Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For Credit: First Reactions to Fantomina

Eliza Haywood

 Respond to this post with some first reactions to Eliza Haywood's Fantomina:
  • What surprises, annoys, or interests you about this novella?
  • What questions do you have about it?
  • What specific passages or episodes are you finding difficult to understand?
  • What issues relating to it would you like to see discussed in class?
Your response shouldn't answer all those questions--you can pick any one of them as a starting point for your own reflections, or you can respond (kindly and collegially) to a classmate's ideas.

Deadline: start of class on Friday (1/21).


Shaun said...

I began reading it with no prior knowledge about the author or the text. I thought the story was quite funny, probably something like an 18th century equivalent of a contemporary romance novel or Mills & Boon.

I think that it is interesting that each character Fantomina plays is a stereotype, at least in the present day - the prostitute, servant girl, widow and the one night stand. The first three were probably the most accessible to her because she was playing parts that she had no real knowledge of apart from distant observation, while the last required more creativity. You could probably write essays on how this represents sexuality as performance.

It is also a subversive text with respect to gender that portrays the dominant male character as a bit of a fool. He can't tell that he is sleeping with the same woman in four different disguises. Even though the narrator speaks very highly of how good an actress Fantomina is it is still a big stretch. I also picked up on some themes of class (e.g. Beauplaisir noticing that she isn't a regular prostitute), but those power structures don't appear to be questioned.

Even though she is punished in the end, I don't think she is presented as a bad person deserving of punishment - her affair is an "intrigue" rather than an evil. The role of the mother in her punishment is also an example of a woman enforcing patriarchal norms.

Vivian said...

I found it amusing how Beauplaisir was portrayed as a fool, oblivious to the fact that was with the same woman. Fantomina recognizes she has outsmarted Beauplaisir and congratulates herself on her victory over him, representing female empowerment.
It was interesting to see Fantomina begin portrayed as a "rake", seducing Beauplaisir in order to satisfy her own sexual desires.

Demosthenes said...

I suppose this is a little less intellectual of a post, but I have never gotten a satisfactory answer from anyone about this: why are some words capitalized and some not, in a seemingly arbitrary fashion?

I'm a poet, and so I know that creative authors wield incredible power in their diction (a relevant example in this case would be ee cummings), but this does seem to be the case here. I usually say, "That's just how they did it back then, arbitrary-style," but I'm not convinced that is really why. Does anyone have a better answer?

Dema said...

I found Beauplaisir’s encounter with Incognita an interesting part of the novella because it demonstrates Beauplaisir’s need for control. When Incognita assumes a dominant role by concealing her face from him, Beauplaisir is frustrated by this secrecy and “resolved never to make a second visit” (583). In previous meetings with the disguised Fantomina, even though Beauplaisir is ignorant of the deception, he nevertheless exercises a certain degree of control.

During his first seduction of Fantomina, Beauplaisir “was bold;—he was resolute” and while seducing Fantomina disguised as a servant girl, he “devoured her lips, her breasts with greedy kisses…till he had ravaged all, and glutted each rapacious sense” (575). Incognita is different from these previous roles. She uses her anonymity as leverage over Beauplaisir and inverts the usual gender dynamic that he is accustomed to.

Even though Fantomina adopts different personas, Haywood produces a single character who is multidimensional and disrupts traditional gender roles. As Shaun mentioned in his posts, performance and acting occupy prominent roles in this work. The various personas throughout the work serve not only to deceive Beauplaisir but also to help Fantomina express genuine desires. Acting is a way for Fantomina to escape some of the social conventions that limit what is decorous for a woman of her social standing. Haywood presents Fantomina as a full-fledged character with desires and who is wildly creative. Although Beauplaisir takes advantage of her at first, Fantomina is not strictly a victim. She acts on her desires and does so in a way that challenges Beauplaisir’s desire for control.

Shaun said...

I also find the capitalization interesting. I had just assumed that they were author's emphasis or a rhythmic device. They're also in the online version, but are not printed in the anthology - perhaps the editors did not feel that they were worth reproducing?

Harojuanis Wade said...

