Fantomina - 1 Carpenter Grace Carpenter Professors Stephen...

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1CarpenterGrace CarpenterProfessors Stephen Cushman and Michael LevensonENGL 3820February 23, 2012Fantomina: Feminism or Failure? Fantomina—Eliza Haywood’s fantastical narrative of “Lady Such-a-one,” a young, aristocratic lady, struck by an insatiable desire for her lover, Beauplaisir, and her creative schemes to engage his fickle affection—is known for its whimsical plot and anticlimactic conclusion. The story chronicles the schemes of the young aristocrat as she adopts various costumes and personas in order to disguise herself and thereby mislead Beauplaisir into rekindling a flame he was unaware was already burning (and burning out). Although at first she enjoys and revels in blissful success, her ruse collapses around her when she is discovered by her mother as pregnant and sent to a French monastery. This startling conclusion, in combination with the questionable morals of the story itself, is known for its complex message to women. Is this a progressive tale of female advancement and equality, or is this an illustration of the inevitable doom awaiting those who attempt to undermine the patriarchal scaffolding confining women to their strict social roles? Indeed, what were the “strict social roles” confining women at that point in history? The distillation of Fantomina’s moral requires not only literary analysis, but also contextual; although it appears that any feministic moral embedded within the story of Fantominais overwhelmed by the crushing sense of futility inspired by its complexity and desolate ending, a closer inspection of its context yields Haywood’s starkly subtle message of empowerment to women.
2Because the story is peppered with hints—and chunks—of evidence both for and against female advancement, multiple conclusions are, of course, inevitable. It is therefore necessary to establish a fundamental understanding of the feminist critique with which to regard the text. According to Allen Brizee and J. Case Thompson, feminist criticism investigates “the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women.” Although the term feminismhas recently been charged with hostile connotations and been convoluted to resemble something “simultaneously illogical, unnecessary, and evil” (Kanazawa), the Oxford-English Dictionary declares its original meaning as the “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality in the sexes).” In Haywood’s time, the movement was seeing its seeds beginning to take root, but had not yet spread its wings—Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, widely recognized as the first work of feminist philosophy, was not to be published for another sixty-seven years. Irene Brown explains that “while [women were] close to power and authority…[they] wielded none” (Brown 407), a statement by which she clearly establishes women’s inability to significantly alter or affect the system in which they lived. Because in Haywood’s

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