Saturday, January 22, 2011

For Credit: The Narrator and Beauplaisir

Note that the story of Fantomina (as we'll call her) is related by a third person narrator.  Some unnamed, unspecified voice tells the story of who Fantomina is, what she does, where she goes.  That narrator doesn't have as much to say about Beauplaisir, but the narrator does, inevitably, relate his role in the story as well.

What is the narrator's attitude toward Beauplaisir?   How does the telling of the story nudge the reader to interpret his actions?  Here are three possible ways to describe the depiction of Beauplaisir:

1. Beauplaisir is a dog, scumbag, player...you name it.  Whatever you think of Fantomina's shenanigans, Beauplaisir deserved to be played like she played him.

2. Boys will be boys.  What can you do?

3. Boys will be boys--but Beauplaisir is a pretty upstanding guy, considering the circumstances.

Does one of these possibilities accurately convey your sense of what Haywood is doing with her male character?  If so, which one?  Or would you like to suggest a different way of understanding this character?  You can start the conversation by writing a couple of sentences to support your choice (it's a good idea to include a quote or two from the story that will back up your claims).  Or you can take issue with someone else's response (kindly and collegially, please!

Keep in mind that the way you judge Beauplaisir may not be the way that Haywood (or the eighteenth-century reader) judges him.  For that reason you need to be attentive to the tone and precise wording of the passages that you consider in forming your response. 

Deadline: Monday, 1/24, start of class.

13 comments:

Dema said...

The narrator offers a fairly balanced view of Beauplaisir and does not completely condemn him. He is shown to be both an unapologetic womanizer but does retain some sense of propriety. I think his portrayal is best described by the third choice, he is like other men but decent in some regards. We are told that he “had a greater share of good nature than most his sex,” (579) so he is upstanding to a certain degree. I think we should assess Beauplaisir’s character relative to how the narrator describes other men and the social values he is subject to. Although the narrator acknowledges that Beauplaisir retains some decency, he is not entirely exempt from the behavior that modern readers may disapprove of. The narrator says, “he varied not so much from his sex as to be able to prolong desire to any great length after possession” (574). Beauplaisir is not entirely forgiven for his promiscuity, but it is acknowledged that he is driven by the same desires that, in the narrator’s opinion, motivate most men.

Even though the third option seems to be the most accurate characterization of how the narrator depicts Beauplaisir, I think the phrase “boys will be boys” is misleading because Beauplaisir’s behavior is enabled by views regarding gender that both men and women in the story subscribe to. Specifically, I’m referring to Fantomina’s mother who upholds patriarchal standards and places all blame for what transpires on her daughter. Fantomina is not a passive victim, yet it does not appear that she deserves all blame. Beauplaisir may not have intended to impregnate Fantomina, but it is likely he is aware that his promiscuity could lead to an unplanned pregnancy. Fantomina’s mother perceives her daughter’s behavior as the highest dishonor, but she does not hold Beauplaisir to the same standards, and he is relieved of responsibility.

Beauplaisir’s behavior is not admirable, but he is not entirely depraved either. After Fantomina gives birth, he visits her and even offers to raise the child (586). Haywood offers instances in the story where his behavior is repugnant, particularly when he seduces Fantomina in her various personas. The two letters he writes to Mrs. Bloomer and Fantomina, respectively, demonstrate his inclination for deceit and flattery. His professions of love and loyalty to both women are empty and seem ridiculous because they are presented side by side. Given the narrator’s general attitude toward men, I consider Beauplaisir as someone who publicly exhibits some positive qualities but is nevertheless and man and not immune from the undesirable attitudes and behaviors the narrator claims a large proportion of men share.

Shaun said...

I didn't get very much of a sense that the narrator condemned Beauplasir at all. I also had a reading that was closest to the third option, but I think Beauplasir's worst offences are ascribed to 'boys will be boys'. Even the most critical words in the text, spoken by Fantomina, ascribe the pain of his deceit and betrayal at least partially to the foolishness of putting "faith in man". Fantomina even takes pride in "having outwitted even the most subtle of the deceiving kind."

I disagree with Dema that the mother is upholding patriarchal standards by placing all blame on Fantomina. I think that it was Fantomina's actions that brought all the blame upon her as opposed to patriarchal standards. Fantomina is the one who devised, initiated and executed her strategems to seduce Beauplasir four times. She even invites his infidelity to her, albeit with herself. If anyone was a passive victim, it was Beauplasir who is portrayed as a bit of a fool and "innocent cause of [Fantomina's] undoing", who cannot help following his promiscuous nature into four affairs with the same woman. I think that the patriarchal standard enforced by the mother is to punish Fantomina for her sexuality by sending her to the convent.

I think overall the narrator gives a fairly negative representation of men. Beauplasir is portrayed as an example of a man that is better than many, but he is still a fool. He still can't help himself when in the presence of an attractive female or really ever meet ideals of fidelity. He probably ended up a laughing stock as could be implied from the narrator's description of the intrigue "as full of variety as any, perhaps, that many ages has produced."

