Fantomina: the Manipulator of Situations

Fantomina is a novella describing how a young woman Fantomina goes about trying to seduce Beauplaisir. Fantomina details the events of how a young woman curiosity leads her into “faked prostitution” and ultimately falling in love with Beauplaisir. The novella chronicles how the young woman does whatever she can through disguising her identity to be always with the one she has fallen in with, Beauplaisir. The story ends when Fantomina gets pregnant and is sent to a monastery in France. Haywood’s Fantomina represents an important moment in the evolution of gender constructions in the eighteenth century.

This research essay is from short story Fantomina. Eliza Haywood Fantomina perceives that gender categories can easily be changed by showing that nothing is ever fixed. You have the power to manipulate any situation you are faced with. There are many instances where the reversal of gender categories is highlited. On page 1458,Haywood says ‘She was young,a stranger to the world and,consequently,to the dangers of it, and having nobody in town at the time to whom she was obliged to be accountable for her actions,did in everything as her inclinations or homours rendered most agreeable to her”(Fantomina 1458).

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This quote is when Fantomina was contemplating to fake prostitution after she had seen how much attention other women were getting from men at the play. The passage explains how Fantomina chose to ignore society’s norms or standards. Whilst women were supposed to be naive of the dangers of some behaviour, Fantomina did not follow the way which society had deemed as necessary mainly because she was still young. Women were supposed to be accountable for their action is it to their mothers or husbands; Fantomina goes out of her way to show that women can have the power to change anything if they really want to do something.

In this instance Fantomina goes against her values as a virtuous woman to please her fantasies further enhancing the point that she was following her instincts rather than the constraints which society had built upon certain gender categories. Fantomina’s competitive nature led her to always try to discover new things. This can be illustrated when the author says: “Therefore she thought it not at least a fault to put into practice a little whim which came immediately into head”(Fantomina 1458). This passage shows that Fantomina did not willingly hold herself against the strict standard set for her.

Whilst Fantomina isn’t supposed to follow the whim, she decides to go against her values. Haywood uses a whim to show that you have the power to do whatever you want. A whim is an idea which suddenly comes to your mind. Where women are supposed to be modest according to conventional gender roles and see things in a certain fixed way, Fantomina went against her values as being a virtuous woman to entertain a whim. This goes on to show that even though this society was fixed as to how women ought to behaviour, your thoughts and actions could outweigh society fixed or their beliefs.

The free will behaviour of society in the eighteenth century is highlited in the works of April Alliston when she talks about quixotism. Quixotism is when something is rush and often rashly unpredictable. Alliston says that “female quixotic enacted the shift in the decorum of feminity from honesty to fidelity”. (Alliston 249). This tells us that gender roles really started to evolve in the 18th century. While females were supposed to be honesty in the years before the eighteenth century, the 18th century marks the beginning of females starting to challenge the traditional gender roles.

So it is in the eighteenth century when women challenged the decorum of how they ought to be. “Decorum” means dignified property of behaviour, speech, dress. So the decorum is basically the traditional gender roles. This decorum shift can be seen a lot in Fantomina, for example when she disguises herself into different identities from Fantomina to Celia to widow Bloomer and Incognita. In the eighteenth century we see a rapid transformation of society from a society where men controlled women to a society where the females could manipulate situations to be in positions where there will be able to do and get whatever they wanted.

Haywood’s Fantomina also challenges the decorum by portraying the protagonist as having some influence over Beauplaisir. Fantomina always would manipulate Beauplaisir, so that his love for her would not die down. Fantomina is the opposite of the stereotypical woman in the eighteenth century. On page 1466,the author says that “she was so admirably skilled in the art of feigning that she had the power of putting on almost what face she pleased, and knew so exactly how to form her behaviour to the character she represented that all the comedians at both playhouses are infinitely short of her performances.

This is about how Fantomina had learnt the art of conniving,that she was comparing herself to the comedian at playhouses. In a century where men were supposed to be the liars and connivers, Fantomina found a way to do against what stereotypically would have been done by women and do what would have been done stereotypically by man. This shows us that Fantomina had gone against the stereotypes and “beaten” Beauplaisir at what was supposed to be his role in society. So Fantomina learned skills of feigning shows that some woman could really change their affirmed gender roles to fulfill what their hearts and minds desired off.

The eighteenth century saw the rise of the change in conventional gender roles. It saw the emergency of prostitution and gender constructions being changed. Whilst it would have been harder for women to do certain things before the 18th century, it became more and more acceptable for men to be more feminine. The role of women also evolved due to the Industrial revolution. The evolution of gender roles is summarised by Jeremy Webster when he describes what it meant to be a women in the eighteenth century. Webster says “a woman’s sexual reputation was defined by her relationship to men, and by her status as a wife, widow, or, a maid”. Webster 456). So this quotation shows us how women were perceived to be in the eighteenth century. Women were defined not by who they were really are but according to how society viewed them as commodities to their husbands or something else. Where women were supposed to be commodities for men, Haywood portrays Fantomina as challenging the status quo by depicting her as having control of her own destiny rather than being Beauplaisir’s “commodity”. The eighteenth century brought about changes in what women and men could do.

Haywood says that “Her design was once more to engage him…To hear him sigh, to see him languish, and to feel the strenuous pressures of his eager arms, to be compelled, to be sweetly forced to what she wished with equal ardour was what she wanted and what she had formed a stratagem to obtain, in which she promised herself success”(Fantomina 1463). This passage details how after Beauplaisir had raped Fantomina, she could not her help but conforms to her new found affections for Beauplaisir. This shows Fantomina would not let anything come between her in her attempt to seduce her newly found man.

She had not only thought about the ideas of how she was going to get Beauplaisir,she had also devised schemes to be with her newly found man. Where conventional gender roles would have said that women were not supposed to behaviour and be more in control of the situation, Haywood portrays Fantomina as having the power to decide what was best for her. In a society where women were suppose not to be fallen and not show too much affections, Fantomina goes beyond the role of just being a follower to the role of being an initiator’s in this instance, all Fantomina ever wanted was to make Beauplaisir her servant in love.

So the eighteenth century proves that women as much as men could fulfill any roles or types they wanted. The eighteenth century saw the evolution of conventional gender roles to the beginning of the sort like modern gender roles. Eliza Haywood highlights this when she talks about prostitution in the play. It is only in the eighteenth century where we see the emergency of two kinds of genders: male and females.

By depicting Fantomina in different characters throughout the novella, Eliza Haywood is able to give readers a different view for what it means to be a man or woman in the eighteenth century. The novella shows us that if any anyone desires of something, it is possible to get what you want no matter the obstacles surrounding you. In the novella, Fantomina shows us her determination to get what she wanted by disguising herself into different characters. Fantomina allows us to be able to see that although gender roles were there they could be easily manipulated if you really wanted.

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