Friday, January 29, 2016

Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveeo: A Pre-Adamitical History, by Eliza Haywood

“Why must our Pains alone be Virtue, and all our Pleasures Vice?”

“It is not given us Mortals to fathom the deep Mysteries of Futurity.”
-- from Adventures of Eovaai, p. 97, 102

One of the notes I tend to write in the margins of books, particularly those from previous centuries, is “Nihil novum” – a relic of my bygone Latin studies, meaning “Nothing new,” as in “under the sun.” Well, this whole 1741 novel is one of the nihil novumest things I’ve ever read. It was written, largely, as a specific satire against then-Prime Minister Robert Walpole (whose stranglehold on the British government was discussed in Geoffrey Ashe's excellent history The Hell-Fire Clubs), and it seems logical that would make a book’s subject matter dated. But no!

This short novel, a faux history of ancient times, filtered through a series of supposed translators and commentators, is a fanciful fable, almost a work of early fantasy, which allows the author to indulge her imagination, and revel in bizarre names and  magical incidents. I've only read more realistic "amatory" fiction by Eliza Haywood, my prolific fave, but the editor of this edition includes excerpts from some of her similarly oddly-genred other works.

The princess Eovaai has been raised to be utterly virtuous and a wise ruler, in ignorance both of her own beauty and the sins of the world (thus, in a way, in an Edenic state). In a Pandora's Box-like turn, her curiosity, about a royal jewel that causes the kingdom to run smoothly, leads to her dropping and losing it. Her subjects turn against her, and she eventually ends up magically exiled in the kingdom of Hypotofa.

This realm is ruled by the the plots of Ochihatou (Walpole’s stand-in), who is not the king, but manipulates the people for his own benefit. “Every body wears what he thinks will best become him, and professes that Worship which is either most agreeable to his own Opinions, or most consistent with his Interest: All that is required from the People, is to be satisfied with whatever is done by the Government … and never to enquire into the Actions of the Ministers” (74). As long as they ignore the political sphere, the people have all the liberty they want in a choice of consumer luxuries and frivolous entertainments … hey, wait a minute!

Not only that, but their “private Luxury” is (a trade-off) for “publick Misery,” in a place and time in which “nothing was to be seen but excessive Grandeur or extreme Wretchedness” (108). At the same time, the people are seriously burdened with taxes on those very luxuries. How did this all come to pass? Because: “Which of you has not, for a shew of private Advantage, consented to give up Publick-Good?” (105) Eovaii wonders to see “so fatal a Negligence in a whole People” (100).

Tweak the language, and all this could be ripped from today’s editorial pages. It’s kind of a downer to think that so little has changed in almost 300 years, but on the other hand, it's also nice to know that civilization has survived similar problems.

A few other stories are embedded in the tale, with female protagonists who are like alternate versions of Eovaai: there’s the unlucky Yximilla, another princess, but one who ends up forced into marriage at the end of a bloody war, and the cautionary tale of another woman who was smitten by Ochihatou, who had come this-close to seducing Eovaii while using magic to cover up his ugliness. The satire, doubtless, comes from his ability to convince others of his non-existent virtues, and to prevent them from seeing his unpleasant qualities, while he seduces them in the arena of politics and public opinion.

Since Haywood was known for being relatively frank about sexuality, however, this allows her to have some fun with the metaphorical acting-out of a politician screwing other people over. For example, when Eovaii's "Extasies" are interrupted at the crucial moment by affairs of state, she finds that "the warm Inclinations which the Behaviour of Ochihatou had raised, demanded Gratification ." Haywood's footnote from the book's fictional editor drily notes that commentators are "at a loss for the Author's Meaning," since they've been assured by various "Ladies" that their gender "is wholly free from any Inquietudes of that nature" (92). LOL. 

Note on Walpole: he may have basically ruled England, but yes, his son was THE Horace Walpole (a much bigger name in my world), author of The Castle of Otranto, among other important works in the Gothic revival. 

Haywood, Eliza. Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveeo: A Pre-Adamitical History. Edited by Earla Wilputte. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press: 1999.

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