Custom Reconciliation in Fantomina
‘The heroes in the ancient romances have nothing in them that is natural; all is unlimited in their character’. Haywood’s amatory fiction withdraws from traditional romances in introducing human limitation, and accepting vice and virtue as one. Custom, as an established and widely accepted system, is therefore not necessarily the right system; Haywood proclaims from the title page it is a history of ‘two Persons of Condition’, suggesting immediately a break in tradition from people who are assumingly, without ‘Condition. Ancient romances exhibit love as either faultless when one has it, or tragic when one loses it. Haywood instead introduces love as flawed, alienating the romance genre from custom, but reconciling it instead with a new reality of unpredictable human emotion. Tradition can thus be outdated, and have a negative effect in dragging ‘everything’ back to the familiar but obsolete. Even in fiction, one must alienate us from custom to encourage a new order in society.
It is unavoidable that men and women are to be categorised separately. Traditional gender norms that separate the two sexes –occupation, strength and physical appearance –are irrelevant when considering emotion, specifically love. Instead, Haywood characterises Beauplaisir and Fantomina through constancy and inconstancy in love to produce views of gender that work against the traditional image. Through this constancy in love, Fantomina as a female lover refuses to be stereotyped as the ‘hysterical woman’ who considers ‘Complaints, Tears, Swooning’ and ‘Extravagancies’ (Haywood, p. 233) to manipulate the other gender. Even if her actions are arguably extreme, she remains emotionally stable and outwardly calm in her façade; hysteria was seen as being shown through physical defects, of which Fantomina displays none. Whilst Fantomina’s deception rejects traditional expectations gender through retaining control of Beauplaisir, she only ultimately has temporary domination of him during the initial courtship. This control is almost completely surrendered when the social aspect of courting ends, and the physical reduces her performative layer to carnal desire. He: held to his burning Bosom her half-yielding, half-reluctant Body, nor suffered her to get loose, till he had ravaged all and glutted each rapacious Sense’ (Haywood, p.235). Traditional gender norms are restored through physical activity. The human body is reduced to a fundamental animal magnetism, stripping away all social behaviours that arguably cloud one’s true nature. Fantomina fights between the control she wields in the courtship, and the submission to pleasure in the erotic, with natural impulses ‘half-yielding’ and ‘half-reluctant’, as if conscious and unconscious desires remain in opposition. Yet this reluctance also defies custom. Novels such as Richardson’s Pamela refuse sexual encounter through an upholding of virtue, typically expected of women. Haywood’s protagonist is torn between pursuing a carnal satisfaction and retaining control, both patriarchal traits. Even in inverting what is expected of her gender, her submission, even if it is willing to secure pleasure, can still be read as a submission. A slave-like metaphor is inferred in preventing the woman from breaking ‘loose’ from his grasp, suggesting not only his physical hold on Fantomina, but the shackles of tradition that prevent female satisfaction. Here, custom unites women with an expected patriarchal dominance, far from a reconciliation as they are unwelcome. Female gender norms are challenged, whilst male are not, presenting a mockery of custom that doesn’t change, but should. Beauplaisir is representative of all male lovers; his name literally meaning ‘fair pleasure’ dictates his identity as interchangeable. It remains important not that Beauplaisir ‘ravaged’ or ‘glutted’ the senses, but that he obtains the right to do so. Fantomina, despite stepping outside her class boundaries to obtain what she wants, questions neither his dominance nor his imminent boredom, accepting quickly that ‘Time will wither’ the ‘most violent Passion’ (Haywood, p. 243). Haywood therefore associates the inconstancy of hysterical women with the male, and a calm business-like manner with the female. Yet the women is seemingly accused of being submissive despite embodying male attributes, and the established patriarchy deems almost all male activity as acceptable. Gender is inverted, but custom reconciles this inversion back to normality through perception.
Custom is, by definition, a public practise that is seen acceptable in society, and more specifically a certain class. To defy custom is to differ from what is widely accepted and is consequently considered alien and wrong. The appearance of custom thus reconciles Fantomina to a respectability that allows her private, sexual pursuit without losing honour or reputation. Public appearance is only important because Fantomina’s origins, assumed to be aristocracy; her licentious behaviour would be more widely accepted in the lower class, where prostitutes would reside. Customary public ‘face’ is not only specific to time and location, but social class. Fantomina can only defy the traditional behaviour of her social sphere, assumed to be aristocracy, through the masquerade. Social class is, within this novel, constructed fundamentally on who you are, not how you act. Only partial descent to a lower social class is actually achieved, as the masquerade changes the top ‘performing’ layer of identity but not the core of the being. The initial masquerade is emphasised through the theatrical setting: ‘She had no sooner designed this Frolic than she put it in Execution’ (Haywood, p.227). Fantomina’s actions are constantly named as a ‘frolic’, ‘game’ and ‘play’ (Haywood, p.229), presenting a juxtaposition between the genuine feelings she exhibits for Beauplaisir, and the artificial nature of the front she presents. Perhaps the only way for society to be seen as even partially matriarchal is through a ‘design’ of the imagination: a society governed by patriarchy would never produce this role for a woman from the foundations set by men. It must be imagined by a woman, but men’s minds are limited by power. The masquerade in execution is also a necessity. Whilst men could begin to cross social boundaries, such as those who descend to the ‘Pit’ but remain upper class (Haywood, p.227), women were restricted to polite areas, such as the stalls the protagonist is first encountered in. Pretence is therefore the only way for Fantomina to continue her escapades without the novel descending to a tale of social damnation. Furthermore, this ‘execution’ seems extremely clinical; each identity Fantomina inhabits is specific and well-thought. It remains almost as if she delivers each performance with the expectation of it coming abruptly to a close, only to execute the next. She perhaps appears as a well-versed actress through social expectations of male desire, and matches her short-lived performances with inevitable male boredom. Reality is mimicked by a masquerade, it is an imitation of actual life. Yet even in its lack of originality, the performance reveals truth about reality. In assuming four different identities –Fantomina, Celia, the Widow and Incognita –the protagonist reveals Beauplaisir as a rake, information only achievable through the masquerade. Even though the masquerade is not true, it almost becomes reality for Fantomina. She refuses to reveal her real name, even to the reader, and therefore remains constantly in disguise. She performs to an unknowing audience, never leaving her name on the credits.
Reality cannot be considered a single concept, it must also be considered as specifically based on an individual’s perception. Reality as a generalised notion is universal and based upon social expectation and long-held customs. A different reality is specific to the person, based on how they perceive the world, with expectation originating only from their internal moral compass. Therefore, whilst custom in a generalised reality is an idea ‘widely accepted’, this can alter depending on what each person accepts. Ideologically, Fantomina can continue her ‘whimsical adventures’ for as long as she desires, as they belong to her imagination. Only when she attempts to include another person in her version of reality, specifically a stock character that will act according to basic expectation, is she dragged back to a universal reality where one must accept responsibility of consequence. This occurs through childbirth, yet not the pregnancy itself. As long as the change in her body is stationary and able to disguise, the game can continue despite the physical deformity. It becomes biologically necessary for the protagonist to reconcile with reality, satirising the achievement as this ‘whimsical adventure’; for a woman to act outside her class will always be a short-lived fantasy as nature prevents them from ever fully assuming a different identity. Throughout the ‘Secret History’, Fantomina rejects this stereotype of a hysterical woman through supressing her emotions. She is then presented with the physical signs of hysteria, as the pregnancy reveals her publicly as a vessel of desire: she could not conceal the sudden Rack which all at once invaded her; or had her Tongue been mute, her wildly rolling Eyes, the Distortion of her Features […] she laboured under some terrible Shock of Nature” (Haywood, p.246). Nature is here presented as the adversary. In eighteenth century belief, the womb was seen as a natural deficiency as the most potent difference to men. In Fantomina’s imaginative reality, she appears to almost lack this reproductive organ. This is emphasised through the selected narration, where the reader learns ‘all at once’ of the situation also, as if Fantomina is only shocked back to reality through the pain of childbirth. Even in childbirth, it can be argued that she still continues to reject nature, as the vision ‘invaded her’; only with physical force will Fantomina accept reality. Samuel Johnson commented that romance should “imitate nature; but is necessary to distinguish those part of nature […] which are most proper for imitation”. If Haywood’s novella was considered as negatively influential on its audience, a reconciliation to a female stereotype and traditional punishment allows the ‘improper’ parts to act as a moral ‘[lecture] of conduct’. Yet whilst Fantomina should be reconciled to reality through being sent to the French monastery, she perhaps isn’t as she shows little remorse. The only people who must be reconciled back to a general reality are the readers, brought to an abrupt ‘shock’ with ‘finis’.
Tradition is so because it is repeated, and therefore fixed within society. Perhaps Haywood actively refuses to ‘reconcile’ Fantomina with any existing traditions due to her lack of satisfaction. ‘Reconcile’ is, by definition, to exist in a harmonious relationship. The customs exhibited in Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze all originate from a patriarchal foundation, assuming a naturally negative relationship to the submissive female. Lack of reconciliation and a refusal to align oneself with these gender expectations is possibly the only way to solicit change. Custom may reconcile us to a familiarity, but not to a future where patriarchal oppression is lessened.
