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Eliza Haywood's Love in Excess or The Fatal Enquiry written in the 18th century would pique anyone's interest even in modern times. Given the times back then, she would be considered a feminist, as she championed the voice of women overcoming set challenges in the medieval time society against them through her erotic tales in this first four-edition book. Haywood skillfully employs the pre-Barthesian code swapping metonymically to symbolize the walled garden in allusion to a woman's virtues. Haywood has to use the code switch to dodge the complexities of directly presenting sexuality to a virtuous eighteenth century audience.
The male-controlled constraints on British society made Haywood and other writers of the time like Manley and Behn to write in code suppressing metaphors to shield them from the strict eyes of the reputable literary community and also from their own virtuousness of repute as a female. There was a present danger of censorship both societal and literary that their novels could arise, the fact that their novels sold, and particularly Haywood's', it was enough evidence that they had their way with the rising audience.
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At the time, women were forbidden by the society to make a declaration or put forth their wishes and thoughts. The misogynist culture of the eighteenth century strove to protect the noble titles and virtues of the aristocratically wealthy gentry. Women were expected to stoop low and put on a garb of coy to their rightful sensual feelings until a proposition was made by a man of his virtuous, matrimonial wishes. Men were on the other hand allowed to marry almost like soldiers, in a bid to restore vanished or fading family fortunes. However, in Love in Excess, Ms. Haywood seems to be attacking the instituting of condescension, virtuousness and the demeanor towards the female's position with the opposite sex.
Through clever wit, she puts forth her ideas of what a woman should be and her role in the society in modern times. All through the story, she portrays virtuous women as weak and not in control of their own longings and whims, while at the time the society dictated otherwise. The only part of the storyline different is where under pre-coital spells of Monsieur Frankville and equally as debonair, Delmont, do we see the virtuous heroines named Camilla and Melliora compelled to sexual misadventures which fling them into spasms of sexual rage. This demonstrates the author's cunning ability to instill in her readers her appreciation that everyone is only human after all, and sometimes under certain circumstances, people, especially women, can yield to their carnal desires which could be against what they stand for, especially at such a time when a woman could be held as an outcast for such a character.
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Back then, men domineered over women in almost every way. Haywood understood well that her readers underwent a lot of challenges in the society due to men. She brings this out well where Amena's father refuses to let his daughter to keep meeting with Delmont before he proposes marriage. Since women were not permitted to show their affections or their preference of choice, it is rather unrealistic in those times that not one but two upper-class ladies of disparate wealth would openly compete for a man's attentions. Alovisa writes Delmont an unsigned letter hoping to elicit a certain amorous response from him, but which inadvertently leads Delmont and Amena to fall in love.
Love in Excess suggests passionate emotion or love is a universal sentiment, with the characters' thoughts postulating that the universal language of love melts down the prominence of gender. Yet sometimes some seemingly male-chauvinistic decisions are made for the better. When Amena discovers that Alovisa was sending Delmont love letters, she begs his father to send her away to the convent on the countryside as soon as possible, though his father had planned to do that with the help of Alovisa behind her back. Under the re-awakened and rapture of virtuousness of the church, Amena casts off the wanton wants and desires she had with Delmont, and has the holy spirit to quench her secular desires.
Haywood uses her modern reader's sensibilities to decipher the real meaning of her works. Lacking a chained chastity girdle with a domineering, sentinel of a father, the author of Love in Excess shows us that walls could not protect Amena's virtue, but she could defend her virtue with willpower and a resolve comparable to a wall. Thus Haywood's modern reader would need to interpret the metonymic device to decipher the real meaning of her intent.
Delmont comes across Amena at a dance even as the secretive and scheming Alovysa pursues him. Delmont offers Amena to "favour him in the palace garden". In the context, the garden would signify the public sphere that declares Delmont and Amena's plans to public scrutiny. For the lovers of the eighteenth century, a 'turn' through a public garden would suggest admission of their intents to marry. However, when Amena's father learns of these intentions to appear in public, He chastises Amena for almost forcing the family name into a disgraceful situation. He, mistakenly, compels the two wayward lovers to go underground and out into the family garden- described as a place of seclusion and protection which stokes little lady Amana's libidinal fires.
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The lovers' separation is the reason that leaves Amena prepared to smash down the walls and let Delmont into what she considers her holiest of gardens. Contrary to the eighteenth century societal approbation, she writes him a letter of invitation into her garden, both metaphorically and literally. Yet, astounded by her own boldness and break with her ethical sense she abrades herself, tearing the paper into pieces. The outburst demonstrated the impropriety that women had even over their personal desires in those times. The social domain of male possession over even the female sensuality, desires, and wishes are precisely the barriers Haywood endeavored to destroy through the use of language tools that she employed in a witty way.
