Powerful or Dependent?

I would say that Beauplaisir is most in control of the relationship in “Fantomina,” although he is unaware of his power throughout the story. To start, he is completely in control of their first interactions, both at the playhouse and afterwards at the lodgings Fantomina secures for them. He approaches her in the playhouse and strikes up a conversation. He initiates the first amorous encounter, indeed, he forces her, not noticing her distress at the “ruinous ecstasy” (2569). Beauplaisir is in complete control of the first encounter and continues to sets the date and time of his next visit, and all subsequent visits. Beauplaisir is the one who grows tired and decides to leave for Bath, whereas Fantomina, having “easily perceived his coldness” (2572), devises her plan to follow him hence only in response to his action. When Fantomina changes her guise to Clara, the housemaid, she once again is under Beauplaisir’s power, waiting on him to initiate the “more substantial joys” (2573) that “the lady” is sure will come. As the widowed Mrs. Bloomberg, “the lady” once again throws herself on the unsuspecting Beauplaisir, who could have just as easily refused her access to his carriage as granted it, or withheld from making any amorous advances on her and “Mrs. Bloomberg” would have been completely foiled in her plan. Even as the “Incognita” at the end of the story, the lady relies on Beauplaisir to both accept her proposal and her insistence on wearing the mask.

In every situation in “Fantomina,” the lady is completely reliant on Beauplaisir to get what she wants, whether it be the satisfaction of her curiosity or the sating of her lust. He is in control because it is his action which always changes the dynamic of their relationship. He is both the one who initiates the amorous advance and the one who grows tired and leaves, causing the lady to scramble again to think up a new device to attract him to her. Although the lady might think herself in control of the relationship, since she has kept Beauplaisir coming back to the same woman without knowing it, she is in truth completely powerless in every situation they are in. Should Beauplaisir not have made advances to her in any one of her disguises, the lady would have been completely helpless to do anything about it. She is dependent on the whims and desires of Beauplaisir, and that is why I think he has the most power in the relationship.

True love or games?

Throughout Fantomina, “the lady” takes on multiple different roles to be a lover of Beauplaisir. I believe that she does this out of love and curiosity. She doesn’t need the power because her family has power, that’s why she started hiding who she really was in the beginning, so no one would be able to recognize her. She started out her game from pure curiosity, wanting to see what it was like to be a prostitute and have men flocking towards her. She was able to handle it for a while but was then taken with Beauplaisir. After a while when she was the persona of Fantomina, he grew tired of her and that’s when she realized she was in love. It was almost like he was playing a game with her at that point because he was just using her, so she wanted to see how far she could take the game into her own hands. She then plots various different characters until Beauplaisir gets tired of one and then she moves onto the next making sure that he is constantly in her life, yet still playing him. Though I do believe that at a certain point she had to be in love with him otherwise she wouldn’t have continued to go back to him, I believe that most of her plotting and pursuit was out of curiosity. Before she met Beauplaisir, she seemed almost as if she was very innocent. But her first move to act as a prostitute was out of pure curiosity and then everything seemed to almost spiral from there. As if she was so caught up in the games that she wondered how far she could take it, especially because he was never able to put it together. Like she was curious about how far she could take him until he noticed. I almost think that she convinced herself that she was in love with him because the curiosity of “will he like this new me?” was always there.

What makes Fantomina special for her time?

Eliza Haywood satirizes several elements of 18th century society in this novel including men and women and their expectations in society or their view towards relationships. For Fantomina, the standards that are forced upon the woman is what is being satirized. When we encounter “the lady” in the theatre she is described as “A young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit and spirit.” In this way she represents a typical female of the 18th century as someone who in public, they must adopt a modest and mild exterior, but yet are still expected to please men in private. Fantomina’s actions are restricted by her reputation as a higher class Lady, as her public relations are constantly monitored and her eligibility to marry based upon virginity as well as status. In those days those maidens seen as virtuous would be rewarded with marriage, and those who lost their virginity were ‘persecuted’ by men.

