Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze (1724) Written by Eliza Haywood
" A Young Lady of distinguished Birth, Beauty, Wit, and Spirit, happened to be in a Box one Night at the Playhouse; where, though there were a great Number of celebrated Toasts, she perceived several Gentlemen extremely pleased themselves with entertaining a Woman who sat in a Corner of the pit... ...This excited a Curiousity in her to know in what Manner these Creatures were addressed..." (Haywood 713)
And The Trouble Begins!!!
Summary of Fantomina Fantomina is a short piece of fiction detailing the events of an unnamed young woman’s seduction of the gentleman Beauplaisir. This young woman’s curiosity was awakened one evening at the playhouse, when she noticed the attention that a prostitute was receiving from the men surrounding her. The young lady’s curiosity grew as she wondered “in what Manner these Creatures were address’d” (Haywood 713). In order to satisfy her curiosity, she disguised herself as a prostitute and acted the part one evening at the playhouse. She attracted the attention of Beauplaisir, and “they were infinitely charm’d with each other” (Haywood 714). The following night after the play, and after taking her disguise too far to retreat, Beauplaisir ignored the young lady’s protest and raped her. After this act, Beauplaisir realized that the she was not actually a prostitute because of her lamenting her lost honor, and he desired her to tell him who she really was. Keeping her true identity a secret, she told him her name was Fantomina. Beauplaisir passionately declared his affection for Fantomina and they continued their secret relationship together, happily ever after or that is until he “…varied not so much from his sex as to be able to prolong Desire, to any great Length after Possession…” (Haywood 718). Beauplaisir’s passion for Fantomina disappears and Fantomina recognizes the weakening of his affections, but she “remembering the Height of Transport she enjoyed when the agreeable Beauplaisir kneeled at her Feet, imploring her first Favours, she longed to prove the same again” (Haywood 718). And Fantomina does gain Beauplaisir’s affections again… and again… and again. She again disguises herself, first as the chambermaid Celia, then as the mourning Widow Bloomer, and finally as the mysterious Fair Incognita. While Fantomina is congratulating herself on her continued conquest, she is interrupted in her schemes by the arrival of her mother and her actions are then
constrained. At this same time, “She found the consequences of her amorous Follies would be, without almost a Miracle, impossible to be concealed: - She was with child…” (Haywood 728). Even after this discovery, she disguises herself until her labor pains begin, at which point her mother and Beauplaisir discover her schemes and she is then sent to a monastery as her punishment.
Women in the 18th Century Women Suppression in the 18th Century: 18th century women were living in a time of great female suppression that demanded limited, frivolous education for females and discouraged female sexuality. Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders accurately portrays women's education as learning accomplishments such as music, reading, writing, French, and dancing (Defoe 54). Mary Wollstonecraft is recognized as one of the first feminist. She wrote a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which spoke against this frivolous education: "That the instruction which women have hitherto received has only tended, with the constitution of civil society, to render them insignificant objects of desire--mere propagators of fools!--if it can be proved that in aiming to accomplish them, without cultivating their understandings, they are taken out of their spheres of duties, and made ridiculous and useless when the short-lived bloom of beauty is over..." (Wollstonecraft 173).
18th Century Women also faced a sexual double standard: 18th century women were expected to be virtuous or sexually chaste, although the men of this period were not held to this expectation: "...the conduct expected of women as virgins, wives, and widows rested on the assumption that sexual desire was proper to the male and unbecoming to the female" (Brophy 27). "While a wife must be above reproach, she must tolerate, even expect, a much lower order of conduct from her husband, both in sexual promiscuity and in other masculine prerogatives such as drunkenness" (Brophy 11). If within a marriage a woman realized that her husband was cheating on her, during this time period a woman was to treat her husband with patience and gentleness, but if this same situation was reversed, death was a fit punishment for the woman (Brophy 11).
Pregnancy and a Convent: Conformity or a Necessary Precaution Critics have argued that the punishment of Fantomina at the end of Haywood’s novella conformed this book to the Eighteenth-Century gender bias that male promiscuity is acceptable but in females it must be punished: “… ‘in the melancholy reiteration of female defeat at the hands of the fictionalizing male libertine’, Fantomina provides only a temporary respite from the ultimate persecution necessarily awaiting the seduced maiden” (Croskery 25). This defeatist and anti-feminist view of Fantomina can be contradicted in the notion that in punishing the heroine, Haywood employs a literary technique that “While the disapproving rhetoric that surrounds oppositional, subversive, or inflammatory statements ostensibly disarms them, those statements are themselves nevertheless conveyed verbatim to the reader who is the ultimate arbiter and who absorbs them in any case” (Behrendt 30). In other words, Haywood places the radical idea of an intelligent, sexually aware female who is in control of her own situation into the psyches of her readers which could not be easily erased from their minds. However,
Haywood places the proper moral ideals at the end of the novel in order to protect herself as an author within her male dominated society.