Bibliography Ballaster, R., Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1992)
Haywood, E., Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze, (London, Black-Swan)
Johnson, S., The Rambler, 4 (1750)
Manley, D., ‘Introduction’ in The Secret History of Queen Zarah and the Zarazians
A Sensual Seduction: The Value of Sight in Haywood’s Fantomina
Two primary tropes guide Fantomina’s foray into sex and love with Beauplaisir: economic value and sight. Both of these tropes typically signify a text dominated by the masculine, treating women as commodities to be objectified and therefore controlled by a male gaze. For most of the novel, however, Haywood reverses typical gender dynamics by granting Fantomina a deceitful foresight that interrupts Beauplaisir’s gaze, replacing his sight with less valuable sensual experiences. As Fantomina changes her identity, she also changes the way Beauplaisir perceives and interprets her, and Haywood’s language reflects this shift—Beauplaisir tastes Celia but hears the Widow Bloomer, unaware that these experiences compromise the power of his gaze. In the final shapeshifting episode, when Fantomina becomes Incognita, the totalizing blindness with which she forces Beauplaisir to perceive her alerts him to his own blindness. This scene marks a fundamental change in the power dynamics of the text. After Beauplaisir leaves, Fantomina’s pregnancy—a physical condition specific to women—overshadows her ability to deceive those around her. By transforming herself to create a new sensory experience for Beauplaisir, Fantomina uses metaphorical sensual capital to confuse Beauplaisir’s literal and sexual capital. Haywood writes, “it must be confessed, indeed, that [Fantomina] preserved an Economy in the management of this Intrigue beyond what almost any Woman but herself ever did” (233). Connecting the two tropes, Fantomina’s sensual identity and its accompanying intrigue is capital to be managed. Because she manages this identity through the manipulation of Beauplaisir’s male gaze, the narrative situates the two characters as trading equally valuable commodities. Upon meeting one another, Beauplaisir “was transported to find so much Beauty and Wit in a woman,” while Fantomina “found a great deal of Pleasure in conversing with him in this free and unrestrained Manner” (228). Notably, “they passed their Time all the Play with an equal Satisfaction” (228). The “equal” satisfaction of their subsequent sexual relationship is ambiguous, but after this episode, but the dynamics of desire are clear: Fantomina wishes to continue the sexual relationship, while Beauplaisir’s passion has cooled. After her initial encounter with Beauplaisir, Fantomina recognizes that merely changing her appearance will not be adequate. Her transformation into Celia takes place on multiple sensual planes, the first of which serves to confuse Beauplaisir’s hearing: “[A]ll the rest of her Accoutrements were answerable to these and joined with a broad Country Dialect, a rude unpolished Air, which she, having been bred in these Parts, knew very well how to imitate” (234). Though sight is the most powerful trope in the narrative, Haywood presents Beauplaisir’s sight as easily compromised by other sensual experiences such as the sound of Fantomina’s voice. When Beauplaisir first meets Celia, “He was fired with the first Sight of her; and tho’ he did not presently take any farther Notice of her than giving her two or three hearty Kisses, yet she, who now understood that language but too well, easily saw they were the Prelude to more substantial joys” (235). In this first encounter, sight is not enough to immediately command all of Beauplaisir’s attention. Fortunately, Fantomina “hears” these kisses and translates them into Beauplaisir’s language. When he returns, he loses “the Power of containing himself” after gazing on her “blushing Beauties” (235). Instead of visually describing their encounter, however, Haywood uses gustatory language: “[He] swore he must enjoy her, though Death were to be the Consequence, devoured her Lips, her Breasts with greedy Kisses, held to his burning Bosom her half-yielding, half-reluctant Body…till he had ravaged all and glutted each rapacious Sense with the Sweet Beauties of the pretty Celia” (235). The way Beauplaisir perceives Celia here is as food, a more tactile commodity than her sexuality. He uses “each rapacious Sense” to experience her body, and Haywood’s word choice implies that afterward, Celia could be little more than bones. Though she successfully offered a sensual alternative to a sexual economy of inequality, Beauplaisir soon uses up these resources.Predictably, Beauplaisir leaves Bath without Celia after his sensual feast, provoking the narrative’s third episode: Fantomina in disguise as the Widow Bloomer. When she meets Beauplaisir on the road, she seduces him using her speech, a distinctly auditory maneuver. Relying on his appearance to ask for his assistance, the Widow Bloomer says that Beauplaisir has “the Appearance of a Gentleman” (236). She then baits him with a story, insisting that he “cannot, when you hear my Story, refuse that Assistance which is in your Power to give an unhappy Woman, who without it, may be rendered the most miserable of all created Beings” (236). Furthermore, the reason Beauplaisir concludes that the Widow Bloomer will be sexually responsive is her description of her previous marriage: “From that she passed to a Description of the Happiness of mutual Affection; —the unspeakable Ecstasy of those who meet with equal Ardency; and represented it in Colours so lively, and disclosed by the Gestures with which her Words were accompanied, and the Accent of her Voice so true a Feeling of what she said” (237). By distracting Beauplaisir with his own visual appearance, the Widow Bloomer supersedes his masculine power through her own auditory power. Ever perceptive, Fantomina recognizes her waning advantage as the Widow Bloomer. Prompted by this realization, she undertakes her final deceit, Incognita. Incognita writes to Beauplaisir first, an act that separates him from her sensually. Though he is drawn by her mysterious nature, she takes no precaution to distract him from realizing that his masculine gaze is compromised. In this episode, Incognita’s blinding disguise is totalizing—both literally and metaphorically. In refusing to expose her face and identity, Incognita strips Beauplaisir of the power that accompanies knowing and naming. Additionally, Incognita literally blinds him the morning after their escapade, leaving him “in the same Darkness as before” even though he perceives “the Noises in the Street” that convince him “it was Night no where but with him” (245). After she quickly leaves the chamber, the attendants “pluck down the Implements which had screened him from the Knowledge of that which he so much desired to find out,” alerting him to the intentionality of her manipulation. Remarkably, the responsibility of power and knowledge placed upon Fantomina also change the economic dynamics of the narrative: “[H]e went out of the House determined to never re-enter it, till she should pay the Price of his Company with the Discovery of her Face and Circumstances” (245). By shifting the economic burden to Fantomina while simultaneously negating her sensual advantage, Haywood presents the consequences to Fantomina’s follies, thereby altering the tone of the narrative. Ultimately, Haywood complicates her own reversal of sensual dynamics through reproduction; Fantomina’s mother interrupts her deceit, and Fantomina’s own motherhood confirms this interruption. First, she foreshadows Fantomina’s fall and then signifies it. She also uses the trope of sight to foreshadow Fantomina’s eventual downfall: “She had Discernment to foresee and avoid all those ills which might attend the Loss of her Reputation, but was wholly blind to those of the Ruin of her Virtue…” (232). Later in the narrative, Haywood uses gustatory language to describe Fantomina’s satisfaction with Beauplaisir: “She had all the Sweets of Love but as yet had tasted none of the Gall and was in a State of Contentment, which might be envied by the more Delicate” (240).Fantomina’s downfall is not the birth of her child, but the overtaking of her senses by labor pains. Her consequences are purely sensual. Without a sensual advantage, Fantomina’s mental capital is lost. At the ball, Fantomina’s labor pains immediately nullify the foresight that previously gave her an advantage—“the Time…happened much sooner than she expected” (246). For the entire narrative, Fantomina exhibits a sensual advantage over other women, but “those Pangs, which none in her condition are exempt from” (246). Haywood uses sensual language to describe the ways in which Fantomina might have concealed her condition at the ball, though she is unable to: “[H]ad her Tongue been mute, her wildly rolling Eyes, the Distortion of her Features, and the Convulsions which shook her whole Frame, in spite of her, would have revealed she laboured under some terrible Shock of Nature” (246). Though sound betrays Fantomina’s condition, Haywood also remarks that Fantomina is unable to control her appearance. The freedom and authority that accompanied Fantomina’s ability to withhold knowledge from those around her disappears, and she is banished back into the world of women, in which her sexual and sensual capital is worthless.
Gender Roles in Frankenstein and Fantomina
It is no surprise that the function of men and women in a society plays a huge role in the pieces of literature that would arise during a specific time. The roles of both men and women in the 18th century, for example, may even align with those in the next century. For instance, both Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina: Love in a Maze (1735) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) depict women as nothing more than objects. In Haywood’s novella, Fantomina is described as a “Victory” after she is assaulted by Beauplaisir whereas in Shelley’s novel, Elizabeth is introduced, after the death of Caroline, as a “pretty present” for Victor. However, because they were written a century apart, the two texts also demonstrate a difference in response to the roles that were upheld in each of the societies the texts took place in. Both Haywood and Shelley critique the traditional roles of women during their time period but while Fantomina challenges the traditional roles of a woman, the women of Frankenstein uphold them.
One of the ways that Fantomina challenges the role of a woman in British society is by changing her appearance from a lady of higher social standing to a woman of lower standing – a prostitute. When Haywood states that there is no authority figure nor anyone Fantomina knew in town to whom she is accountable, she is suggesting that a lady should not be acting in such a manner, but the protagonist is still able to get away with it (Haywood 36). At the Playhouse, she resides in a gallery box at the theater, which is a key symbol of wealth and class, but as a prostitute, Fantomina smoothly enters the Pit, where the prostitutes mingled with the men, in a “free and unrestrain’d Manner” (Haywood 36). It is here that Haywood reveals the impact of one’s behavior and clothes on their social status. When the protagonist changes both her behavior and clothes, she is no longer a “Lady,” but a “Woman.” Yet with the downgrade of her status, she is able to experience a new sense of freedom, where she also mingles with men. One of the men Fantomina converses with is Beauplaisir and by doing so, she defies the societal restriction of women pursuing men, while also carrying out long sojourns outside of her town. Whereas a woman of low birth possessed the freedom of interacting with any man she wished, a lady did not. Fantomina had spoken to Beauplaisir before, but “then her Quality and reputed Virtue,” or in other words, her virtuous status, kept her from making advances (Haywood 36). Because she is unrecognizable now, Fantomina finds pleasure in freely conversing with him. However, if an authority figure or anyone Fantomina knew were around, she would not have attempted to pursue Beauplaisir at the Playhouse as herself. Furthermore, as her feelings for him strengthen, Fantomina goes to great lengths to win the affection of Beauplaisir, especially embarking on “whimsical Adventures” on the false pretence of visiting a relative in the country (Haywood 52). The protagonist’s severely virtuous mother abruptly arrives upon hearing rumors about her daughter to constrain the vast deal of freedom that she was exploiting. This suggests that British women were restricted from traveling outside of their town and were to be kept in check of taboo behavior. Lastly, Fantomina challenges the societal expectation of unmarried women’s sexuality as being a restrained quality. Under her disguises as Fantomina, Incognita, and Celia, the protagonist engages in intercourse, which she refers to as her “Virtue” and “Honor,” multiple times with Beauplaisir (Haywood 38). While unmarried men in 18th century Britain exercised their freedom to have intercourse before marriage, women were expected to remain virgins until marriage, which is evident in Fantomina’s deliberate plan in hiding her charades for the security of her reputation (Haywood 40). If women had done otherwise, they were unfit to be married because they would have “nothing left to give” to their husbands (Haywood 39). By having intercourse before marriage, the protagonist establishes a new sense of freedom that she will use as a way to manipulate Beauplaisir while she is Incognita. Typically, a man would have more power than a woman but in this case, the protagonist uses her sexuality as a way to gain some control over him. Incognita had him “always raving, wild, impatient, longing, dying” and this newfound power that the protagonist now possessed differed from the stereotypical image of power between men and women (Haywood 50).
