The Strong Heroine in the Novel, Fantomina; or Love in a Maze by Eliza Haywood

Categories: Free EssaysLiterature

The story of a young maiden’s persecution due to her ruinous behavior for allowing temptation is prevalent throughout the literature of the Restoration period. Eliza Haywood however does not follow in this vein but instead creates a strong heroine who fulfills whatever role is necessary in order to maintain the relationship with the man she desires.

Fantomina; or Love In A Maze transforms the traditional story between the “Victor” and the “Vanquish’d,” switching the two roles between the nameless heroine and the hero Beauplaisir, allowing for acceptance and recognition of female desire through a paradigmatic change of male seduction.

Fantomina; or Love In A Maze begins with Edmund Waller’s epigraph noting the back and forth relationship that will take place in this tale of what he describes as the “Victor” and the “Vanquish’d.” This mischievous and confusing relationship is one in which the pursuer is consistently changing in the chase; as the epigraph “first signals this text’s playful relationship to paradigmatic power dynamics within representations of sexual agency” (Croskery 75). Describing a story where instead of the male pursuing the female until he takes what he wants and flees the reverse occurs. A maze is not normal setting for a love story and adds an element of confusion, also signifying that this could be a love story where both individuals are in such awe that they are in amazement with one another. However, it is common in many stories of this time to have “all men alike in their faithlessness to women” (Craft 831). The word “fly” here references the fleeing from the “Vanquish’d” lover after he loses interest and flies away from her. She is aware that he will “leave her behind…for no other Reason, than that being tir’d of her Conversation” (Haywood 51). She then disguises herself into whatever character is befitting to seduce him. This is either by lying to her aunt as she “was going to visit a Relation in the Country, went towards Bath” (51) or as she “hir’d Horse and a Man to attend her to an Inn” (54) when she is the Widow Bloomer. It also alludes to comical elements occurring full of sexual activity between the seducer and the seduced. The word “dye” for example ends the epigraph and is a double entendre, referencing the inability to get someone unattainable, and the euphemism of an orgasm as “the little death” or in French “la petit mort.” By inserting this epigraph, Haywood piques curiosity as to who Fantomina is, addressing that there will be a playful relationship occurring between characters and even hinting that perhaps the common tale is not about to unfold as this is a Love In A Maze.

Haywood allows and encourages the heroine to be sexual in Fantomina, showing her both as Waller describes being a “Victor” and the “Vanquish’d.” The heroine begins by slowly deciding how she wants her relationship with Beauplaisir to develop. She is fortunate enough to have independence that most women were not allowed during the 1800s as she “indulges her sexual desires with remarkable freedom, creativity, and sensual enjoyment” (Croskery 69). With no strong maternal or paternal figures to cease her activities the heroine is capable of having “no other Aim, than the Gratification for an innocent Curiosity” (Haywood 42).

This is extreme in comparison to many females during her time who did not share her independence due to their husband or family. The only individual to curb the heroine’s activities is her aunt, who she is able to easily deceive and evade so that she can wholly participate in the activities she wishes. The heroine’s freedom allows the ability to pursue her curiosity and “is rarely innocent…as the text will bear out” as well as sexual, allowing the heroine to be the rake (Merritt 49). Beginning their masquerade relationship, Fantomina dresses as a prostitute for Beauplaisir as they proceed with his desires. This begins the first shift of who is the rake and who is the pursuer as the “Victor was often the rake who managed to ‘wound’ and then ‘fly’his mistress” (Croskery 75), however after the heroine and Beauplaisir’s first interaction, if she is the Victor, then he is her mistress. Eventually the roles reverse to the extreme, where in most cases the female character will do anything to keep their male counterparts from leaving them. This is not the case at the end when the heroine reflects on Beauplaisir’s affection as “[s]he began to grow as weary of receiving his now insipid Caresses as he was of offering them” (Haywood 68). Haywood creates a new change in gender dynamics with a heroine that is capable as being equally sexually active, independent, and strong as any male heroes. The heroine faces no repercussion throughout the story as Haywood never “formally chastise[s] its heroine” for her sexual behaviors (Croskery 92). Normally a lead female character would be chastised, raped, or killed because of their actions, instead the heroine reflects upon the events that have taken place as “an Intreague which, considering the time it lasted, was as full of Variety as any” (Haywood 71).