Fantomina displays masculine characteristics of intelligence and reason Haywood embodies Fantomina with the masculine characteristics of intelligence and reason throughout her entire seductive scheme. This is first seen at the beginning of Haywood’s narrative when Fantomina’s curiosity is awakened and she desires to know how prostitutes are approached and treated. Fantomina does not just ignore the questions she has raised; she goes after the answer and she comes up with a plan to satisfy her curiosity. Fantomina’s plan of disguising herself shows her intelligence by her recognition that there could be possible consequences if her true identity was to be discovered. The personas of Fantomina, Celia, Widow Bloomer, and Incognita are a creative demonstration of the young woman’s cleverness. For each character, she had to create a different look and personality; she performed their respective roles so well that Beauplaisir, who was intimately acquainted with her person, was unable to recognize that he was the lover of four personas of one woman: “…she was so admirably skill’d in the Art of feigning, that she had the Power of putting on almost what Face she pleas’d, and knew so exactly how to form her Behaviour to the Character she represented, that all the Comedians at both Playhouses are infinitely short of her performances…” (Haywood 722). Fantomina also has the reason and foresight to procure separate lodgings for each character. The purpose of having this lodging was to keep her true identity a secret so that her reputation remained in tact and to keep Beauplaisir from guessing her true identity. Possibly the most important proof of Fantomina’s intelligence was her recognition that Beauplaisir’s passion for her different personas could grow cold: “And if he should be false, grow satiated, like other Men, I shall but, at the worst, have the private Vexation of Knowing I have lost him; the Intreague being a Secret, my Disgrace will be so too: I shall hear no Whispers as I pass, -She is Forsaken…” (Haywood 718). This of course becomes the case, multiple times. After her initial curiosity, Fantomina discovers that she enjoys the sexual act and the power she feels in her seduction of Beauplaisir, which gives her the boldness to continue in her ruse: “Her Design was once more to engage him, to hear him sigh, to see him languish, to feel the strenuous Pressures of his eager Arms, to be compelled, to be sweetly forc’d to what she wished with equal Ardour, was what she wanted, and what she had form’d a Stratagem to obtain, in which she promis’d herself Success” (Haywood 719). Like the rakes presented in literature who seduce women to gratify their own lustful desires, Fantomina began to take on this ideology. Beauplaisir’s constant unfaithfulness causes Fantomina to lose any loving feelings she would have had for him, but her own passions have been stirred so she manipulates their relationship to gratify her own desires: “…and while the Knowledge of his Inconstancy and Levity of Nature kept her from having that real Tenderness for him she would else have had, she found the Means of gratifying the Inclination she had for his agreeable Person, in as full a Manner as she could wish” (Haywood 723). Like her rake counterparts, Fantomina can be seen as playing on her lover’s weaknesses. The pleasure Fantomina derives from her sexual encounters while in disguise, presents a role reversal where “the male lover is the one who is deceived and reduced to slavery before his love , while the woman gratifies her own needs…” (Ballaster “Preparations to Love” 60). Fantomina smartly chooses disguises that will sexually entice Beauplaisir: Fantomina is a prostitute, Celia is a chambermaid for his room, Widow Bloomer is in need of comforting, and The Fair Incognita represents a new mysterious conquest. Fantomina goes through great lengths just to satisfy her own sexual desires.
By bestowing masculine characteristics to Fantomina, Haywood is able to empower her female character. In a time when women are treated like infidels, Fantomina recognizes she has outsmarted Beauplaisir and congratulates herself on her victory over him: “But I have outwitted even the most Subtle of the deceiving Kind, and while he thinks to fool me, is himself the only beguiled Person” (Haywood 723).
The Significance of Fantomina's Character In Fantomina, Haywood sends the message that women are equal in intelligence to men and like men they can control sexual relationships for personal pleasure. The character of Fantomina demonstrates Haywood’s clear cut rebellion against the cultural norms of that day. That culture supported the idea of men’s domination and control over women. Men controlled every aspect of women’s lives, from limiting their educational opportunities, to controlling female sexual activities for their advantage. The radical nature of Eliza Haywood’s thoughts and writings within this novella cannot be fully understood or appreciated from the perspective of the Twenty-first Century. However, taken within the cultural context of the Eighteenth-Century, her words were shocking and controversial, a real force for change. Haywood was a visionary and her writings helped to redefine the portrayal of women in the literature of her time.