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‘A Green Parrot for a Good Speaker’: Writing with a Birds-eye View in Eliza Haywood’s The Parrot (1746)

Smith, Adam James ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3938-4836 and Garlick, Ben ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7257-0430 (2022) ‘A Green Parrot for a Good Speaker’: Writing with a Birds-eye View in Eliza Haywood’s The Parrot (1746). In: Mckay, Robert and McHugh, Susan, (eds.) Satire and Animals. Animal Studies . Palgrave (In Press)

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Abstract

After publishing The Female Spectator between 1744-46, a periodical widely considered to be one of the first periodicals written by women for women, Eliza Haywood turned her attention to another community whose opinions were under represented in the periodical press: the avian community, or more specifically, London’s supposedly marginalised community of green parrots. The Parrot, a short-lived weekly essay-periodical that lasted for nine issues in 1746, took the concept of the eidolon (the fictional editorial voice employed in periodical writing to create something similar to what we might today recognise as a house style) and asked what would happen if it’s the voice were non-human. As the title suggests, the conceit of this periodical was that it was edited and narrated by a green parrot who had been born in Java, captured, taken to Holland, sold to a French merchant, gifted to a widow, bought by a great philosopher, sold to a gentleman taking the grand tour, sold to a young girl and then finally to an English nobleman. That this well-travelled avian eidolon is then able to draw upon this wealth of cosmopolitan knowledge to offer his unique perspective on all that he observes in London, provides the thrust of Haywood’s satirical project, skewering and troubling the hegemonic assumptions of her day to reveal the hypocrisies and contradictions beneath. This essay will situate The Parrot within a broader tradition of bird-based satire, such as, for instance, Lady Mary Montagu’s ‘The Politicians’ (1736), a Whiggish poem which reimagines parliament as an aviary, the poet’s Tory opponents figured as whichever type of bird which most accentuates their least attractive attributes and behaviours, and a re-occurring story in The Female Tatler (1709) of a parrot on Clay-hill who bawled inconvenient political truths at passers-by.

The essay will argue that, rather than diminishing its targets by likening them to animals, as in the Montagu text, Haywood’s project is closer to that seen in The Female Tatler, deriving its satire from its eidolon’s status both as a non-human entity and an exotic and well-travelled observer, applying the techniques of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) or Oliver Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World (1760) but amplifying them by adopting the voice of one who exists outside the human race. Crucially, however, this chapter’s examination of The Parrot will also engage with contemporary

scholarship, specifically within the environmental humanities, that considers acts of writing across species lines as a speculative practice of ‘becoming animal’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Seen in this light, the satirical commentary of The Parrot might be read as more than a means of representing the concerns of the day through avian eyes. Rather, Haywood’s efforts, conceived as a more radical act of ‘figuration’ (Haraway, 2008), revealing much about both the perception and representation of human-animal relations, and their value to satirists, in mid-eighteenth-century print; and how the evocation of a ‘bird’s eye view’ worked to emphasise the situatedness and partiality of the satirist’s voice and concerns.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: In Press
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
School/Department: School of Humanities
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/6563

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