Archive for December, 2009

Fantomina and the London Social Hierarchy

December 14, 2009

Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze is a satire of class structure within the context of a woman pursuing a man, Beauplasir, in 18th century London. In Fantomina, the unnamed female protagonist is in a theater, sitting in the balcony, a prominent symbol of wealth and class. Because of the woman’s high social standing, many restrictions are placed upon her. She is restricted from having meaningful conversation with members of the opposite sex, nor is she allowed to actively pursue them. She suddenly notices a familiar face in the crowd below her under the balcony; She sees Beauplasir, a male in the same high social standing as she. Because Beauplasir is male, however, he is free to leave the balcony and pursue women below it.

Fed up with her restrictions, she changes her clothes so that she resembles a prostitute. It is here that Haywood is satirizing not only the restrictions on women of higher social standing, but also the arbitrary reasons for deciding who belongs in what class, which in this case is clothing. Now a prostitute, she pursues Beauplasir freely, as he is unable to recognize her as she has changed her social standing, thus changing her very identity, now “Fantomina.”

Fantomina falls in love with Beauplasir, and their relationship is sexual, as is with relationships dealing with prostitutes. In the same regard, Beauplasir grows tired of Fantomina and leaves her. Distraught, she follows him. Changing her clothes again, thereby changing her social standing and identity, she becomes “Celia,” Beauplasir’s new maid. Again, Beauplasir and Celia have a relationship, but much like the first relationship, Beauplasir grows tired of her and leaves.

She continues this charade using the disguises of “Mrs. Bloomer” and “Incognita.” Beauplasir is unable to recognize the woman in her disguises, furthering the satire that if social standing is changed, her identity is changed. The woman enjoys these relationships because she is able to exert some level of control over Beauplasir. When the woman was a member of her original upper-class standing, she would be unable to have any sort of control over a man, much less pursue a relationship with him.



December 14, 2009

The lengths the young lady in Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina” takes to find a sexually and emotionally stimulating relationship hyperbolically demonstrates the timeless difficulties of relationships between men and women. Fantomina’s interest in the conversations between prostitutes in the lower section of the theater and their male patrons leads her to imitate a woman of questionable morals. While in disguise she enjoys power over her relationship that she did not have as a “lady of distinguished birth” (2566). Although she talks and gives her favors freely, men would never marry her or commit publicly. As an upper-class lady, Fantomina is restricted by the social mores of her class to superficial conversations with men, but as a prostitute Fantomina surrenders the prospect of marriage and gains the freedom to converse freely and without restraint.

When Beauplaisir, an upper-class man, and the young lady usually converse in the “drawing-rooms” of society families, their talks lacked depth and hints of the desire each felt for the other (2567). The social rules of the day required Beauplaisir to respect the young lady’s virginity and reputation. The young lady certainly could not propose a liaison. Through these brief encounters the young lady “discovered something in him which had made her often think she should no be displeased, if the would abate some of his reserve” (2567). The little information given the reader about their relationship while the young lady acted in her natural station gives the idea that the young lady simply lusts after the man. Their relationship cannot be very substantial. Only marriage would allow the two to satisfy their sexual desires respectably. But, marriage between the two is unlikely because the upper classes generally had arranged marriages for wealth and power in the eighteenth century.

The easily deceived Beauplaisir observes “that she very much resembled that lady whom she really was; but the vast disparity there appeared between their characters prevented him from entertaining even the most distant thought that they could be the same” (2567). Therefore, the in the upper class world Beauplaisir and the young lady are only kept apart by the superficial rules. They find each other’s wit and physical appearance attractive. So, if one of them dropped down the social hierarchy they could act as they choose.

Unfortunately, for the young lady who has become enamored with Beauplaisir he tires with her. The relationship between a gentleman and a prostitute has a very short shelf life: “The rifled charms of Fantomina soon lost their poignancy, and grew tasteless and insipid” (2572). The charming wit of the young lady is apparently the charms of prostitute, and Beauplaisir has nothing to gain from a long-term relationship with a low class prostitute. So, the young lady endeavors to maintain Beauplaisir’s attention through a series of other disguises. Building her relationship on a series of intricately and carefully maintained lies, the young lady satisfies her sexual desires only. Instead of speaking her mind freely, the young lady now makes up stories to seduce Beauplaisir. Telling lies again restricts her.

The ridiculous chronicle of the young lady and her love Beauplaisir demonstrates the issues that make relationships between men and women difficult. There is usually some expectation about sex that affects the interactions between men and women. Being attracted to someone does not ensure a lasting relationship.


