Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For Credit: Fantomina Follow-Up

Everyone had such great things to say in class today about Fantomina's four identities, that I never got to a couple of data points that I wanted to spell out.  So here they are, for your edification:

1.  The role and recognition of women writers (like Haywood) in the Enlightenment era.  A couple of people after class have expressed surprise at encountering a woman writer writing so freely about women's experience and they wanted to know just how typical she was.  Short answer: there weren't a lot of women writers, but there were more than you might think and they had a wider and more mainstream audience than you might think.  It can be helpful to think of women writing for publication in the Enlightenment era as being kind of like female firefighters or male elementary school teachers in 2011: they are certainly out there, and you're not particularly surprised to come across one--but you do notice, in a way that you don't notice, for example, the gender of a grocery store clerk or pediatrician. 

2.  Working class experience.  It's worth pausing on Haywood's explanation of how Fantomina's Celia disguise works, as a snapshot of the assumptions surrounding female servants.  When Fantomina dresses as a servant and applies for the job at the inn where Beauplaisir stays in Bath, the text notes that "Fortune in this exploit was extremely on her side; there were no others of the male-sex in the house but an old gentlemen, who had lost the use of him limbs...and her beloved Beauplaisir, so that she was in no apprehensions of any amorous violence, but where she wished to find it" (p. 575, emphasis mine.)  Note the assumption here: if there WERE other male lodgers at the inn, she WOULD be subject to "amorous violence." Note too that her looks help to get her hired ("she was still very pretty; and the mistress of the house...was glad of the opportunity of taking her").  Readers of the time (largely middle and upper class, as we discussed) would have shared the assumption in play here: that pretty servants are there for the taking and that "amorous violence" is part of the job description.  It's worth noting as well that the sex scene that follows is the most explicitly narrated encounter in the story.

 What would you have liked to say in class today but didn't have a chance to?  What elements of this story didn't get covered that you would have liked to explore further?  What additional observations, questions, reflections do you have?   Feel free to post any relevant thoughts or comments here before we move on to Pope's Eloisa to Abelard.

Deadline: Friday (1/28), start of class.

15 comments:

me-thinks said...

It has been suggested Haywood's ending was somewhat dictated by the mores of her day. If that is true, Haywood might have had another, less proper, ending in mind. On that theme, I would have liked to hear alternative endings based on the various interpretations people expressed today.

Kim said...

I think the ending is slightly predictable. In the begining it is apparent that Fantomina is in way over her head and has no clue as to what she had gotten herself into. I think that by giving Beauplisir her virginity she felt that she had lost control. She would get control back if she had him though. That is why she makes so many fake names and different lives for herself; he would be kept interested in her and she would gain back control. She also realized that she was off the 'marriage market' so he was really her only hope. He was also the destraction she needed from her rather boring life. I was not suprised that she had gotten pregnant or that he would not stay with her. Fanntomina had gotten to swept up in the 'game' she was playing. In the end she significantly altered her life because of it.

Shaun said...

The epigraph from Edmund Waller suggests an interesting way to frame the relationship between Beauplaisir and Fantomina. It says:
In love the victors from the vanquished fly.
They fly that wound, and they pursue that die.


Early on, Beauplaisir is established as the victor, Fantomina is clearly she who pursues and also she who 'dies' or is punished. The footnote also adds that "to die" also means "to experience orgasm." By today's standards sex and death might be a morbid combination, but if resistance was considered a normal part of sex then it would appear more natural. The footnote also tells us that the letter the epigraph is taken from is about a man and his love for a woman named Celia.

In this way it is a story about an impossible, doomed love. It also suggests that it is an allegory on the nature of love as well, that it is not constant, faithful and ethereal, but fickle, promiscuous and physical.

JeTara said...

