Fantomina by Eliza Haywood | Analysis
Keywords: eliza haywood fantomina
The actions the young lady in Eliza Haywoods Fantomina in her desire to find a sexually and emotionally stimulating relationship demonstrates the difficulty of relationships between men and woman in the eighteen century. My lady such- a-one, as she is referred to by Haywood takes the roles of many different women to repeatedly seduce a man named Beauplasir. For the most part of her new identities, Fantomina’s creative ideas resemble her increased desire for Beauplasir and her initial curiosity becomes reflected upon her need to change her identity in order to recapture Beauplasir’s attention. Fantomina enjoys the fact that her disguises allow her do anything that she wishes, although, she seems to not think of the idea that a relationship between an upper class man and a low class woman is not very lasting and that her actions will eventually make herself the author of her own story.
Fantomina is a high quality mistress in the eighteenth century and because of her social position she has many restrictions placed upon her. She is not allowed to carry out a conversation of any type with a person of the opposite sex, nor is she allowed to pursue them. These behaviors were unacceptable in Fantomina’s society; therefore, women were supposed to have chaperones who were to protect them from men and also to make sure women behaved appropriately. Fantomina’s recognition of a familiar face down below the balcony where she is sitting at reawakens her interest for Beauplasir whom she she has before seen, but because of society she has been unable to pursue him. However, because men were different from women and had the freedom to do anything they wanted to, Beauplasir is allowed to leave the balcony and pursue women. Fantomina “is fascinated by the dalliance between ‘respectable’ gentlemen and loose women of the town.” “This excited a curiosity in her to know in what manner these creatures were addressed.” (Haywood, 2739- 2740). Although, Fantominas’s actions seem intentional her new identity originates all from curiosity in her pursuit to sustain Beauplasir’s interest.
Fed up with her restrictions, Fantomina decides to change her clothes to hide her real identity. It is here where Haywood reveals the restrictions on women of high social standing and the decisions of who belongs to what social position. In this case, clothing puts Fantomina in a lower social standing, even more, her new identity is that of a prostitute. Now as a prostitute, Fantomina is able to pursue Beauplasir without any restrictions as he is unable to recognize her new identity. In preparation to her encounter with Beauplasir, Fontamina puts on her new identity and while with Beauplasir she resists him at first because she is worried about her reputation. At this point, Fantomina is concerned about her moral actions, but her desires can do more now because that is what she has been looking for. This of course, confuses Beauplasir because that’s what prostitutes are expected to do and in the end a prostitute gets paid in return. Fantomina’s first disguise as a prostitute is all out of curiosity, but her imagination was so much talented that she had the power to change her appearance as she pleased. “As Fantomina changes character, she modifies her behaviors to align with his expectations.” ( Anderson 2005). The quote describes Fantomina’s admirable skills in manipulating the situation for her own benefit. As expected, Beauplasir grows tired of Fantomina and this is where she takes on her new identity to continue to follow him.
Now as Celia, a low class woman she becomes Beauplasir’s maid, a new identity that becomes a bit more important than the one before because of social status .As her seduction continues she feels that she has become attached to Beauplasir and she can’t let go of him she spends much of her time coming up with new ideas to seduce him. Her actions become a little emotional, but at the same time she intelligent as she is willing to go even further to maintain her sexual relationship with Beauplasir. It seems that what had started from curiosity has now turned into a passion that reflects her deepest emotions. “Her consistent ability to perform means that she repeatedly creates a space in which she may express her emotions.” (Anderson 2005). In a sense, Fantomina feels that she belongs to Beauplasir since he has taken her virginity and she attaches this to the fact that she now struggles to maintain her honor from being publicly exposed.
Fantomina’s now passion for Beauplasir leads her to go even further in her seduction attempt. This time, as the widow bloomer she becomes a little more vulnerable and portrays herself as weak. At one point, the widow fakes a sudden faint and allows Beauplasir to carry her off to bed. This proves that Fantomina is very calculating and her actions are being consistent with the character she assumes to be. In doing so, Fantomina believes her different roles are a source of power and freedom, but also her ability to succeed in her new role taking. Although, the role that she takes on for the most part is powerless because she gains nothing from it, she has quite effectively succeeded in making Beauplasir believe that he has been sleeping with different personas.
In her last disguise as Incognita, the significant thing they have in common is class and as the encounters continue, it seems that Fantomina’s actions are driven by pure lust. Incognita its Fantomina’s last attempt to seduce Beauplasir and it ultimately fails just as her other disguises. Despie Beuaplasir being desperately curious to know who she really is he never shows real interest in maintaining a relationship with Incognita because in the end he has nothing to gain from a woman who demands that her identity never be revealed. This culminates with Fantomina’s realization that Beauplasir’s real interest for her has been to satisfy his own sexual needs as he never remained faithful to her for the simple fact that he slept with the same person thinking he had been with four different women. Croskery describes that, “the heroine of Fantomina experiences one of her deepest moment of internalization at the precise moment when she becomes conscious of herself as an object of someone else’s desire.” ( Croskery 2007). Through Beauplasir, the reader realizes that women are nothing but trophies and toys that are to be played with.
Ultimately, Fantomina’s various identities accomplish nothing; they do serve to reveal how lustful Beauplasir is as well as Fantomina whether she acted on curiosity her real intentions remain ambiguous. Unfortunately, Fantomina’s creative disguises only satisfy her sexual desires, but never create a long- lasting relationship with Beauplasir which results in her own betrayal. Fantomina’s pregnancy becomes her true story in which she has lost everything including her reputation.
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