Fire and Seduction in Eliza Haywood’s “The City Jilt”

February 28, 2010 at 11:48 pm (Uncategorized)

Prior to the death of Glicera’s father and the revelation of his poverty in Eliza Haywood’s “The City Jilt,” Melladore respects the physical boundaries of his betrothed Glicera and upholds her virgin honor before marriage. However, Melladore’s virtuous restraint melts away at the precise moment Glicera shares the news of her father’s destitute estate. The setting of this conversation incorporates imagery to foreshadow the impending danger to Glicera’s virtue; “They were sitting in an Arbour at the end of the Garden, so shadow’d o’er with Trees, that scarce could the Sun’s Beams at the height of Noon penetrate the Gloom, much less those of the pale Moon, who then shone but with faint and sickly Fires…” (Haywood 67). To begin, the conversation takes place in “the garden.” The definitive article “the,” as opposed to “a” as an indefinite article, indicates a specific location that is either already established in the narrative or presumed within the context. At this moment in the plot, Glicera is in mourning over her father’s death, and eighteenth-century decorum necessitates that she to “keep to [her] house” for some time after his death (Wilputte 70). It stands to reason that the narrator indicates “the garden” at Glicera’s property, or rather, Glicera’s garden. Further, the term garden is often “[a]pplied to a region of remarkable fertility” (“Garden”). The narrator employs the common trope of the garden as female fertility or sexuality—in this instance, Glicera’s sexuality. By revealing her father’s destitute estate to Melladore in “the garden,” Glicera’s virginity becomes the figurative setting in which she reveals her poverty to Melladore.

In this figurative setting, the garden (e.g. Glicera’s virginity) is not a bright, openly visible space. Instead, the lovers converse in the “Arbour [which is] shadow’d o’er with Trees.” Visibility is reduced as even sunlight cannot break through “the Gloom,” which is a term that indicates a “dark and threatening” atmosphere (“Gloom”). The language here suggests that in the context of Glicera’s virginity something threatening is looming, and Glicera is unable to see it coming. Indeed, the narrator explicates that the “[Moon’s] faint and sickly fires” were so dim that Glicera “perceived not… [Melladore’s] alter’d Countenance…” when she related her impoverished state to him (Haywood 69). In this moment, the narrator delineates how, without Glicera’s awareness, a new desire is kindled in Melladore, one to surreptitiously plunder her garden.

Amidst the gloom in Glicera’s garden, Melladore’s lascivious plot is accompanied by the only thing able to penetrate the thick arbor— the “[Moon’s] faint and sickly fires” (69, emphasis added). Fire as a trope for wanton sexual conquest continues in the narration of their eventual sexual encounter. The narrator describes Glicera as being “melted by his Pressures” (70, emphasis added). It appears that Melladore turns up the heat, as it were, with “Vows, Sighs, Tears, and Implorations” until she finally succumbs to his endeavors and “[falls] Victim [to his] lawless Flame” (69-70, emphasis added). But how does this fire trope characterize Melladore’s seduction? Recall that the narrator illustrates the first instance of fire in the seduction narrative as “faint and sickly.” According to the OED, faint can indicate something “feigned, pretended, [and] simulated” or “wanting in courage, spiritless [and] cowardly” (“Faint” Def. 1. and 3.). Moreover, the word sickly signifies something that is “not robust or strong” (“Sickly”). The narrator seems to undermine Melladore’s character by depicting his seduction as fake, spineless, and weak. In this light, then, Melladore garners no glory by bedding the maiden, and the narrator, instead, attributes Glicera’s sexual downfall upon her own naivety (Haywood 69, 70, 71). Such a subtle undermining of Melladore’s seduction style serves the thematic dynamics of the story; that is, even as Melladore causes Glicera’s sexual downfall, he begins his narrative trajectory just as pathetic as he eventually becomes in the end.

Works Cited

“Faint, a.” Def. 1. and 3. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Oxford UP. 28 Feb. 2010.

“Garden, n.” Def. 1.c. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Oxford UP. 28 Feb. 2010

< http://dictionary.oed.com.dax.lib.unf.edu/&gt;.

“Gloom, v.” Def. 2.a. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Oxford UP. 28 Feb. 2010

< http://dictionary.oed.com.dax.lib.unf.edu/&gt;.

Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Early English Women Writers 1660-1800: Three Novellas. No. 5. Ed. Earla A.

Wilputte. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 1995. 65-103.

“Sickly, a.” Def. 1.a. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. Oxford UP. 28 Feb. 2010

< http://dictionary.oed.com.dax.lib.unf.edu/&gt;.

Wilputte, Earla A. Notes. Early English Women Writers 1660-1800: Three Novellas. No. 5. Ed. Wilputte. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 1995. 65-103.

