Haywood, Fantomina, Sovay, and Babooshka: The Legacy of Disguising Oneself to Gain Information and Experience

Fig. 1. Kate Bush in costume and makeup, 1980

From the time women were able to write for a living, they were more than eager to rewrite the stereotypical women characters that men had been creating. However, authors like Eliza Haywood knew that in order to be marketable as a female author she need to disguise her social commentaries (Craft 822). Haywood disguises both the protagonist (commonly referred to as Fantomina) and the intent of the work, Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze. Haywood realized that to sneak her writing past the censors, it would need to wear a mask. At first glance, women writers like Haywood (and Aphra Behn and Charlotte Lennox) seem to be merely emulating the literary works of the men around them. Beneath the surface, they cleverly critique and rework the writings of male authors in order to point out hypocrisy and uproot stereotypical portrayals (Craft 822). Haywood’s tale of the “fantasy of female freedom” is complimented by the realistic lives of the characters she plays (Craft 830). Haywood’s ability to costume her protagonist and the intent of the story is not in order to be deceptive, but instrumental in allowing her to explore the many possibilities and experiences the world offers.

Fig. 2. How do you solve a problem like…Fantomina? ♫

The main thing that Haywood needed to mask within Love in a Maze was the exploration of woman’s desire. The writers before Haywood often “represented female curiosity as the destruction of a spiritual definition of man’s nature” and often cited and called upon images of “Pandora’s peeking and Eve’s eating” (Benedict 194). Woman’s desire and curiosity was a threat to man’s spiritual path, so Haywood set out to tell a subversive story within a conservative one (Craft 838). Haywood and her like-minded contemporaries contributed to a long-standing tradition that continues today amongst writers in the minority. One way to get your ideas past conservative censors is to conceal the desired aim of a piece of writing. Haywood and other writers like Aphra Behn and Charlotte Lennox contributed to an “encoding of female discourse” hidden within “otherwise conventional” works (Craft 822). Fantomina could be misconstrued as a character who will do anything to have Beauplaisir by her side (no matter her persona). However, in keeping with the amatory fiction genre, Fantomina simply wants to explore herself and her ability to take on different social classes and experiences. Sure, she is amused and drawn to Beau’s reactions to her different characters, but it’s really all about her own desire. When he loses interest in the slightest, she is one step ahead of him and onto the next persona; “when Beauplaisir tires of her, she just as thoroughly tires of him” (Craft 831). Haywood intentionally wrote Beau to mimic the bachelor common to the writings before hers. He could easily pass for the active participant, but beneath the surface he is virtually passive by the end of the novella compared to the agency Fantomina gains.

Fig. 3. Promotional photo fro the 2016 stage adaptation of Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze

Love in a Maze was recently adapted for the stage in 2016 by Simon West and Ella Godfrey. The play picks up where the novella left off in the convent; Fantomina is the Mother Superior and she recounts her experiences to the “unconventional convent” (Braganza). In the spirit of the original, the play only requires six actors (who play twice as many different characters). In her review of the play, Vanessa Braganza writes that “the play astutely capitalises on the inherent theatricality and theme of disguise within the novel. Every character’s identity is as mutable as Fantomina’s own, as she pursues her ever-changeable lover in various costumes” (Braganza). This adaptation also carries on the legacy of the original by declaring that “the real action of a theatre transpires not onstage, but in the stalls” where a spotlight then lights up the front row to reveal Beauplaisir. West and Godfrey pay homage to the beginning of Haywood’s story with this surprise.

Fig. 4. Kate Bush might have more personas than Fantomina!

