Love in Excess
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.
The Sexual Gaze in Richardson’s Pamela
Formula fiction is common in the canon of seductive fiction. It relies on standard themes, plot devices, and characters that indulge the reader with a combination of predictability and intrigue. Seduction novels, already a staple of formula fiction by the time Pamela was first published in 1740, shared several key plot points, including the tantamount and titillating scene of the heroine’s dishabille. The hero’s gaze upon his yet un-fallen heroine in dishabille is sexual and voyeuristic, meant for the gratification of the hero and the reader. Overall, it is a moment that seems completely out of place in Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela. The moments of unwarranted gaze in the traditional seduction novel are meant to sexually titillate both the hero and the reader. However, Richardson’s goal is not to titillate us, but quite the opposite: he means to write this new hybrid of seduction and conduct novel “without raising a single idea throughout the whole, that shall shock the exactest Purity”. (31) But the gaze is a key part of the seduction novel; without the gaze, the hero is denied his impetus for his declaration of love, and the reader is denied seeing, and understanding through seeing, the heroine as a sexually tantalizing figure. So then how can Pamela, as part seduction novel, exist without the sexualizing gaze of the hero, which is sure to offend “the exactest Purity”? The answer is that Pamela does not avoid the gaze, but, rather, rewrites what the gaze looks like, so that it becomes a more chaste version of itself. Since the concept of gaze is of primary importance to the seduction plot, as a way to move the plot forward for the hero, and to facilitate the reader’s participation in the seduction, Pamela cannot altogether avoid it. However, Richardson does change, and even disguise the gaze, so that in Pamela it is perpetrated by the epistolary form of the novel and by Pamela’s own complicity with the seductive narrative in her writing.To understand the ways in which the gaze is different in Pamela, let us first recap what the gaze looks like in the more traditional seduction novel. For instance, in Love in Excess, the moments of gaze are sexual and extremely visual. Take this passage:“He found her lying on a Couch in a most charming Dishabilee; she had but newly come from bathing, and her Hair unbraided, hung down upon her Shoulders with a Negligence more beautiful than all the Aids of Art could form in the most exact Decorum of Dress; part of it fell upon her Neck and Breast, and with its lovely Shadiness, being of a delicate dark Brown, set off to vast Advantage the matchless Whiteness of her Skin: Her Gown and the rest of her Garments were white, and all ungirt, and loosly flowing, discover’d a thousand Beauties, which modish Formalities conceal.” (Haywood 83)Melliora, the heroine, is written in a detailed, physical description, in apparently perfect dishabille from top to bottom. Delmont, the hero, is watching her unnoticed, and thus the reader is watching her as well – and, through the third-person narration, watching Delmont watching her. The voyeuristic watching, then, is threefold: hero, narrator, and the reader, with all three layers intently focused on the heroine’s beauty that is above all “the Aids of Art”. It is this moment that causes Delmont to declare his love to Melliora. The gaze provides the necessary impetus to the hero to grow in affection for the heroine, and to voice his love, from whence the true seduction can occur.In Pamela, the reader is not given nearly so titillating a description of Pamela. This is because the gaze is not through the rake’s eyes: it is mediated through Pamela’s letter writing and her own knowledge and understanding of what is happening to her. When we are provided with any physical description of Pamela, it is not an itemized listing of her, as we saw above with Melliora, but rather a passing comment related to her parents in her letters about being told that she is “very pretty”. (50) When we do understand that Pamela has been gazed upon, it is through her own relation of the events. Thus, Pamela becomes our lens through which to gaze. In this way, Pamela is guilty of perpetrating and perpetuating the gaze on herself. In one of Mr. B’s failed attempts on Pamela, he dresses up as the maid Nan and pretends to sleep in the room where Pamela is. The traditional elements of the gaze are set up for the reader: the hero has entered the room to the ignorance of the heroine, who has undressed herself and is proceeding under the assumption that she is not being watched by