This lighthearted interpretation creates a near utopian tale, one where the heroine is able to wield the independence to do what she wants and still attain Beauplaisir. Haywood is creating a tale that does not chastise women for pursuing their desires and actually allows them to be a “Victor.”

The “Vanquish’d” and “Victor” roles begin the story first with Beauplaisir’s seduction of the heroine. His assumption is that he holds the role as the beguiler throughout, even if “her loss of innocence is purely voluntary” (Croskery 83). Immediately the heroine manifests a character in order to be prey for Beauplaisir, one she knows will intrigue him when they first meet. Dressing as a prostitute she does whatever is necessary until “she saw the accomplish’d Beauplaisir was making his Way thro’ the Crowd as fast as he was able, to reach the Bench she sat on” (Haywood 42). Her deception set a trap in order to attain Beauplaisir.

Beauplaisir’s role “as ‘Victor’ is not as well imagined or creatively controlled as the role of the ‘victim’ who has willed this seduction from start to finish” (Croskery 83). As she stays active and aware to continue their relationship, she has no recourse “over a Heart inclin’d to rove” (Haywood 51). No matter what actions the heroine does in order to keep Beauplaisir, she can only be successful “by assuming a new disguise whenever he tires of the old one” (Craft-Fairchild 61). She must constantly transform who she is and change being the seducer or the seduced. This depends on the circumstance because of the “Unaccountableness of Men’s Fancies, who still prefer the last Conquest, only because it is the last” (Haywood 60).

As the heroine accepts the loss of one character’s relationship with Beauplaisir she creates another and controls the direction of their relationship. This also allows Beauplaisir to feel as if he is making all of the decisions.

When the heroine is the seducer she shifts their relationship paradigm between her and Beauplaisir; he then becomes the “Vanquish’d” but she presents it to him as if he is pursuing her to continue the chase. The heroine’s intelligence and foresight consistently allow her to remove herself from situations when Beauplaisir’s interests begin to fade from one of her profiles due to her “sophisticated understanding of the politics of seduction” (Croskery 70).

Her nonstop plans keep Beauplaisir from swaying to any other lovers. She is fine with him leaving for Bath when she is Fantomina because “she had already laid a Scheme for” him to lure him back (Haywood 51). The heroine recognizes that Beauplaisir’s wandering feelings require her to be continually aware of his happiness and align her disposition with his. In one instance when Beauplaisir is about to flee she recognizes that she needs to “bring back the fugitive Lover, [and] she resolved to take another Course” deviating from what she was currently doing so that she could take on another charade (51). This then becomes a commonality between the heroine and the “virtuous wife seeking to reclaim an adulterous husband” despite the heroine not showing any inclination to marry Beauplaisir (Croskery 80). This would instead end the game that keeps their relationship passionate even if Beauplaisir does not know the identity of the woman he is seducing. Instead, it is the heroine that is leading their relationship as she “satisfies her own wishes at the same time as she destabilizes the gaze of her lover, refocusing his look upon her four intentionally manufactures selves” (Craft-Fairchild 61). By constantly transforming and redefining who the heroine is, she manipulates the relationship to her own desires, defining her as the “Victor” instead of being a helpless victim. The heroine’s sexual desires are also recognizable as acceptable for females. Her investment in the relationship details “the connection between her ability to control her sexual persona and Beauplaisir’s inability to maintain his sexual appetite” causing him to be objectified by his own desires (Croskery 88). In order for the heroine to continuously seduce Beauplaisir she must disguise herself as many differing characters, this allows her both to be a “Victor” but also act the “Vanquish’d.” 

