- Passion and Language in Eighteenth-Century Literature: The Aesthetic Sublime in the Work of Eliza Haywood, Aaron Hill, and Martha Fowke by Earla Wilputte
Biography, Eliza Haywood, Martha Fowke, Aaron Hill, Hillarian Circle, ostracization, allegorical readings, love triangle, persona, reputation
Because little is known about Eliza Haywood, she continues to fascinate scholars. In her Passion and Language in Eighteenth-Century Literature: The Aesthetic Sublime in the Work of Eliza Haywood, Aaron Hill, and Martha Fowke, Earla Wilputte asserts “[I]n a very real sense Haywood’s identity is a fiction, because such a dearth of biographical detail has not stopped the speculations about her—has not stemmed the creation of fictions about her in an attempt to reassemble some facts about her life” (9). Although Wilputte acknowledges this perspective on Haywood, she attempts to construct Haywood’s identity through the fictional writings of Haywood, Hill, and Fowke. Wilputte elucidates how these writers, who made “up the nucleus of the London literary group, the Hillarian circle, from 1720 to 1724—attempt to develop a language for the passions that clearly conveys the deepest felt emotions” (2). Even though she focuses on these three writers, she sets Haywood apart from Hill and Fowke in Haywood’s appropriation of Hill’s masculine power and in Haywood’s writing of the sublime. Wilputte interweaves literary cultural history with the writers’ personal lives to “reveal not only how belonging to a literary culture influences writers’ work but how their works are reflective of their own passions” (8).
Passion and Language especially contributes to Kathryn R. King’s scholarship on Haywood’s early literary production and life by examining how her engagement with the intellectual activities of the Hillarian circle informed her authorial voice through the group’s experimentation with the language of the passions, which would later help to generate the language of sensibility.1 Wilputte illustrates that their writing was more than a purely intellectual endeavor: it was also deeply affected by their personal relationships with one another—a sexual relationship between Hill and Fowke and a vengeful one between Haywood and Fowke. Hence, Wilputte posits that Haywood’s amatory writing is not just the product of literary self-fashioning but also reflects her own life experience. The Hillarian circle serves as a focal point for understanding how Haywood, Hill, and Fowke influenced each other’s writing in [End Page 160] the sense that their writing was an expression of sensuality and a medium to convey the passions. Wilputte probes the Hillarian interiority, especially that of Haywood, and reveals Haywood’s balance of sexual expression (for the readers’ pleasure) and repression—deeming that Haywood adopts the latter not as a strategy to control the passions, as Kathleen Lubey argues, but as a result of her own life experience published in her writing (especially in The Injur’d Husband  and Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia [1724–25]). Thus, Wilputte underplays Haywood’s conscious self-fashioning and situates her instead within the susceptibility of her own passions, which she argues Haywood later learns to express more moderately and cautiously.
Wilputte follows a triangular love affair involving Haywood, Hill, and Fowke that Wilputt avers left Haywood vengefully jealous. Following this trajectory, the body, lust, orgasm, and vengeance get encoded within the text—terminating in the cooling of Hill’s passions and the ostracizing of both women from the Hillarian circle. Wilputte analyzes the language of the passions in these authors’ texts while simultaneously reading the authors’ lives through their writings, culminating in a biographical account of the triangle. By framing Passion and Language with the book’s first and final chapters, both on language, she initially discusses a need for such a language of passions and concludes with the vulnerabilities this language may cause for women, a trajectory that parallels the journey from the triangle’s amorous beginnings to its alienation of first Haywood and then Fowke. In addition, Wilputte includes notes...