the hero. However, we are not watching Pamela: we are, instead, reading her account of the immediate moment in which Pamela lived the event. Therefore, Pamela takes on two roles in the act: the role of the gazed upon, as well as the role of the gazing narrator.The gaze that Pamela guides us through is usually filtered so that the sexual intensity of the gaze is diminished. We are told by Pamela that, in this scene, she is naked, with her “under clothes in [her] hand”. (240) But instead of lingering on the details of herself in dishabille, she simply mentions her state of undress. The construction of this desexualized lens begins to fall apart when we realize that she is telling the reader about seeing Mr. B gazing upon her. In this way, despite the dry and non-indulgent nature of the language, we come to understand that Pamela is engaging with the other two levels of the traditional tertiary structure of gaze, and is becoming like the hero, watching herself, which we see in her describing her state of undress, and like the reader of a seduction story, by watching Mr. B watch her. Pamela is, as I asserted earlier, one of the great perpetrators of gaze in Pamela, and is, in fact, the source that provides us with the most sexual glimpse of her.The more important form of gaze, though, is not as explicitly sexual, but is the gaze that holds the most power in the novel – it is the gaze of reading. The epistolary form does two things to the gaze: the first, as shown above, is that it creates Pamela as the object, as well as the three-fold objectifier of the gaze; the second is that it allows the reader, and Mr. B, to constantly be voyeuristic gazers of the expose of Pamela’s virtue.Mr. B reads Pamela’s letters without her knowledge or permission. Written to her parents, the letters contain what we presume to be something very close to emotional honesty. Although there is some debate as to the authenticity of the events and emotions that Pamela writes in her letters, they are, nonetheless, filled with what are meant to be fairly private thoughts, especially those that are written when she is in captivity, which are not truly expected to make it into her parents’ hands. I say that this form of gaze, the reading gaze, is most important and most powerful, because it allows Mr. B an unwarranted view of her character. It is when her character and virtue are laid bare that Mr. B finally has the impetus to admit his virtuous love for her, and it is this that ultimately allows him to win Pamela. As Mr. B says, “It was indeed her person that first attracted me, and made me her lover: but they were the beauties of her mind, that made me her husband.” (427) In this chaste seduction, Mr. B’s feelings of love are sexual at first, but then are transformed by a long, penetrating reader’s gaze into Pamela’s character, in this way serving the same purpose as the dishabille’s sexual gaze does in the traditional seduction novel. If this is what the gaze looks like in the novel, then Richardson has forced his readers to commit the same act of gazing as Mr. B. We are all using a reading gaze to view Pamela, and her great virtuous qualities are thereby exposed to us. We are then implicit in Pamela’s chaste seduction, because we are meant to be taken in by Pamela’s virtue as was Mr. B. Since the gaze plot point is not removed by Richardson, but rather reworked and hidden into the form of the novel, then how does this affect our understanding of the seduction? Richardson has set up a new style of seduction in Pamela; that is, instead of the hero being seduced by Love and then in turn seducing the heroine, we instead see Pamela seducing Mr. B and the reader. She has perfect agency when it comes to the gaze: she constructs visual scenes so that she occupies all positions in the gaze, and with the letter-writing. Although she does not control Mr. B’s reading of the letters, Pamela has the agency to show all the parts of herself that she wants to reveal: her character is dressed in her writing, in a way that allows us to see all of her virtue. This “dishabille” that allows us to see her character through her writing, also is physically manifest in her failed efforts to conceal her letters from Mr. B in her clothes. But there is agency even in this dishabille, because Pamela has written all of the letters, described for us all of the events and all about her feelings, and we have no other understanding of who Pamela is or what events occurred. Thus, even in her apparently helpless state, wherein her letters are forcefully taken from her and read, Pamela remains the ultimate seducer. She seduces Mr. B into marriage through her virtue, and the novel attempts to seduce the reader as well.