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  • Pernicious Science:Artifice and the Form of Narrative in Eliza Haywood's Secret Histories
  • Helen Thompson

Yet, Oh! how deceitful are Appearances! his Soul is the black Image of Hell's horrid Sovereign… By ways unknown even to the greatest Proficients in the deceiving Science, he rais'd his Fortune from an abject Station, and triumph'd in the Spoils of ruin'd Honesty.

Eliza Haywood, Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia1

This essay responds to scholarly calls for engagement with Eliza Haywood's secret histories Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724–25) and The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania (1727), which have received less critical scrutiny than Haywood's mixed oriental tale, secret history, and satire The Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo (1736).2 In what follows, I suggest that Haywood's secret histories define narrative authority as a formal articulation of extreme epistemological insight. By constructing narrators whose capacity to disclose secrets is enabled by superhuman acumen, Haywood marshals extra-empirical epistemological access as the formal condition of the secret history, a condition whose shaping conceit charts an intriguing progression across these three texts: from hypocrisy espied by a deity, to deflating insinuations of irony, to magically assisted sensory disillusionment. The narrative [End Page 9] postures enabling such perspectives do not always affirm the genre's characterization as, Rebecca Bullard writes, "narration 'from below'"3 or, as Michael McKeon puts it, "history from below,"4 but rather assume the even celestial vantage claimed by what Marta Kvande names an "outsider narrator."5 By investigating these secret histories' obtrusively nontransparent figurations of narrative authority, I agree with Srinivas Aravamudan's contention that "Haywood's fiction referentializes inexorably, but in a very different way from the realist novel;"6 as Aravamudan proposes, this is a "different realism" or "antirealist narrative"7 whose constitutive relation to form and the limits of empirical understanding my essay attempts to trace.

A preliminary look at Haywood's engagement with political secrecy may illuminate the analytic significance of the category of form. A topical, excoriating scandal chronicle, Memoirs of a Certain Island could represent the first minister Robert Walpole as "Lucitario, a famous Necromancer" (I, 7) who cons London's citizens with a fraudulent investment scheme represented as an "Enchanted Well" (I, 7).8 To exemplify the ethical laxness that makes the City easy to fool, Haywood instances the failure of an undeceived individual to expose the trickery: "had [he] been possessed of a little more Fire in his Constitution, he would at once have demolished the ruinous Structure, and discover'd to the amazed Multitude the secret Passages through which the Wealth they had hoped to gain had been conveyed for other Uses" (I, 9). With this schematics of the reaction the Well should elicit from a man in the know, Haywood lays out her secret histories' mutually formal and epistemological mandate. The Well's "secret Passages" articulate ministerial duplicity in concretely spatial terms: financial abstractions like joint stock companies and public funds are reconverted into fathomless depths from which subterranean pipes expropriate liquid cash. In advance of the Patriot critique voiced in Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke's evocation of the "dark, intricate, and wicked mystery of stockjobbing,"9 Haywood concretizes incomprehensible economic legerdemain to motivate the revelation that unperceived permutations of structure are ruinous, thereby propelling the demand that the Well's hidden parts be "discover'd to the amazed Multitude." Conjured by necromancers, secret passages are refinements of space whose existence cannot be intuited in the regular course of empirical life.

With this preliminary division of perceptible and mysterious, empirically thinkable and amazing, Haywood extends the secret history's revelatory remit beyond the novelistic pretense to verisimilar realism or simulated facticity theorized by Ian Watt, McKeon, John Bender, and Cynthia Wall.10 This is so because the duplicity sustained by Lucitario resembles the realist project itself, defined as lifelike naturalism, the provision of experimentally accurate detail, or any probabilistic mode that does not trigger the reader's active disbelief. The unperturbed experience of the real perpetrated by Haywood's necromancer-minister entails...


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