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.