Sunday, January 23, 2011

For Credit: Progression of Identities?

The young woman we are referring to as "Fantomina" takes on four separate identities in her quest to sustain Beauplaisir's interest: Fantomina, Celia, the Widow Bloomer, and Incognita.

What significance (if any) do you detect in this sequence of identities?  Is it just a haphazard array, reflecting Fantomina's imagination, ingenuity, and acting ability--or is there some greater significance behind these particular identities and/or the order in which they appear?

Deadline: Wednesday (1/26), start of class.


Margaret said...

I think that for the most part the identities that Fantomina thinks up are her own ingenuity and creative impulse I think that there is also some reason to her characters. Whether or not those reasons are intentional remains ambiguous, however as the author does not delve extensively into Fantomina’s mind. The original identity of Fantomina is planned but originates from her curiosity. The second identity of Celia is plotted specifically to recapture the interest of Beauplaisir and seems intentional yet there is no indication that Fantomina created this identity for any other specific purpose. The third character of Widow Bloomer is created in order to create a reason for her to be traveling alone which in the time that Fantomina lived was highly irregular. Her fifth character of Incognita was created as almost a parody of her real identity as a gentlewoman and it is interesting that each identity brings her closer to her real station in life, first a mistress then a young woman in the city, next a young widow who is to be wealthy, then a gentlewoman. It could be that with each new creation she is bringing him closer to realizing precisely who she and is interrupted by her mother's return and the birth of her child. However possible this theory is it may be counted as improbable given how flighty the character of Fantomina is. Not only is she completely indiscrete in her affairs but she is completely unconcerned with the consequences of her actions.

Shaun said...

The progression that I see happening is similar to Margaret's but with a focus on orientation rather than revelation.

It appeared to me that each disguise was increasingly oriented towards Fantomina's, rather than Beauplaisir's pleasure. The prostitute represents the extreme orientation towards masculine pleasure, while Incognita represents the extreme orientation towards Fantomina's pleasure. While Celia is in a position of service to Beauplaisir, it is Beauplaisir who provides assistance to the Widow Bloomer.

Lending weight to the idea that it is just a haphazard array is the fact that she goes back and forth between these characters. She is really just doing whatever works to get what she wants. But I think that the progression is still significant because of the way it reveals the development of her character and sexuality.

SteveL said...

I agree that the array could just be randomly thrown together and that there really is no higher purpose, but at the same time even this random array can serve to reveal just how...lustful...Beauplaisir as well as Fantomina.
Fantomina's first identity was that of a prostitute and innocent country girl. Beauplaisir soliciting sex from this woman isn't all that unusual. The second identity, a young maid/worker, shows that Beauplaisir isn't above soliciting sex from a woman that works for him under different circumstances. Once again, one could argue that this isn't that bad, but in the context of the final identities it can be seen as another step in his increasingly promiscuous and lustful ways.
After all, Beauplaisir almost immediately decides to seduce the old widow that Fantomina pretends to be next. Isn't that, even in modern society, seen as in poor taste? People don't normally take advantage of people in mourning, and when they do it's considered shameful.
The last identity, Incognita, shows just how little Beauplaisir cares about where he's getting his "fix" from. He can't see her face or know her name, yet he's still willing to have sex with Incognita just the same (despite any objections he might have had to the situation at first).
To sum up, while Fantomina's progression of identities might seem pretty random, it does serve to reveal just how lustful Beauplaisir is.

Vivian said...

At first I didn’t see the connection between the various roles. She chooses to be a prostitute because she was curious, she chooses the servant girl and widow just to attract Beauplaisir’s interests, and Incognita was to dominate Beauplaisir. There is no correlation to class within her roles. But after a while there is a possibility that the various roles she played reflects upon the increase in her desire. As the prostitute sex was forced upon her, the servant girl she wanted to be forced, Widow Bloomer had sex on her own accord with Beauplasir, and Incognita became the woman who was pulling on the strings. At first sex wasn’t in the equation (she just wanted the attention) but after being with Beauplaisir her own carnal wants emerged and her roles reflect upon her needs. As a prostitute and servant girl she is “forced” to have sex but as the widow and Incognita she has sex willingly.

