Bittersweet Revenge in The City Jilt

Homer said in The Iliad that “revenge is sweeter far than flowing honey.” In Eliza Haywood’s The City Jilt, vengeance stems from ruthless passion and unbridled drive. Glicera, the protagonist of The City Jilt, epitomizes one who feeds off reprisal, one whose main priority in life is to “give Torment to the whole Race of Man.” From the inception of the novel, Glicera is portrayed as an autonomous female figure. She chases after her desires, speaks what her mind thinks, and acts upon what her heart feels. When betrayed by the one man to whom her heart was dedicated and committed, Glicera loses all feelings of compassion and love, mercy and grace. Through the perfidiousness of one man, Glicera’s life is now immersed in male aversion and male retribution. In an attempt to hold onto independence and freedom, Glicera sacrifices her ability to emote and to feel. Although Glicera triumphs in her revenge from an economic and materialistic standpoint, by juxtaposing Glicera’s extreme love and dedication to her uttermost hatred and rancor for Melladore, Haywood exposes to her readers the futility of retributive justice. By setting a foil between Glicera and her friend, Laphelia, and by utilizing the narrator’s voice and tone through the novel, Haywood reveals the limitations and disadvantages of Glicera’s commitment to vengeance. By exuding indifference and apathy in her female protagonist, Haywood uncovers the seemingly heroic figure and fully exposes the bare nakedness of Glicera, the isolated and abandoned victim of traumatic events. Before The City Jilt unravels, Haywood lionizes and adulates the love between Melladore and Glicera. Awaiting the appointed day for the celebration of their nuptials, “this enamour’d Pair think of nothing but approaching Joys, all the delightful Visions with which the God of Love deludes his Votary, play’d before their eyes, and formed a thousand Daydreams of an imaginary Heaven of Pleasure-with equal Ardour, equal Languishment did both long for the happy Minute which was to crown their loves…” (85). Their love is elevated by the emphasis that even the God of Love approved and permitted this relationship. Therefore, if the God of Love has sanctioned the Courtship of these two lovers, only an equal and opposite force could break the ties between the two. It is Haywood’s eloquent description of the lovers’ passion and commitment that enables her to quickly influence and gain the grand sympathy of her readers as tragedy looms for the protagonist, Glicera. Upon her father’s death, we, like Glicera, depend on Melladore’s love and constancy to alleviate the sorrow and grief [Glicera] felt. When he betrays her to the utmost extent by stealing her virtue and abandoning her with his child, Haywood strategically uses this opportunity to “proportion the Love she had born him while she believed him true,” to the “Resentment when she knew him false” (89). Haywood foils the extreme actions and passions of love and hate and successfully influences her readers into first excusing the “implacable hatred in [Glicera’s] Nature; not only to Melladore, but to that whole undoing Sex” (96). However, when her only resolve is to “behave to them in a manner which might advance both her Interest and Revenge,” and “to feign a Tenderness for the most Ugly than the Loveliest of Mankind-for all alike were hateful to her Thoughts” (96), it becomes transparent to readers that Glicera’s commitment to vengeance in terms of her behavior’s psychological cost is centered upon the trauma of Melladore deserting her for another woman. In essence, as Glicera’s attitude towards her own reputation changes, her mindset and regards to men have also transformed. Because Melladore serves as a synecdoche for all men, it is ingrained into Glicera’s mind that men are “the vilest and most detestable of thy whole betraying Specie” (92). Glicera’s identity is no longer built upon her own independence, but rather, upon her agonies and sufferings. By allowing the great pains that resulted from Melladore’s betrayal to condemn and to mold Glicera’s identity, Haywood further proves the futility of retributive justice. At the onset of The City Jilt, readers are overwhelmed by the knowledge that the protagonist, Glicera, has been robbed of her virtue and impecuniously deserted by her father. One, however, cannot underestimate her heroic power as she not only “regain’d her Health, but also a greater Tranquility of Mind than could be expected in a Condition such as her’s” (95). In fact, when she is stripped of everything she has once possessed and languishes in “Pangs which were look’d on as the Harbingers of Death,” it comes as a surprise that “her desire of Living made her readily comply with everything prescribed her by the Physicians; and their Skill and Care, join’d to her own strength of Nature, at last restor’d her to that Health, which none who saw her in her Illness imagined she ever would have enjoy’d again” (95). Through Glicera’s will power and self-determination, she successfully prevents Melladore from taking away her very life and recovers physically from her heartaches and sorrows. Through her traumatic experience with Melladore, Glicera discovers a new power and authority within herself. Not only does Glicera have power over a great number of younger and wittier men, she even dominates over Grubguard, a member of the higher chamber of a city government. With her regained strength and repossession of her independence and freedom, Glicera manipulates her beauty and wit to reap the benefits and luxuries that her admirers showers upon her and makes a “Sacrifice also of ‘[Glicera’s] Purse” (101). Men are consistently pursuing her for sex; they do not demand her virtue, nor do they see in the relationships a potential for marriage. Free from commitments and liberated from the double standards of society, these men are easily lured into Glicera’s conquest and become slaves to her beauty. They inundate Glicera with all sorts of jewelry, “Rings, Toys for her Watch, Plate of all kinds, and Jewels,” but all these are given in hopes for the utmost anticipation, “the last and greatest Favour” (97). In this way, she