These multiple identities empower the heroine and allow her “to keep her faithless and fickle lover” (Craft 828). At first her seduction methods are in order to entice Beauplaisir’s attention and she does this by taking up the appearance of the prostitute and then changing into Fantomina. However, once she falls in love with him she knows that with his sexual appetite constantly drifting to others she will constantly need to alter who she presents to him. The heroine’s transformation “takes on the appearance of a prostitute only to become a mistress in reality” because she falls in love with him (828). Her peculiar love for him creates a relationship where she enjoys the facade of multiple portrayals of aspects of herself so that they can be together. Each role corresponds with a different vulnerability, as they ascend financially “in rank, they also become easier to access” (829). When the heroine first meets Beauplaisir she dresses as a simple prostitute. Although this outfit may seem like the easiest for him to persuade her, she wears it when she has the most modest intentions and is unwilling to be intimate with him. When she gives in to him she is so very disheartened by the loss of her honor that she almost unmasks herself. Overcome with grief “she is compromised by both her disguise and her inexperience” as she allows herself to be the victim (Croskery 73). Acting as a maiden of the lower caste her next character is again of inexperience. Celia is able to “embody the pastoral ideal of sexual pleasure combined with innocence” (84). The heroine creates a desirable object that is lower in standing and easily susceptible. Beauplaisir easily finds her attractive as he refers to Celia as his “little Angel, Cherubim” (Haywood 53). Quickly he is intimate with her as he hungrily “devou’d her Lips, her breasts with greedy Kisses” (53). His inability to communicate to the heroine’s past personas lead to the creation of the Widow Bloomer. The heroine still desires Beauplaisir, but the Widow Bloomer “reveals the heroine’s sense of loss in the face of Beauplaisir’s repeated inconstancy” (Croskery 84). The Widow Bloomer’s appearance is a representation of the disrespect she feels and how difficult it is for her to constantly change in order to gain Beauplaisir’s adoration. Despite the heroine being the same individual, he tells the Widow Bloomer that “Never did any look like you” (Haywood 58). Even though this is meant to be a compliment, it displays how Beauplaisir is unaware that all characters are the heroine. The heroine’s final personality is the one with the least amount of depth but also reflects her true self. Incognita is a mystery, one that places what Beauplaisir most desires about the heroine, her money, social standing and sexual appetite at the forefront for him. Yet she still keeps him at the mercy of her own powers, continuously vanquishing him then leaving whenever the heroine wishes. With the persona of Incognita “she discovers the freedom from social constrain inherent in her new identity” by focusing only on her desires (Merrit 49). The “Victor” and “Vanquish’d” relationship cannot last forever though as the mystery will eventually fade with desires. However these four personas manifest themselves and “conform to male sexual fantasy” (Craft 829), making it believable how Beauplaisir would become so easily “Vanquish’d” by the heroine’s deception. This affirmation and acceptance of the female desire is largely in part because of the secrecy of their relationship and how by acting as Fantomina, Cecilia, the Widow Bloomer and Incognita the heroine portrays turning every interaction between her and Beauplaisir into a masquerade.

The heroine uses each role she plays to entice Beauplaisir in a private masquerade to appease his intrigue and keep him as a lover. Her subterfuge gives her the ability to assess what is necessary for their happiness and allows her to give “submission to the dominant moral and social codes” (Craft 830). This masquerade between the two of them becomes a game where she is able to protect her identity and social standing, turn herself from being the “Vanquish’d” into being the “Victor,” and also obtain whatever she wants from Beauplaisir consequence. Her many characters make her an unknown that gives her independence and makes it so she is able to use the “disguise to her sexual advantage” and give an acceptance to her sexual attitude (Croskery 81). Her discretion to keep things simple and away from her home is part of the masquerade as well as the essentials of not allowing Beauplaisir to blemish who she was as a Lady. Their first introduction to one another “forbore [him] discovering her true Name and Quality” (Haywood 48). By removing her identity from the situation Beauplaisir is unable to “touch her Character” (48). This then opens up the masquerade game between the two as the heroine has already set the tone that she needs to constantly be in some sort of character whenever she is interacting with Beauplaisir since she is not truthful right away. This protection is essential due to his capricious behavior with partners. This information empowers the heroine as she “acknowledges the fact that her identity as a sexual object is a masked identity” so that she is truly capable of manipulating the situation in making her the “Victor” so she gets what she wants (Croskery 89). The heroine even brags how she “was so admirably skill’d in the Art of feigning, that she had the Power of putting on almost what Face she Pleas’d” (Haywood 57). The heroine never felt that her private masquerade with Beauplaisir was ever in jeopardy because she was always capable of donning the mask of a character he desired. However, despite all of her efforts to be the “Victor,” she is finally “Vanquish’d” not because of Beauplaisir’s lack of affection, but because she is sent away and unable to continue the façade.

