Fantomina’s Deception


          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.


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