ironically appears more ornamented than any of the Court-Beauties who still retain their virtue. In addition, with this newfound perspective and insight, Glicera acknowledges the fickleness of men; she accepts them as vile and deceitful beings, thus dissuades herself from feeling any pity or sympathy for them. She rationalizes her actions and finds divine justice in her “Hatred which his Ingratitude had created in her Mind” (101), firmly believing that the God of Love would sanction this form of retributive justice. Although Glicera loses everything that society deems valuable, worthy, and respectable in a woman, she secures for herself physical benefits of wealth and extravagance by feeding off of the sex that has done her wrong. At what cost, however, does Glicera purchase this world’s fleeting and transient possessions? Haywood shows, unfortunately, that not even the greatest profusion of wealth and assets can buy peace and joy. For the excess of what the world has to offer means absolutely nothing to someone lacking in heart and soul. In trade for all the necessities and luxuries, Glicera pays the greatest price of all: her ability to feel and to relate to others’ joys and sorrows. Upon hearing the news of her betrayer’s death, Glicera does not feel remorse or peace, but expresses “happy Indifference, without any Emotions either of Joy or Grief” (118). Is it not ironic that Indifference can be termed happy when Glicera is now devoid of any emotions of either Joy or Grief? By cleverly utilizing this irony of “happy Indifference,” Haywood shows that the greatest and happiest emotion Glicera can feel is indifference. In doing so, Haywood also points out Glicera’s inability to move on from the past, still allowing the pains and sufferings to dictate her life. Similarly, upon hearing the news of her friend’s marriage, Glicera offers her fortune in wealth and possessions. The lack of emotions not only reveals Glicera’s numbness and desensitization to her surroundings, it also ultimately unveils the futility of her vengeance. Glicera’s inability to express emotions uncovers the innermost struggle that she can never and will never overcome.Because Melladore serves as a representation to all men, the retributive justice Glicera shows to all men is centered upon the hatred for Melladore; the abhorrence has been “fix’d and rooted” in her mind and has become a part of her nature (101). Melladore’s abandonment and betrayal, intertwined with the consistency in qualities of unfaithfulness and capriciousness she finds in all men through their exchanges of opulence for sex, Glicera never fully recovers from her emotional damage. Not only does Haywood emphasize the physical and emotional toil Glicera endures, but she also highlights the psychological damage of pure hatred and aversion Glicera feels for all men which now drive all her behaviors and actions. Even in Melladore’s death Glicera is unable to find peace. Though she did not allow him to rob her of her life, her soul and her heart died as Melladore died. What is left of Glicera is an outer shell of physical behaviors and presentation. When Laphelia, Glicera’s only friend, is contracted away by “the arrival of a young Gentleman,” and exchanges the “Pleasures of a single Life, for the more careful ones of a married State,” the voice of the narrator remains passive (119); the words articulated to describe a sacred and ceremonious union are static and materialized. The detached and frigid voice of the narrator contrasting “the Pleasures of a single Life” to “the more careful ones of a married State” strongly emphasizes the transient nature of the single life. One day, Glicera will no longer be able to fool men for luxuries. One day, she will experience the limitations and constraints of a single woman. As a parallel to Glicera, the protagonist in Haywood’s other piece of work, Fantomina, is ultimately sent to a Monastery and “thus ended an Intreague, which, considering the Time it lasted, was as full of Variety as any, perhaps, that many Ages had produced” (71). Because of society’s judgment and authority on women, especially on those who are single and without virtue, both Fantomina and Glicera become subjects of society’s criticisms. Moreover, these women are condemned to the cruelest punishment of all: a life of solitude and emptiness. Where Fantomina is forever restricted to speak and to feign, Glicera, though physically overcoming pain, is forever scarred by her past and condemned to the monotonous lifestyle, unable to marry even if she desires to do so because she lacks the virtue society upholds. Does Glicera exude glory through her vengeance? Is she a representation of a successful heroine? Sadly, Haywood’s delineation of Glicera serves as a microcosm for women who pursue after their own desires and independence sans authority. Not only does Haywood show through Glicera her inability to have what all that she covets, but she also demonstrates to her readers the harsh consequences of pursuing after her desires. At the conclusion of The City Jilt, Glicera stands alone as the society passes her by with condemning eyes. She does not live by a reputation founded in her own successes, but by a reputation established by the “Provocations she receved from that ungrateful Sex” (119). Haywood’s The City Jilt is a story of opposing forces. It is a story where the divinity of love meets the depravity of hatred and betrayal, and ends with a bittersweet collision. It is a story of deceit and betrayal, but concludes with the simple truth that money will never buy happiness and desires end with consequences. Through the employment of juxtaposition in varying situations, voice and narration, and exposure to the emptiness of the protagonist, Haywood delivers a message that not only targets Glicera’s defeat in revenge, but also an underlying failure in women’s pursuance of freedom and self-autonomy. Under the careful scrutiny and judgment of society, women must behave according to the unwritten laws of society with respect to virtue and chastity. Women who are no longer chaste can never gain back what they have lost; women who are no longer virtuous can never rise above socially in the real world.