‘Acting It as She Reads’: Affective Impressions in Polly Honeycombe
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George Colman’s Polly Honeycombe (1760) is a playful farce that satirises novel-reading in the eighteenth century by placing it on stage. Polly Honeycombe, convinced that ‘A Novel is the only thing to teach a girl life’, imitates novel heroines and uses their example to further her own plans and desires.2 Her parents are determined to marry her to money, in the person of Mr Ledger, who speaks in the jargon of finance, and in Polly’s words is ‘more tiresome than the multiplication-table’ (86). Clarissa-like, Polly exuberantly defies her parents’ choice of Mr Ledger as her husband. She chooses instead the social climber Scribble, who ventriloquises the language of romance. Polly’s characterisation both reflects and contradicts the stereotype of the sexually susceptible, overtly sympathetic female reader described in the play’s prologue, quoted above. The prologue describes an affective economy’, to use Sara Ahmed’s words, with ‘Love’ circulating between the body of ‘Miss’ and the book she reads.3 The female, reading body becomes malleably impressed with the passions represented in the novel, to the point that she softens in emphatically physical terms (melting and sighing) and becomes vulnerable to sexual penetration (‘good night, poor Honour!’) (69). This representation of a novel-driven affective economy occurs within a dramatic text, and the circulation of a novelistic ‘Love’ is thereby implicitly compared to the way passion might circulate in the theatre.
KeywordsEighteenth Century British Library Good Night Full Title Authentic Humanity
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