Love “Barter’d” in The City Jilt

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.

Works Cited
“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.


5 Responses to “Love “Barter’d” in The City Jilt”

  1. melaniewebb22 Says:


    I appreciate your insightful discussion of The City Jilt and “barter’d love”, especially your remarks regarding the trade of “Gold for Glass” (101). I’d like to offer further support for your argument in reference to another male character in the text, Villagnan.
    As a merchant, Villagnan is used to bargaining, but expects a high payment from Helena, the unlucky Melladore’s wife, for elopement. He offers passage on a ship bound for Holland, but presses her to “pack up your Jewels, and what other valuable Things you have, with all possible expedition” (Haywood 87). These jewels and other valuables perhaps function as a makeshift dowry.
    Villangan continues by pressuring Helena to leave her “unworthy Husband” (87). Significant here is the word, “unworthy” which means undeserving, but also means “deficient in worth; having little or no value” (OED), a money-laden phrase the female characters in the text are are all too familiar with.
    Here commoditization occurs, not just with women, but also with men. Melladore no longer has economic value as a husband and although Helena must contribute finanically to her new relationship with Villagnan, she also gains financially. In fact, Villagnan promises her “luxurious Joys”, which certainly has a sexual overtone, but a fiscal undertone as well.

    Works Cited

    Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.

    “Unworthy” a.1. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 22 Feb. 2010.

  2. aetotheb Says:

    Hello Kate,

    Your assessment equating love “as a bargaining process” exhibits a trend brandished throughout the era in text. As evidenced by Haywood and the works of authors including Aphra Behn, William Wycherley, and others, marriage is tantamount to a business transaction whereby a woman’s worth relies on breeding, wealth, and the woman’s ability to cleverly secure her desired position. Your comment that Melladore views marriage as a “haggling process” is apropos to the ethical ambiguity of the times. Similarly to Miranda in Behn’s The Fair Jilt, Isabella in Behn’s The History of the Nun, and Margery in Wycherley’s The Country Wife, Glicera embodies a woman vehemently striving to ensure her position within society.

    Additionally, the men depicted likewise perceive themselves as victimized by circumstance. Prince Tarquin in Behn’s The Fair Jilt, Henault in Behn’s The History of the Nun, and Mr. Pinchwife in Wycherley’s The Country Wife all received woe at the actions of a woman via her “bargaining power.” Though some men are portrayed as willing dupes, others work the system as exemplified by your note on Melladore who through his actions “establishes himself as a victim” in an effort to avoid further condemnation.

    Using the texts referenced above, I would love to see you take your idea further as it seems to consist of multiple possibilities.


    Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko and Other Writings. Ed. Paul Salzman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

    Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.

    Wycherley, William. The Country Wife. Ed. Ken Bush. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.

  3. Beth Sweet Says:

    Hi, Kate.

    I’m glad you wrote on “The City Jilt.” It seems, from the first pages of Moll Flanders, that Defoe also condemns the marital marketplace of the time. Each of these texts characterizes a woman’s virtue as the gold.
    But I think Haywood might be arguing that a woman’s virtue is, in fact, glass (and thus, its value is in the eye of the beholder). The text describes Melladore’s behavior as “the undoing Artifice[] of [a] deluding [man],” thereby connecting his behavior to falsehood; as you point out, he traded in glass. But in the next paragraphs, Haywood condemns the artificial virtue of those who would condemn Glycera for her folly, implying that they are either heartless or haven’t been tempted. In this moment of textual self-consciousness, Haywood preemptively admonishes those who quickly dismiss Glycera as worthless or ruined. The text demands that its audience reflect (perhaps to peer into the looking glass) on the own prejudices regarding a woman’s worth. The text continues to explore the economics of womanhood and virtue to the very end. Glycera’s actions are characterized as justified artifice, given her situation. In the end, she takes Melladore’s gold. I think you are right to point out that he is left with glass and reflection. Still, I have my doubts as to whether he really comes to any insight about his own behavior.

  4. greenfox12 Says:

    Kate, I think you present an extremely convincing argument in your blog, but I find that a significant side of the concept of bargaining is curiously absent. After Melladore initially leaves Glicera, she writes her own letter to him, using the line “how infinitely inferior was my Unhappiness in being deprived of Wealth, when compared to those more valuable Treasures thy fatal Passion has robb’d me of.—My Innocence, my Reputation, and my Peace of Mind by thee destroy’d no more to be retrieved!” (74). Clearly, Glicera has a stake in the relationship as well. She treats more social possessions like innocence and reputation as objects of wealth that have actually been physically stolen from her through Melladore’s business transactions. He has stolen her “Treasures,” a word for which the OED gives the following two relevant definitions: “Wealth or riches stored or accumulated, esp. in the form of precious metals; gold or silver coin; hence in general, money, riches, wealth” and “Anything valued and preserved as precious; also of a person, a ‘jewel’, ‘gem’ (colloq.); also as an affectionate term of address.” Both of these definitions existed in the novella’s time, meaning that Glicera attaches real value to what she has lost. In exchange, she has only gained the “little Wretch” (74) she bears, a piece of Melladore she does not treasure. Melladore has taken Glicera’s treasures through a business transaction that ultimately, as your blog implies, benefits neither of them. They both have gained what they view as mere glass beads, revealing, through their transparency, the unfortunate consequences of the business of marriage.

    Additional Work Cited:
    “treasure, n.” Oxford English Dictionary. Jun. 2006. Web. 2 Mar. 2010.

  5. Angle Feser Says:

    Just discovered this. ItÂ’s simplyworthwhile, I shallbe back to say something more.

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