In the 18th century women were allowed a meager sort of existence. Little was expected of them but to keep house, behave, and bear a suitable husband children. This ‘little’ amount is complicated through societies expectations though; behaving is defined very exactingly depending on the circle in which a woman moves, as does the definition of a suitable husband, and sons are the most valued sex by far. Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze is about an upper class girl who has most likely been restricted her entire life by social code, who comes to the city and is not able to resist indulging her fancies: “She was young, a stranger to the world, and consequently to the dangers of it; and having nobody in town, at that time, to whom she was obliged to be accountable for her actions, did in everything as her inclinations or humors rendered most agreeable to her: therefore thought it not in the least a fault to put in practice a little whim which came immediately into her head…” (2567). This passage expresses clearly that female members of this society do not willingly hold themselves to the strict standard that is set for them.
Fantomina has been placed in a situation that tests her in a way that she has not been open to before, because of her mother’s presence. She fails the test and throws away her virtue and social wellbeing to entertain a ‘whim.’ She could have gained the attention of Beauplaisir easily within the stiff constraints of her social model, as she is of upper class standings, but decides to toy with the mobility granted to her through disguise. Her folly ends in discovery and humiliation, which results in her banishment to a nunnery.
It is interesting that Haywood, as a woman, writes about Fantomina in this fashion. She does not empower her or go so far to make her a social iconoclast. She writes about her in the style that the public is familiar to viewing women in. Because Haywood herself was an industrious woman, owning a printing press and bookseller, its doubtful that she agreed with this weak estimation of her sex. While Fantomina was granted some power over Beauplaisir in the novel, ultimately she lost it all and was punished like a child. One many argue that children are not punished usually by being sent to convents, but it is similar in that Fantomina is not allowed to claim responsibility for her actions. In Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze Haywood knew what the public wanted to read, and mixed in elements of escapism for her female audience. She was able to accomplish this so generically that it still appealed to a large audience.