Lady Montagu’s Two Cautions and Fantomina by Eliza Haywood
In Britain during the 1700’s, women were expected to act a certain a way. They were taught from a young age that marriage was their only option and the idea of a women being educated was just ridiculous. There were some women who believed that these ideas were incorrect and that education was in fact very important. One of these women was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. She was considered a feminist of her time and expressed her views in her writing. One of her specific pieces titled “Letter to Lady Brute” is about a grandmother writing to her daughter about her granddaughter. She is writing about the importance of education, but she is very specific about the way to go about being educated. She includes two cautions in her letter that she warns are very important. The first caution she gives for her granddaughter is to, “not to think herself learned when she can read Latin or even Greek” (Montagu 2549). “The second caution to be given her (and which is absolutely necessary)is to conceal whatever learning she attains, with as much solitude as she would hide crookedness or lameness” (Montagu 2550). Another author and piece that we have read that goes against these specific gender roles is by Eliza Haywood titled “Fantomina.” This piece is about a woman who takes on four different personas essentially to trick a man. The man is unaware that the four different women he is sleeping with are actually just one woman. I am going to explain how Lady Montagu’s two cautions about women’s education are displayed in Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina.”
“A young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit, happened to be in a box one night at the playhouse” is the line that begins “Fantomina” (Haywood 2796). This sets the scene so we know that this woman comes from a wealthy family, so we can assume that she has had more access to education than women of opposite status. She is also at the theater watching a play, so this can tell us that she has to have some knowledge in literature or the arts. Being a woman during this time, she is able to conceal whatever education she has with her wealth, beauty, wit and spirit. This line can be applied to Lady Montagu’s second caution in the sense that her education and knowledge is being concealed by other characteristics that are more distracting to the male population.
“She was so admirably skilled in the art of feigning, that she had the power of putting on almost what face she pleased, and knew so exactly how to form her behavior to the character she represented, that all the comedians at both playhouses are infinitely short of her performances: she could vary her very glances, tune her voice to accents the most different imaginable from those in which she spoke when she appeared herself” (Haywood 2805). This paragraph is when the main character states how she finds it crazy that this man could keep falling for these tricks because wouldn’t a man know a woman he has previously slept with. But then she says that she is very skilled at what she is doing. This woman is obviously very smart to not only play these four different roles, but be very convincing as well. She is obviously educated to know the different accents and portray them in an authentic manner. She conceals her education by portraying these certain characters that are not normally educated during this time period such as a prostitute and a maid. This line can also apply to Lady Montagu’s second caution because by playing these other characters convincingly she is concealing that true fact that she truly is educated.
The first caution from Lady Montagu I believe can’t be directly translated into “Fantomina” so I am going to keep the meaning, but change it up to fit the story. In “Fantomina” the main character plays four different roles that are in fact very different from her actual wealthy lifestyle. Even though the main character considers herself “skilled in the art of feigning” she still does not consider herself an educated woman. Also she is not educated in all the typical knowledge of men during that time; she is more knowledgeable in matters of the street. She can watch a person very different from herself, and then transform herself into that person. Lady Montagu also states in her first caution that “true knowledge consists in knowing things, not words” (Montagu 2549). This quote applies very well to the character in “Fantomina” because although we have no evidence of her knowledge of “words,” we can see that she does know “things.” She has the knowledge of the real word and people.
Lady Montagu was wise beyond her years, and these two cautions are still apparent and apply in 21st century, who would have thought. I believe as woman we can look back on “Letter to Lady Brute” and see how important it is for women to be educated not only in the past, but in today’s society as well. Education empowers women, allows them to think rationally, and think for themselves. Even though it might seem like the character from “Fantomina” might not be thinking rationally or making good decisions, she is empowering herself sexually. Even though the main character from “Fantomina” does not seem educated, she in fact is very smart. It might not be book smart, but she does have street smarts.
Haywood, Eliza. “Fantomina: Or, Love in a Mazy.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2010. 2796-2811. Print.
Kneller, Godfrey. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 1715. Photograph. Encyclopedia BritannicaWeb. 25 Feb 2014.
Montagu, Mary. “ Letter to Lady Brute”. The Longman Anthology of British Literature.Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2010. 2548-2551. Print.