Katie said...

I think that with each new identity, the Fantomina character appears less and less like her original physical self. In other words, she detaches herself. As Fantomina, she only dressed herself differently. As Celia, she darkened her hair and changed her accent. Of her appearance as Widow Bloomer, the narrator says, “To add to his, her Hair, which was accustom’d to wear very loose, both when Fantomina and Celia, was now ty’d back so straight, and her Pinners coming so very forward, that there was none of it to be seen” (Paragraph 11). Now, she has changed her very nature and transforms herself even more because she changes the way she naturally appears and wears her hair. Changing her hair color wouldn’t put her as out of her comfort zone as changing her hair style. I think Fantomina grows more somber in her appearance as well – as Widow Bloomer and Incognita she dresses maturely and well educated. In addition, in her separate identities she cycles back to her original status. Her first character has a lower class status, her second identity has a lower status still she has learned not to put on airs. After sex she doesn’t refuse his money because she remembers how that surprised him when she did the same as Fantomina. Beauplaisir thinks her an expensive widow, and as Incognita she adorns herself as if for Court, showing off her wealth. I think although Fantomina was originally bored with her life of wealth, she quickly returned to it – even while in disguise – because it is the social class she is accustomed to.

Celeste said...

For the most part, I think Fantomina explores her imagination when she assumes different identities and creates fun names for her characters. I see my classmates’ perspectives about their reasoning behind the sequence of identities though as well. She progresses from a prostitute, to a servant, to a widow, and finally to a woman who exists to purely mess with Beauplaisir. The changing of her names can be made parallel to the new statuses of the women she becomes. In addition, the appeal of her names decreases throughout the novel. The names get stranger as the novel goes. However, no matter how bizarre her names are, Beauplaisir does not seem to mind. He wants each version of Fantomina for his own benefits and could care less what he has to address her by in the process. Also, I think the reason Eliza Haywood created such unique names for her main character to conjure up was to leave a lasting impression in her readers’ minds. She even included the most used name in the title of the novel. Haywood possibly wanted her readers to long to have an exotic name such as Fantomina or Incognita. In the time period that Haywood’s novel was published, most young women had traditional and rather mundane names that were passed down from previous generations of their families. Perhaps this element of the novel added to readers’ enjoyment of it. Not only were they forbidden to follow Fantomina’s actions but they also could not have unusual names. Therefore, I believe Haywood had more than one intention for Fantomina’s imaginative names.

JeTara said...

In "Fantomia," or as we address this young woman has created four different identities in her pursuit to attract the attention of Beauplaisir. I think to begin with Fantomia has this very impatient but possess a very needy attitude towards Beauplaisir. I feel that she is being very creative but impatient by creating these different ways in which she can capture the full attention and interest of Beauplaisir. She seems very needy as far as this love she has will only continue with him in her life. She goes about this by writing letters to him but using different identities; Fantomina, Celia, the Widow Bloomer, and Incognita. She plays the role as a prostitute, to a servent/maid, a widow, to a woman who desires Beauplaiser and has had some form of interaction. Each identity reveals a little more about her overall character and that she is finding herself possibly and expressing the desires for him more and more. Hence, when reading I once thought that maybe her motive for the four different identities is how she has progressed over time. Each letter could have an underlying message of the lessons she has gained through this experience. Her inital motive for these different "identities" is yet unknown but reveals something interesting about Beauplaisir. He is finding interest through these letters and expressing lust as well although he is justifying his actions as well. I believe that their is some unknown significance to these nicknames that Eliza Haywood has done. I find some truth in Celeste comment that during this particular period that Haywood published this novel that many young women had names derived from past family members. This could depict some reason for having different identities to remain private and protected.

Kim P said...