The legacy of the masked, shape-shifting woman can also be easily recognized in certain songs. The first thing that came to mind when I read Love in a Maze was “Babooshka” by Kate Bush. In the song, a wife tests her husband’s loyalty by sending him letters posing as a woman seeking an affair. He falls for Babooshka because she reminds him of his wife when they were completely enamored with each other (Bush). Though a certain line in the song brings to mind Fantomina’s Incognita character, with further research, I learned that Bush was directly inspired by an English folk song called “Sovay.” “Sovay” tells the story of a woman who dresses up as a highwayman and attempts to rob her husband of his wedding ring in order to test his devotion to her. Traditional folk songs have many different variations, and this one is no different. The most common ending of “Sovay” is the woman telling her lover that she would have shot him if he’d relinquished the ring (Offer). In the less popular version, she says she simply wanted to test her lover and now she is content (Sovay/Cecilia). These two songs, while indirectly connected to Love in a Maze, continue its legacy with a spin. In these pieces, the woman dresses up in only one disguise. Furthermore, in the case of “Sovay,” she dresses up as a man.

Fig. 5. Sheet music for the English folk song, “Sovay”

Haywood’s Love in a Maze does not end in a marriage as would have been expected at the time. Fantomina does not love Beau; she cannot because she is so well-acquainted with his inability to be consistent (Craft 831). The feature that unites Love in a Maze, its adaptations, and the works it indirectly inspires is an ending that is left open to interpretation. What happens to Fantomina in the original work? What will the nuns do after Fantomina finishes her story in the 2016 adaptation? In “Sovay,” what is next for the two lovers? The last stanza and chorus of “Babooshka” are about as ambiguous as the original’s ending. These pieces’ lack of complete closure unites them and allows for the continuation of a tradition; the ambiguous endings create a choose-your-own-adventure feel that is true to Fantomina’s personality. In addition to being interesting and thought-provoking for the audience, this similarity highlights something Haywood’s story reveals when unmasked: women desire the right to choose and explore the different possibilities life offers. It is true that Fantomina must navigate love in a maze, but for her it has many exits.

Music video for “Babooshka” by Kate Bush

She wanted to take it further

So she arranged a place to go

To see if he

Would fall for her incognito

And when he laid eyes on her

He got the feeling they had met before

Uncanny how she

Reminds him of his little lady

Capacity to give him all he needs

Just like his wife before she freezed on him

Just like his wife when she was beautiful

Kate Bush, “Babooshka”

Works Cited

Benedict, Barbara M. “The Curious Genre: Female Inquiry in Amatory Fiction.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 30, no. 2, 1998, pp. 194–210. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29533267. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Braganza, Vanessa. “Review: Love in a Maze.” Varsity, 3 Dec. 2016. https://www.varsity.co.uk/theatre/11528. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Bush, Kate. Babooshka. https://genius.com/11279176. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Craft, Catherine A. “Reworking Male Models: Aphra Behn’s ‘Fair Vow-Breaker,” Eliza Haywood’s ‘Fantomina,” and Charlotte Lennox’s ‘Female Quixote.’” The Modern Language Review, vol. 86, no. 4, 1991, pp. 821–838. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3732539. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Offer, Joe. “Sovay.” Folk Info. http://www.joe-offer.com/folkinfo/songs/129.html. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Sovay/Cecilia/The Female Highwayman. Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music. https://mainlynorfolk.info/martin.carthy/songs/sovay.html. Accessed 7 November 2019.


Fig. 1. Redfern, David. Photo of Kate Bush. 1980, photograph. Gettyimages. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Fig. 2. Sound of Music. Sound of Music Salzburg: The Movie. Salzburg Panorama Tours GmbH. https://www.sound-of-music.com/sound-of-music/the-movie/. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Fig. 3. The play is thoroughly entertaining. Varsity, University of Cambridge. https://www.varsity.co.uk/theatre/11528. Accessed 7 November 2019.

Fig. 4. Kate Bush. https://yirryyanya.tumblr.com/post/154246582168/yirryyanya-kate-bush-wow-wow-wow-wow.Accessed 7 November 2019.

Fig. 5. Sovay. Folk Info. www.joe-offer.com/folkinfo/songs/129.html. Accessed 7 November 2019.