Dema's point about Beauplasir escaping punishment for his promiscuity is interesting. I think that the patriarchal values have a lot to do with his promiscuity being more acceptable, but those values alone would not have excused him entirely. He would have been obliged to marry her as the mother had planned, except the whole affair was entirely her doing. He also feels an obligation to the newborn, which again the mother declines. I suspect that class is also playing a role here. Most of Fantomina's disguises were roles that would usually be below her - prostitute or servant - with whom casual sexual relations might be more easily overlooked. It may also be the aristocratic position that Fantomina's mother holds that allows her to consider obliging Beauplasir to marry her.

KW said...

Your instructor here. I just wanted to point out that, while Dema and Shaun have both written excellent posts, they have also FAR exceeded the expectations for a good blog response! If you have 3+ paragraphs to say about a question, by all means say it--but don't feel like you can't post if you DON'T have that much to say.

Seriously, a couple of sentences making a single substantive point are plenty.

Note, too, that though it may at first glance look as if Dema and Shaun have said all there is to say, they have in fact, opened up some new issues for their classmates to address. Is Shaun right that "the narrator gives a fairly negative representation of men"? Dema argues that Haywood is simply depicting the patriarchal attitudes of her time in her portrayal of Beauplaisir, but is he right? Is it possible that Haywood is depicting these attitudes in such a way as to show how unfair they are to women?

Of course, you don't have to build on Shaun or Dema's responses--they've left plenty to say about the original formulation of the question. Just know that you don't have to write as much as they did to take part in the conversation!

Chad Bob said...

I believe the narrator conveys Beauplaisir as the guy who is just being a guy, and even is a little more upstanding and gentlemanly than most characters in this context would be. His character seeks a prostitute. While the women expect some cordial type of greeting from the men, it really wouldn't matter in their profession. They need the money. The men have the money. They have the right to deny a customer, but if they don't get enough of them, they don't have enough money to survive. Beauplaisir goes further to show he is above and beyond most by actually letting Fantomina not fulfill her bargain at first. In the end he may be portrayed as a little more animalistic, but that's the nature of the scene of action.
Fantomina is as much to blame if not way more than anyone else for her unfortunate experience. While one may feel pity for her, a sense of a mother and father saying "I told you so" appears in my mind. She should never have pretended to be something she was not.

Haro said...

The narrator of the story is not only conveying Beauplaisir a certain way, but i feel that its the narrator's overall portrayal of men during this time period in general. With Fantomina being able to seduce Beauplaisir, I think this is the narrator's way of showing us that men like himself are easily persuaded and conflicted by women in general. It shows that the narrator feel that he really have no care for the position within society for women such as Fantomina. It portrays men as not having any feelings or emotions toward women. They simple act off of pleasures and desires. Telling the story, the narrator incorporates the incident where Beauplaisir pretty much raped her but then also goes into showing his care for the baby that they would be having toward the end of the story. So, Im not sure if this is indirectly the narrator feelings changing toward him and men in general during this period or just an essential portion to the story. Overall, through most of the story I feel that the narrator does not agree and/or dislikes the actions and character of Beauplaisir. The narrator seems to only provide one side, it seems to put blame onto the actions of Beauplaisir while not acknowledging that Fantomina sparked the actions. The voice makes Fantomina's action seem less of importance and not wrong while creating a "bad guy" image for the male figure in the story. In actuality, both characters were to blame; Beauplaisir for him acting off of simple desire and Fantomina from trying to take on a lifestyle that she was not accustomed to. She did not know the beginning of what she was getting into, but jump in head first.

Jay said...

Granted, this era's customs are likely quite different than those of the 18th century, I still believe the Narrator seemed to convey Beauplaisir as a man just being a man under these circumstances. He didn't seem to be an inherently bad guy because of the way he carried himself during Fantomina and his initial conversation. Yes, he was disrespectful in some ways, but as someone said in class on Friday, given his assumption that she was a prostitute, the questions Beauplaisir asked may not have been that out of line. When Beauplaisir found out that Fantomina was somewhat educated, he seemed to be a little more polite, but still trying to get "business" done.

Even if he may have seemed disrespectful by talking about sex and if she was "previously engaged," the fact is that she was a prostitute for that night. It would have been peculiar to read any other type of conversation in that situation. If Beauplaisir instead made small talk, asked Fantomina her name, how she is doing, favorite hobbies, ect. and been polite, this conversation would likely be about how polite and caring Beauplaisir is.

In response to the question of rape, it did seem as though Beauplaisir forcefully had his way with Fantomina. There is no denying that she was not prepared for it, or even a willing participate. But Beauplaisir was under the impression that she was a prostitute and that the end result should have been inevitable. However, the line in which Haywood called Beauplaisir "victorious" shows the fact that he conquered Fantomina in a way that implies rape.

SteveL said...

I agree the with the view that Beauplaisir was just reacting as most guys would have in his situation. While I'm not defending his actions, I can at least understand where they come from. I mean, we can't be surprised that a man was trying to solicit sex from a woman he thought was a prostitute. It's the "nature of the business".

