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