If I was to ask for closing remarks on Fantomina, I would like to know the perspectives of my classmates about what they thought was the overall significance of Fantomina's character to Eliza Haywood? According to my understanding, I believe that Eliza wanted to emphasize that women during this period and in future years to come will have the ability to control their sexual relationships with men for their own pleasure. She illustrates this through the actions of Fantomina and her different identities.Hence, I think Haywood also wants to illustrate to her readers that this is an example of an individual who decides to rebel against the social norms during this time period, without facing any extreme punishment. I also believe that Eliza wanted to allow her readers to conclude that when it comes to the intelligence that men and women are equal and one day the world will not be ran by all men. Overall, I think that Haywood has done a great job of portraying women & the social norms during her time period. I found Fantomina to be interesting, please share your final thoughts of this story??

Kim P said...

One of the things that we hadn't much discussed in class was the fact that Beauplaisir never recognized that the four women he slept with all had the same identity. It seems that after a while he might realize this, but it's not the case. He must have been either really dense to not put two and two together, or Fantomina's disguises were truly fantastic and convincing. What does everyone else think?

Haro said...

Personally, I believe Haywood's story was a way to highlight the different characteristics and mannerism of men during that time period. While reading and from the in-class discussion, what I was took from her actions was a woman who wanted to not only pursue a man but at the same time showing the ways that he was being so naive. While also highlighting this about him, Haywood was most likely projecting the women of her time and her opinion about men that was probably bottled up for so long because they could not speak freely. I would really say that this is a message directed specifically for women to open there eyes about how to be more self reliant but more to show them that men can not be trusted. Haywood through a narrative was displaying how men can easily be persuaded by the next female when not in the presence of their significant other.

As far as the ending, I would have like to see Fantomina own up to the different roles she portrayed. It would have been interesting for Haywood to include more of the reaction that Beauplaisir would given, because it would give us a even better look into the way that she believes men think.

me-thinks said...

I don’t know if the term “suspension of disbelief” is used in reference to literature, but I think that is what Haywood wants to accomplish. She wants us to believe Fantomina’s character changes were absolutely convincing. I base my opinion on the entire paragraph Haywood devotes to why Fantomina was successful in her ruses (p 578), as well as the numerous similar comments with which Haywood peppers the story. In addition, I think Haywood goes to these lengths for the purpose of preventing us from concluding Beauplaisir was an idiot because, if we do, the entire nature of the story is changed.

Samantha said...

When first reading the story, I expected Fantomina to ultimately be punished for her actions. An interesting point was brought up in discussion about the perceived sincerity of the ending of the story. This made me think of one of the most famous examples of an amorous woman in literature, Madame Bovary. When she gets her comeuppance, she dies a slow and painful death. This is not close to what we see happen to Fantomina. Just the fact that she is allowed to live indicates that Haywood sees the role of her heroine in a very different light than Flaubert.
In class I posited that Fantomina's increase in material wealth was an inverse correlation to her social identity and influence. If you'll forgive the reference, it makes me think of a line from the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch where Hedwig tells the audience that in order to be free, we must give up a piece of ourselves. I think the fact that Fantomina does not physically die but instead dies a sort of social death draws this sequence to its natural conclusion. She can not continue to live her dual life as the seductress Fantomina as well as that of the high class woman whose name we never learn. She must either abide by society's rules or commit to thwarting them.

Just as an aside, I'm not suggesting that this was written in response to Madame Bovary some 100 years before it published, but using it as an example of what I've found to be a fairly common literary trope.

Celeste said...

In response to Kim P’s question, I too was astonished that Beauplaisir did not realize that the four women he slept with were actually the same woman. I think it reinforces the fact that men often ignore details and are driven by their hormones. However, Beauplasisir missed more than a little detail. He did not care enough about Fantomina’s four characters to get to really know any of them. He just wanted the sex and chose to be oblivious to the women’s features and personalities. Haywood perhaps wants to make her readers aware of men’s lack of attention and concern for women. I do not think Fantomina’s disguises were that camouflaging. They could not possibly conceal most of her physical characteristics especially in order for her to create four unique women.

SteveL said...

One thing we never discussed in class was the reason why Fantomina was chasing after Beauplaisir in the first place. I personally think it was because of her naivete, but I want to know what you guys think.

Do you think Fantomina was chasing Beauplaisir because she had never been with a man before, and was confusing lust for love? Or maybe Fantomina saw it as a challenge? Maybe she wanted to see if a man, so adamant in his "love" for her, was really as devoted and observant as he claimed to be at their first meeting.