December 14, 2009

Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze, satirizes the archetypal depiction of man’s infidelity. The irony enters, however, in Haywood’s use of an aristocratic woman’s infidelity to highlight man’s infidelity.  

            In the novella, Beauplaisir is used, as his name suggests, to represent all the men who “regardless either of play or circle, [throw] away their time in such a manner” as pursuing prostitutes (2566). The aristocratic woman, who, throughout the work, remains as unnamed to the reader as her final alter-ego remains to Beauplaisir, does not represent womankind. Instead, the aristocratic woman, often referred to as Fantomina, represents the few women capable of countering man’s infidelity with wit and ingenuity.

            Fantomina ponders how some women let men destroy their lives through infidelity with “How do some women make their life a hell, burning in fruitless expectations, and dreaming out their days in hopes and fears, then wake at last to all the horror and despair?” (2577). Fantomina classifies herself above these women and notes how she has “outwitted even the most subtle of the deceiving kind, and while he thinks to fool me, is himself the only beguiled person” (2577).  Fantomina’s attitude towards outwitting men is one unique element of social commentary highlighted in Fantomina. For if even the skillful Fantomina, a woman who places herself on a pedestal above other women in regards to her deceptive nature, fails in deceiving man, then is any woman truly capable of  “beguiling” man?

            Adding to this unique element of success and failure is the means by which the two “players” attempt to win the “game.” Beauplaisir does nothing to avoid is deception while Fantomina uses all of her wit to guard her reputation. Eliza Haywood is perhaps pointing out how in 18th century London, even ignorant men are viewed by society as superior to women. In the end, Fantomina fails and is sent to a monastery while Beauplaisir is left to inevitably continue finding new mistresses to quiet his lustful appetite. Fantomina sinks to a level that most women would deem disgraceful but is still unable to conquer Beauplaisir at man’s own game: deceiving women.

            Existing with the archetypal image of the unfaithful man is the dichotomy of what society deems acceptable for men and women. Just as in Fantomina, there is a double standard regarding unfaithful men and unfaithful women today. Fantomina is sent to a different country to hide from the shame she has bestowed upon her family. Beauplaisir continues to live in the same city with no harmful effect on his reputation. Clearly, some of the satire present in 18th century London is still applicable to today’s society.

Sexual Conquest in Fantomina

December 14, 2009

In her novella Fantomina; or, Love in a maze, Eliza Haywood, “one of the most popular, prolific, and versatile authors of her time,” satirizes 18th century society through her fictional escapade that explores the social aspects of class mobility in regards to sexual conquests (Abrams 2566).

From the opening of the story, Fantomina, for lack of a more permanent name, clearly struggles with the confines that her high “quality” and “degree” impose (2567, 2573). Fantomina does not understand why the upper echelon’s gentlemen turn to the basest women in order to shed their superficial formalities and act with “freedom” (2567). Her observations at the playhouse force her to see, but not yet understand, the irony that belles cannot satisfy their peer’s most primal and intimate desires.

It’s not until Fantomina transforms into Incognita that she realizes the true nature of why Beauplaisir is so superficial and philandering: “The most violent passion, if it does not change its object, in time will wither” (2580). Beauplaisir, an exaggerated eighteenth century beau and another object of Haywood’s satire, is a prime teacher of this lesson because he falls victim to his sexual vices far more often than not. In essence, he teaches Fantomina that his pleasures, and perhaps the pleasures of most upper class men, arise from the challenge of getting a woman to acquiesce to his physical desires. Basically, the thrill is in the conquest, and Fantomina illustrates her understanding of this philosophy in a none too subtle way when she addresses her letter to “the All-conquering Beauplaisir” (2579).

Thus, as Fantomina finds out through experience, the actual woman does not matter to these hedonistic men; they only care about successfully completing their missions. In fact, what bothers Beauplaisir so much in his dealings with Incognita is that he would never be able to lay his conquest to rest and move on to the next victim without gaining knowledge of her identity. Interestingly, the identity of the woman does not matter until it is absent. Fantomina knows the power she has over Beauplaisir in obstructing his hunt. “I have him always raving, wild, impatient, longing, dying.—O that all neglected wives and fond abandoned nymphs would take this method!—Men would be caught in their own snare, and have no cause to scorn our easy, weeping, wailing sex!” she says (2580). Once Fantomina gains this valuable advantage “she would rather part with him for ever” than go back to being a helpless victim of seduction (2581).