Frankenstein reveals that it was a crucial responsibility for women to provide happiness to their male counterparts. Elizabeth adheres to this norm by believing that it is the “most imperious duty” to deliver happiness to her uncles, cousins and Victor and she is “determined to fulfill her duties with the greatest exactness,” even after the death of her aunt (Shelley 26). Shelley’s usage of the words “imperious” and “greatest exactness” suggest that Elizabeth’s priority was not to render happiness to herself, but to the men in her life. It also shows that women were expected to be forgetful of themselves, especially their own emotions, in respect to men. In order to fulfill her duties, Elizabeth was expected to sweep her feelings under the rug, as if they were insignificant and insubstantial. Another instance where Elizabeth demonstrates her dedication to providing happiness to her male counterparts is when she writes to Victor, even after suspecting him of cheating: “Be happy, my friend; and if you obey me in this one request, remain satisfied that nothing on earth will have the power to interrupt my tranquility” (Shelley 135). The word ‘cheating’ can be defined as acquiring feelings for a person while being in a commitment to another. Elizabeth displays a lack of anger or sadness when she accuses Victor of loving and seeing another while committed to her and urges him to seek his own happiness. This would bring Elizabeth “tranquility” and when she states that nothing in the world would be able to ruin her tranquility, Elizabeth insinuates that Victor’s happiness is the source of her everlasting happiness. Thus, Shelley indicates that the happiness of women was dependent upon the happiness of men. Shelley’s purpose of Elizabeth’s character in the novel was to accentuate the effects of Victor’s transgressive science, which ultimately leads to her death. While Elizabeth is portrayed as merely collateral damage in a fight between Victor and his creature, Margaret Saville demonstrates no significance to any of the major characters and is only included for the enhancement of the plot. Women were presented as passive figures whose presence, or lack thereof, emphasized the dominance of a male voice. Although Shelley introduces Margaret as the very first character in the novel, she provides little to no information regarding Margaret’s personal life even though she is whom Walton’s letters are directed towards. Additionally, she is not even granted a voice because she only reads the letters and never writes back even when Walton informs her of the harsh weather, which could put his life in danger, thus proving she is passive. For instance, Walton writes to his sister, “You will not hear of my destruction, and you will anxiously await my return” (Shelley 153). As a result, the readers are left to infer how Margaret must feel knowing that her brother’s life is at risk. On top of that, the reader must also infer whether Margaret would condemn or pardon Victor’s transgressive and harmful experiment. Hence, she is merely an idea because in addition to being written as a figure of moral support for Walton because of his loneliness, Shelley does not confirm whether or not Margaret is still alive. Not only was Elizabeth portrayed as collateral damage in the fight between Victor and his creature, but also Justine. Justine’s character revealed that women were submissive and held no power in their male dominated societies. After being falsely accused of murdering William, Justine confesses to the court, “I did confess; but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might obtain absolution; but now that falsehood lies heavier at my heart than all my other sins…ever since I was condemned, my confessor has besieged me, he threatened and menaced, until I almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was…” (Shelley 58). Justine is seen as an object of undeserving blame and despite knowing that the accusations brought upon her are false, she admits to murdering William. Justine falls as victim to a corrupt justice system and an unforgiving priest who manipulates her into believing that she is the monster he said she was. This implies that women are easy to control and are scapegoats to the wrongdoings of men. Furthermore, no one but Elizabeth made an effort to continue the investigation but, even Elizabeth’s stance against the accusations proved no significance in turning the execution over. As Anne K. Mellor states in “Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein,” “the impassioned defense she gives of Justine arouses public approbation…but does nothing to help Justine,” (357). However, Victor was the only one who could prove her innocence. He was the one who possessed the power to reveal who the real killer was yet, he chose not to for the protection of himself. Therefore, it is evident who held the power in Victor’s and Elizabeth’s relationship.
In both Fantomina: Love in a Maze and Frankenstein, women were seen as nothing more than objects of love and purity whose ultimate faith was marriage. While Fantomina challenged the traditional roles of women, Elizabeth, Margaret and Justine adhered to those in their society. Haywood’s and Shelley’s texts succeeded in exposing the traditional roles of women during the time they were written in.
Setting the Stage: 18th Century Theater & Gender Performance Across Haywood and Austen
Nearly two centuries later, Judith Butler would describe gender identity as “a stylized repetition of acts…which are internally discontinuous…[so that] the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief” (520). Female novelists such as Eliza Haywood and Jane Austen would incorporate elements of the 18th century English theater into their books. For English women at that time, identity formation within the literary structures of the novel was not just rooted in personal introspection, but the incorporation and subsequent performance of gender norms characteristic through both behavior and appearance befitting to each woman’s socioeconomic class. As Karl Heinz Goller writes: “The subject of the novel was the immediate experience of average human beings in private life. It offered an ideal opportunity for women…to express their social needs and deeds” (96-97). In Eliza Haywood’s 1725 novel Fantomina and Jane Austen’s 1817 novel Persuasion, each of these authors confront the nature of gender performance as a theatrical construction of female identity, framing the plots and characters of their novels in accordance to their personal relationships to the English theater. Both Haywood and Austen examine the ways in which socioeconomic status affects the identities of their female protagonists through the reinforcement and subversion of cultural behavioral norms, mapping out the complex destabilization and transformation of traditional female identity in parallel with broader socioeconomic changes across the 18th century.
To understand the influence of dramas on these female authors, it’s important to examine the state of the English theater at the time. Just a century prior, King Charles the II would open up the stage to female actresses, allowing them to perform roles once meant only for young boys and cross-dressing male actors (Anderson). While female actresses were simultaneously sexualized and shamed for their ‘unladylike’ visible presence on the stage by male viewers, female audience members were able to witness a new kind of theatrical representation they had not experienced before. Moving into the 18th century, female actresses remained profitable parts of the English theater, drawing audiences in through sexualized roles and scandalous costumes such as breeches, and as many of these accomplished women (oftentimes from lower class backgrounds) went on to earn not only a great deal of money, but obtained a certain celebrity status which allowed them to mingle with a once inaccessible aristocracy enraptured by their performances (Thomas). Within the theater, there were new possibilities not only to transgress boundaries of gender norms through these dramatic roles, but gain access to social mobility as they mixed with various social groups within the performance space. A tension also arose between the social expectation of female privacy and the highly public lives of these actresses. “The private morals of actors and actresses and the respectability of the profession as a whole were frequent subjects of discussion, debate, and scrutiny…Audiences, in short, were keenly aware how public and private ‘character’ either converged or diverged in performance (Freeman 38-39). While actors certainly experienced this criticism, it was women, who were expected to occupy domestic roles, who would bear the heaviest burdens of criticism. Actresses found themselves occupying an unstable, in-between space of self-representation where they could entertain their patrons while maintaining an air of virtuousness to overcome social prejudice. If we are to consider Butler’s claim that “the acts by which gender is constituted bear similarities to performative acts in theatrical contexts”, then it comes as no surprise that Austen and Haywood would employ dramatic plot models and derive their characters from the very theater itself within their novels, structuring the performance of gender through their protagonists as one might prepare a role for the stage (521).
Eliza Haywood’s 1725 novel, Fantomina, derives elements of its story from Haywood’s own time spent as an actress in the 18th century London scene. Haywood was fascinated by the relationships between privilege, class, and gender within the theater space and she examines the complication of these social power dynamics through her protagonist, Fantomina. Actresses were generally treated with less respect than their male actors, subjected to gossip and oftentimes “many actresses were labelled [prostitutes] unfairly due to their profession or the character they played on stage” (DiGiovanni). Women risked their reputations in order to obtain economic freedom through this ‘inappropriate’ career and Haywood would have undoubtedly seen these feminine conflicts during her career as an actress. Although left her acting career behind in the 1720s, “the chameleon of English novelists” would bring elements of the theater, not just of dramas themselves but the performing arts industry as whole and the role of women within that system, into her various novels (MacCarthy 241). In Fantomina, Haywood concerns herself with the representation of female emotion through the strategic “self-conscious performance” of gender in Fantomina’s adoption of various disguises to pursue Beauplaisir (Anderson 1). Through the novel’s setting of the theater, Haywood is able to address the broader, complex social perceptions of female actresses across 18th century English society, and examine how these oppressive gender norms are both reinforced and destabilized across Fantomina’s identity.
At the start of the novel, Fantomina is introduced to the reader as “a Young Lady of distinguished Birth, Beauty, Wit, and Spirit” (Haywood 258). From her position in a box seat, she is able to observe men mingling with prostitutes. Irritated at their immoral behavior, “she could not help testifying her Contempt of Men, who, regardless either of the Play, or Circle, threw away their Time in such a Manner” (Haywood 258). Yet, after watching them, Fantomina grows envious of their apparent freedom and attention they receive. It “was not long before she found her Disguise” in the form of drawing her hood over her face (Haywood 259). When she returns to the theater in this costume, she is met with “A Crowd of purchasers of all Degrees and Capacities” who believe her to be a prostitute, including Beauplaisir who later becomes the source of her desire. These opening moments establish the precarious world 18th-century actresses found themselves in. The association between acting and sexual impropriety was not just seen in the actresses themselves when they became the subject of scandal due to their provocative roles and on-stage exposure of their bodies, and the possibility of turning to prostitution should their career in the theater fail—as was the case for 18th century actress Nell Gwyn (Anderson). Additionally, “the theater often served as a place for prostitutes and their customers”, where they could meet under the cover of dimmed lights and spectacle (Thomas). “Orange girls” stood in the pit and sold oranges between acts (Anderson). Orange girls, the ladies Fantomina observes mingling with the gentlemen, not only acted as liaisons between actresses and audience members, but sold sex, oftentimes through a kind of performance of conversation with possible clients. This is seen when Beauplaisir approaches Fantomina in her disguise and he “address’ed her at first with the usual Salutations of her pretended Profession” (Haywood 260). While upper class women, such as Fantomina, were expected to maintain an air of virtue and sexual innocence, Haywood paints Fantomina’s innocent behavior in a rather complicated light. Her initial repulsion fits with the norms of female virtuous character, yet Haywood quickly makes it clear that Fantomina also has sexual and romantic desire for Beauplaisir. Fantomina’s choice to disguise herself in her pursuit of a monogamous relationship might be interpreted as a kind of ‘virtuousness’, due to her choice to shield her identity from the public, yet her brazen flirtation indicates that she is more than just a persecuted maiden as she attempts to navigate this precarious maze of love and seduction.
At this point, it’s important to look at the various disguises Fantomina puts on over the course of the novel’s plot, and what these disguises signify in Haywood’s literary view of female gender roles. After ‘Fantomina’—the reader is never told the protagonist’s actual name—she adopts the character of Celia, a country maid, Mrs. Bloomer, a lost widow, and finally Icognita who’s use of masks can be traced back to the original Fantomina. One could go through each of these characters and discuss the individual symbolism of their costumes, but perhaps it is more valuable to view them as a collective cast forming the various components of Fantomina’s identity as an actress and her desires—or as Haywood Scholar Christine Blouch puts it, “the whole Business of this representation” (541). Although Fantomina performs these roles across London, that she is able to cross the various boundaries of English social class is indicative both of her immense talent as an actress and the very nature of the theater space as a place where the individual can economically and culturally transform themselves. Haywood uses this plot of disguises to examine the complexities of gender roles themselves and the array of parts women are supposed to perform for their ‘audience’ of male-dominated society through certain manners of dress and behavior. Beauplaisir cannot recognize that she’s changing her face each time they meet. This inability to recognize the ‘real’ Fantomina under her costumes shows not only the audience’s vulnerability of equating imaginary onstage characters with actresses’ private personalities. Beauplaisir’s belief allows Fantomina to repeatedly assert her own desire and sexual agency through a highly controlled masquerade. In 18th century theater, actors did not perform their roles ‘naturally’. Whether the play was a drama or comedy, emotions were performed in an over-the-top manner, as though they were masks (Cook 219). Fantomina’s acts can be interpreted as “not only as constituting the identity of the actor, but as constituting that identity as a compelling illusion, the object of belief” (520). She transcends her body by becoming a romantic object comprised of different personas, and her multi-faceted personality is developed through these repeated attempts to adopt other feminine traits outside of her socioeconomic position, trying to find the ‘right type of woman’ to reinvigorate Beauplaisir’s fading desires.
