Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess are two of the most renown contemporary novels in 18th-century Britain. The two are similar in a sense that both novels invoke readers to reflect upon the masculine identity and its authority over women. However, the authors of the two novels, one male and the other female, establish and define masculine identity in very different contexts.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is about a white middle aged man from the 17th century stranded in a lonely island. It examines the issues of exploration, gender, race and independence from the main characters point of view. The role of women as represented within the context of the story is stereotypical. The lack of mention of women in the main plot reveals society’s attitude towards women at the time. Adventure, exploits and danger are clearly viewed as the domain of men leading the reader to conclude that the role of women at the time was the more traditional one of home making. In Crusoe’s words, his marriage was not “to my disadvantage or dissatisfaction" (Defoe, 298). Obviously to him a woman is only an object for the satisfaction of certain needs and is required only when it is expedient. Certainly, Defoe does not leave any doubt in the mind that women were viewed lowly in the society and their place at the time was that of attending to the whims of men. The novel does not attempt to highlight the influence of women thus succeeding in diminishing the importance of the role of women in the society. It represents a man as the ultimate being as brought out by Crusoe’s ability to survive loneliness, hardships and disease in a harsh wilderness. On the other hand, Crusoe’s list to the colonialists which mentions that beside other supplies, he had sent seven women (Defoe, 299), reveals that women are seen as insignificant to the point of being categorized together with other trade goods.
In her book Love in Excess, Eliza Haywood examines the role of women in the society in the early 18th century. The confrontation that existed between society’s modesty and issues of female sexuality is evident throughout the story. Even though the plot has many women characters, only the heroine survives the sinister and promiscuous maneuverings of D'Elmont, the male central character. Haywood’s female characters strive for independence in a fastidious society but in the end mostly find ruin. This novel is paradoxical in that the very independence that female characters sought in the end destroys them even though the novel seems to be promoting this theme of female liberation by characterizing virtue in women as a shortcoming. This novel seems to be an attempt to convince the male dominated society to accept that women can be free willed while at the same time highlighting the perils that come out of sexual lust for women. The presence of women in the plot does not do any justice to feminist ideas, the struggle by women to find equal acceptance in a masculine culture that mostly excluded women from the public sphere and the desire by women to be able to express their sexuality without being frowned upon by the same men who constantly yearn for this expression. In the end it seems that women are still the losers in their struggle for gender equality as men continue to live comfortably with a sort of freedom that to women is equivalent to destruction. But there seems to be hope for those who choose chastity and to remain within the society’s code for appropriate gender conduct as is seen from the heroine’s final achievement of marriage to her true love.
In defining masculinity, however, the two authors focus on very different aspects. Defoe focuses on the “internal” aspect, pertaining to Crusoe’s continuous attempt to better himself and building upon his settlements. The storyline of essentially follows Crusoe’s adventure on the deserted island, building a brand new “civilization” from scratch and declaring a superior governing-power on the island. On the other had, Haywood focuses on the “external” aspect of masculinity, detailing how the male protagonist, Count D’elmont exerts power, both physically and spiritually, over numerous women throughout the course of the novel. In addition, Defoe’s definition of masculine identity is directed towards a more physical facet, whereas Haywood focuses her novel on the emotional facet. More specifically, Defoe identifies masculinity in the form of physical achievements; for example, the settlements, harvesting, killing of barbarians. These are actions that Defoe considers to be a justified representations of the male identity, as they imply honorable qualities such as strength, wisdom, courage, and success. On the other hand, Haywood’s identification of the masculinity focuses on the capability of male figures to follow their passion and desires, free of any social constraint. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that Count D’elmont takes part in several romantic associations with various women throughout the novel without being punished for the unconventionality of this behavior. Free of any social constraint, the Count follows his desire and passion wherever they lead him. Note the fact that Defoe and Haywood approach the definition of masculine identity very different in that Defoe removes the entirety of women from the setting, whereas Haywood maintains the presence of women. This might be the direct result of the sex and background of the authors themselves.
There is also a concern for the plight of women in Haywood’s Love in Excess, an element that is certainly absent in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. As the story of Robinson Crusoe is told solely form the perspective of the male narrator, there is essentially no consideration for the feeling and thoughts of women throughout the novel.