Now, as far as his infidelity throughout the story, I feel that can be explained by the era he lived in. Beauplaisir was living in a society where women's rights and power were very limited. We even discussed the following quote in class: "... and having no Body in Town, at that Time, to whom she was oblig'd to be accountable for her Actions, did in every Thing as her Inclinations or Humours render'd most agreeable to her...", and talked about what an unusual situation that was for a woman of this era. The point is, Beauplaisir was probably just accustomed to not having to answer for any relationships he had because a woman couldn't really call a man out on issues like this.

Samantha said...

The first thing I found interesting about this text is the fact that we see Haywood acknowledge that when Fantomina allows herself to be guided by her own desires, she is enters into a sexual relationship with Beauplaisir. This addresses the fact that as a woman, Fantomina is subject to the same desires as a man.

What was not surprising to me was the fact that she is ultimately the one left to deal with the consequences of their relationship. While Beauplaisir offers to help raise the child, the narrative seems to suggest that as a woman Fantomina is responsible for her own chastity and has to deal with the consequences of her actions. This doesn't necessarily present Beauplaisir as a villain, but it does seem as though the story is holding Fantomina to a different standard.

Moon said...

I completely agree with Shaun. When I saw the three options KW listed, boys will be boys jumped out at me right away. When an attractive woman plays hard to get, it is difficult for the man to withhold temptation. I am not saying it is impossible, and not that the vast majority of the male population will deflower a woman who plays hard to get. I am simply saying that there are men who will allow their primal instincts to take over.

Although Beauplasir may be considered a scumbag because he claims he is devoted to Fantomina as well as Incognita, who he does not realize are the same woman, the protagonist is not an angel either. Like Shaun already mentioned, she invites his actions, and there will be consequences, as we see at the end of the story with her pregnancy. As Samantha says, Haywood shows the audience that women can be as desirous as men.

Cameron said...

The shift in control the two characters have over one another was what I found most interesting about the text. Seeing how Fantomina develops from being rather forcefully guided into a sexual relationship, to knowing exactly how to play to Beauplasir's desires in order to gain her own, leaves me agreeing with Samantha that to an extent the characters' natures mirror one another.

That being said, I do agree with Dema that the text--particularly the ending--reflect the gender attitudes of the era. While the desires of the characters are similar, the results of falling prey to those desires at that time were radically different.

me-thinks said...

Perhaps this is too simple, but I see the story of Fantomina as a cautionary tale written for young ladies. The moral of the story: Women can’t outwit men or nature; their only protection is the demonstrable maintenance of their reputation. The narrator? He/she guides the reader’s emotional response in the “right” direction.

For example, if this story is the cautionary tale I think it is, the author needed to create a man who appears charming, trustworthy, and decent so that young ladies reading the tale might fall in love with him along with Fantomina. Indeed, early on our narrator tells us Beauplaisi is “transported to find so much Beauty and Wit in a Woman (Fantomina) …” (570) What young lady would not want a man to feel such a way about her?

By the end of the tale, the narrator no longer wants us to empathize with Beauplaisi because Beauplaisi has become "Men” and Men need only be understood for the potential harm they can inflict. That is why we are not made privy to Beauplaisi’s thoughts about marrying Fantomina. Instead the narrator concludes the story through the eyes of Mom. She knows what all girls need to learn: Men do what they do; nothing else should be expected.

JeTara said...

While reading the story of Fantomina, I can agree that I was convinced in the beginning that yes I would describe Beauplaisir as the descriptions listed in #2: Boys will be boys. What can you do? Hence, as I read on further I changed my perspective of Beauplaisir to description 3: Boys willl be boys--but Beauplaisir is a pretty upstanding guy, considering the circumstances. I believe that the characters attitudes in this story are strongly depicted as how things were in this particular era. I agree with the comments by Haro, that the narrator writes to make us believe of this "bad guy" character of Beauplaisir which in reality this is not only what is percieved but not possibly not the real case. Haywood writes in negative connotation as when it is descibed that the two characters had sex, for example the narrator writes "in fine, she was undone; and he gained victory" (page 572) as if she could have not consent to this but this is simply a prime example of how men were viewed to women is they showed any resistance during this time period. Eliza Haywood doesn't make Fantomina's charcter as this innocent individual either because it shows that although men have this nature of acting a certain way when their desires and needs conflict but when women give into and allow men to treat them a certain way as well. I think Haywood, just depicts the struggles of some women who attempt establishing a relationship with a man too fast without having knowledge of his intentions.

Vivian said...

To me, Beauplaisir seems like a two dimensional figure. She mainly uses him to satisfy Fantomina's desires. Haywood portrays Beauplaisir as option three. Although he did sleep around with Fantomina, he wasn't portrayed as a brute. He seems to act as any man would act in his stature. He acts upon his desires, but only to women who are thought to be in a class lower then him. He acts respectfully around those in his own class, so I think Haywood portrays him more as option number three.