The conclusion of Fantomina’s narrative is a rather strange one, distorting the traditional moral lessons seen in other 18th century “fable[s] of feminine distress” (Schofield 10). Fantomina’s elaborate series of performances does undone when Beauplaisir impregnates her and she is sent by her mother to a monastery, yet, as Emily Hodgson Anderson points out, “Fantomina’s continued masquerade prevents the typical consequences of seduction—abandonment and scandal that would forestall any future performance” (4). The ‘cautionary tale’ Haywood presents is not that sexual desire will soil a woman’s reputation (Fantomina’s covert movement to the monastery protects her family’s name), but that “a woman’s impulsive behavior can undo her own performance” (Anderson 4). Fantomina’s greatest transgression is not her strategic pursuit of desire through the manipulation of disguises, but that, in becoming these imaginary characters, she did not remain aware of her own bodily limitations as an actress. This risk of a woman losing control over her social position through non-normative acts of sexual agency marks Haywood’s fascination with “the emotional tension generated by…contradictory tendencies to submission and aggression, subservience and independence brought about by the myth [of the virtuous woman] itself” (Schofield 10). Through Fantomina’s dramatic structure, Haywood raises many questions about the condition of women in the 18th century as a kind of actress caught between performing her role as a traditional virtuous woman and the rise of new opportunities of socioeconomic mobility through precarious careers in the theater.
Austen’s own relationship to the theater was one more of a spectator than an actress. In her letters, she appeared to be “steeped in theater”, frequently writing about performances she saw, oftentimes with her niece, and even tried her hand at writing short plays when she was a young woman (Byrne xi). The influence of the theater on Austen’s life is certainly not as explicitly visible in her novels as with Haywood, but one can this inspiration from 18th century dramas through Austen’s vibrant characterization and highly organized plot structure in her final novel, Persuasion. “Women dramatists were highly popular in the 18th century”, and Austin would have undoubtedly seen some of their pieces performed on the stage (Goller 92). In Persuasion, Austen positions herself as a kind of dramatist by casting the English home as a kind of ‘domestic theater’ and, through the narrative development of her protagonist Anne Elliot, Austen uses theatrical devices to examine shifts in English socioeconomic class in the late 18th century and the ways in which expectations of marriage and the instability of romance can transform the gender norms and subsequent selfhood of upper class women.
When the novel first opens, Austen introduces us to her cast of characters through Sir Walter Elliot. Sir Walter’s frivolous nature and fascination with noble titles and the presentation of wealth borders on a satirical portrayal of upper class nobility. Yet, he’s the necessary opening narrator to the novel’s complex plot and his behavior gives the reader an early sense of the dynamics within the Elliot family (Anne as a strategic mother figure while her sister and father attempt to maintain their extravagant lifestyles) as they nearly fall into financial ruin. The movement of the Crofts into Kellynch Hall not only reflects economic tensions at the time, but acts as the catalyst for the novel’s romantic drama with the reappearance of Captain Wentworth. To speak briefly on the state of the English upper class at the end of the 18th century, many of these wealthy families saw the rise of a ‘new money’ class under capitalism, threatening to overshadow their inherited power (Goller 98). While this class, comprised of merchant and military figures such as the Crofts and Wentworth himself, accrued wealth from trading and sailing across England’s various colonies, noble heads-of-house such as Sir Walter remained at home, unaggressive in their economic pursuits while spending to maintain an appearance befitting the traditions of aristocracy. Austen uses this English class tension as a backdrop for Anne’s reunion with Wentworth, and Anne’s personal views.
When Captain Wentworth meets Anne again, he does not recognize because her aging face has been so “altered beyond his knowledge” (Austen 83). She appears to him as though in a disguise although the ‘real’ Anne begins is slowly revealed throughout the novel as their relationship develops. Many of the characters in Persuasion wear different masks. Sir Walter and Elizabeth attempt to conceal their waning fortunes by spending all the family money on luxury goods, willing to sacrifice their own wealth for performing aristocracy. The Crofts demonstrate their wealth through their occupation of a noble’s house, masking that fact that they did not inherit their wealth like other aristocrats. Wentworth’s military dress distances him from his impoverished origins and is a marker his successful career path. The intention of these characters is not entirely malicious, but rather to present a manipulated version of themselves to the world and control how they are perceived by others. Through Anne’s point-of-view in the narrative, we frequently see the actions of her body mask her internal feelings. When she meets Captain Wentworth again, she behaves calmly and cordially: “Her eye half met Captain Wentworth’s, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice…but a few minutes ended it” (Austen 82). Just moments after the group leaves the room, Anne reveals her relief: “‘It is over! It is over!’ she repeated to herself again and again, in nervous gratitude. ‘The worst is over!’” (82). Austen’s fascination with performance lies in social gestures. Anne spends a great deal of time attempting to decipher the contradictions of (masculine) “cold politeness” and friendlier gestures Wentworth expresses to her (Austen 101). One of the most important aspects of acting is not the recitation of dialogue, but the ability to convey a story through pantomiming (Cooke 220). Audiences sitting in the English theater in the 18th century did not have the luxury of modern microphone technology. They were not always able to hear the onstage character dialogue and, as a result, actors had to move their bodies in dramatic, unnatural ways to make the entirety of their message known to the spectator. Through the unspoken/spoken dynamic tension between Anne and Wentworth’s action and speech interacting with each other, Austen portrays how English upper-class society has internalized a specific vocabulary of performative gestures in social relationships, which is further divided across gendered lines. Furthermore, in considering the development of the novel, while the theater must make conflicts or characterization explicit through dialogue or movement, the novel allowed for greater complication of the understanding of the self. The thoughts of characters could now be fully expressed on the page and be contradictory to the actions a character might take or something they say aloud, providing a narrative disconnect between the individual’s internal and external selfhood.
One of the keys to a successful dramatic performance is in the timing. An actor misses his or her cue and a joke can fall flat, the buildup of dramatic tension can be lost, and the narrative illusion keeping the audience engaged can be lost. In Persuasion, Austen’s sense of timing is her greatest literary strength. The origin of Anne and Wentworth’s relationship in fact takes place 8 years prior to the events of Persuasion. It is through Austen’s building of family history and the growing anticipation of the Crofts and Wentworth’s arrival, that this history which exists somewhere beyond the timescape of the novel is slowly revealed to the reader. The resurfacing of these memories in the present day, as Anne remembers their early romance and failed relationship, adds a greater complexity to Wentworth and Anne’s dynamic. When Lady Russell admits, at the end of the novel, that she had been wrong about the judgements she made of Wentworth’s character (who had influenced Anne to reject Wentworth’s first proposal), Austen suggests that human perception and identity are not fixed states of being. People and their behaviors can change over time, influenced by equally unstable social and economic conditions. While a piece of theatrical performance may reflect social questions or issues of its time, these pieces, through repeated performances, are subject to change, gaining or losing certain emotional and/or theatrical significance as it re-envisioned by later generations. Likewise, Austen’s characters do not exist as static literary tropes. They are complex individuals whose behaviors can be influenced by the passage of time, who can mature into new identities and shed past prejudices. While English women at the time were being pressured to marry in their youth, Austen’s depiction of the 27-year-old Anne Elliot shows that women are capable of gaining socioeconomic security later in life, contrary to the gendered marital norms at the time. Anne’s awareness of transforming social circumstances for women at the end of the 18th century is articulated most clearly in Anne’s conversation with Captain Harville as she pens her letter to Wentworth: “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much a higher degree; the pen has been in their hands” (Austen 337). Anne’s statement is a powerful assertion of her individual agency. While the education of women has historically viewed as unecessary to their social development due to pre-determined gendered domestic roles, Austen, via Anne Elliot, acknowledges the rise in women’s education, and envisions the potential of women’s inferior position in English society as they regain control of their restricted lives through educational (and subsequent career) opportunities once inaccessible to them.
Both Eliza Haywood and Jane Austen consider the position of the 18th century woman in English society through literary lenses shaped by each author’s personal relationship to the English theater. As a former actress, Haywood’s description of the talented, shapeshifting Fantomina, Haywood brings awareness to the way in which the female body is sexualized and objectified by a male audience. The medley of roles Fantomina adopts in her romantic pursuits are emblematic of complexities of social expectation in female gender performance. Fantomina’s cunning self-creation also demonstrates the possibility for women to express agency through the manufacturing of their social performances. Haywood’s novel demonstrates the way 18th century women in the theater began to act against traditionally ‘modest’ classifications and marketed their performing bodies as commodities, risking their reputations to gain access to socioeconomic wealth and stability. Austen’s role as director/novelist allows her to carefully construct a romance plot which charts out the transformation of female selfhood through 18th century socioeconomic shifts in upper-class aristocracy. Austen’s Anne Elliot, is a character who has matured over time through a kind of self-education of social and economic power structures. She is a complex individual who learns from her past mistakes, questions her identity in relationship to Wentworth, and uses decisive action to twist gendered social hierarchies to ultimately achieve her goals.
Through Haywood and Austen’s literary forms, the 18th century novel begins to set the groundwork for a complex female subjectivity played out across the literature of later centuries. These female authors were already beginning to consider feminine gender identity as not only tied to historical convention, but a place where, through performance, new possibilities can be continually realized, predating Judith Butler’s later notion that gender is something which one can put on and wear as a performative costume. The highly organized, theatrical space of the plotted novel allows the authors’ protagonists to reflect on the very socioeconomic conditions which might shape their private sense of individual selfhood through performative strategies which can either reinforce or contradict society’s cultural norms. The 18th century brought many changes to the literary and theatrical world. While actresses found footholds in dramatic spaces for the first time, female writers used the novel to move past socially constructed surface representations and examine the emotional depths of individual characters. The female-driven literary culture produced during this time can offer contemporary scholars of gender and sexual identity great insight into some of English society’s earliest models of complex, gendered identity formation through the 18th century woman’s evolving roles as performer and director.
Anderson, Emily Hodgson. “Performing the Passions in Eliza Haywood’s ‘Fantomina’ and ‘Miss Betsy Thoughtless.’” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 46, no. 1, 2005, pp. 1–15. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41467959.
Anderson, Melody. “Women in the Restoration Theatre”. Politics, Literary Culture, & Theatrical Media in London. University of Massachusetts. Accessed 20 December 2017. http://www.london.umb.edu/index.php/entry_detail/women_in_the_restoration_theatre/theatre_intro/
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. ReadHowYouWant.com. Google Book. 14 March, 2009. https://books.google.com/books/about/Persuasion.html?id=ud8lOU6JzJkC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false
Blouch, Christine. “Eliza Haywood and the Romance of Obscurity.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 31, no. 3, 1991, pp. 535–552. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/450861.
Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, 1988, pp. 519–531. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3207893.
Byrne, Paula. Jane Austen and the Theatre. London: Hamledon and London. 2002.
Cooke, Anne M. “Eighteenth Century Acting Styles.” Phylon (1940-1956), vol. 5, no. 3, 1944, pp. 219–224. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/271303.
