Eliza Haywood uses numerous literary devices in Love in Excess, one of which is a Socratic-type dialog or debate consisting of questions and answers between two “adversaries.” The debate is a dynamic device which flows between levels and layers of meaning while evolving through a number of issues germane to the work, such as the value and validity of amatory tales as well as the value and validity of true passionate love.
The debaters are actually the two main characters who are destined to become lovers, despite the enormous barriers they must overcome throughout the novel. The ambitious, social-climbing Count D’elmont, the main character of interest in the story, has entered a marriage of convenience with the beautiful, determined heiress, Alovisa, when he takes guardianship of the pure and innocent daughter, Melliora, of his recently deceased mentor, and immediately falls passionately in love with her.
The love triangle injects much stress into the D’elmont household as the lovers struggle to deny their innermost passions, and a perplexed, jealous wife attempts to determine the nature of such a sudden and drastic change in her once happy home. To help settle the atmosphere and restore tranquility, the “family” takes to the French countryside for a respite.
The debate is actually initiated during an evening at the villa with visiting neighbors – the batchelor Baron D’espernay and his coquettish sister, Melantha, who reads love poems to help entertain and lighten the mood. Until now quiet and pensive, Melliora uses skillful, logical argumentation to attack the value of such literature, mainly with a secret motive to convince both herself and the Count that their passionate love can be denied. Haywood writes of the initial stages of the debate, “She urged the arguments she brought against giving way to love, and the danger of all softening amusements, with such a becoming fierceness, as made everybody of the opinion that she was born only to create desire, not be susceptible of it her self” (Oakleaf Second Edition, p. 107).
Melliora’s position is tested the next day, however, when the two “lovers in denial” have an occasion to speak in private as Alovisa has “gone out to take air” (p. 107). Here the debate moves through a sort of dance of words that grows in intensity with every dip and sweep that finally culminates in passionate confessions from each “interlocutor.”
The Count finds Melliora reclining with a copy of Ovid’s Epistles (what more appropriate for this novel than a collection of love letters?) and accuses her of hypocrisy, since she has argued against the value of such literature. The repartee that follows allows an exploration of the dangers or delights this type of literature can inspire. It quickly escalates to a philosophical discourse on the compatibility between love and reason and love and friendship. This gives Melliora an opportunity to define and delineate the forms of higher love, during which she concludes, “And lastly, that which fancy inclines, and reason guides us to, in a partner for life; but here every circumstance must agree, parity of age, of quality, of fortune, and of humour, consent of friends, and equal affection in each other, for if any one of these particulars fail, it renders all the rest of no effect” (p. 109).
The Count makes a quick rejoinder by recounting the circumstances of a “friend,” that break all the conventional conditions Melliora has established. Acting as a sort of Socrates in this debate, the Count continues a line of questioning that eventually forces confessions of truth from both he and Melliora that set the stage for an increasingly complex plot and play a major role in moving the novel through to the climax and final conclusion.
Haywood, E. (2000). Love in Excess (Second ed. ). In D. Oakleaf (Ed.), . Peterboro, Canada: Broadview.