Apologies for the lack of post yesterday but I was caught up in a rather pleasant experience throughout the evening. All the Visiting Fellows were invited to the opening of the Eliza Haywood exhibition and what an exhibition it is!
Curated by Dr. Kim Simpson (Chawton House Library Postdoctoral Fellow) the exhibition, ‘Naming, Shaming and Reclaiming: The “Incomparable” Eliza Haywood‘ showcases the writing and influence of a rather daring woman, well known in 18th-century Britain. Today, she is relatively unknown, yet Eliza’s writing appeared progressive as she challenged gender roles, politics and social expectation all the while writing under several different pseudonym, which at times were designed to disguise her gender.
Despite her fame during the period and several publications, little is known about her personal life. Simpson noted in her informative talk that part of the difficultly of knowing who Eliza really was is due to the constructed public personas formed through gossip, rumour and her own writing. Despite the lack of detailed information about her personal life, the many samples of her writing, to which Chawton House Library holds several rare examples, makes this a dynamic exhibition. The books are contained in cases, understandably necessary for their safety but a bit of shame as it would be great to have some time to read the books and periodical (called The Female Spectator) in full. Though Simpson has tried to give even more of a flavour with several boards that display further information about Eliza and the collection.
The exhibition is very text heavy and it would have been nice to see another form of information delivery such as audio clips of quotes playing in a few of the rooms or even some video clips played on screens. But overall, this is an exhibition worth seeing particularly if you have never heard of Eliza Haywood before. She had a far more intriguing style of writing than some of the more famous lady authors during this period including [dare I say it!] -Jane Austen- and what is known of Eliza’s life is certainly more intriguing!