What was interesting about this story was the fact that even during that specific time period, this woman went through extreme measures to interact with this male. She was intrigued by attraction so much that she disguised herself multiple times. Now, what surprised me about her ability to continue changing her appearance was her ability to take on these many roles without Beauplaisir noticing some resemblance between the women. During their first encounter he realized that she was not a regular girl but after that he was not aware that he was dealing with the same female. This could possibly show that he was unfaithful and uncaring about his relationship with the young woman, and or resemble some of the mens feelings and actions toward women at that time period.

The read was fair, I was just not too excited about the author usage of capitalized words randomly throughout the reading. It made it seem as if certain things were giving names when in actuality it was simple text. I had to reread a couple of the sentences to make sure that there wasn't a specific place or name for some of the things in the reading.

Something that I would like to see more discussed in class is the main characters background information. I would like to know more about her specific role, because it seems like it just jumps into the store about a female that wants to receive the attention that other women were getting.

SteveL said...

I enjoyed this novella more than I thought I would (I usually don't enjoy earlier British literature), and was interested (and maybe slightly confused) by the idea of changing identities to constantly seduce the same person.

I suppose my main question of the story is what message is it attempting to get across. Is the point of this story to show a new form of independence for women in the enlightenment era? Or is it simply supposed to show the fallibility of men in society (which I suppose would also show a new form of empowerment for women).

As far as understanding the story, I got a bit lost during the "Incognita" stage of the story. Why did Beauplaisir continue his relationship with Incognita after thinking he would never return to the house. I don't understand the motivation.

Rachel said...

I thought that this story was a bit funny because of the fact that Fantomina chased Beauplaisir all around the country just to get with him multiple times. It was also sad that she had nothing really better to do, but waste her time trying to make a shallow man fall for her.

She seems really cunning and experienced through the way she portrays herself through her different personas, but at the same time, she comes off as nothing more than a young and naive woman. She didn't even understand the concept of prostitutes and why men seemed to be attracted to them, at first. I also found it funny that watching prostitutes trying to entertain several men actually peaked her interest in trying to pose as one. It was like a "no big deal" thing for her, just fun and games.

And this whole multiple facade thing going on with her throughout the story seems like a game to her, but really, she just comes off as desperate. You know that she is in love with Beauplaisir, who is really just an ass, and can't stand to let him out of her sight. She's kind of a freak, if you ask me. She would probably be the modern equivalence to a stalker.

I can't tell if this is supposed to be a feminist story, empowering women to say that men are foolish, shallow, and want nothing more from women than sex. Or if it's trying to say that women are idiots who will go to extreme lengths to find hope in a man whose love doesn't exist. I suppose that Haywood may be warning women about men through Fantomina and telling them to not be like her.

I also find it extremely unrealistic that Beauplaisir couldn't recognize a woman that he had been sleeping with multiple times. How is it possible? Then again, this is a story.

How old is Fantomina exactly? And how come she never wrote letters as Celia? Also, I wonder if we, as readers, even know who Fantomina really is. Is Fantomina really her name? It was the first name she used when introducing herself to Beauplaisir, but for all we know, it can be as fake as all her other personas. Her mother doesn't even call out her name when she finds her daughter, so we wouldn't really know.

Jay said...

The first aspect of the story I noticed was the capitalization of various words throughout the text. This made the story a little more difficult of a read than it would be if the the words were not capitalized because I found myself emphasizing those words because of the capitalization. Whether Haywood meant for these words to be emphasized or not, it did cause me to reread some sections.

One of the more interesting characters in the story seemed to be Beauplaisir because of the way he was continually deceived by the woman throughout the text. She simply changed disguises in order to fool him.

One more aspect of the story that seemed interesting was that the main character was not officially named. She went by several aliases, but i never knew if any of them were her actual name.

Chad Bob said...

At first I did not understand that the girl was jealous of the attention the prostitutes were getting. I thought she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time without knowing the possible consequences. Then I realized she knew what she was doing, but may just have though she could easily get out of any sticky situation.
I don't think she planned on getting as involved as she did with the man. The problem was that the man never saw her as a real woman and just a possession like any woman who sells her body. He felt he had a right to what was his and took advantage of it without her proper consent. But it can definatly be argued that it was consent enough just by acting as a prostitute.