By the end of the story Haywood successfully satisfies Fantomina’s initial curiosity, that of why the gentlemen pay more attention to the prostitutes than to the fine ladies. Essentially, the ever-present focus on reputation, emphasized by Fantomina’s meticulous secrecy, creates an environment in the upper portions of the social hierarchy in which women care too much about being dishonored to have sex in the flippant manner that the conquest philosophy calls for. The biggest irony in the story, and the main target of the satire, is that for all the problems it creates, the apparent honor and dignity maintained by the upper class is utterly deceitful and hypocritical.

Abrams, M. H.; Greenblatt, Stephen; Lipking, Lawrence; Et Al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Eighth Edition, Volume C, The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. Print.


December 14, 2009

In Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze, more than one element in the novella is being satirized.  Women and Men and their expectations in society, the contemporary view of sex are both examples but they are part of a smaller picture.  She is in fact writing about society in general and its expectations.  In the novella the main character, “A young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit and spirit…,” sees a man while she is at the theater, and falls in love with him.  She ends up going to great lengths to see him while trying to prevent being discovered.  The standards that are force upon the woman are one of the elements that is being satirized.  Because she is wealthy, she is not allowed to go to the lower part of the theater to see the man, so she decided to disguise herself as a prostitute.

Time and time again, the main character is almost discovered, yet she continues to see the man and deceive him.  “She hurried home to indulge contemplation on the frolic she had taken, designing nothing less on her first reflections than to keep the promise she had made him, and hugging herself with joy, that she had the good luck to come off undiscovered.”  The novella goes through different stages from start to finish.  In the first three-quarters, it seems as though the main focus of the story is feminism, and it would make sense in this era.  In the novella the man is tricked again and again and only finds out that he is being tricked because it is blatantly obvious.  Also the main character is forced to disguise herself just to see a man.  However, she ends up getting pregnant and is shamed, so it is hard to say exactly what the main idea of this work is.

Even though there are parts of the novella that are not congruent with the feminists theme it is still the main focus.  Haywood shows how women are subject to different standards than men in the opening paragraphs, and then continues to make this woman seem bullet proof at times.  But she does have to make the story believable, and that is why she ends the novella in that specific way.  The main theme is feminism, but she does not want to make it too over whelming during the entire novella. the main character has to fall at some time.  It would be possible to think that the fall of the main character is not at all feminists, but, as in all parts of this story, there are feminists ideas.  In this way, the fault of the pregnancy is not the woman’s, but in fact it is the man’s, he is the one who did this to her.

From start to finish there are feminist elements, although some are more pronounced than others.  Everything that the main character does is because she is forced to by the male dominated society, and that is what is being satirized throughout the novella.

Fantomina’s Power

December 14, 2009

During the 18th century, the rights of women were greatly limited. One way women’s rights were limited was socially. Women could not could socialize and be seen with people from different social classes. In Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze a young upper class lady breaks the social rules and constraints by disguising herself as a prostitute. Originally, she disguises herself as a prostitute just out of curiosity because it will allow her to socialize with lower classes. However, she meets a man by the name of Beauplaisir who does not recognize her even though they have met before. Her love for him only exists because of the power she has over him.

She eventually gives her name under her prostitute disguise as Fantomina. They begin to see each other more and more frequently until he feels that his love for her has disappeared and he decides to take a trip without her to Bath.  She could not resist not being in control of him. It gave her satisfaction, satisfaction that fueled her until he found out that she had been deceiving him all along. “She loved Beauplaisir; it was only he whose solicitations could give her pleasure; and had she seen the whole species despairing, dying for her sake, it might, perhaps, have been a satisfaction to her pride, but none to her more tender inclination. (2572)” She follows Beauplaisir to Bath because she cannot stand being in control of him. She disguises herself as a maid named Celia and works for the house that Beauplaisir is staying at for a month.

Over the course of his stay, they spend time a good amount of time together, but Beauplaisir does not realize that Celia and Fantomina are one in the same. When Beauplaisir leaves Bath, she disguises herself again but this time as a widow named Bloomer. She catches a ride with him in his carriage back to London and again he does not recognize her. Once in London, she disguises herself again as a woman named Incognita. Her power over Beauplaisir was so great that it blinded him from seeing that Fantomina, Celia, Widow Bloomer, and Incognita were all her.

Haywood’s Fantomina mocks the male sex in that a man could be blinded by “love” and the “power” of a woman. This idea is the opposite of how women were viewed during the 18th century. Women were viewed with fewer rights than men and not as educated as men. When Haywood wrote a novella that demonstrated that a women could fool a man by being four different people, she mocked the intelligence of the male sex.