Because she is a woman of high birth and social ranking she is unable to interact with the lower class part of the theatre but Haywood soon describes how she is different than most women of her time. Following the normal model for 18th century writing, the heroine is usually vulnerable and naïve and when we first see her admiring the attention the prostitutes were getting I imagined she was simply a rich heiress seeking attention. However, Fantomina goes on to be described as someone with “wit” and she observes how the prostitutes act and operate in society before becoming one of them, knowing fully what her actions mean. Fantomina manipulates what is expected of the female race; instead of exhibiting mildness and virtue, she must be celebrated for instead exhibiting an entertaining wit and ability to outsmart others. We can however, see additional similarities and differences when we see her transform herself into her other characters. For example, even when acting as a prostitute, Fantomina must still act with modesty because that is what she has been told to do her entire life. Again, when in the disguise of Celia, her body is ‘half-reluctant, half-yielding’, displaying the struggle that women faced in the expression of their desires. Fantomina becomes lower class in her appearance and her sexual freedom, but remains higher class in that she still doesn’t have to live in poverty.

Instead of coming from the privileged upper class perspective we see someone restricted by their status in the upper class and someone wishing to escape it. Therefore, the theme of class centers on movement between the classes, and not interaction within a class. Lowering herself to a lower class is thereby portrayed as positive to the reader, as it allows Fantomina the freedom she seeks. In the eighteenth century, your social status deemed your identity. Therefore, Fantomina would be judged on her status as a Lady. However, Haywood inverts this to suggest instead that class and social status is based on outward impressions, and not one’s blood.

Fantomina…paradox lost?

 

Haywood’s Fantomina: or Love in a Maze paints a picture of two different types of women in the 18th century embodied in one.  The lady, the main character throughout the piece, is constructed in a way that represents the typical female during this time.  She is constantly trying to impress a man of status, and goes to incredible lengths to do so. Fantomina is a representation of female obedience and suppression in that she is powerless to the desires of Beauplasir, as shown in 633 & 634.  She accepts this loss of honor following her rape and thus exemplifies how women were at the whim of men during this time.  Haywood further illustrates this concept by not giving Fantomina a name, instead describing her as a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit.  By giving Fantomina an allure of mystery, Haywood is essentially stripping her of her identity and thus she is just another woman without a sense of individualism.  She continues to come up with different disguises to please one man rather than moving on and pursuing someone else.  Although Beauplasir is fooled and manipulated time and time again, he escapes the novella untouched implying that men are still the superior gender.

While Fantomina is depicted as a normal woman of her time, Haywood also paints a different picture underneath.  Her lust for Beauplasir is brought to the surface after their first sexual encounter, and she uses this desire to unknowingly gain and maintain power over him.  He has no idea throughout the work that he is romantically involved with the same woman, and this aura of power was not common of women in the 1700s. Fantomina manipulates her societal and gender constraints to pursue a passion for sex, and thus is given masculine qualities (New woman) that allow her to pursue a goal on her own.  Women during this time weren’t given a sense of desire, as it was often muted or non-existent.  Fantomina challenges this assertion, as she plays the “man’s game” of sexual pursuit and ends up getting what she wants in each of the encounters.  Being a woman of middle class, Fantomina is also able to transcend social standing in order to enjoy the perks of being a lower class women, gaining a freedom that was almost never available to 18th century women.

Proper Woman with and Inquiring Mind?

In Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina, she constructs a woman that is typical of the 18th century, but with an element of curiosity. She begins her story by describing the nameless woman as “A young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit,” (p. 2566). Just in this sentence, Haywood presents a woman that is to be desired by the standards of the century, but as one continues through the paragraph, it is clear she is not the perfect representation of such a lady. She observes the crowd around her, particularly the men who were flirting with the women around her. She first despises the way they so easily fall for women, but she then begins to become curious about what it is that draws the men to them. Based on what we have learned and read in class so far, this sort of curiosity is not typical or acceptable behavior of a woman in that time.

Haywood contradicts the idea of the typical 18th century woman by giving the character a mind that is not bound by societal construction. This woman does not seem to care that acting like a prostitute, even temporarily, could lead to her reputation being damaged. Her goals are also not focused on obtaining a husband, although it obviously is on obtaining men in general. She has an independent mindset, which is not common of woman of that time. She decides to act as a prostitute just because she’s curious and later in the story, she follows Beauplaisir to Bath and disguises herself as a country maiden in her further pursuit of him. Even though she is making choices that revolve around a man, which is a stereotypical description of 18th century women, she’s doing it to satisfy her own desires of curiosity and, possibly, obsession. Haywood presents a woman who clearly had the upbringing in an 18th century society but she makes this woman different by giving her an inquiring mind into things that she probably should not be curious about.

Which mask should she wear?

