The Mask of Love
Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina; Or, Love in a Maze” is a satirical piece on gender and society in the 18th Century. Haywood’s unnamed heroine is “a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit and spirit” (Haywood, 2796) who notices Beauplaisir one night in a playhouse and, having no one around to hold her accountable for her actions, takes up multiple roles of different women to pursue him.
Haywood’s female protagonist begins her first disguise as a prostitute, Fantomina, that fateful first night and then continues the charade with her roles as Celia, Mrs. Bloomer, and Incognita. Her first night as the prostitute Fantomina instantly got the attention of Beauplaisir, so much so that he ended up raping her. At this point the loss of her virginity liberates her and she decides to continue with the charade. She masterminds these grand disguises and Beauplaisir remains clueless as to her true identity. The whole ordeal finally unravels when her mother returns home and finds her pregnant. She demands to know the identity of the baby’s father and when she discovers it is Beauplaisir she sends for him and he arrives extremely confused. Once they discover the entire story her mother sends Beauplaisir away and puts all the blame on her daughter. In the end her mother sends her away to a monastery in France.
Haywood gives us a glimpse of the class structure at the time as well as the importance of gender roles. The protagonist is a young woman of high social standing restricted by the unwritten rules of her society from going up and conversing with a man of equal standing, Beauplaisir. She is jealous of the prostitute who isn’t held back by these social restrictions and is able to converse with the men at the playhouse. So she takes the only opportunity she has to disguise herself and live in a way that gives her more opportunities with Beauplaisir. She soon gets jealous of Beauplaisir’s unfaithfulness even though the other women are her different disguises. She calls him a traitor and says women are “silly” when they “put faith in man” (Haywood, 2806). She was also confused as to why he preferred the widow, Mrs. Bloomer, to Fantomina but later decided it was because men “prefer the last conquest, only because it is the last” (Haywood, 2807). The men seem to be able to go about and do whatever they want with whomever they want and face little consequences. On the other hand, women of certain social standings must follow rules and act a certain way when out in public. The men and women of that time were held to completely different standards and this is a recurring theme throughout the story.
Eliza Haywood also adds a satirical theme to the story in the ridiculousness that is Beauplaisir. He has sexual relations with the same woman in disguise multiple times but “continues still deceived” (Haywood, 2807). It is almost comical that a change of clothes, social class, and location can completely fool a man into believing these were different women. You would think he’d get suspicious that these women come so frequently after each other in his life and practically throw themselves at him but he never seems to question it. This leads me to believe that he’s been unfaithful to women in the past. While she remains faithful to Beauplaisir in her many different forms he continues to be unfaithful. She continuously tries to capture his love and affection in these different characters while equally being unfaithful to her true self. Both she and Beauplaisir are deceitful to each other. Haywood also uses a satirical approach to illustrate the lengths women would go to in this time to find a husband and love. It was more important than other matters, like education. Their roles in society were strictly to find a husband and their whole lives led up to their marriage.
In the end she has serious consequences for the games she has played and ends up pregnant. This is the worst thing that could have happened in that time, being unmarried and with child. She basically gets completely cast out of society while Beauplaisir faces little consequences. At first he wants to take responsibility and provide for the child but her mother thinks he’s done enough and sends him away, putting all the blame on her daughter. In this time you see mostly the women facing the most backlash from these types of situations. Though men are equally to blame, women were the ones with the social guidelines to follow and uphold. They had completely different standards for men and women in the higher classes. Overall, Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina; Or, Love in a Maze” puts the gender and societal roles of the 18th Century on display in the form of a satirical story about a woman in pursuit of love. Haywood gives us a glimpse of what it was like to be a woman of high society who was just trying to find love outside of the unwritten rules that restricted her.
Haywood, Eliza. Fantomina; Or, Love in a Maze. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 2796-2813. Print.
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