This might seem a bit obvious to others in the class, but it was just something that was never brought up and thought it was worth mentioning.

Gary M said...

I also find it hard to believe that someone would not be able to remember the person that they slept with over and over again with. Beauplaisir clearly had no interest in getting to know the the four characters. Beauplaisir must have been a complete idiot. It's not like he only spend one day with each of the characters and then met another a week after. He could have taken the time to realize that they all shared the same features,and would have come to the conclusion that is was only the same person pretending to be four different people. This shows part of his own character, that he was only in the relationship for the short run. Beauplaisir arrogance was shown in the story, he believed that he could take various women and dispose of them as he pleased because he was rich. Even though Fantomina created various lies, in the end she was the only faithful one in their weird relationship. Beauplaisir would on the other promise each women that he loved them, and even when in a relationship he still saw the others and cheated on the four characters. Beauplaisir deserved to be deceived, he was not such a good character himself.

Demosthenes said...

In response to SteveL,
I think it was an evolving process, but a shallow one at that. At the beginning of the story, Fantomina basically tells the reader that she likes a compliment just as much as the next girl, and thus she dresses up like a prostitute to gain some praise for her beauty. But then, along comes Beauplasir, who she is really attracted to. I think then, yes, she does confuse love for lust, and in her naivete she forgets that (in this time period) marriage must come between wanting and getting sex.

But it's not over yet, because his affections wane. Now, because Fantomina has committed to her cloak-and-dagger-with-no-exit-strategy approach, what could have simply been a one-off mistake (remedied by a more deliberate expression of her true identity) turns into a chase for more lust.

I think at root, she was just a teenager: horny, aimless, and feeling under-appreciated in some way. I think we all have been in those shoes at some point or another.

Jay said...

A few blog topics ago, someone posted saying that Beauplaisir was portrayed as somewhat of a "fool" in this story because of the many times he was tricked, but I disagree.
Our previous blog topic was discussion if Beauplaisir was "just being a guy" when he raped (or didn't rape depending on your viewpoint) Fantomina. The way I see it is Beauplaisir wasn't necessarily tricked, but actually just acting like most normal guys. If an attractive girl came up to a normal guy and seemed flirtatious and wanting to have sex with him, what man wouldn't do the same thing Beauplaisir did? In his mind, he hooked up with 4 women in a short period of time and they seemed to really like him. Tricked or not, most men (Beauplaisir included) would most likely do the same thing.

Rachel said...

Yeah, I was wondering the same thing as Kim P and the others about Beau's (sorry, I'm just going to shorten his name) oblivion to Fantomina's various disguises. It's just kind of ridiculous that he's that dense...I mean, did he have even an inkling of the possibility that maybe these women that he consecutively meets may be somehow linked? Like maybe somewhere in the back of his mind, he suspected something was fishy, but he's too lusty to really care?

Also, I think that Fantomina's ability to disguise herself so well kind of contradicts her "innocent" nature. How was she able to pull off every disguise perfectly if she didn't even really know much about prostitutes in the first place? Is she normally a people watcher? She seems really young, yet her actions come off as an experienced woman who's lived and seen almost everything. The fact that Fantomina thinks she can continually change her identity for Beau shows that she either thinks she knows everything that she needs to know, or she really is filled with knowledge. And it can't be just the education that she received that got her to know all that...

Also, going along with Haywood's rare profession, how did people in the Englightenment Era receive her story? Was it considered vulgar or would this kind of story be found on like London Times Bestseller LIst?

Deborah R. said...

I think it would have been interesting to know Beauplaisir's side of the story as well. For instance, we talked a lot in class about Fantomina's disguises being a "win-win" situation; Fantomina gets the passion and excitement of Beauplaisir and Beauplaisir gets a new woman with every new disguise. Then many people agreed that it's not win-win because Fantomina isn't very happy. However, I would argue that we don't know if Beauplaisir is particularly pleased with the situation either. I wonder if men during this time period were even happy with their ability to go from woman to woman while having to pretend otherwise in public. I think this story is definitely about how women were treated unfairly but I also think it says a lot about men as well.