The Mystery Women of 1725: Ms. Anonymous Fantomina
No sensible man wants their significant other to be a prostitute, stripper, exotic dancer, or anything involved with the sort. However, who’s to tell a young woman what she can and cannot do with her own life? Certainly not a parent after their child has already moved out to explore the world and discover themselves as a person. Hip pop fans go by the motto “YOLO,” which means you only live once, interpreted as an individual who is living life to the fullest without any concerns of repercussions. Women are stereotyped into a certain role and expected to live within the standards society creates for them. In 1725, when Fantomina was written, every aspect of a woman’s life was controlled by a man. Men were perceived to be the dominate figure and women as virgins, wives, or widows. The chances of a woman not being judged for her wrong decisions are slim to none. Regarding relationships, nobody can ever completely be aware of one’s intentions at first glimpse. Men would entertain the thought of sleeping with multiple women, girlfriend or not, and it is natural instinct for a woman to want to protect herself from all the dangers of an unfaithful man. Is this what Haywood was trying to emphasize when writing Fantomia? In this essay, I argue that Fantomina was written to illustrate a woman’s curiosity of love, affairs and sexual satisfaction using deception, while trying to conceal her identity with fear of degrading her true self if she was not in full disguise. In the short story, Fantomia, author Eliza Haywood depicts a protagonist that is determined to seduce this man, Beauplasir. She dresses herself as four different characters to conceal her identity but at first she is described as “A young lady of distinguished Birth, Beauty, Wit, and Spirit…”(Haywood, p.1) “She was young, a Stranger to the World, and consequently to the Dangers of it.” This describes the character to be an attractive young lady, a new face in town and the theater where she is trying to locate the man that she wants to engage in sexual affairs with. At the time, Fantomina had no lover, no one to tend to. She was not obligated to give an account of her actions to anyone, which made her susceptible to mischief and curiosity caused by observations in the theater, “She could not help testifying her Contempt of Men…This excited a Curiosity in her to know in what Manners these Creatures were address’d.” (Haywood, p.1) She decided that she would experiment with a man who she was almost confident, would be unfaithful to any woman he had relations with. Fantomina’s mission is to teach Beauplasir a lesson “imagining a world of Satisfaction to herself in engaging him in the Character of such a one, and in observing the Surprise he would be in to find himself refused by a Woman…” (Haywood, p.2) Her intentions were to mislead Beauplaisir, as long as she could, into thinking he could have sex with her. She felt that there would not be any repercussions towards her actions because she would be in disguise and therefore, he would never find out who she really was. In order to seduce Beauplaisir, the character had to “dress herself as near as she cou’d in the Fashion of those Women who make sale of their Favours, and set herself in the Way of being accosted…Gratification of an innocent Curiosity.”(Haywood, p.1) She wanted to disguise herself as what appeared to be a prostitute, in an effort to gain sexual attention by men, specifically Beauplaisir. With “Fantomina’s” hidden identity, she completed her first task at getting Beauplaisir’s attention. Eliza Haywood previously described Fantomina’s intentions to be a “frolick” that she was about to put into “execution.” She was “naturally vain” (Haywood, p.1) and disguised herself, first as a prostitute, because that was how she observed the other females, getting all the attention, dressed at the theater. Yearning for the attention of Beauplaisir who she had often see in...
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