Fantomina’s Deception

December 14, 2009

          Eliza Haywood was first recognized as an actress in 1714 in Dublin. She moved to London to pursue a career as a professional writer. Haywood’s Fantomina satirizes the secret lives of upper class society. The role of women within these social classes influenced the view men had towards women in society. Fantomina reveals the scheme of a woman who attempts to live four lives only to fall in love with one man. “…She was so admirably skilled in the art of feigning that she had the power of putting on almost what face she pleased, and knew so exactly how to form her behavior to the character she represented…” (2575-2576). The main character initially succeeds with her plan but ultimately falls as a result of her lifestyle.

            Fantomina begins with a woman, at the time named Fantomina, who goes to the theatre to attract men. Since she is apart of the upper class, Fantomina has to sit up on the balcony. Because they have more freedom within the classes, men go back and forth between the balcony and the main floor. Fantomina disguises herself as a prostitute to attract the men on the lower level, which is where all of the prostitutes are. A man named Beauplasir (fine pleasure) notices Fantomina and addresses her as if she is a prostitute. Beauplasir offers to go back to his house, but Fantomina telss him that she does not want to be treated like the other women. After a well prepared meal at Fantomina’s house, Beauplasir takes physical authority over Fantomina and they have sex, even though Fantomina tells him that she is a virgin. This action shows that men will do whatever they have to just to satisfy themselves, often disregarding what a woman thinks. Fantomina plays her role perfectly but cannot resist the dominance of Beauplasir which demonstrates women’s social status in society.  

            Throughout the novella, the main character disguises herself as numerous women, attempting to represent multiple social classes. These women, including Fantomina, Celia, the widow, and Incognita, each have a relationship with Beauplasir to show man’s flaws. Eventually the main character’s plan gets out of hand and her mother puts and end to the madness. The discovery of the main character’s pregnancy forces the truth to be told to Beauplasir, who is shocked because he believes he is the clever one. As a result of her actions, the main character is sent to a monastery in France. Even though her life is virtually ruined, the main character succeeds in pointing out the flaws of man’s social mindset. Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina represents an easy read for middle class citizens and therefore the novella excels above other works from the time period.

Who is the Symbol of Constancy?

December 14, 2009

      Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or Love in a Maze is a simple, yet complicated tale of a romantic relationship. Its simplicity lies in its common theme of a relationship that has lost its spark, yet it is complex because of the many identities involved. This is just one part of the paradox demonstrated in Haywood’s work. The heart of Fantomina’s irony exists in the narrator’s portrayal of this “distinguished” lady compared to “Beauplaisir.” This element begins with this quote, “…with her sex’s modesty, she had not also thrown off another virtue equally valuable, though generally unfortunate, constancy” (2572). Here the narrator states that the woman has one virtue left, her “constancy” to only have sexual relations with one man. Even though the narrator states that the woman is “constant,” her actions throughout the work demonstrate inconsistency in every aspect of her.

     In terms of character the woman is not constant; she changes her identity multiple times, her motives change from beginning to end, and her social class falls to the bottom. The work opens with the woman of prominent birth in the boxes looking down on the actions of the lower class women interacting with all classes of men. Out of curiosity she pretends to be one of the lower class women, calling herself Fantomina, and mingles in the crowd hoping to understand what the people say to each other. She meets and falls in love with Beauplaisir, who leaves her when their sex is no longer interesting. In order to still be around him and be loved by him, the woman disguises herself as a country maid, Celia, no longer out of curiosity but out of love. Her plan is successful until Beauplaisir once again get bored. Her next plan is to pretend to be Widow Bloomer. She meets up with him again for love and, now, a hint of desire to be sexually gratified seeing as she accepts his attempts at her within one carriage ride. A third time Beauplaisir gets bored, so the woman comes up with another plan. She meets up with Beauplaisir anonymously and does not show her face. She refuses all night and then sleeps with him that night. He never sees her face, so there is not any face to face interaction that would indicate love. Her motives are entirely sexual. She has changed character four times, and her motives have drastically changed. In the process she gets pregnant and is forced to reveal her scheme. As punishment, this lady of distinguished birth is sent to reside at a monastery.

      In Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or Love in a Maze the theme of constancy is challenged with each identity the woman creates. She becomes a lower-class tease, a country maid, a widow, and a mysterious sexual deviant. The woman falls from prominence in the theatre boxes to the base of the social hierarchy at a convent. Her motives range from girlish curiosity to animalistic desire. Fantomina’s paradox is how this woman is cited as constant, yet she is truly the most mutable character in the work. The narrator defined constancy, in the previous quote, in terms of sexual partners; therefore, Beauplaisir is the only “constant” character because he ends up loving the same woman the whole time.

