In numerous ways, Eliza Haywood’s The City Jilt portrays love as a bargaining process. For example, after the ruined and humbled Melladore learns that Glicera, whom he formerly impregnated and thereafter abandoned, holds the mortgage to his estate, he writes her a letter, admitting to his wrongdoings: “Like the foolish Indians, I have barter’d Gold for Glass, exchang’d the best for one of the vilest that ever disgraced the name of Woman” (101). Melladore’s letter expresses the supposed regret he experiences by choosing to marry the wealthy Helena over Glicera, who is a woman of little wealth but exceeding merit. Although he recognizes his selfish and shallow mistake, he uses words like “barter’d” and “exchang’d” to describe his poor marital decision, as though marriage was a haggling process. Thus, even after his downfall, Melladore continues to see love as a financial transaction; he realizes the errors in his marital stance, but he simply cannot overcome his profiteering outlook.
As Melladore falls victim to his persistently sexist viewpoints, he also establishes himself as a victim in the above quote by likening himself to an Indian. Although he does not clarify the type of “Indian” he refers to, it is interesting to note that in the eighteenth century, Native Americans in the New World traded gold (an abundant resource for them at the time) for European glass beads (De Mendiola 39). The European colonizers believed the natives were extremely ignorant for misjudging the value of gold (an exhaustible natural resource) versus glass (a copious man-made good), and they greedily took advantage of the Indians’ lack of knowledge by acquiring as much gold from them as possible (De Mendiola 40). Though Melladore relates himself to the Indians, his greed actually parallels the Europeans’ behavior. Not only does he marry Helena for her wealth, but his greed for sexual pleasure leads him to seduce Glicera; he fools her into believing that he will marry her after they have sexual intercourse. Thus, just as the colonizers abused the Indians’ lack of knowledge to gain their riches, Melladore ruins Glicera by exploiting her naivety and subsequently achieving the sexual satisfaction he sought.
Also worth noting are the multiple meanings of glass. As mentioned before, glass represents an inferior product to gold, yet it also symbolizes transparency and reflectiveness. After Melladore marries Helena, who not only drives him into poverty but deserts him for another man, Melladore begins to witness the consequences of his wicked behavior towards Glicera. When he “trades” Glicera for Helena, or according to his analogy, trades gold for glass, Melladore symbolically and inadvertently gains both the clarity and reflection of glass: physically, glass can be clear, or also reflective, as in a looking glass. Further, it clarifies sight (as in eye-glasses) or magnifies an object (like a magnifying-glass) (“Glass” n1. 10d). Because glass allows individuals to see more clearly, for Melladore, it symbolically enables him to observe the wickedness inside himself and the error of his ways.
While likening Helena to glass, he also labels her as “the vilest that ever disgraced the name of Woman.” Though, here, he obviously refers to her low moral character, the word “vile” also means, firstly, “cheap, low (in price),” (“Vile” a. 5c) and secondly, “of poor or bad quality; wretchedly bad or inferior” (“Vile” a. 6). Therefore, even while critically describing his wife’s morality, he still manages to fiscally evaluate her, too.
“Glass” n1. 10d. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 21 Feb. 2010.
Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.
Pérez de Mendiola, Marina. Bridging the Atlantic: Toward a Reassessment of Iberian and Latin American Cultural Ties. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. Print.
“Vile” a. 5c. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 21 Feb. 2010.
“Vile” a. 6. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 21 Feb. 2010.