The Disguise of Love
Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze, deals with the shenanigans of our female heroine’s (if one believes this the correct term for such a character) attempts to gain the love and affection of the ever changing Beauplaisir. Constantly changing names, costumes, stories, and motives, our protagonist, finds herself in situation after situation with Beauplaisir, only to be let down time after time by his leaving. Upon first read it may be easy to say that Haywood seems to be critiquing the way that men behave, that is, consistently putting on a show to woo women to only turn around and leave them once they are bored. However, after diving deeper into the text, Haywood seems to be imploring women to think about the way they behave and handle their roles in society as well.
From the beginning, and throughout, the reader is seemingly well aware of what Beauplaisir’s intentions are. The first time the reader meets him he is talking to a prostitute, which happens to be our character in disguise. Clearly ready for pleasure in quick fashion, Beauplaisir seems to be just like any other guy in the crowd. On the other hand, why is our heroine, “a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit…” (2796) doing this? Obviously not in it for wealth, security, or status, our young lady seems riled up by none other than “excited curiosity” (2797). This may be true to begin with, but as we see later in the story, is not necessarily the case.
After Beauplaisir loses his spark for Fantomina, and the heroine’s disguises of Celia the maid, the Widow Bloomer, and Incognita fare even worse for her, she is out of options, as she becomes pregnant and is sent to a French monastery. Aren’t these actions of Fantomina, Celia and the Widow Bloomer just as bad as Beauplaisir’s, though? While Beauplaisir is clearly acting in a way towards each of these disguises of this women to get what he wants, is she not doing the same thing to him? While consistently trying to show that what she is doing is virtuous, our heroine is tricking, using, and beguiling Beauplaisir for her pleasure just as much as he is her. These quick acts of affection and what seems like love gets Fantomina addicted, and after a while is the only thing she desires.
I believe Haywood is trying to show the absurdity of the lengths to which women will go, or think they have to go, to find love, or even pleasure. The character in this story is clearly very smart, and has all the attributes necessary to succeed in life, but in the end ends up in a terrible situation for what she thinks is love or pleasure. This shouldn’t be, and can’t be, the only role for women in society, and showing the downfall of a woman with everything in her favor from the start, Haywood brings this to light.
Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 2796-2813. Print.