Damaging Effects of Libertinism on the Female Psyche
In Haywood’s “Fantomina,” Haywood argues against libertine practices and attitudes, because of the abject effects libertinism has on women. Her portrayal of a supremely witty and manipulative protagonist, who is unable to overcome her biological limitations while still wishing to continue seducing her mark, exemplifies women’s inability to compete in a male–oriented philandering playing field. The ironic ease of sexual surrender from the different characters, the overtly carnal descriptions from the narrator, and the protagonist’s theatricality reflect Haywood’s open critique of libertinism’s adverse ramifications on the female psyche. She designs the increasing social statuses of the protagonist’s characters inversely to the amount of resistance they show to Beauplaisir’s advances, depicting the protagonist’s transition from losing her honor to willfully giving it away. The narrator’s carnal descriptions serve to characterize the protagonist’s extreme sexuality; the narrator becomes more provocative as she tells the story to parallel the protagonist’s growing eroticism. Likewise, the protagonist’s exaggerated emotions further amplify as she becomes more and more libertine. Her lack of poise reveals her lack of self-control, caused by her continuous submission to her desires. The protagonist’s actions directly affect her emotional stability, causing her to become more erratic.
The irony of the inverse relationship between the increasing social class of the characters and a decreasing show of restraint illustrates the distraught and self-mutilating mindset of the protagonist after she trifles with libertinism. In the beginning of the story, she is innocent; she dresses up to experience the male attention she does not receive at her high social standing, and to inquire upon why “men, some of whom she new were accounted to have wit, should have tastes so deprived” (2566). The protagonist’s first...
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