For the 1001 Book Challenge, I read Love in Excess by Eliza Haywood (Book 16). I downloaded this book from GoogleBooks onto my Sony eReader.
Love in Excess, Or, The Fatal Enquiry was a bestseller. It is a novel about a rake, Count D’Elmont, and his reformation. This novel is arranged in three parts. The first part introduces two young women (Alovisa and Amena) who are vying for D’Elmont’s attention, though their efforts are hindered, we are told by the author, because women of the time were not permitted to speak freely of their affections or desires until a man formally proposed. Because of this, Alovisa writes an unsigned letter to D’Elmont expressing her feelings, but he attributes the note to Amena and falls in love with her. D’Elmont and Amena sneak to meet but are caught. Alovisa works with Amena’s father to send Amena away to a convent. Amena discovers Alovisa’s treachery when D’Elmont gives her one of Alovisa’s letters and because of her disappointment asks to go away. D’Elmont’s friend, in the meantime, has fallen in love with Alovisa’s sister Anseillina. Motivated by wealth and status more than love, D’Elmont and Brillian (the friend) decide to marry the sisters.
Part two revolves around D’Elmont falling in love with Melliora, a girl in his care who he nearly rapes, and Brillian falling in love with Alovisa. In a very Othello-like scene, Brillian and Alovisa are left dead, and D’Elmont is exiled.
The final part of the story centers around D’Elmont in Italy pining for Melliora who had been kidnapped. D’Elmont meets Melloria’s brother and helps him and his love flee from Italy. Other women appear (and strangely die) after falling in love with D’Elmont. In the end, all of the survivors marry, including D’Elmont and Melliora.
Evidently reviewers on Amazon have been arguing over the appeal of this books to Jane Austen fans, with one writing, “If you like Jane Austen, you’ll really like Love In Excess. It is both a humorous and exciting tale of loves lost, gained, regained, and unconsummated.” Another disagrees, “I purchased this book under the misapprehension that it might be similar to Jane Austen’s work. Unfortunately, I was EXCESSIVELY mistaken!” And so forth. I certainly would not have compared this text to an Austen work for many reasons, but for the most part because of the female characters and their lack of morals of any kind. While the book is entertaining, witty, and full of satiric conversation, and the female characters appear to have a lot of agency, in the end, it is the male character who despite his serious lack of likeability is the one who gets to live happily ever after. How disappointing!
Nonetheless, the 1001Books editors tell us this novel is important because “Along with Robinson Crusoe, Love in Excess was one of the most popular early eighteenth-century novels. Haywood’s frank treatment of desire and sexual passion renders her a key figure in the feminine tradition of amatory fiction that runs from Aphra Behn to Delarivier Manley and beyond” (42). And, it is certainly worth reading for those merits.