The downfalls of power

December 13, 2009

Eliza Haywood’s main point is that the blame has always fallen on women throughout time for any of the negative outcomes of sexual relations in Fantomina.  Throughout time women have become free to a certain degree, but the blame and physical burden of a sexual relationship will never change for women whether they be of great wealth or not.  This equality is shown with the four different characters that Fantomina disguises in such as a low class prostitute, a country girl employed as a maid “Celia”, a widow “Mrs. Bloomer”, and as an unknown women “Incognita” who wore a mask. 

Each of the times that Fantomina dressed in a new disguise to follow the Beauplaisir for her desires, she grows fond of him even knowing about his unfaithful nature, she ends up betrayed herself.  Her punishment is not only the pregnancy, but also is sent to a monastery.                               

Even though Fantomina tricks Beauplaisir by the disguises into thinking that he has had several affairs with women, he is still free to continue with his “conquests” with women and forget about the past.  Her distress and anguish is expressed when Fantomina says, “But this confinement was not the greatest part of the trouble of this now afflicted lady: She found the consequences of her amorous follies would be, without almost a miracle, impossible to be concealed (2582 Haywood).”  This is making a point about how women are still oppressed because they have to bear the burden of pregnancy in or out of wedlock.  Another point that Haywood tries to get across is that women will disguise themselves maybe not as different characters like Fantomina did, but they will mask or cover up their personality for a man that they desire even if the he is not interested.  It is ironic that Fantomina thinks that she has effectively outwitted Beauplaisir each time she is dressed differently: “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 (2577)”, but in reality she is the one that is tricked and punished at the end of the story for her foolish ways and dreams of an unattainable man.

Price, Christine. “Double Standards in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina.” Associated Content (2006): 1. Web. 13 Dec 2009. <>

The Rise and Fall of Power in Fantomina

December 13, 2009

Throughout Haywood’s Fantomina, the rise and fall of a young woman’s power is satirized. Her ability to trick Beauplaisir four times throughout the story exemplifies her power over him. She was able to put on any disguise and Beauplaisir would deem himself her “everlasting slave” (2580). Her power over Beauplaisir developed throughout the story; however, it came crashing down as quickly as it developed.

The young woman in the story initially disguised herself as a prostitute in order to satisfy her innocent curiosity. She was never able to conduct herself in this manner due to her upper class status; thus, she was in high demand when she ventured to the floor of the playhouse. Although her intentions were not to sell her favors, when she saw Beauplaisir, she could not resist. She knew Beauplaisir before this act; however, this time, he spoke to her with a different freedom. This interaction began her display of power over Beauplaisir. Beauplaisir ultimately had sex with Fantomina and although it may not have been consensual, she still loved him. Once Beauplaisir fulfilled his desires, he became tired of Fantomina and as a result she decided to create another disguise.

Her disguise as Celia, a young country girl, exemplifies, once again, her power over Beauplaisir. First, he didn’t recognize her as the sophisticated upper class woman when he encountered Fantomina. Then, he couldn’t recognize her as Fantomina when she disguised herself as Celia. After he got tired of Celia, her next disguise was the Widow Bloomer. She was able to make Beauplaisir love her even though she just lost her husband and she was devastated. Not only did she trick Beauplaisir again, but she made him love her in a situation that most men would not.

Her final disguise was her most impressive display of power. Under the name Incognita, she had a letter delivered to Beauplaisir telling him that she loved him but would not reveal her face. He said that he would love to meet her. At this point, she was completely aware of her control over Beauplaisir. This is shown when it is stated that “she could not forbear laughing heartily to think of the tricks she had played him, and applauding her own strength of genius and force of resolution, which by such unthought-of ways could triumph over her lover’s inconstancy” (2580). She was aware of how ridiculous he was to not realize that she was the same person. Her power and control over him didn’t last forever though.

Although she was able to control Beauplaisir with her many disguises, she lost her power when suddenly the four women Beauplaisir was seeing, became pregnant. There was no way to hide this obvious similarity amongst Fantomina, Celia, the Widow Bloomer, and Incognita. Her power came crashing down and she was ultimately sent off to a monastery in France. This abrupt loss of power is Haywood’s object of satire. She was able to get whatever she wanted until one thing went wrong and her power unraveled.

Throughout Fantomina, Haywood satirizes the woman’s rise and fall of power. She is able to completely control Beauplaisir without him questioning any of her disguises. Her power is lost, however, when she becomes pregnant and her disguises are foiled. Her power developed throughout the story; however, her power was lost even quicker than it was gained.