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3 Comments

  1. katewallis said,

    Stephanie,

    You present a very compelling argument. Since I initially overlooked the potential meaning of “garden” in this context, your blog persuaded me to take a closer look. Your attention to “THE garden” versus the alternative, “A garden,” is especially interesting; I wonder if “the garden” could represent The Garden of Eden, as well. For instance, the scene you reference corresponds to the chapter in Genesis when the serpent tempts Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3: 1-7). Glicera’s behavior parallels Eve’s because both women naively trust the cleverly seductive male character intending to do them harm. Further, Melladore’s character parallels the serpent’s: each intentionally causes the loss of innocence within their corresponding female characters. After losing their innocence, both Glicera and Eve obtain a better understanding of the world they live in. The Bible describes Eve’s acquired knowledge by stating that her “eyes…were opened, and [she] knew that [she was] naked” (Genesis 3: 7). Similarly, after Glicera loses her virginity and discovers her lover’s sudden “indifference” to her, she was “touch’d with a just Sensibility of the Crime she had been guilty of to Heaven, and to herself: -Now did Reflection glare full of Horror on her affrighted View” (Haywood 71). Interestingly, both texts liken the women’s heightened awareness to sight and shame. Also worth noting are the multiple references to the words “Heaven” and “fall/fell” between the pages you mention. Aside from the word “Heaven” mentioned in the above quotation, “Heaven” also appears in “he look’d on her as a Blessing sent from Heaven” (70). “Fall,” implicating the fall of mankind, appears in “she regarded not this Fall from her high-rais’d Hopes,” (69); “fell” appears when Glicera “fell the Victim of [Melladore’s] lawless Flame” (71).

    Works Cited

    Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.

    The Bible. Revised Standard Version. Camden: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1952. Print.

  2. Kimberly Hollo said,

    Stephanie,
    Your close reading of this passage from “The City Jilt” certainly brings to light possible meanings that are not necessarily noticeable on the first reading. I can definitely see your arguments, but I also think it is important not to overlook the significance of the scene in the garden in relation to the events of the story, as well. The lovers are in the garden, a place, as you state, that denotes fertility. Melladore and Glicera, as we know, will soon find out just how fertile – to apply the metaphor to Glicera – the garden is. The setting is also very peaceful as, similarly, the characters are not at odds with each other quite yet. Natural images later on in the story also show the mood of the scene, though this time it is not so peaceful. Glicera, in her letter to Melladore, states, “my Thoughts before serene as an unruffled Sea, now toss’d and hurried by my tumultuous Passions” (75). It is as if her mood is what dictates the weather or scenery, when so much of the time the situation is reversed. The narrator includes more sea imagery after Glicera reads Melladore’s response to her, stating, “[i]t must be something more terrible than Storms or Whirlwinds, or the Roar of foaming Seas, which can describe the Hurricane of her outrageous Soul at reading this Letter” (77).
    Work Cited
    Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.

  3. Melanie W. said,

    Stephanie,

    Your insightful comments on “The City Jilt” prompted me to further explore the text and to discover interesting language in a later passage.
    In the garden passage, you noted that the garden was “shadow’d o’er with Trees” and that “scarce could the Sun’s Beams…penetrate the Gloom” (Haywood 69). You stated that the text reveals the veiled threat to Glicera’s virginity now that her poverty is revealed.
    At a later moment in the text in which Glicera’s maid Laphelia convinces the courting Grubguard to sign Melladore’s debts over to Glicera, Grubguard is forthcoming about his sexual intentions for Glicera in contrast to Melladore’s disguising of his agenda.
    When Grubguard asks Laphelia about his chances with Glicera, Laphelia, laughing, says, “Love torment[s] his Votaries” and “the wanton God prides himself in your Pains”. She tells Grubguard that if he signs Malladore’s fortunes over to Glicera, he will be “in immediate possession of [his] Wishes” (Haywood 94). Laphelia is being upfront and honest here regarding the progression of Glicera and Grubguard’s potential affair. Her language and demeanor acknowledges the potentially sinful nature of their relationship as it moves closer to their desired ends: Grubguard wants to bed Glicera and Glicera wants control of Melladore’s fortunes. Laphelia and Grubguard continue to use frank language throughout the passage: Grubguard states openly that “when I get her once in my Possession, I will so revenge myself for all her Coyness” (Haywood 94) suggesting even his violent intentions once he is able to vanquish her.
    Your close reading reveals the clandestine nature of man’s pursuit for women’s virginity. This later passage, with its guileless language, suggests that once a woman is marketing herself sexually, men can advance upon her commodities frankly and openly.

    Work Cited

    Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.

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