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  • It’s Not Easy Being Green: Gender and Friendship in Eliza Haywood’s Political Periodicals
  • Rachel Carnell (bio)

Habermas describes the evolution in eighteenth-century Britain of a public sphere of private individuals whose “public use of the rational faculty” would enable a critique of government actions and ultimately pose “a threat to any and all relations of domination.” 1 This emergent sphere of rational debate, however, did not merely consist of private men engaging in public use of their reason, but required a further humanistic bond between individuals “who were psychologically interested in what was ‘human,’ in self-knowledge and in empathy” (50); the public sphere relied, in other words, on an ideal of friendship between men. This model of affective humanism accords with Jacques Derrida’s analysis of the importance of friendship to Western theories of politics. Citing Montaigne’s allusion to Aristotle in the ironic reference “O mes amis, il n’y a nul amy,” 2 Derrida suggests that the idea of community is invoked by even the simple act of address: “We would not be together in a sort of minimal community...speaking the same language or praying for translation within the horizon of the same language...if a sort of friendship had not already been sealed before any other contract” (636). 3 From this minimal foundation for community, Derrida underscores how traditional Western political philosophy has linked a certain figure of friendship “to virtue and to justice, to moral reason and to political reason.” By reminding us of the “essential and essentially sublime figure of virile homosexuality” that has traditionally inscribed the polis, Derrida also points to the “double [End Page 199] exclusion that can be seen at work in all the great ethico-politico-philosophical discourses on friendship, namely, on the one hand, the exclusion of friendship between women, and, on the other hand, the exclusion of friendship between a man and a woman” (642). 4

Derrida’s identification of this exclusion of women and of heterosexual friendship from the traditional Western concept of the polis is consistent with Carole Pateman’s analysis of the way women are excluded from the social contract by their prior subordination under a monogamous (hetero)sexual contract. 5 Habermas’s analysis of the public sphere also offers insight into the way that the domestic sphere was simultaneously essential to and excluded from the political public sphere. Although he describes how private men needed the humanizing conceptions of themselves that they gained through their participation in family life in order to function as members of a fraternity of rational public voices, Habermas observes that the wives and other household dependents on whom the men depended to nurture their affective humanism “were [themselves] factually and legally excluded from the political public sphere.” 6 Habermas suggests, however, that women may not have been completely excluded from public sphere debates insofar as there was a parallel sphere of literary discourse and debate in which “female readers and servants often took a more active part...than the owners of private property and family heads themselves” (56). This “literary public sphere” seems to be the province of women readers; it also seems to be, in particular, a sphere of novels: Habermas describes how the novelist Samuel Richardson “wept over the actors in his novels as much as his readers did” (48). This reference to the literary public sphere, however, is confusing because Habermas does not consistently maintain the distinction between the literary and the political public spheres; 7 moreover, he conflates the “literary” with the genre of the novel, a genre that Dustin Griffin describes as frequently excluded from the networks of political patronage that flourished during the eighteenth century. 8

Despite the difficulties that faced both women and novelists in securing traditional forms of political patronage, we should not assume that this prevented either group from actively engaging in literary-political commentary during the first decades of the eighteenth century. Catherine Gallagher describes the early part of the century as “an extraordinary moment in the history of English women’s writing, a moment when party politics, fiction, the literary marketplace, and feminine sexuality became intricately entangled.” 9 As the century progressed, however, the...

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pp. 199-214
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