I believe that Fantomina was at first randomly creating her new identities for the sole purpose of capturing Beauplaisir's attention. Of course her first character was made because of her curiousity and need for attention. The following identity, Celia the servant, was again created to satisfy her need to have sex with Beauplaisir. This time though, her new character is of a higher class than a prostitue.

After her third failed attempt at making a lasting connection with Beauplaisir, I think Fantomina wanted to imagine an identity that was closer to who she truly was. Incognita is the closest representation of Fantomina herself. Although she never revealed her face to Beauplaisir, Incognita held a high status, as she did in real life. Maybe Fantomina tired of her previous characters being tossed like a used object and wanted more of a relationship with Beauplaisir. Instead of revealing her true identity, she created Incognita, a close version of herself in hopes of being accepted for who she truly was.

Haro said...

In general, I think that the different identities by Fantomina were based on whatever disguise that she could use to trick Beauplaisir into being interested in her. All of these women had a common interest ultimately, they were all sex seeking beings. Fatomina created them, therefore there is really no way of changing the goals of each of these different characters. She was able to get a look into this lifestyle which in some way appealed to her because she continued to dabble in it, but she was also interested in this man. I feel what was an influential force behind her continuing to portray herself as these different females was Beauplaisir but also the liking of the things she did. She obviously did not have an experience in this role in society, so upon her interested she tried it out and was in a way content with the outcome. The different women did not have a specific order or reasoning for the portrayal. It was Fantomina simply being creative and quick thinking to continue what she was doing.

Dema said...

Observed individually, each of the personas that Fantomina adopts does not appear to give much insight into her true identity, but considered collectively seem to correspond to the things we learn about her background. Because the story’s action is motivated by “a little whim which came immediately into [Fantomina’s] head,” (569) her choice of persona may appear to be random, but despite the fragmentation, each role she adopts relates in some way to Fantomina’s identity. I disagree with the notion that she is straying further from her original identify by adopting these personas. Instead, I think that with each character she explores a different aspect of herself.

These roles are not perfect corollaries. They have to be modified for Beauplaisir to believe Fantomina, but they do retain a connection to her true identity. Her original role as a prostitute indicates Fantomina’s sexual curiosity. She may not have the sexual experience of a typical prostitute, yet this is a specific social role that helps her explore a personal desire. Celia represents Fantomina’s country origins. Fantomina had been “bred for the most Part in the Country,” (569) and Celia exhibits some of this country innocence. As Widow Bloomer, Fantomina demonstrates the desire for companionship and a male presence that she seeks in Beauplaisir. In the same way that the widow has lost her husband, Fantomina’s previous two personas have lost the interest of Beauplaisir.

Although others have mentioned that Incognita appears to be the closest approximation of Fantomina’s true identity, I think the only significant thing they have in common is class. They are both members of the aristocracy, yet beyond that, Incognita does not have much of an identity. In her letter to Beauplaisir, Incognita does not convey much about herself other than her desire for him and a demand that her identity remain a secret. Similar to the previous identities, Incognita is one part of Fantomina’s identity. Using specific social roles allows Fantomina to pursue Beuplaisir in a way that allows her to retain fragments of her original identity while maintaining Beauplaisir’s interest and giving him the appearance of variety in his sexual exploits.

Cameron said...

It seemed that each guise Fantomina took on reflected a growing hollowness (for lack of a better word) in her character. Her first encounter with Beauplaisir was a combination of naive curiosity and infatuation, yet it also reflected, or at least I thought, her deepest emotions in the novel. As her encounters continue, it seems her actions become robotic, driven by pure physical intimacy. This culiminates in her last guise, in which the masking of her identity also reflects the lack of anything present other than this ambiguous, lustful body.

Alana said...

