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.