The Eighteenth-Century Oriental Tales of Eliza Haywood, Frances Sheridan and Ellis Cornelia Knight
The Oriental tale in the eighteenth century was a very popular form which has been ignored until fairly recently. Furthermore, woman's contribution to this popular but marginalized form has been almost utterly neglected. Beginning with Eliza Haywood's Adventures of Eovaai, Princess of Ijaveo, through Frances Sheridan's History of Nourjahad and concluding with Ellis Cornelia Knight's Dinarbas: A Tale Being a Continuation of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, this study chronologically follows the rise of the domestic woman in the decidedly undomestic Oriental tale as these three authors negotiate genre, their culture and their gender through the writing of Oriental tales.
The Oriental tales as written by these women represent an opposing voice to developing literary realism so beloved of the middle classes. While Oriental tales are at least partially reactionary in their inflection of earlier romance conventions, they are also as necessary as realism for the development of capitalism: capitalism relies not only on an ethic of saving, generally associated with realism, but also on an ethic of spending. Emphasizing sumptuous description and luxury, they reinforce expenditures. which punctuate periods of working and saving, and women are absolutely central in the development and construction of their culture through their writing and through their gender association with comsumption for their culture.