Through comical plot twists and turns, Haywood tricks her readers to making the surreal events and the ideas she sells to them in Love in Excess appear real. In the second part of the book, Delmont happens to fall in "true" love with Melliora, the girl entrusted in his care. He ends up almost raping the loving nonetheless resisting Melliora, who falls to the charms and wit of the libidinous and irascible count. In another turn, Baron, Delmont's friend, falls in love with Alovisa, the woman Delmont married end of part one. On the night designed by Alovisa, the story's unwaveringly jealous original temptress, in conspiracy with Baron, to uncover her undiscovered competitor for the Count's affection, in a comical twist they unravel and expose an equally wicked plot planned by the aggressive Melantha. The double cross leads to where, in a climax scene, Ms. Haywood, sends us through the death of the Baron and Elovisa and finally the self-exile of Delmont.
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Foisted out into the private and out of the public, Delmont sets his cravings into overdrive to break down the walled-gardens of Amena's fortifications like an armored knight. There is a Barthesian belief which says that "everything signifies something." Thus one must break the many metaphorical scenes especially where Amena and Delmont, in one of the scenes, dare a rendezvous in the dark nightly borders of the Tuileries. The lovers at long last get together in the walled garden, moving their dalliances now from the security of the walled garden into the public domain in a nightly stroll through the Tuleries. This shift from the walled garden moving to the outside world denotes that the lovers will before long realize the hunger of loins and yearnings that they have so zealously sought.
Delmont places Amena on a pleasant seat and losing no time, gives her some weak reasons for not speaking to her father, which she believes easily as her heart is soft and willing to be deceived. He begins to plead for a greater consent than just her words. It is in these words that, in a Barthesian deconstruction, it becomes easy to see the heavy conventionality in the passage, as each and every phrase applied is a cliché related with making love and that the author piles a cliché on a cliché to create a sentence with a heavy weight of conventionality. It almost seems that Haywood is judging the morals and decisions of the girl. However, a closer reading of the whole story shows she was trying to reconcile the well-meaning woman with the privileges and possession of her body.
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Haywood uses contrast, laying two very opposing characters with different morals side by side, perhaps trying to weigh between the ideals of the modern woman who follows her desires and the societal perception of what a woman should be, sometimes siding with one character over the other. She seems to be ultimately requesting the society to cease from murdering the desires and needs of its independently-minded women. Contrapuntally to the tales of Alovysa and Ciamara, we are presented with two characters, Melliora and Camilla, who are spectrally against the worldly and divisive conniving plots of the older ladies.
The younger women are adored and flattered by their respective suitors, although they also go through hardships to ascertain the kind of love they pursue unlike the older ladies who easily get what they want whether through deception or mercenary machinations. It feels like Ms. Haywood here is striving to luster over the present development of her modern society through making the younger women appear immature, at times comical and superficial, being satisfied more with guarding their virtue than pursuing self-desire. Harmonically the intertwined plot lines make sense when they all get what they hunger for from love ultimately, albeit with very disparate outcomes.
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The 18th century denial to allow women the liberty and right to pursue their wanton desires and express a free mind is affliction on Haywood's opinions of a woman. Haywood strives to make the 18th century woman to have independence like hers rather than women getting the back seat in the society, an attitude that was prevalent then. Even though Melliora has the Count at the moment, there are unspoken inclinations to the reader that the Count will eventually find someone else. Although the nuptials they have lend a minor catharsis, the story seems to lean more towards an imminent fall of the virtuous woman with the rise of yet another independent woman in Delmont's life.
The writer achieves this by igniting questions in her reader's minds, giving them a picture of the Count's amorous tale, where he feigned interest when Alovysa landed letters of her desire and intentions his way even though he was still affectionately employed with Amena. The readers would wonder if Delmont pled passion with Alovysa till he had Meliora in his hands, would it be sensible to truly believe that he will remain faithful to his newlywed wife Melliora? Haywood appears to pose a question to the society, can the virtuous woman's ways actually be protected and can marrying for real love effectively prosper in a swiftly liberalizing society with a growing leisure class?
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The general use of themes like the privately walled gardens, the noble aristocratic characters, and the twisty love triangles are used to advance the author's point in this eighteenth century romance novel. Additionally, the overall change of point of view takes the reader from having to listen to a reliable narrator to desiring to hear a great narration. The salacious content and the bold depictions of sex, female cravings, and a stretch to run away from the customary roles of a modest woman makes Love in Excess one of the earliest feminist cries to gender equality. Yet she uses all this to make a shrewd connection with her reader and advance her course.
Love in Excess is a platform that Eliza Haywood uses to question the norms of the 18th century society and especially the male-chauvinistic aspects where a woman has no say in important personal matters like her own sexuality, being lead to believe that she can only reciprocate and not be the first to propose. But this she does in a way that absolves her from blame of the very society she is addressing, by employing linguistic tools like metaphors, clichés, comic and also using pre-Barthesian code and her readers' sensibility to decipher what she is presenting to them and yet still avoid public and literary censorship.