Fantomina takes on four seperate identities to continue to keep Bleauplaisir's interest, each time making her new character a bit more important in society than the one before.
We discussed in discussion how that in literature of the enlightenment, one's class status was so incredibly important in the way each person treated another. Fantomina is actually a well-to-do, marriage-marketable woman, but disguises herself as a lowly prostitute for the purposes of male attention.
As Beauplaisir begins to lose interest in Fantomina, she creates a new identity with a slightly more desirable class level, Celia. Again, Beauplaisir loses interest and the Widow is created, a woman with an even more desirable class level and then finally Incognita, who continues to follow the pattern of upping her class status.
The order in which they appear is definitely significant as to the views of class at the time. Fantomina must assume that if he loses interest in a prostitute, he only wants something better, like a servant, then a widow, etc. Fantomina continues to increase her fake personas class status to hopefully keep Beauplaisir's interest, and as her lies keep growing, it becomes harder and harder for her to keep him engaged with her identities until unfortunately she is too deeply entangled in her scheme to get out without a scratch.

Deborah R. said...

I do not think the author intended there to be much significance in the progression of Fantomina's chosen disguises. She begins with a prostitute because she has observed one before. She also imitates a country girl because she knows about that type of girl as well because she lives in the country. She imitates a widow because that was useful for her purposes of pursuing Beauplaisir. I do think there is significance in her choice as Incognita. Incognita is different because it is not based on her appearance. It is Fantomina's last attempt to keep Beauplaisir's attention and it ultimately fails just as her other disguises, despite his affection not being based on actually seeing her. I think this shows that Fantomina learns that she can not keep Beauplaisir regardless of what disguise she takes on.

me-thinks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
me-thinks said...

I feel the story tells a condensed version of the lifetime many women spend trying to please men. The difference: One sole woman—beautiful, witty, creative—tries on the personas of four different types of women and discovers none are able to create a happy, long-lasting relationship with the object of their desire.

We start with infatuation. Our heroine takes on the persona of Fantomina in order to protect her privacy as she satisfies a curiosity. After her first encounter with Beauplaisir, our heroine’s curiosity turns into infatuation. Our narrator tells us, “All the Charms of Beauplaisir came fresh into her Mind; she languish'd, she almost dy'd for another Opportunity of conversing with him”. (paragraph 2)

As infatuated as our heroine is, however, she takes the precaution to arrange for the “Security of her Reputation” (paragraph 8) in anticipation of her next meeting with Beauplaisir. It is a doomed effort. Though the event of our heroine’s rape is muddied a bit by her ill-advised ruse and very human desire for passion (much in the way events leading to a date rape can be hard to interpret), ultimately our narrator affirms her naiveté when we are told she is “Shock'd … at the Apprehension of really losing her Honour, she struggled all she could”. (paragraph 5)

Despite her failed effort to preserve her honor, our heroine believes herself to have “more Prudence than all her Sex beside,” and the narrator agrees telling us “it must be confessed, indeed, that she preserved an conomy in the management of this Intreague, beyond what almost any Woman but herself ever did.” (paragraph 8) In essence, we are being told our heroine did the best any women can possibly do and yet still fails.

Our heroine now becomes a different women; Celia. Again, Beauplaisir loses interest and our heroine sees a pattern. Can she maintain the Beauplaisir’s interest by being less available? She tries on the persona of Widow Bloomer; an out-of-towner. Soon our heroine is crying “Traytor!” as she tastes betrayal and learns of the “Unaccountableness of Men's Fancies, who still prefer the last Conquest, only because it is the last.” (paragraph 22)

Our heroine’s final persona, Incognita, is her attempt to maintain some sense of power while in a relationship with a man. Once again, she fails for her man abandons the pleasures she offers rather than suffer any loss of power.

Having now been frustrated four separate times at building a satisfactory relationship, our heroine continues corresponding with Beauplaisir until “she began to grow as weary of receiving his now insipid Caresses as he was of offering them.” (paragraph 28)

Actually, one could count our heroine’s frustrations at five if we remember before our story began she had met Beauplaisir and “had discover'd something in him, which had made her often think she shou'd not be displeas'd, if he wou'd abate some Part of his Reserve.” Such behavior, however, was not apropos in upper society and so our heroine’s wish was futile.