DiGiovanni, Alicia. “Theater in the 18th century”. Women’s Roles in the 18th Century Theater. 13 April 2017. https://sites.google.com/site/18thcenturytheatre/theatre-in-the-18th-century
Freeman, Lisa A. Character’s Theater: Genre and Identity on the Eighteenth-Century English Stage. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. May 2013.
Goller, Heinz Karl. “The Emancipation of Women in Eighteenth-Century English Literature”. 1983. https://epub.uni-regensburg.de/26661/1/ubr13845_ocr.pdf
Haywood, Eliza. Fantomina: or, Love in a Maze. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1925. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/haywood/fantomina/fantomina.html
Schofield, Mary Anne. Masking and Unmasking the Female Mind: Disguising Romances in Feminine Fiction, 1713-1799. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1990.
Thomas, Melissa. “Theatre Culture of Early Modern England”. Cedar Crest College. 2009. http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/henry4/papers/mthomas.htm
Identity Theft: Feminism in “Fantomina; or Love in a Maze”
In a time when women were never considered victors in the realm of sexuality, author Eliza Haywood protests these standards in her writings. She creates female characters who show the world that women can win, even in patriarchal societies. Victorious female characters make the world a better place by further empowering other women. Whether they are accomplishing their dreams, raising a family, or finding a mate, women benefit from living their lives with the freedom to make their own choices. In Eliza Haywood’s novella, “Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze,” the unnamed protagonist (Lady —) represents a strong female character in an early example of feminist literature.
The story “Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze” begins with a description of the protagonist as a “young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit” (Haywood 2740). Lady — attends the playhouse one night and curiously notes the way men give attention to the prostitutes in another section of the audience. She decides to gratify her “innocent curiosity” (Haywood 2740) and visits the playhouse the following night dressed as a prostitute herself. Men flock to her, praising her beauty. One man in particular, Beauplaisir, makes her swoon. She agrees to go with him the following night. Once Beauplaisir and the young woman have sex, she is afraid of her undoing. She backtracks and says that she is not actually a prostitute, but Fantomina, “a daughter of a country gentleman,” which is why she is ashamed of her actions (Haywood 2744).
Nevertheless, they continue to meet, she assuming the identity of Fantomina. When he tires of her and travels away, she assumes a new disguise to attract him. Her new identity is a maid at the place he is staying, and she calls herself Celia. Beauplaisir becomes attracted to the protagonist as Celia (unaware that it is the same woman as before). After a month, he grows sexually weary of her as well and goes back home. Not to be forgotten, she assumes a fourth identity, calling herself Widow Bloomer. Once again Beauplaisir is beguiled, thinking she might be able to “ease the burden of his love” (Haywood 2749). Once again, they form a sexual relationship, but unsurprisingly Beauplaisir wants something fresh rather quickly. Finally, Lady — (Haywood 2740) puts on her fifth and final identity, the mysterious and masked aristocrat who goes by the elusive title, Incognita. At last, she becomes tired of her scheme and trickery, not without discovering she is pregnant. Her mother visits, “not approving of many things she had been told of the conduct of her daughter” (Haywood 2756). The young protagonist hides her pregnancy well until she goes into labor prematurely. Her mother demands Lady — confess who the father is, to which she offers up Beauplaisir’s name. He comes, but denies he is the father, still not realizing the woman before him is the same as the other five women he has slept with. Lady — confesses her trickery and must take full responsibility for her actions. When she is healed, she is sent off to a monastery.
Readers struggle to interpret who Lady — really is. Is Lady — a strong, independent woman who is ahead of her time, or is Lady — a self-conscious, fragile character who is so dissatisfied in her identity that her only option is to experiment with the identities of others? On the one hand, she makes her own decisions as she pleases and holds sexual power over a man, but on the other hand, she hides her true self from readers. Who really is Lady—? She is a woman who defines independence and inner-strength. She defies societal expectations to become who she wants to be with no help from others. She, although excelling at mystery and multiple identities, does not become confused in her inner identity, “one of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit” (Haywood 2740). Even though her final circumstances (of pregnancy and a monastery) appear to be her downfall, Lady — does not surrender to the appearance of weakness. She holds her head high, still identifying with her real self — a popular young woman who frequently attends high-class social gatherings. Finally, she ends up in a all-female society that empowers women to strip themselves from the bondage of men.
Some critics disagree with the argument that Lady — is a strong, independent woman who is ahead of her time. According to Kate Levin, Lady — is not mature because she only acts in relation to Beauplaisir (Levin 1). Levin also argues that the protagonist is always saying yes and no at the same time, a weakness that she calls “collusive resistance” (Levin 2). Margaret Croskery believes that because Lady — demonstrates “collusive resistance,” she is neither the victor nor the vanquished, a protest of both kinds of norms (77). Others note that Lady —’s pregnancy takes away from the power of feminism (Ballaster 190). Pregnancy is a consequence that she cannot run from and ultimately shows the weakness of the female sex, something, though, that Lady — herself cannot control. Lastly, while some say Lady —’s transportation to a monastery is a continuation of the female society (Craft 831), others debate that it is a punishment and an imprisonment of female freedom (Levin 1).
Even the text itself is its own critic. At some points, it seems like Lady — and Beauplaisir really love each other, and it is a mutual, loving relationship. In the beginning, Fantomina and Beauplaisir “were infinitely charmed with each other” (Haywood 2741). Lady — even “almost died for another opportunity of conversing with him,” and calls him her “beloved Beauplaisir” (Haywood 2742 & 2746). And “nothing could be more tender than the manner in which he accosted her” (Haywood 2742). At other times, it seems that the relationship (in both their eyes) is simply a lustful and passionate affair. Beauplaisir quickly loses interest over and over again, “the rifled charms of Fantomina soon lost their poignancy, and grew tasteless and insipid (Haywood 2745). Even Lady — eventually reveals that it was fatal to have gotten involved with Beauplaisir because of the trouble it had caused her (Haywood 2757). Readers may question if Lady — is a desperate woman who wants attention or if she is in search of a genuine lover but gets distracted by the game of identity. Because of the discrepancies and changes in feelings, especially Lady —’s, some critics still debate if the protagonist is actually empowered and should be hailed as a heroine in feminist literature (Merritt 46). Despite all the criticisms, Lady — does display a striking freedom in the way she expresses herself and is fearless in her quest towards the discovery of love, sex, and power.
The feminist literary criticism approach can be used to study the protagonist, Lady —, in “Fantomina; or Love in a Maze.” Elaine Showalter argues that there are three literary subcultures, or major stages of female development, in literature. The subculture itself means “a habit of living” (Showalter 14). The first is the Feminine Stage, which involves the “imitation of the prevailing modes of the dominant tradition” and “internalization of its standards” (Showalter 13). The next, Feminist Stage, is “a protest against these standards and advocacy of minority rights” (Showalter 13). Finally, the Female Stage is a “phase of self-discovery, a turning inward freed from some of the dependency of opposition, a search for identity” (Showalter 13). Showalter says that a character can display characteristics from more than one developmental stage, even though the stages roughly follow literary time periods (13). According to Showalter, the Feminine phase in literature included texts written between the 1840s and 1880s; the Feminist phase from 1880s to 1920; the Female stage from 1920 to the present (13). Eliza Haywood wrote this particular novella in 1724, long before females became common protagonists and long before the Female stage began. The protagonist in “Fantomina; or Love in a Maze” strongly illustrates the final developmental stage (Female) and demonstrates some characteristics in the Feminist stage as well. This is determined by the character’s knowledge of what she wants and her desire to get what she wants, her protest against stereotypical female standards by advocating self-discovery of identity, her trickery that makes her the victor, and her continuous inner strength.
Lady —’s motives guide her during the process of getting what she wants. At first, her motives are “no other aim than the gratification of an innocent curiosity” (Haywood 2740). According to one critic, Lady —’s motives stay here the whole story, meaning she is only interested in learning more about what male attention feels like, nothing more (Merritt 49). Other textual interpretations acknowledge that her curiosity turns into sexual knowledge and experience because she keeps trying to sleep with Beauplaisir. A “hope of interest” becomes her new motive in keeping Beauplaisir close at hand (Haywood 2743). She says that “she loved Beauplaisir” (Haywood 2746). She wants have some sexual control and be sexually satisfied at the same time, hoping to “once more engage him, to hear him sigh, to see him languish, to feel the strenuous pressures of his eager arms, to be compelled, to be sweetly forced to what she wished with equal ardor” (Haywood 2746). Once the fun becomes a glorious scheme to trick Beauplaisir into loving and lusting more than one woman, her motives finally turn to being the victor in the game of love and sex. According to Catherine Craft, this is Lady —’s “fantasy of female freedom” (830). Craft notes that she adopts disguises for her own pleasures and is proud and content with her actions during the game (830). Her motives, although shifting frequently, demonstrate character complexity and depth.
Lady — knows what she wants and will not stop at anything to get it “no matter the consequence” (Haywood 2742). In this, she defines strength and independence because what she wants defies what society says women should “want” in that day. Lady — chooses to fight for what she desires, even if society opposes it. The exception to this rule is when her mother comes to town, because not only are there uninvited consequences (pregnancy), but she has to be responsible for them. Lady — takes on five different identities to keep the game alive. With each disguise and performance, she prepares more, meaning that she learns quickly how to become someone else (Hodgson-Anderson 5). However, she does not lose sight of who she is and proves that it is okay for women to do whatever necessary to win. As her experiences broaden, she begins to understand the complex differences between the sexes. She learns quickly that men desire difference while women desire sameness so she elegantly disguises her desire for the same object with his for a new (Merritt 53 & 55). Emily Hodgson-Anderson argues that although Lady — plans everything out beforehand, her feelings for Beauplaisir are still genuine, which is why she succeeds overall (2). Thinking ahead and preparing how she will seduce Beauplaisir is, Hodgson-Anderson argues, what makes Lady — a feminist character (6). Lady —’s strong will and deep thinking further empowers her throughout the story.
Lady — actively protests stereotypical female standards as she discovers her own identity. First, she protests common gender roles. She promotes her own power when she first refuses Beauplaisir’s service, “observing the surprise he would be in to find himself refused by a woman, who he supposed granted her favours without exception” (Haywood 2742). Although Lady — is dressed as a prostitute, she does not live to the standard of one, which threatens Beauplaisir’s expectations of manliness and conquering. When Lady — addresses Beauplaisir in a letter as Incognita, she calls him the “all-conquering Beauplaisir,” buttering him up and praising everything about him (Haywood 2753). However, when Beauplaisir responds to “the obliging and witty Incognita he calls himself “your everlasting slave” (Haywood 2754). The way Lady — writes Beauplaisir puts herself in the spot of the victor. No matter how powerful Beauplaisir thinks he is, when it comes down to it, he is at the hands of Incognita because she has to make the first move. He never has to make the first move because he is being eloquently pursued, an ironic twist of gender stereotypes. Beauplaisir’s hands are tied — he is subservient to a woman. Lady — has great power over a man in this part of the story and she delights in it. The power she has promises a chance to finally control Beauplaisir’s attention, making him focus on Incognita alone.