In the beginning of the story, Fantomina is restrained because of her social status level. Very commonly seen in older times and less prevalent in today’s society. Fantomina takes a liking to a gentlemen, “Beauplaisir”, whom she is restricted to converse because of her ascribed class. Due to this facet, she changes her identity to a prostitute because she had observed how the men conversed with the ladies and she was envious of such conversations.
Being hidden as a prostitute she was able to lure in Beauplaisir because of her supposed job. Realizing that she had the power of conversation with her new identity, it allowed her to delay a private meeting with the man. Sadly, the private meeting turned south for Fantomina as she did not think through the consequences of dressing as a prostitute. This results in her feeling “undone’” due to Beauplaisir’s “rapturous’ actions.
Post sexual activities involving the two characters, Fantomina feels lost, taken advantage of, or even a form of lost identity.
Fantomina shifts from despair to love in a short time period. Fantomina is a very cunning person and it is evident in the scene where she bribes the housekeeper into stating she is lodging there and is from the country in all attempts to preserve her true identity. Yet to regain Beauplaisir, she uses her beauty and wits, to disguises herself as a maid, Celia.
Celia seems to be created in all attempts to reel back in some hope for having Beauplaisir fall in love with her, because Beauplaisir asks “Had she ever been in love?” Yet it is quickly seen that Celia is taken advantage of only for sexual desires that Beauplaisir seeks. She is in return treated as a prostitute in the payment that she receives from him.
Fantomina is a very clever lady and extremely observant. She realizes that certain social classes gain access to being able to converse with all gentlemen how talk with you, so she disguises herself in order to obtain the chance for love. Yet the plan tends to backfire as she unwillingly loses her virginity to the man. It is seen that as she shifts from the feeling of identity crisis, she falls in love with the man and would what seems about anything to get him to love her even if it means attempting a new identity. Thus, Celia is created as an outlet to gain conversation with Beauplaisir. Celia seems more desperate and a lot more willing to go along with Beauplaisir’s desires.

Was it all for Innocent Curiosity?

Fantomina undergoes a drastic characteristic change as she transitions to her disguise as Celia. Fantomina is originally described as “a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit” (2566). Along with this description, Fantomina was originally disguised with the intent of fulfilling her curiosity concerning why men of high class engaged with prostitutes; in her eyes, Fantomina was simply satisfying “the gratification of an innocent curiosity” (2567). After multiple meetings with Beauplaisir, Fantomina became less interesting to Beauplaisir. Fantomina noticed this lack of interest and assumed the new identity Celia.

With Fantomina’s change in disguise to Celia, we also see a change in her motivations. Originally, Fantomina disguised herself for the sake of curiosity; now, she is disguised as Celia to desperately attain the affection from Beauplaisir that she once had while disguised as Fantomina. This desperation is evident by the lengths Celia goes to to maintain a secret identity while continuing to meet with Beauplaisir: “She no sooner heard he left the town, than making a pretense to her aunt that she was going to visit a relation in the country” (2572).

Who is Fantomina?

Fantomia, a young lady in Fantomia who exemplified the stereotypical female in the 18th century, switches into various disguises and roles and has many interactions with Beauplaisir. Considerate of her character she was a “stranger to the world” and “was a virgin” (2567, 2569). She was unfamiliar with the manly world and thus it is possible she mostly remained in the house and doing this meant having a good character. Further, having good character was important in maintaining a good reputation for her family name and men in her life. Therefore after she was raped, she was still concerned that Beauplaisir not “touch her character” and so she revealed her name to be Fantomina (2570). In this way, he could not associate this immoral act with her real name. Then the more she considered the “merits of Beauplairis, the more she excused herself” and justified his actions in the possibility it will uplift her reputation (2571). Although she does possess stereotypical characteristics, she more greatly challenges these stereotypical characteristics.

Unlike the typical woman, she was curious and witty enough to be manipulative. Seeing the prostitutes drawing in men “excited a curiosity in her” that woman were not supposed to have (2567). Curiosity meant having an interest such as a career beyond the home. Furthermore, this curiosity led “a little whim which came immediately into her head” and she was able to formulate a plan to quell this curiosity. Eventually, she formulates a manipulative plan that in Beauplaisir “desires she had inspired” and in her second disguise, she “enflamed the amorous heart of him” (2568, 2573). As a woman, she should be more submissive and not controlling. Her as a manipulator challenges this stereotype as someone capable of controlling.