Despite the heroine’s ability to continue with her game throughout the entire tale, her downfall comes not from Beauplaisir finding out who she is, but her inability to hide her behaviors from her mother, especially once she becomes pregnant. Haywood alludes to the heroine’s “inevitable ruin stressing her inexperience and lack of supervision” (Croskery 72).

Her mother makes her give out the name of Beauplaisir as the father of their child and their relationship is at an end. Once their name and identities are known their masquerade ceases even though Beauplaisir does not recognize the mother of his child. Heeding the summons to the heroine’s bedside he is “surpris’d what Business a Lady so much a Stranger to him could have to impart” (Haywood 69). Beauplaisir even assures the heroine’s mother that “her Daughter was a person whom he had never [known]” (69). The seduction is over as neither wants to be the “Victor” or act the “Vanquish’d.” After the child is born, there is also no natural direction for the story to follow, for “matrimony is not, nor should it be, the proper resolution of Fantomina’s story” (Craft 831). This story concludes as the chase for the heroine and Beauplaisir ceases. There is no expectation that he should be satiated with having her as a single partner, as he would rove eventually.

This is why Beauplaisir “made no offer” of any engagement “which, perhaps, she expected” (Haywood 71). The only reason the game continues is because once Beauplaisir is forbidden to see the heroine this begins the cycle of attempting to attain the unattainable. A woman he views as essentially a stranger is desirous and he is “eager to visit the Lady” (Haywood 70). Being that she is only sent to a monastery it leaves the possibility of a future romance open.Eliza Haywood recreates the maiden under persecution story by changing the traditional story of male pursuing female and instead juxtaposes the roles between Beauplaisir and the heroine as she seduces him throughout Fantomina. This new dynamic finally portrays what is necessary in order for women to be “Victors” in the stories where they are so often “Vanquish’d” by their male counterparts. By portraying a woman who is intelligent, independently social, sexually liberal, and able to live her life without repercussions, Haywood creates a victorious heroine capable of pushing the boundaries of traditional gender roles and societal norms.

Works Cited

  1. Craft, Catherine A. “Reworking Male Models: Aphra Behn’s Fair Vow-Breaker, Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina, and Charlotte Lennox’s Female Quixote.” The Modern Language Review 86 (1991): 821-838. Print.
  2. Craft-Fairchild, Catherine. Masquerade and gender: disguise and female identity in eighteenth century fictions by women. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993. 53-61. Web. 9 December 2012. 
  3. Croskery, Margaret Case, Kirsten T Saxton and Rebecca P Bocchicchio, eds. “Masquing Desire: The Politics of Passion in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina.” The Passionate Fictions of Eliza Haywood. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2000. 69-94. Print.
  4. Haywood, Eliza, and Alexander Pettit, Margaret Case Croskery, and Anna C. Patchias, eds.
  5. Fantomina and other works. Ontario: Broadview Press Ltd, 2004. Print.
  6. Merritt, Juliett. Beyond spectacle: Eliza Haywood’s female spectators.
  7. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2004. Print.

Cite this page

The Strong Heroine in the Novel, Fantomina; or Love in a Maze by Eliza Haywood. (2022, Mar 30). Retrieved from

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment