Alovisa, Ciamara, and Violetta—Victims of Gluttonous Affection?
When viewers deconstruct the exaggeration, grandeur, and boldness of Baroque art they usually focus on overly exaggerated and unrestrained representations of lighting, motion, and surrounding decoration. By contrast, the themes of literature seem to express the period with greater specificity, by way of the medium’s opportunity of direct communication. Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess seems to lend itself to the Baroque theme of excess in variety of notable ways, and one could illustrate this through noting the exaggerated descriptions of elegant surroundings and atmospheres, overly dramatic depictions of the constraints placed on female emotion, or the open portrayal of female sexual desire. For the purposes of a concise explanation of why Haywood’s work functions as representation of the Baroque, focusing on just one element of excess is necessary in order to adequately describe a particular theme of the novel and how it expresses the Baroque. Debatably, the most provocative way Haywood coveys the spirit of the Baroque is through three women and their link of fatal attraction to the novel’s conflicted ‘hero,’ Count D’elmont. Alovisa, Ciamara, and Violetta all eventually boldly express their feelings to D’elmont without lady-like restraint, and all three learn that the consequence of this cultural offense, sent in motion by the presence and expression of Love in the form of the Baroque element of Excess, is death.
In order to uphold a form of chronological organization, these three women shall be discussed by order of death. Alovisa is the first woman in Love in Excess to commit the cultural faux pas of expressing her feelings to Count D’elmont without him first declaring his love. It should be obvious at this point, that she was also the first to suffer the fatal attractions of Count D’elmont. This idea of ‘fatal attractions’ certainly unites the three women, but the parallel idea of each woman being a victim of their own ‘excess’ of desire more directly intertwines the concept of their love with the Baroque. Alovisa dies “in the dark” due to an “accident run on her husband’s sword,” but it is not the sword of her husband that sets her death in motion, but rather the excess of “her passions [which] swelled, ‘till they got at last the entire dominion of her reason” (158,95). To adequately understand how Alovisa’s accidental death, carried out by a phallic object, is due to her own vehicle of intense and inappropriate female emotion; one must first examine the literary evidence Haywood provides in the development of Alovisa’s character. In Alovisa’s first letter she breaks the social code of females initiating relations with a male, going as far as to allude to Cupid, “the little god,” and that Count should “search therefore for him in her, in whom…you would most desire to find him” (39). Although this letter functions as an obviously disguised violation of social etiquette, Alovisa leaves the letter unsigned and delivered by a camouflaged servant. This letter emphasizes that Alovisa’s passions cannot be contained by social mandate, but due to the letter’s ambiguity, it may not serve as the best example of the displays of affection that led to her death. A more straightforward example of Alovisa’s social misconduct can be extrapolated from when she discovers D’elmont’s “testimony of…infidelity,” and confronts him with an “excess of fury” and “little regard for good manners, or even decency” (133). Her unladylike approach and lack of acceptable emotional constraint seems to be the most likely culprit of her death, because the result was the man of her ‘undying’ passions taking a “solemn vow to never eat, or sleep with her more” (133). In the end, it is exactly her aggressive emotions that “were too violent” for her to remain alive, and as she sought her final bid for his love—she was killed by D’elmont, the very man of her obsessive affections (158).
Ciamara is both the second example of a woman who openly expresses an uncontainable desire for Count D’elmont and to discover her attractions fatal. When compared to Alovisa, Ciamara’s death reflects her more aggressive and painful attraction to D’elmont; while Alovisa’s death is an accident, Ciamara “swallowed poison…and in the raving agonies of death, confessed…Count D’elmont was the cause of her despair” (244). To grasp the magnitude of Ciamara’s confession, it may be important to note that she clarified she did not commit suicide because of the “loss of Camilla,” her stepdaughter, but rather because of the excess of her desire for D’elmont that could never be realized. Thus, emphasizing that her aggressive Love in Excess toward D’elmont blinded her from even caring for a missing family member. In similar fashion to Alovisa, Ciamara’s written correspondence with D’elmont is another way to evaluate her yearning for his love. On the contrary to Alovisa’s disguised messenger, Ciamara’s letters are delivered by a man who states his “orders are to bring” D’elmont to Ciamara, highlighting her desire and impatience to be with D’elmont (169). The letter delivered by this man further establishes Ciamara’s bold attempt to win D’elmont’s affections, as well as an angering desire that pushed her to lash out at him with insults, calling him a “dull, stupid, wretch! Insensible of every passion” (167) In this way, the letter exposes Ciamara’s lack of aggressive restraint both by an intrusive manner of delivery and assailing content. Although Ciamara’s aggressive ploys and bold insults are clearly an outpour of her overpowering feelings for D’elmont, they also shed light on the aggressive form of Love in Excess that led to her suicide upon hearing of D’elmont’s vanish.
Violetta is the third and final woman to suffer death after boldly admitting her feelings to the Count D’elmont. Alovisa and Ciamara both provide examples of women who were so overtaken with desire that they would go to any length of improprieties to try and command the heart of D’elmont. Violetta’s love of D’elmont provides an example of the Baroque elements of excess and boldness, without having acted inappropriately through written communication or conversation before she lay upon her bed of death. While Alovisa and Ciamara wrote inappropriate statements of love to communicate their hankering for D’elmont, Violetta made her feelings known to D’elmont when he told her he was leaving Rome through an inability “to prevent the disorder these word put her into” (240). Violetta’s pursuit of D’elmont is as innocent as her ‘uncontrollable’ display of her hankering for his love, in that she gives up her lady-hood to be with D’elmont “like a page disguised has followed the too lovely Count” (263). Lastly, her death is most truly different, in that she dies as a natural cost of sickness from her journey as a male servant. In alignment with Alovisa and Ciamara, she admits her feelings to D’elmont on her deathbed, saying that she wished to know “no other paradise” than D’elmont shortly before her death (265). Therefore, Violetta shows that even well mannered women were not free of Count D’elmont’s fatal attraction, because the only way to avoid the fatal Love in Excess his charm caused– was to flee from the Count D’elmont.
Interestingly, Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess aligns itself with elements of the Baroque period simply by the title of the work. The theme of excess is most interestingly portrayed through three parallel women who are unable to yield their ‘fatal attractions’ to Count D’elmont. Perhaps, Haywood’s work is meant function, on common ground with Baroque art, as an unrestrained representation of female emotion and desire through the paralleled relationship of three different women and the varying elaborate routes taken to satisfy their hankerings.
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