Beyond Spectacle: Eliza Haywood's Female Spectators
Theories of sight and spectatorship captivated many writers and philosophers of the eighteenth century and, in turn, helped to define both sexual politics and gender identity. Eliza Haywood was thoroughly engaged in the social, philosophical, and political issues of her time, and she wrote prolifically about them, producing over seventy-five works of literature - plays, novels, and pamphlets - during her lifetime. Examining a number of works from this prodigious canon, Juliette Merritt focuses on Haywood's consideration of the myriad issues surrounding sight and seeing and argues that Haywood explored strategies to undermine the conventional male spectator/female spectacle structure of looking.
Combining close readings of Haywood's work with twentieth-century debates among feminist and psychoanalytic theorists concerning the visual dynamics of identity and gender formation, Merritt explores insights into how the gaze operates socially, epistemologically, and ontologically in Haywood's writing, ultimately concluding that Haywood's own strategy as an author involved appropriating the spectator position as a means of exercising female power. Beyond Spectacle will cement Haywood's deservedly prominent place in the canon of eighteenth-century fiction and position her as a writer whose work speaks not only to female agency, but to eighteenth-century writers, gender relations, and power politics as well.
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