Lady — even experiments with social class, creating identities as lowly as a prostitute and maid to as high as an aristocrat. Lady — herself, being born of “distinguished birth” (Haywood 2740) would have never experienced life from the perspective of lowly characters like the prostitute, Fantomina, or the maid. According to Craft, each disguise Lady — assumes is a higher class than the last, but more sexually accessible, which is the opposite of standards of the day (829). As a prostitute, she is “fearful, confused, altogether unprepared to resist in such encounters” (Haywood 2743). Although she may start out sexually weak, she develops her sexual strength and dominance, so by the time she is Incognita, she “yielded without even a shew of reluctance” (Haywood 2755). According to Hodgson-Anderson, Incognita is the identity most threatening to Beauplaisir (6). This is not because she is the highest class citizen, but because she refuses to share her real name or her face. A refusal to share these things makes Beauplaisir uncomfortable and frustrated because he has no power and may end up the fool in the end. A lack of accountability could mean the woman he is sleeping with is not an aristocrat, or worse (in his mind) — ugly. But what really scares Beauplaisir, while empowering Lady —, is her mask. Juliette Merritt suggests that masquerade is a game in which women win because in realigning femininity, women create a new identity that will not compromise their public identity (45, 47, & 51). The mask also allows her to freely express her genuine desires (Hodgson-Anderson 6). According to Hodgson-Anderson, this is a positive personal demonstration called self-conscious performance, which is when women act out roles that they have internally conceived for themselves so they can achieve female passions that society would consider immoral or disastrous (1). Lady —’s strength is further defined by the way she grows to handle the pressure sexual encounters create, and how she controls her own identity’s desires through the names and costumes of others. By creating false identities, Lady — is freely expressing what society would not normally allow her to express — her true desires.
Lady — uses trickery to first become and then stay the victor in the game of sex. She genuinely enjoys tricking Beauplaisir and being the master behind the curtain. She “imagines a world of satisfaction to herself in engaging him in the character of such a one” (Haywood 2742). She is convinced that no one knows of her scheme, proud that “I shall hear no whispers as I pass, — She is forsaken: — The odious word forsaken will never wound my ears; nor will my wrongs excite either the mirth or pity of the talking world” (Haywood 2745). Even the narrator brags on Lady — in the text, “she was so admirably skilled in the art of feigning” (Haywood 2749). This proves that whether or not Lady — is actually interested in Beauplaisir, she wants to play a game, and Craft even argues that Lady — gets tired of Beauplaisir just as often as he gets tired of her (831). “She began to grow as weary of receiving his now insipid caresses as he was of offering them” (Haywood 2756), which further suggests that Lady — is interested in something short-lived that gives her power over a man. The complexity of her trickery and her character keeps the game alive.
Instead of playing the typical weak female or the victim, Lady — presents Beauplaisir as the fool in the relationship. He is “both surprised and troubled at the mystery” from the beginning when Lady — tells him she is not a prostitute (Haywood 2743). Thus begins the more advanced labyrinth of deceit. She “provided herself of another disguise to carry on a third plot” (Haywood 2747), and then “she had prepared herself for it, and had another project in embryo, which she soon ripened into action” (Haywood 2751), a deceit unmatched by any other. Her disguises empower her because only she knows what is real. Beauplaisir can only guess who these beautiful women are, clueless that is is all the same person. The mystery of the disguises keeps her reputation safe while allowing her to pursue her desires. She turns the relationship into a maze (and a game) that she gets out of, while he is still left clueless, “But I have outwitted even the most subtle of the deceiving kind, and while he thinks to fool me, is himself the only beguiled person” (Haywood 2751). She lets Beauplaisir think he is seducing her, but she is seducing him and is in charge the whole story (Levin 4-5). Hodgson-Anderson points out that Beauplaisir thinks he has conquered four women, when he is actually making love to the same body every night (3). Such a belief on Beauplaisir’s part would make him feel like a male victor, a king in the field of sex. But when Lady — confesses what she has done, he is “more confused than ever he had known in his whole life” (Haywood 2758), an entire defeat on his part, one that will forever remain with him. Lady — ultimately “proves skill in a game against the man perceived to be the best” (Levin 5).
Finally, Lady —’s inner strength throughout the novella proves her to be in the feminist and female stages of Showalter’s female development theory. First of all, she depends on only herself to get through the game and any pain it might cause her. She “did in every thing as her inclinations of humours rendered most agreeable to her” (Haywood 2740) and “depended on the strength of her virtue, to bear her fate through trials more dangerous than she apprehended this to be” (Haywood 2742). When she succeeds, she is proud of herself because “I have him always raving, wild, impatient, longing, dying” (Haywood 2754). Things start downhill because she is raped by Beauplaisir, “she was undone; and he gained a victory so highly rapturous, that had he known over whom, scarce could he have triumphed more” (Haywood 2743). Even so, she rises above, becoming the victor in an uncomfortable and taboo situation that first puts her on the bottom of the social pyramid (Ballaster 188). Next, she is accountable for her actions and accepts responsibility for them. Helen Thompson says it is important to note that Lady — does tell Beauplaisir about the trickery she involves him in (207). Even if it would have cost her reputation and been completely terrifying, “she related the whole truth” (Haywood 2758). Lastly, she does not get confused in her own identity, despite putting on so many others. Lady — is able to maintain her personal identity so that “she met him three or four days in a week, at the lodging she had taken for that purpose, yet as much as he employed her time and thoughts, she was never missed from any assembly she had been accustomed to frequent” (Haywood 2745). According to Croskery, her adopted roles reveal traits about her own identity because in the fake identities, she can express desires that she normally could not based on her sex and class (4). Her ultimate inner strength is her self-composure and belief in herself, which is how she presents herself to the world (Merritt 67).
Lady —’s inner strength continues even when she becomes pregnant and is sent to the monastery. Even though she is pregnant, she still retains her true identity, attending social gatherings appearing as a lovely virgin, “by eating little, lacing prodigious straight, and the advantage of a great hoop-petticoat, however, her bigness was not taken notice of” (Haywood 2756). She gives birth to a daughter, someone who will be pinned down by society as an illegitimate child. However, that child will grow to become a woman who will have the choice to be whoever she wants to be. Lady — is the one the child can look up to in this way, because Lady — not only defies stereotypical female standards, but pursues the self-discovery of identity. In the monastery, Lady — has the opportunity to live in an all-female society, a society that is free from male bias, power, and control. Instead of living in a place where men rule and women submit, Lady — can finally rest in a home that promotes female empowerment, something that Lady — exhibits throughout the story.
The archetype of seduction begins in the garden with Eve and the serpent (Levin 3). In this story, however, it is not the woman who is beguiled, but the man. This story weakens the criticism of women on the basis of the garden. Instead, men are attacked with the point that they are “stupid and beguiled” (Craft 831). Seduction is a hot topic in literature, especially in Haywood’s writings, who, according to literary critics, is known as the “Great Arbitress of Passion” (Hodgson-Anderson, 1). Haywood writes “Fantomina; or Love in a Maze” to play with the idea that the best seduction is mutual (Levin 6). The passion in this story is a split flame — one lover’s flame burns out over and over again (Beauplaisir) while the other’s constantly grows stronger (Lady —). Not only does the story “Fantomina; or Love in a Maze” frequent the topic of passion, it focuses on rising above the stereotypical gender roles in the game of sexuality. According to Levin, the female protagonist learns sexual knowledge through experience, she jumps over conventional boundaries by becoming the teacher instead of the learner (5). As her sexual identity forms, so does her identity as a female. Her final identity settles as a mother when instead of creating another disguise, Lady —’s body creates another being (Thompson 207).
The introduction to “Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze” is a couplet by Edmund Waller which reads, “In love the victors from the vanquished fly. — They fly that wound, and they pursue that die.” While traditionally Lady — would be the vanquished, she is in fact the victor because she empowers herself and mystifies the sex that is usually all-powerful. Beauplaisir is the vanquished, weak, and confused one. The story ultimately proves the power women have when they are given the opportunity and freedom to express it. Lady — is a woman who demonstrates incredible independence, empowerment, and control for a female of her time. Through her motives, quest for identity, trickery, and inner strength, Lady — demonstrates that she is a strong female character in an early example of feminist literature.
Ballaster, Rosalind. Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740. Clarendon Press, 1992.
Craft, Catherine. “Reworking Male Models: Aphra Behn’s “Fair Vow-Breaker,” Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina,” and Charlotte Lennox’s “Female Quixote.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 86, no. 4, 1991, pp. 821-38.
Croskery, Margaret. “Masquing Desire: The Politics of Passion in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina.” The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood: Essays on Her Life and Work, edited by Kristen T. Saxton and Rebecca P. Bocchicchio, 1st ed., UP of Kentucky, 2000, pp. 69-94.
Haywood, Eliza. “Fantomina; or Love in a Maze.” Norton’s Anthology of English Literature, Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, pp. 2740-2758.
Hodgson-Anderson, Emily. “Performing the Passions in Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina” and “Miss Betsy Thoughtless.” The Eighteenth Century, vol. 46, no. 1, 2005, pp. 1-15.
Levin, Kate. “‘The Only Beguiled Person’: Accessing Fantomina in the Feminist Classroom.ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, vol. 2, no. 1, 2012, pp. 6-19.
Merritt, Juliette. “Peepers, Picts, and Female Masquerade: Performances of the Female Gaze in Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze.” Beyond Spectacle: Eliza Haywood’s Female Spectators, University of Toronto Press, 2004, pp. 45-72.
Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing. Princeton University Press, 1977.
Thompson, Helen. “Plotting Materialism: W. Charleton’s “The Ephesian Matron”, “E.Haywood’s “Fantomina”, and Feminine Consistency. Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol.35, no. 2, 2002, pp. 195-214.
Lust, Imagination and Gender Roles: Aesthetic Discourse in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina
The turn of the eighteenth century is at the cusp of radical shifts in ideology, booming industry and scientific advancement for the Western World. The rapid changes, and growing middle class widens the audience for conduct books. As more people were economically secure and had access to education, more women were required to look to nobles as an example to follow. The emphasis of etiquette in polite English society serves as indicator for how gender roles were socially constructed. An increasing number of educated women meant fledgling feminist ideas. Eliza Haywood, one of the first writers of Amatory Fiction, narratives of romance and sexual love, writes Fantomina; or Love in a Maze in 1725, in which the protagonist goes to great lengths to seduce the same man repeatedly. The young lady is a Haywood’s way of reclaiming the disgraced or persecuted maiden trope, so often used in Restoration fiction. The cunning choices of disguises chosen by a morally condemnable heroine, enables the conservative audience to suspend disbelief and be delighted by her antics. The role of these distinctive characters adopted, reflect how budding feminist ideas in Eighteenth Century England were to present themselves in order not to alienate a conservative audience.
Fantomina is in essence, a tale of sentient experience. The heroine, who’s identity is never revealed but is introduced as “A young lady of distinguished Birth, Beauty, Wit and Spirit,” is built up as an ingenious mind but defined by her body. Unlike men, who’s virtue was represented by their role in the public sphere, women’s role was to bear children, therefore limiting their “value” to the private sphere. The feminine sex’s virtue was exclusively determined by her body, and therefore women were expected to keep it chaste. Conduct books would often suggest ladies to remain demure in order to not appear masculine. In each one of her disguises, the heroine maintains a certain air of passivity, and even submissiveness while actively pursuing Beauplaisir. She reverse the roles of active seduction by always maintaining an inferior position, causing the man to believe he is the one wooing her. In addition, women were also considered to be the more emotionally volatile of the sexes, requiring them to be more strictly guarded against their own passions. Spontaneous or improper conduct would undoubtedly lead to a lady’s reputation to be tarnished, and Haywood does not let her impassioned protagonist act without consequence forever. She builds the narrative in a way, that would allow her nameless lady to embody the varying profiles of single women, that would have varying degrees of freedom within eighteenth century England.
The protagonist, first crosses the lines of propriety by posing as a prostitute she aptly names Fantomina. She chooses to pose as a prostitute in the pit of the Playhouse in order to have the freedom to interact with men. Beauplaisir catches her attention, and they end up alone. This act would certainly cause a uproar in upper-middle class and the aristocracy of the time, however she manages to somewhat retain of her innocence in the beginning, as she resist Beauplaisir’s advances. Her reaction is an emotionally instinctive one, as Fantomina, realizing she has lost her honour, breaks down and cries. Her innocence may have been taken away from her, but the fact that she fights him off suggests she is not completely morally bankrupt. This keeps the audience entertained but not disconnected with the character. Her second disguise is of a barmaid named Celia. This time, she changes her appearance and adopts another profession of lower class, once again granting her the freedom a lady of stature stature could not afford. Celia, unlike Fantomina is much more accepting of her desires. (“ She got over the Difficulty at last, however, by proceeding in a Manner, if possible, more extraordinary than all her former Behaviour”). The fact that she has lost her virginity to him, she feels as though he belongs to Beauplaisir, even when she feels betrayed by him being unfaithful to her fictional personas. Her third disguise is one of closer social standing, the widow Bloomer, a woman having been married, therefore remaining virtuous yet having the freedom that most women of the time would not have.
After impersonating three different single women of the time, the protagonist makes the boldest choice of inviting Beauplaisir to a rendez-vous as “Incognita”, her final disguise. She meets him in a dim room, wearing nothing but a mask he is not allowed to remove. Haywood writes this masked character during the height of popularity of masquerade balls, in which the aristocracy could adopt new identities for a night. The mask itself is a symbol for prostitution. When the protagonist becomes Incognita, all she can be defined by is her body. She has no story to give her any character. She is a blank slate, representing universal female desire, transcending class, profession and personality. Incognita is regaining her sexual agency as she is experiencing sexual pleasure and it being self-ratifying. The most interesting thing Haywood manages with Incognita, is to stimulate desire for the protagonist, Beauplaisir and even the audience, yet she makes a point of punishing her, when she finds out she is with child. The reader can enjoy the scandalous story while feeling comfortable with the fact that sinful behaviour cannot be rewarded.
The women in Haywood’s Fantomina are both guilty of misconduct and self-punishing. The protagonist does not place any blame onto Beauplaisir, even though he sexually assaulted her. She confesses her sins to her mother, who also agrees the blame is on her daughter, and decides to send her away to a convent in France, an institution run by women. The audience is also intended to find some meaning in the consequences of Fantomina’s antics. Her web of deceit, giving into her primal urges and abandoning propriety leads to her downfall. It may seem as though the ending is lackluster, considering the empowering female narrative, however Haywood may have been all too aware of her own position as a single woman of the time. Writing a novella about a woman indulging her desires was ahead of her time, and Haywood would be concerned with the reception, as it would influence her own quality of life. This does not mean she did not believe the protagonist should not be punished for her actions, yet the heroine shows no remorse for her actions, she simply acknowledges she was the one to blame. Haywood is thus planting the seeds of female empowerment, while protecting her own reputation through the veil of patriarchal karmic retribution.
Anderson, Emily Hodgson. “Performing the Passions in Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina” and “Miss Betsy Thoughtless”” The Eighteenth Century 46.1 (2005): 1-15. Web.
Kathleen. “Eliza Haywood’s Amatory Aesthetic.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.3 (2006): 309-22. Web.
Mowry, Melissa. “Eliza Haywood’s Defense of London’s Body Politic.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 43.3 (2003): 645-65. Web.
Schulz, Dieter. “”Novel,” “Romance,” and Popular Fiction in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century.” Studies in Philology 70.1 (1973): 77-91. Web.
Fantomina, Feminism, and The Female Experience
Most literary representations of the sexes include implicit and binary differences between women and men. Women are typically written as pure archetypes who strive to find constancy in their relationships. In contrast, men as seen as libertines who seek multiplicity, novelty, and otherwise rakish desires. In Fantomina, a venture of sex, love, and disguise, Eliza Haywood challenges these standards through Fantomina’s own multiplicity and change in identity to deceive Beauplaisir. Fantomina is a foil to Beauplaisir’s male gaze, and with her foresight and constantly being a step ahead of him, she finds a way to reverse typical gender dynamics. Through the heroine’s sexual assertion, verbal expression, and her deceiving of Beauplausir, she rebels from feminine constructs and ultimately contributes to the standing of Fantomina as a proto-feminist text.
The nameless protagonist’s initial disruptive sexual transformation and her resulting sensual assertion exemplifies her determination and ingenuity. While she adopts the Fantomina persona and appears as a prostitute, it is not at first her mission to seduce Beauplaisir, and he initiates the first sexual encounter despite her resistance and rapes her. But following this scene, Fantomina proves to be a swift learner and retaliates sensually (Levin). She uses multiple disguises to trick Beauplaisir into believing that he is seducing her, when she is actually seducing him: “…remembering the height of transport she enjoyed when the agreeable Beauplaisir kneeled at her feet, imploring her first favors, she longed to prove the same again” (Haywood 51). Through her disguises, Beauplaisir blindly falls into her trap and believes himself to be in control over multiple different women, when it is the protagonist in control of her own sexual decisions. Eliza Haywood also uses sexual imagery to describe Fantomina’s plan: “Her design was once more to engage him, to hear him sigh, to see him languish, to feel the strenuous pressures of his eager arms, to be compelled, to be sweetly forced to what she wished with equal ardor, was what she wanted” (Haywood 51). Here, the rhetorical conventions radically capture the experience of sensual passion and addresses the woman’s own desires, something certainly uncharacteristic for the time. Obviously, despite the heroine’s rape, she embraces her sexuality and uses it to gain power in her relationship with Beauplaisir.
Following her sexual assertion, the heroine’s confident rhetoric and use of verbal expression reveals her quick wit and clever scheming. When she first incites her plan to trick Beauplaisir, she weighs the possible consequences to herself. She realizes how her deception could have little consequence on her character and public opinion: “The odious word forsaken will never wound my ears; …it will not be even in the power of my undoer himself to triumph over me; and while he laughs at, and perhaps despises the fond of the yielding Fantomina, he will revere and esteem the virtuous and reserved lady” (Haywood 49). In crafty rhetoric, she iterates the value of her disguises and thus asserts confidence in her scheming. As the plot develops, she continues to fall deeper into her design to trick Beauplaisir. She mischievously notes her ingenuity: “She could not forbear laughing heartily to think of the tricks she had played him, and applauding her own strength of genius, and force of resolution, which by such unthought-of ways could triumph over her lover’s inconstancy, and render very temper, which to other women is the greatest curse, a means to make herself more blessed” (Haywood 64-65). Deviating from the norm, the heroine proudly applauds and embraces her retaliation and trickery. With tone and rhetoric, Haywood uses the protagonist’s verbal expression as a means to exploit her wit and confidence.
Finally, through her methods of sexual forwardness and scheming but wise rhetoric, the protagonist succeeds in her conquest of tricking Beauplaisir. Throughout the entire story, she successfully ties him to one love object while giving him the illusion of variety. Despite her position as a woman with little power over “the heart inclined to rove” (Haywood 51), she tricks him and plays upon his multiplicity: “But I have outwitted even the most subtle of the deceiving kind, and while he thinks to fool me, is himself the only beguiled person” (Haywood 59). She craftily outwits him until the end of the novel, when both the arrival of her mother and her pregnancy puts a stop to her relationship narrative. However, the end does not take away from the damage already caused; Beauplaisir is shocked to discover the truth: “…and he took his leave, full of cogitations, more confused than ever he had known in his whole life” (Haywood 71). The heroine and Haywood leave him confused and render him as passive and powerless as a woman. In this way, this Fantomina character succeeds in her trickery and ultimately dispels typical feminine power dynamics.
Midway through her multiple disguise foray, Fantomina muses that if all women took the same methods as she, men would always be caught in their own snare and would have no cause to scorn their “easy, weeping, wailing sex” (Haywood 51). Through the woman’s sexual assertion and prowess, confident verbal expression, and her successful trickery, she rebels feminine constructs and ultimately contributes to the standing of Fantomina as a feminist text. However, the question persists: is the protagonist a victim lashing out from her traumatic experiences or a victor constantly a step ahead of the male gaze? The answer is not so binary: Fantomina is both a feminist achievement and exposition of the contradictions and confusions of the female experience.
The Power of Example: Fantomina and Pamela
To act as an ‘example’ is to influence another’s actions. If the effects are, as Johnson claims, ‘powerful’, a responsibility of care accompanies the role of example. This responsibility may seem unnecessary, as the example seizes the ‘memory’, and exists only as a mental influence. However, this influence only temporarily exists in the mind. The ‘effects’ are realised in actions, capable of affecting individuals in a surrounding environment. A responsibility is therefore present in the conscious effort to exhibit one’s behaviour as a positive moral example, in order for these ‘effects’ that are realised in others to also be positive. Johnson specifies that these effects are produced ‘without the intervention of will’. Perhaps this suggests that the responsibility of example is present in all action, not simply the conscious activity of moulding oneself in to a positive influence. If the ‘intervention of will’ is removed, neither the example, nor the individual affected by the example have a choice as to which of their actions act as the example. Both Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina and Samuel Richardson’s Pamela engage with this concept of all action as ‘example’. Even seemingly arbitrary actions have powerful effects, suggesting that all action is inescapable from a moral responsibility.
Throughout the eighteenth century novel, the characters are often categorized by social class. Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina challenges the concept that the powerful effect of ‘example’ is restricted to social class, and it’s associated customs. The effects of example are so powerful that they disregard social hierarchy, and are able to affect individuals across class boundaries. Fantomina’s original example, the prostitute in the opening scene, is unnamed but central as the influence that ‘excited a Curiosity in her to know in what Manner these Creatures were addressed.’ Physically restricted by social class, Fantomina resides in a box, whilst the prostitute remains in the ‘Pit’. Interaction with her example therefore does not occur, suggesting that the power of example can be active through gaze alone. However, her ‘curiosity’ is ‘excited’, not created. This suggests a generalized dissatisfaction with her experience of class restrictions that has remained dormant, but is still deeply established within a history of female repression. Fantomina is only able to act upon this frustration now through the introduction of an example she can imitate; the prostitute offers an approach that will bypasses the restrictions of female tradition. The power of example is arguably lessened by this argument, as the ‘curiosity’ already exists within Fantomina. Furthermore, the gaze provokes her ‘curiosity’ to a ‘kind of violence’, so that the prostitute’s influence almost completely surpasses the process of taking ‘possession of the memory’. As soon as Fantomina witnesses the ‘Manner’ the prostitutes act, she begins to enact her ‘resolutions’ (Haywood, p.227). For this ‘Frolic’ to be possible, Fantomina must lower herself to below human form, to a ‘Creature’, in order to consciously neglect the burden of responsibility associated with the status of a Lady.  Haywood therefore refuses to align Fantomina with a class-specific, restrictive example. If the power of example were so influential as to affect Fantomina through sight alone, even the interaction with an upper class example would be arguably ineffectual.
