstead, exposed his intimate dalliances, and laid bare political hostilities.

I will not torture you with guessing games. "The central character and the unifying theme in SHC is George II (1683-1760, ruled from 1727) and his amours" (Spetting).

The author of this bombshell was something of a bombshell herself.

"This woman was authoress of the most scandalous book call'd The Court of Caramania (1727)..." (Pope, The Dunciad Valorium, Bk. II, line 149).

"A licentious publication by Mrs. Eliza Haywood" (Lowndes).

"This publication...owing to [its] looseness and immorality, involved the authoress in considerable disgrace, and promoted her to a situation in the Dunciad of Pope" (Dr. Drake, on the 2nd edition as cited in Lowndes).

Eliza Haywood (1693-1756) dominated the contemporary British market for amorous fiction and in this political roman á clef assumed a major place in the political sphere of her time with the private indiscretions of public figures elevated to political acts. As such, the novel is oh, so modern, and can be considered on a par (though better written and more explosive when issued) with Joe Klein's anonymously written Primary Colors (1996) which did not depict the Clintons in the most favorable light, and savaged the President for his extra-curricular activities, pre-Lewinsky.

The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania was a smash sensation and went into an immediate second edition later in the year of its publication.

01086_title.jpg Haywood (née Elizabeth Fowler) was an English writer, actress and publisher. Since the 1980s, Eliza Haywood's literary works have been gaining in recognition and interest. Described as "prolific even by the standards of a prolific age" (Blouch, Christine. Introduction to Eliza Haywood and the Romance of Obscurity. Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 no. 31 (1991): 535-551.), Haywood wrote and published over seventy works during her lifetime including fiction, drama, translations, poetry, conduct literature and periodicals. Haywood is a significant figure in the 18th century as one of the important founders of the novel in English.

Haywood's writing career began in 1719 with the first two installments of Love in Excess, a novel, and ended in the year she died with the marital conduct books The Wife and The Husband, and the biweekly periodical The Young Lady. She wrote in several genres and many of her works were published anonymously.

Haywood, Delarivier Manley and Aphra Behn were known as the Fair Triumvirate of Wit and are considered the most prominent writers of amatory fiction. Eliza Haywood's prolific fiction developed from titillating romance novels and amatory fiction during the early 1720s to works focused more on "women's rights and position" (Schofield, Mary Anne. Eliza Haywood. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985, p. 63)

Haywood's first novel, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720) touches on themes of education and marriage. Termed an amatory bodice-ripper by some, this novel is also notable for its treatment of the fallen woman.

portrait of eliza haywood.jpgShe began her career as an actress in 1715. During the second half of the 1720s, Haywood continued acting, moving over to the Haymarket Theatre to join with Henry Fielding in the opposition plays of the 1730s. In 1729, she wrote Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh to honor the future George II of the United Kingdom. George II, as Prince of Wales, was the focus of Tory opposition to the ministry of Robert Walpole. As he had made it clear that he did not favor his father's policies or ministry, praise for him was demurral from the present king.

Eliza Haywood was active in politics during her entire career, although she had a party change around the time of the reconciliation of George II with Robert Walpole: She became a staunch Tory and an enemy of Walpole. She wrote a series of parallel histories/roman á clefs, beginning with Memoirs of a Certain Island, Adjacent to Utopia (1724), and the present novel (1727), these her most well known. In 1746 she began to publish a journal, The Parrot, which got her questioned by the government for political statements about Charles Edward Stuart, as she was writing just after the Jacobite Rising. This would happen again with the publication of A Letter from H-- G----g, Esq. in 1750.

Eliza Haywood is now regarded as "a case study in the politics of literary history" (Blouch, pp. 7-8). She has also been reevaluated by feminist scholars and is highly rated. Interest in Haywood's work has been steadily growing as her importance has been recognized, with much scholarship, biographies, and collections and reprints of her novels, which are regarded as stylistically innovative. Her plays and political writing attracted most of the attention in her own time, and she was a full player in the difficult public sphere of the era.

An actress turned writer turned politician...public figures...indiscretions...political consequences: This novel could have been written yesterday.


HAYWOOD, Eliza. The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania. London: Printed and Sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1727. First edition, first issue. Octavo (7 5/8 x 4 5/8 in; 192 x 117 mm). [4], 348 pp. Woodcut head- tailpieces, and initials by Woodfall.

Spetting, A Bibliography of Eliza Haywood, Ab.33.1a. McBirney 213. Lowndes, p. 369 (1st edition), p. 1019 (2d edition). Graesse, vol. C, p. 44 (1st ed.), vol. H, p. 224 (2d edition).

Sources not cited above: Staves, A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain 1160-1789, p. 187. Paula R. Backscheider on Haywood, Eliza, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lowndes provides a Key to the true identities of the characters, which we reproduce below:

Ismonda: Mrs. Howard
Adrastus: Mr. Howard
Marmillio: Earl Scarborough
Lutetia: Mrs. Balladin
Irene: L--y Douglas
Arilla: Mrs. Meadows
Arbanes: Lord Nottingham
Euridice: Lady Charlotte Finch
Doraspe: Duke of Somerset
Ernestus: Lord Finch
Clotus: Earl Suffolk
Aridanor: Duke of Argyle
Barsina: Duchess of Argyle
Elaria: Miss Bridgeman
Her cousin: Lady Craven
Orsabia: Sir Orlando Bridgeman
Almira: Miss Warburton
Idomeus: Lady Isley
Cleomenes: Mr. Lumley
Attalinda" Lady Romney
Arsinoe: L--y Rich
Mazares; Lord Essex
Elearchus: Mr. Berkeley
Cariclea: L--y Hern
Her sister: Miss Hern
Olimpia: Mrs. Foley
Luthelina: Miss Titchburn
Her aunt: Mrs. Stanley

Title page and page one images courtesy of David Brass.


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