Thursday, 23 March 2017

First Exhibition to Focus on Eliza Haywood

In 2004, in the literature-survey section of my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood, I explained that

no public or private library has approached completeness in gathering together the works of Haywood. Indeed, it appears as if no library has ever made the attempt. The best Haywood collections are those held by the largest academic and public libraries, which have such collections by virtue of the fact that they have a lot of books. Consequently, no auction or library catalogue has offered a useful substitute for a Haywood bibliography or offered substantial assistance in compiling this bibliography. Also, there have been no substantial exhibitions of Haywood’s works and no substantial collections offered by booksellers and hence no accompanying catalogues to draw upon.

I am very pleased to say that this situation has changed. In a footnote to this passage I acknowledged that "Sandy Lerner has collected nineteen Haywood items since 1990 as a part of a larger project at Chawton House to promote research into the writings of English women before 1830." Though their collection is small (it just scrapes into the top thirty collections, in a tie with New York Public Library at no.29/30), the context is important. Chawton House is a collection with a purpose. Chawton House has made an attempt to collect Haywood and other women writers like her. And Chawton House does not have a collection of her books only "by virtue of the fact that they have a lot of books." It is appropriate then, that Chawton House will be the location of the first Haywood exhibition (details here), and it is a huge achievement that the collection has so quickly reached the point where they are able to host an exhibition of Haywood's works at all.

Though not credited online, the exhibition ("Naming, Shaming, Reclaiming: The ‘Incomparable’ Eliza Haywood") has been curated by Dr Kim Simpson, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Chawton House Library. If you read her bio (here), you will see that Kim is interested in the contribution made to the development of fiction by anonymous and unattributed texts—texts which are rarely taught, edited or discussed by an author-obsessed academy. Given my own focus on Haywood, I must plead guilty to contributing to this unhealthy, anachronistic obsesson with authors—and I must admit to regularly having to do battle the urge to suggest any new, plausible attributions—but in my defence I would point out that I kept these unhealth urges in check and dismissed more attributions (45) than I added (2). And one that I dismissed (Ca.36 The Prude) is Kim's "particular favourite for its libertine villainess, Elisinda."

The exhibition is open for more than two months. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it, so I hope that lots of people post pictures and descriptions online and that a catalogue of some sort is printed—since that too would be a first!

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