Instead of a freedom to cross social boundaries, Richardson’s Pamela displays an expectation that example should be restricted by social class. Margaret Anne Doody suggests that none of Richardson’s female characters are ‘absolute’, and need a constant positive example to make them so. . Richardson thus presents Lady Davers as the character who should exist as this upper class example to make Pamela ‘absolute’. Yet, her vocabulary rejects this expectation: ‘the Wench could not talk thus, if she had not been her Master’s Bed-fellow’ (Richardson, p.384). A lower class terminology, that includes ‘wench’, creates a parallel between the two women –Pamela regularly calls Mrs Jewkes a ‘pursy, fat Thing’– that suggests both require a polite example to become ‘absolute’, regardless of their ancestry (Richardson, p.114). Lady Davers is therefore identified as a bad example, and her influential ‘power’ is lessened. Unlike Fantomina, Pamela can choose to refuse both the sight of, and interaction with her expected ‘example’. Additionally, this interplay of characters occurs in private, suggesting a difference between this and public discourse. Lady Davers freely engages with the subject of desire, an emotion expected to be neither felt nor discussed by women. This presents the role of an upper class example as perhaps exclusive to a public construction of behavior, that exists only to fulfill social expectations. In private, Richardson inverts these public expectations of example. Pamela is able to refuse Lady Davers’ negative influence by recognizing her own morality as a better example. Ironically, the girl accused of acting as her ‘Master’s Bed-fellow’ acts as the positive example that will make the Lady ‘absolute’. ‘Power’ of example can therefore vary according to recipient. Pamela commits this scene to memory, as she recounts it to Mr B. later, yet does not allow this influence to ‘take possession’ of her. In Pamela, the power of example is restricted to the socially superior, a concept condemned by Richardson through Pamela’s refusal of Lady Davers’ influence.
Richardson and Haywood also present their protagonists as the example, and explore how ‘powerful’ their effects are upon others. Tassie Gwilliam comments ‘it is easy to see how the line separating the woman who performs for an audience without knowing it from the woman who consciously performs for that male audience can blur’.  This concept separates Pamela and Fantomina as characters. The effects of example are arguably more powerful when they derive naturally within an individual, as opposed to a performance. Pamela possesses, and emanates, the attributes of a good example naturally: For Beauty, Virtue, Prudence, and Generosity […] she has more than any Lady […] she has all these naturally; they are born with her (Richardson, p.423). Authenticity seems to influence how powerful an example is. Pamela is defined a truer example than ‘any Lady’, as morally positive attributes are ‘born with her’. This suggests that the occurrence of these qualities naturally is more influential that a conscious performance, a mere imitation of a natural example. Through being ‘born’ with ‘Beauty, Virtue’ and ‘Prudence’, Richardson implies it be almost hereditary, rejecting the association of a refined sensibility with the upper class. Pamela’s parents are classed as socially inferior due to their poverty, yet morally they are such powerful examples that it appears to be inherent in their DNA. Perhaps Pamela has only maintained this existence as a natural example through her original position in the social hierarchy. In comparison, Lady Davers’ privileged upbringing has taught her a proper, public conduct, suggesting that any virtue she exhibits is a performance. Whilst this praise is spoken by Mr B., Pamela reports them to the reader through the epistolary form. This secondary layer of narrative distances the reader from the reality Pamela experiences, defining her narrative as, however close to realism, a performance. As Gwilliam suggests, the ‘line’ between an unconscious and conscious performance is blurred. However, this performative epistolary form is irrelevant when considering Pamela as an example. She is identified as a natural positive example, and this aligns her Gwilliam’s more positive definition of the ‘unconscious’ performer.
The woman who consciously performs is thus condemned as almost incapable of existing as a positive moral example. After acting as Fantomina, Haywood’s protagonist constructs a number of different identities –the widow, the servant, Incognita –who each consciously perform a public, virtuous behavior. Pamela maintains this virtue in private, whilst Fantomina submits to both her own and Beauplaisir’s desire: ‘by these Arts of passing on him as a new Mistress […] I have him always raving, wild, impatient’ (Haywood, p.243). Haywood almost encourages a condemnation of Fantomina as a bad example. She actively performs as the woman who unconsciously performs, each character feigning a virginal status and ignorance of Beauplaisir’s true nature. However, to Beauplaisir, this performance is reality; she is an ‘unconscious’ performer to him, ‘passing’ as a new Mistress each time. In order to sustain this pretense in private also, Fantomina must change her identity constantly to match the requirements of Beauplaisir’s desire. Therefore, she claims ‘I have him’, implying a female, dominant possession, yet is also as ‘wild’ and ‘impatient’ as him. Fantomina’s virtue is a public performance, and cannot exist as a positive moral example through a lack of consistency. Her identity and virtue changes in private, suggesting Fantomina does not possess the natural attributes of a virtuous example that Richardson’s Pamela does. Refusing this moral example is perhaps self-conscious. She consistently labels her affairs as an ‘Art’, suggesting a submergence so far in to her reality based on performance that she cannot return to a reality to fulfill social expectations of this morally positive example. According to Gwilliam, Fantomina is categorized as the woman who ‘consciously performs’, and thus she cannot emanate the power of example naturally. Haywood acknowledges Fantomina’s actions as a bad example of virtue, and instead presents her as a positive example of female independence. Fantomina’s effects of example are therefore powerful, however not in the expected, or same, context as Pamela’s.
Thus far, the power of example has been assumed to be undeniable in influence. Yet, both novels also challenge how ‘great’ the external influence of example is compared to one’s own conscious, internalized desires. In Haywood’s Fantomina, Beauplaisir refuses to act as a morally positive example, and instead chooses to sate his own desire. This is emphasized by Fantomina’s expectations of how women should be ‘addressed’ by men, even when she identifies herself as a prostitute: she told him, that she was a Virgin, […] [it was] far from obliging him to desist –nay, in the present burning Eagerness of Desire (Haywood, p.30). Gentlemanly conduct is an ‘[obligation’] for Fantomina, and she especially expects this after revealing her virginal status. Yet, Beauplaisir’s conduct is perhaps immune to the power of a gentleman’s example, especially in this moment. With example, it’s influence is committed to memory, and then a period of time passes before it affects the subject. This ‘burning Eagerness of Desire’ is instead identified as existing in the ‘present’, where spontaneous emotion overpowers any influences that may exist in the memory. An insistence is reflected also in syntax. The dash not only adds a breath, as if to imitate physical pleasure, but creates a momentum in the sentence that mirrors the increasing progression of action that Fantomina struggles to slow. As an experience of the moment, desire seizes the person without the ‘intervention of will’, similarly to the effects of example that Johnson establishes. If desire produces the same effects, but originates instead from internal influence, it suggests that the power of external example is not as ‘great’ as Johnson suggests. Arguably, the power of example could be seen as greater as desire exists as an emotion. Yet, as soon as this emotion is felt in the ‘burning’ ‘present’, it demands to be physically sated also. Desire therefore induces as much action as the power of example influences. Therefore, the ‘power’ of example is temporarily overpowered as ‘great’, as desire forces imminent action, whilst example can be rejected when it still exists as a mental influence. This allows Beauplaisir to ignore the morally positive example exhibited by gentleman, and choose to sate his desire instead.
Throughout Fantomina, Beauplaisir is immune to the power of positive example. In Pamela, Mr B. only adheres temporarily to the eighteenth century ‘rake’ stereotype. His initial refusal to accept the responsibility of example transitions from Beauplaisir’s insistent moment of desire to a consistent, genuine love. His original choice that favors desire over either following or exhibiting a respectable example, is recounted by Pamela in Letter XI. It is addressed to her Mother alone, despite almost every other letter being addressed to both parents. This suggests that male desire, and it’s consequences for women, was a subject to be addressed by women alone: ‘I found myself in his Arms, quite void of Strength, and he kissed me two or three times, as if he would have eaten me’ (Richardson, p.23). In her nervous state, Pamela is void of ‘Strength’ physically. Yet she also actively refuses any emotional agency, subsequently denying any desires felt. She ‘found’ herself draped on him, and ‘he kissed [her]’, emphasizing his dominance over her through the order of pronoun. Only through presenting this experience as undesired can Pamela preserve her virginity wholly, as she refuses even lustful thought. Her lack of agency is further suggested in Mr B.’s almost animalistic strength, becoming primal in his desire to ‘[eat]’ her. This emphasizes the physical ‘violence’ that desire can inadvertently cause in the urge to be sated, provoking Mr B. to actions almost ‘without the intervention of [his] will’. As the novel progresses, the powerful effects of Pamela’s morally good example reform Mr B. Richardson suggests this is only possible through marriage. The sacrament forces Mr B.’s relationship with Pamela to the public sphere. She is, by law, now a Lady, and is considered an equal and able to inflict her example upon her husband. Therefore, the effects of Pamela’s virtuous example are consistently more powerful than the ‘rake’ stereotype. However, it is only when Pamela ascends the social hierarchy, is she given the opportunity to inflict it.
Each novel explores the ‘power’ of example. In exploring the success of an example, it must be considered if the example presented is identical to what the author intended. Richardson and Haywood both display protagonists that exhibit an example, respectively good and bad. However, each character cannot, and does not maintain this example constantly throughout each novel. Fantomina and Pamela must diverge from their expected behavior for each author to engage with a certain sense of realism. Therefore neither exist as a wholly good, or wholly bad example: Fantomina is seemingly an example of the consequences of female desire, yet refuses to submit to shame or repentance; and Pamela is seemingly an example of perfect virtue, yet eventually submits to her desire. The characters may only exist as true examples when exhibiting these flaws that distance them from their assumed example. The true example is in how each protagonist overcomes the stereotype that society forces upon them. Both Fantomina and Pamela, to different extents, do not exhibit the example they are supposed to. Yet, the examples they do display, of independence and consistence of virtue, are made more ‘powerful’ in effect, as they must steadily struggle against social expectation. Without these flaws that differ from their expected example, the characters would be in a conduct book, and not a romance.
Bibliography Ballaster, R., Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992)
Doody, M. A., The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth Century Novel ed. by John Richetti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Gwilliam, T., Samuel Richardson’s fictions of Gender (California: Stanford University Press, 1993)
Haywood, E., Fantomina: or, Love in a Maze (London: Black Swan)
Richardson, S., Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded (Oxford: OUP, 2001)