Eliza Haywood


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Fantomina Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 27-page guide for “Fantomina” by Eliza Haywood includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Convention and Rebellion in 18th-Century England and The Contradictions of Traditional Femininity.

Fantomina, first published in 1724, is a romance novella by English writer and actress Eliza Haywood. Its full title is Fantomina: or, Love in a Maze: Being a Secret History of an Amour Between Two Persons of Condition. Haywood, born Eliza Fowler, gained recognition for her literary works posthumously in the 1980s. Her sensationalistic romantic works reflect contemporary 18th century impropriety and provide commentary on titillating misconduct as well as women’s rights in male-dominated England.

The main character of the story is referred to simply as the Lady, when she is not referred to by the various guises that she adopts throughout the story. We are told that she is “a young Lady of distinguished Birth, Beauty, Wit, and Spirit” (Paragraph 1). At the story’s opening, she is out with her friends at the theatre and notices a prostitute surrounded by admirers on the lower floor. Although her friends dismiss this woman, the Lady is fascinated by her and by the power that she seems to have over men. We are told that the Lady, in contrast to her urbane friends, has had a country upbringing, which has made her naïve and credulous. The Lady resolves to disguise herself as a prostitute the following evening.

In doing so, she immediately draws the attention of a man named Beauplaisir, a social acquaintance whom she has long admired, and who does not recognize her in her disguise. They flirt, but the Lady manages to hold him off by telling him that she has an engagement with another client that evening. He insists on seeing her the following evening; she agrees and reserves a room at a nearby inn beforehand, telling herself that he will have more respect for her if she brings him to a grand place. However, the elegant inn simply causes him to believe that she is a higher class of prostitute. This time, the Lady is unable to resist him, and the two of them have what we understand to be her first sexual encounter, which causes her great shame. It also causes her to fall in love with Beauplaisir. She tells him that her name is Fantomina, and the following morning bribes the landlady at the inn to tell Beauplaisir—should he come by when she is not in her room—that these are her permanent quarters. She then returns to her Aunt, with whom she has been staying.

Beauplaisir and the Lady–in her guise as Fantomina–continue to see one another. However, Beauplaisir soon grows weary of Fantomina, despite being intrigued by her resemblance to the Lady. The Lady senses his growing weariness and decides to adopt a new disguise in order to keep him interested. She pretends to be a country maid named Celia; following him to an inn in Bath, she presents herself at his room. Beauplaisir is charmed by her, and the two of them have an encounter, one that is mutually understood to be casual and fleeting.

Lady then adopts a new disguise, one that is more somber than her previous two disguises. She pretends to be a widow, who is in danger of being disinherited by her husband’s unscrupulous family. She flags down Beauplaisir’s coach outside of another hotel in Bath, asks him for a ride into London, and tells him her sad story. Beauplaisir is initially bored by the Widow Boomer’s obsession with her dead husband and her inheritance; however, he notices that she becomes animated and eloquent on the subject of love and sex. The two of them begin to flirt, then stop at an inn for the night and have another encounter.

The Lady continues to keep up her guise as Fantomina, as well as that of the Widow Boomer. She sends Beauplaisir letters under both aliases, and he responds to both letters in a manner that…

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