Posts Tagged ‘Grove’

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.