The story ends with our heroine’s pregnancy and her moral mother’s appearance. I wonder if the story would have taken a different turn of events had Mrs. Haywood not felt the need to bend to the expectations of her contemporary society. This is my curiosity.

RLee said...

I think that there is method to Fantomina's identities. They were all carefully planned to show a progression in social class. In my mind, I saw a social pyramid, with her desperate hope clinging to the very top, hoping that Beau would return her feelings.

Her first identity as Fantomina, she does tell Beauplaisir the truth about not really being a prostitute, "as to what related to the frolic she had taken of satisfying her curiosity" about prostitutes and how men addressed them (573). So that much, she admits that she was curious and not very serious. But then when she tells him that she is Fantomina, "the daughter of a country gentleman, who was come to town to buy clothes," she is deceiving him for her own protection. This really shows that she is planning ahead, making sure that her name isn't blemished by a man who is too boastful so that "he should not have it in his power to touch her character" (573). So we know that Fantomina is being cautious, but at the same time it's as if she really does want to reveal her true identity to the man, but just can't. She wants him to know that she isn't a low-class prostitute, and actually educated, hoping that perhaps this man would take interest in her. But just in case he didn't, she had, at least, a plan to catch her fall.

With her second identity, Celia, I see a step up from her being a prostitute. A country girl working for a family, is slightly more respectable than being a prostitute. She isn't selling her body to other men to make a living; she is actually doing manually labor to earn her living. Although she did reveal that Fantomina was actually a country gentleman's daughter, it sounded more like an act of desperation to cover up her original profession.

Then we see another step up to the Widow Bloomer, who, unlike the air of a "rude country girl" such as Fantomina and Celia, was now a "sorrowful widow" (576). Her hair is pinned up, rather than let loose and wild. She is giving off the impression of a proper, well-dressed woman, someone more suitable for a rich man like Beau to take a more serious interest in, as opposed to a prostitute and a country maid. She also makes sure to talk about the "little fortune [her husband] left behind him" to show that she is slightly wealthy. Not only does she reel in Beau with her refined looks and background, but also with sorrow. And this allows her to buy more time with Beau.

Her last identity as Incognita, shows a last desperate attempt to snag Beau into her hands. She has resorted to all kinds of identities, especially those of a country-background, since that is the setting she is most familiar with. But she is running out of ideas, so she uses the identity of an unnamed woman. And with her love letter, she shows her power and education through her use of passionate words. The manner in which she speaks as Incognita is so much more different than when she spoke as Fantomina, Celia, or as the widow. Through the letter, she doesn't have to talk and show off her country language. Incognita is at the top of the social pyramid, as an educated, wealthy and well-bred woman. And with all that, also comes mystery, and the mysterious has the most power over Beau. Mystery conceals her face, name, marital status, and character. And because of that Beau is dying to know who she really is and seems to be most enchanted by her.

Jay said...

I believe that, to some extent, Fantomina's identities were somewhat random, however, they did have some purpose. Her first identity as the prostitute wasn't created to attract Beauplaisir himself, but it was mainly used to bring attention to herself. It was only after she had sex with Beauplaisir did she decide to disguise herself in order to be with him. She seemed to change each disguise in order to slowly reveal the type of person she is.
With each disguise came a more upscale lifestyle from her previous identity. At first, it was somewhat minimal. Going from Fantomina (a prostitute) to Celia who is a somewhat of a laborer. Even though this is hardly upper class type of work, it is still, as someone previously stated, more respectable than a prostitute.
Her third identity really changed from the previous two because now she is no longer a "blue collar" type of worker (if being a prostitute counts as blue collar). She is now a grieving widow who does have some money to her name. She also exudes more class with this identity, which shows Beauplaisir a glimpse of who she really is.
Her final identity of Incognita seemed to be a last ditch effort to attract Beauplaisir to her. She writes a very passionate letter to him and she shows how well educated and proper she is. Not revealing her name, face, or really what type of person she is was her tactic for luring Beauplaisir back in. Her anonymity was attractive to him because he didn't know who she really was.