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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School


First Advisor

Sharon Smith


When analyzing Eliza Haywood’s fiction, most critics focus on her use of sexuality and eroticism and the way in which her works encourage female sexuality. However, critics fail to recognize the true purpose of her fiction, which was to critique the sexual inequality present in eighteenth-century English culture as well as address issues of female agency within this culture. Haywood’s female characters often employ the notion of gender performance as a way to combat the repressive gender standards that govern their behaviors. In general, “gender performance” refers to gendered actions or behaviors. Though Haywood suggests that sexual desire is natural for both men and women, she recognizes that it is socially acceptable for men to pursue relationships outside of marriage while this is a punishable offence for women. Thus, the female characters’ performances allow them to experience their desires while still protecting their virtue and/or reputation. This project will show Eliza Haywood’s support of female gender performance, but also the cautionary aspects of her fiction. She promotes the opportunities provided to women through gender performance, but also warns her readers that performing outside of traditional gender standards often leads to punishment. Though Haywood eventually transitions from amatory to domestic fiction, critics often misidentify this shift as a renouncement of her earlier ideas concerning female agency. However, I argue that Haywood continues a similar message in her domestic fiction, though she addresses domestic conventions and replaces women’s sexual power with their power to reject repressive social institutions, especially marriage. And though Haywood herself condemns the institution of marriage, both her amatory and domestic fiction present marriage as a form of protection for women. Ultimately, Haywood seeks to critique the eighteenth century’s punitive practices against women while also revealing the reality of the female situation at this time to her readers.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Haywood, Eliza Fowler, 1693?-1756 -- Criticism and interpretation
Haywood, Eliza Fowler, 1693?-1756 -- Characters -- Women
Women in literature
Sex role in literature
English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism


Includes bibliographical references (pages 85-89)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


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