London: Printed for T. Gardner, 1756. First edition. Contemporary sheep binding rebacked, with gilt to spine and boards. All edges speckled red. Hinges cracked but holding; some scuffing to rear board. Internally with some offsetting to preliminaries, but in all a clean and pleasing copy. Collates , v, , 282: complete, including half title and title page. Scarce at institutions, this conduct book is also rare in trade, having only appeared once at auction (likely the present copy). It is the only first edition on the market.
"Eliza Haywood has been rightly called an emblematic early English woman writer, and a case study in the politics of literary history. The time in which she wrote was the moment when the novel was becoming the culture's chief vehicle for moral and social instruction, and her technical innovations were part of this foundation. She contributed substantially to making the form a serious site for political, moral, and social enquiry and a new hegemonic apparatus" (ODNB). Having lived a varied life as an actress and author, widowed early, she engaged in affairs with literary luminaries of Samuel Johnson's circle while also collaborating with these male writers. She published her first of fifty-five novels in 1719; and she developed a reputation for "combining a romance plot with shrewd modern political and social commentary" with focus on "how gender determines life experiences and possibilities" (Backscheider).
Late in her career, Haywood turned to the conduct book form to convey her ideas, with The Wife being her best known example. What on the surface seems like a conservative advice-book to women, in fact, satirically represents the arc of a failed marriage. Beginning the book with a chapter on The First Weeks After Marriage, the next two chapters deal with key disagreements that emerge after the honeymoon (religion and politics). From here, she provides chapters on Detraction and Advice & Persuasion, Bearing the Passions and Petulancies of the Husband, Coquetry and Prudery, The Choice of Female Friends, Sleeping in Different Beds, among others. Notably, its concluding chapter is titled: How a Woman Ought to Behave When in a State of Separation from her Husband. The Wife's social commentary would go on to influence thinkers like Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft, and it is increasingly garnering attention in the academy for its importance. "From the outset of her career, drawing on knowledge of the stage, Haywood was an innovator, mashing genres together, masking political commentary with sex, desire with morality, conduct advice with scandal. She refused categorization in ways that demonstrate her professionalism, skill, and self-awareness" (Jane Austen Society).
Feminist Companion 505. ESTC T75406. (Item #3054)