The Gender Politics of Haywood’s Fantomina

Ballad advice between men: "Whould You Have a Young Virgin"


Would you have a young Virgin of fifteen Years,

You must tickle her Fancy with sweets and dears,

Ever toying, and playing, and sweetly, sweetly,

Sing a Love sonnet, and charm her Ears:

Wittily, prettily talk her down,

Chase her, and praise her, if fair or brown,

Sooth her, and smoother her,

And teaze her, and please her,

And touch but her Smicket, and all's your own.


Do ye fancy a Widow well known in a Man?

With afont of Assurance come boldly on,

Let her rest not an Hour, but briskly, briskly,

Put her in mind how her Time steals on;

Rattle and prattle although she frown,

Rouse her, and towse her from Morn to Noon,

Shew her some Hour y'are able to grapple*, (seize & hold)

Then get but her Writings, and all's you own.


Do ye fancy a Punk* of a Humour free, (*prostitute)

That's kept by a Fumbler of Quality,

You must rail at her Keeper, and tell her, tell her

Pleasure's best Charm is Variety,

Swear her much fairer than all the Town,

Try her, and ply her when Cully*'s gone, (*dupe)

Dog her, and jog her,

And meet her, and treat her,

And kiss with two Guinea's*, and all's you own. (*gold coin)

How does Beauplaisir deploy this sort of proverbial advice about how to seduce women? How does Fantomina turn the tables on him?

Background on Eliza Haywood (1692/3-1756)

Stages in Fantomina's successive movement deeper into disguise
What motivates Fantomina's first recourse to disguise at the theater?

91-92: "….This exited a curiosity in her to know in what manner these creatures were addressed: --She was young, a stranger to the world, and consequently to the dangers of it; and having no body in town, at that time, to whom she was obliged to be accountable for her actions, did in every thing as her inclinations or humors rendered most agreeable to her: therefore thought it not in the least fault to put in practice a little whim which came immediately into her head, to dress herself as near as she could in the fashion of those women who make sale of their favors, and set herself in the way of being accosted as such a one, having at that time no other aim, than the gratification of an innocent curiosity."

Narrator sounds a note of warning about her freedom

Who considers the project to disguise Fantomina as a little whim and an innocent curiosity?


1st Sex: How does the narrative make Fantomina's succumbing to Beauplaisir seem necessary?

94: "…It was in vain; she would have retracted the encouragement she had given: --In vain she endeavored to delay, till the next meeting, the fulfilling of his wishes; --She had now gone too far to retreat: --He was bold; --he was resolute: She fearful, --confused, altogether unprepared to resist in such encounters, and rendered more so, by the extreme liking she had to him. -Shocked, however, at the apprehension of really losing her honor, she struggled all she could, and was just going to reveal the whole secret of her name and quality, when the thoughts of the liberty he had taken with her, and those he still continued to prosecute, prevented her, with representing the danger of being exposed, and the whole affair made a theme for public ridicule. -Thus much, indeed, she told him, that she was a virgin, and had assumed this manner of behavior only to engage him. But that he little regarded, or if he had, would have been far from obliging him to desist; --nay, in the present burning eagerness of desire, 'tis probably, that had he been acquainted both with who and what she really was, the knowledge of her birth would not have influenced him with respect sufficient to have curbed the wild exuberance of his luxurious wishes, or made him in that longing, that impatient moment, change the form of his addresses. In fine, she was undone;…"

the language of resistance

the language describing his attack

her mixed feelings

his passion

How does this passage create an alibi for Fantomina?
How does Fantomina decision to keep the secret of her identity lead to a separation of the two components of character, virtue and reputation?

After the lapse of Beauplaisir's desire, why does Fantomina develop a stratagem to ensnare him once again?

96-7: "…she resolved to take another course; and remembering the height of transport she enjoyed when the agreeable Beauplaisire kneeled at her feet, imploring her first favors, she longed to prove the same again. Not but a woman of her beauty and accomplishments might have beheld a thousand in that condition Beauplaisir had been; but with her sex's modesty, she had not also thrown off another virtue equally valuable, though generally unfortunate, constancy: she loved Beauplaisir; it was only he whose solicitations could give her pleasure; ….Her design was once more to engage him, to hear him sigh, to see him languish, to feel the strenuous pressures of his eager arms, to be compelled, to be sweetly forced to what she wished with equal ardor, was what she wanted, and what she had formed a stratagem to obtain, in which she promised herself success."

Why does she not just go on to another man?
What does this passage suggest Fantomina wants from Beauplaisir?
What are the distinct pleasures of disguise?

What does Fantomina suggest about the difference between men and women and how they desire?








rakish liberty

enjoy possession of the man

...passing between women

comprehend whole erotic equation

follow mobile urges on reflex 

 After the scheme is put into execution, Fantomina turns the tables: 

Her witty use of disguise

ties him to one love object

Her various performances 

give him the illusion of  variety

In allowing herself to be seduced

he thinks he is seducing her

Her active disguises (makeovers)   

render him as passive as a ‘woman’

Her plot gives her amourous adventure

but leaves him “confused”


Four key Questions for interpreting Fantomina

Is Fantomina a proto-feminist text?
Fantomina turns her own approach to Beauplaisir into a general program for women to manage their affairs:

1) After Fantomina solicits letters from Beauplaisir as both Fantomina and Bloomer Fantomina looks down on those women who passively suffer men's duplicity and infidelity.
R,101bottom: "TRAITOR!' Cried she, as soon as she had read them, ''tis thus our silly, fond, believing sex are served when they put faith in man: So had I been deceived and cheated, had I like the rest believed, and sat down mourning in absence, and vainly waiting recovered tenderness….--But I have outwitted even the most subtle of the deceiving kind, and while he thinks to fool me, is himself the only beguiled person."


2) She claims to have found a way to make her beloved a more ardent lover:
R, 104bottom: "…but by these arts of passing on him as a new mistress whenever the ardor, which alone makes love a blessing, begins to diminish, for the former one, I have him always raving, wild, impatient, longing… weeping wailing sex."


What does Fantomina's metamorphosis from a prostitute to a lower class servant Celia to the middle class widow Bloomer to the upper class femme fatal Incognita suggest about her?


What is the moral suggested by the appalling way Fantomina's pregnancy evidences itself at a Ball?
R,106 bottom: "A ball being at court, the good old lady was willing she should partake of the diversion of it as a farewell to the town.--It was there she was seized with those pangs, which none in her condition are exempt from: --She could not conceal the sudden rack which all at once invaded her; or had her tongue been mute, her wildly rolling eyes, the distortion of her features, and the convulsions which shook her whole frame, in spite of her, would have revealed she labored under some terrible shock of nature."

Do you blame Beauplaisir for not proposing to Fantomina after he discovers her true identity? Why is he left "full of cogitations, more confused than ever he had known in his whole life?"(108)