Female Sexuality In Eliza Haywood's Fantomina

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Eliza Haywood writes the cautionary tale Fantomina in order to instruct women against pursuing their sexual desires. The protagonist, an unnamed “Lady of distinguished Birth” (41), secretly pursued her desires for Beauplaisir under the guise of four different personas, ultimately leading to the ruin of her reputation and being sent to live in a monastery. I will refer to the main character when she is not disguised as the protagonist to avoid confusion. I will be discussing female sexuality, where I will be focussing on certain aspects including sexual identity, sexual behaviour, and how social and religious aspects affect this sexuality. I will argue that Haywood uses the cautionary tale in order to represent female sexuality as distinguishable…show more content…
That is, not only does her mother arrive in town, putting a stop to her schemes, but also the protagonist’s natural biological body disrupts her plans through pregnancy. Indeed, John Richetti argues that: “The early eighteenth-century amatory novella…out one part of the antithesis I am working with: …the heroines are visited by overwhelming and ineffable…passion, obsessions that preclude self-examination and make a mockery of agency and self-consciousness” (336-337) in his essay “Ideas and Voices: The New Novel in Eighteenth-Century England.” The “Shock of Nature” (69), of labour, starts while she is still in town and under her mother’s dominion. The protagonist’s mother is a “severely virtuous” (68) lady, and upon finding her daughter ill, feels “Pity and Tenderness” (69), which is then “succeeded by an adequate Shame and Indignation” (69). Her mother hears Beauplaisir’s story after finding out the truth of her daughter’s schemes. She plans to have her daughter and Beauplaisir marry, to save her daughter from dishonour, but he knows nothing. Rather, the mother sends her daughter to a monastery in France. The ending is interesting because it could mean a return to a Sapphic environment, as Catherine Ingrassa explains in her essay “‘Queering’ Eliza Haywood,” “Fantomina” herself retires to a convent at the end of the text, a strategic (re) turn to a feminocentric community which, Valerie Traub reminds us, may be one of ‘independence and intimacy’ as well as potentially ‘a site for erotic contact’”
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