restricted access Understanding an Obscure Text: The Fortunate Foundlings and the Limits of Interdisciplinarity
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51 Understanding an Obscure Text The Fortunate Foundlings and the Limits of Interdisciplinarity PATRICIA MEYER SPACKS Eliza Haywood’s enormous literary production includes many works that have received little or no recent critical attention. Although such works readily lend themselves to various critical agendas, they often prove challenging to assess in their own terms. The Fortunate Foundlings (1744) provides a case in point: an elaborately plotted double narrative, alternately focused on a male and a female twin, that achieves a romance resolution but incorporates extensive historical references along the way. James Stuart, the “Old Pretender” to the British throne, and Charles XII of Sweden figure among its characters. Why does Haywood need them? What do they contribute to the text? Any attempt to answer these ostensibly simple questions may embroil us in dilemmas about interdisciplinarity. A novel that employs historical fact as part of its raw material invites an interdisciplinary reading that makes use of historical insight. Yet the idea of an interdisciplinary reading is hardly transparent. How does one perform interdisciplinarity? What does the term really mean? How, exactly, does it relate to disciplinarity—and what, for that matter, does that mean? The Fortunate Foundlings provides a pretext for pondering such questions . Although it was mildly successful at its first appearance, critics since the eighteenth century have largely ignored it. It offers abundant opportunity for exegesis, both literary and historical. I propose to attempt such exegesis and then to reflect on the implications of my procedures. Like many of Haywood’s other fictions, this one explores social and psychological problems of women. It differs from many of the others, though, in giving equal emphasis to male difficulties. The title’s twin foundlings, a boy and a girl, are discovered as infants by a wealthy aristocrat, Dorilaus, under a tree on his estate. He provides them with good educations and ample opportunities, rearing them as though they were his own. In due Patricia Meyer Spacks 52 time, both leave home to prove themselves as adults. The young man, Horatio , sixteen years old, with his guardian’s consent seeks his fortune on the field of battle, fighting in European wars. His sister, Louisa, at the same age departs surreptitiously, with no financial help from her foster father. She must therefore find her own resources for survival. The remainder of the event-filled narrative focuses alternately on the adventures of each sibling, which do not intersect until everyone finally meets in Paris. Both foundlings worry about “honor.” As Horatio puts the point in a letter to Dorilaus, “My honour, my reputation, must survive when I am no more; it was the first, and will be the last of my desires.”1 The novel initially seems to endorse the conventional view of male and female honor: for women, honor equals chastity; for men, it depends on courage. Throughout their multifarious adventures, Louisa consistently (and successfully) defends her chastity against serious threats, and Horatio displays manly virtues on battlefields. Many eighteenth-century novels of the kind we now call “minor” seek no further for a plot. In such novels, heroes and heroines display honor in trying situations and are rewarded for their virtue. Haywood , however, in The Fortunate Foundlings seeks a good deal more, raising questions about the sufficiency of preserved chastity as a female achievement and of battlefield courage as a male one. Her protagonists’ experiences cause them gradually to expand their views. Louisa comes to believe in selfsustained action as her mode of female integrity, and Horatio, although he never reaches a clear conclusion, keeps finding himself puzzled about how much he owes to love compared with what he owes to his reputation and to his commanders. In addition to feeling urgent needs to defend their honor, the protagonists face immediate and long-range problems about money and social status. When they fall in love, as both predictably do, such problems become pressing. Horatio has proved himself to the father of his beloved by successfully defending the older man against would-be assassins, without knowing his identity. The Baron de Palfoy feels lastingly grateful. He admires and values Horatio, professing willingness to do anything for his savior and to give him anything he asks—anything, that is, except his daughter. Horatio, an Englishman of unknown parentage and limited financial resources, cannot qualify as a son-in-law. Louisa ostensibly faces a less daunting situation. The Frenchman of wealth and family whom she reciprocally loves insists that he cares not at all about...


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