Ultimately Fantomia challenging the stereotype of women in that century is driven by physical passion which in itself is contradictory to the stereotype of women. Women are seen as passive and incapable of sexual desires and passion, but she proves this as fictitious. Her curiosity arises because she desires to be “receiving [men]” which comes from her physical passion. Her passion further causes her to manipulate Beauplaisir to gain his attention and then her passion drives her to disguise herself multiple times to seduce him. Her desire for physical passion is more prominent than her maintaining her character. With various qualities, she challenges the time’s stereotypes and directs society to a more progressive time.

Is it all about the chase?

In Haywood’s Fantomina, she introduces “the lady” whom takes on several disguises to win the admirations of a French man named Beauplaisir. As the lady switches her identity from “Fantomina” to “Celia”, one begins to worry just how far, the lady will fall to keep the attentions of her suitor, and if, at the end of it all, will all her falling be enough?

The lady’s first disguise “Fantomina” begins as a woman of virtue and dignity whom has found herself observing the attention and “flirting” received by prostitutes one night at the playhouse. Though a virgin, Fantomina exhibits the characteristic of a New Woman’s curiosity which leads her to “dress herself as near as she could in the fashions 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.” (pg. 2567). This curiosity ultimately leads to her demise as she finds herself becoming increasingly involved with winning the affections of Beauplaisir. Fantomina seems to have the misconception that she would be able to depend “on the strength of her virtue to bear her fate through trials more dangerous than she apprehended this to be” (pg. 2568). However, Fantomina eventually becomes so caught up in her “little white lie” of a disguise and in an attempt to save her virtue, exposes herself for being a virgin only pretending to act as a prostitute. Though initially a seemingly innocent act of curiosity, Beauplaisir has no remorse for her desperate pleas and forcefully treats her as the woman she led him on to believe she was.

Distraught from her virtue being taken, the lady take on another disguise with the name “Celia.” In my opinion, Celia is the lady’s way of coping with the rape that had just taken place. We see this through the short petticoats Celia chooses to wear to keep Beauplaisir’s eye and the way she so willingly tends to his every need to keep his attention. Unlike Fantomina, whom originally rejected Beauplaisir’s first summoning and struggled to keep her honor as a woman, Celia is overly available to Beauplaisir and seems to have a mentality that since her virtue has already been taken once, why bother with trying to preserve it any longer. The identity of Celia allows Beauplaisir to indulge in his desires with her and take advantage of her whenever he pleases. However, this makes me wonder if all the lady’s attempts to keep Beauplaisir will be in vain. It seems that initially, Beauplaisir was intrigued with Fantomina thinking “her a mistress, but believed her to be one of a superior rank and began to imagine the possession of her would be much more expensive than at first he had expected” (pg. 2569) It is clear that Beauplaisir was impressed with the disguise of Fantomina, it seemed that she led him on and required him to chase her or rather wait for her services more than the other woman he had solicited in the past. However, with this new and willing Celia, one can only assume that Beauplaisir will become bored and will take all he can from Celia until a new shiny toy, or a new “Fantomina” presents herself to him.

Why lose her identity?

In Haywood’s novel, Fantomina; or, Love in a Maze, she constructs “the lady”, her main character, as “a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit and spirit” (pg. 2566).  In the 18th century women did not have a sense of power and therefore, taking control over a man was not common. The novel does a great job showing the contrasts in power by stating, “He was bold; he was resolute. She fearful — confused, altogether unprepared to resist in such encounters” (pg. 2569).  They couldn’t really stand up for themselves and voice their opinions. Woman were seen as more obedient and saying “no” to men was not an ordinary option. Social class and identity were also big issues seen during that time period. Prostitutes were obviously part of the lower class, a class she was not, so the role of a prostitute was not fitting with her true identity. Men were able to notice that, especially one in particular, “her quality and reputed virtue kept him from using her with that freedom she now expected he would do” (pg. 2567).  Engaging in sexual activities while unmarried were not popular actions performed during the 18th century. Haywood constructs “the lady” as a virgin to follow with these social standards during that century.

Haywood though, is able to challenge this stereotype of a woman. She challenges the stereotype of a woman by creating different gender roles of that time to represent society. The lady reveals her characters by acting as varying prostitutes that are of lower class to her true identity. Becoming prostitutes was not a usual act her class participated in, “she was young, a stranger to the world, and consequently to the danger of it” (pg. 2567) but she gained “a curiosity in her to know in what manner these creatures were addressed” (pg. 2567). As she witnessed from afar how much power these prostitutes had, it made her want to experience this persona. Through her different personalities, she eventually loses her virginity in which her true identity would not have acted upon. Haywood also challenges the stereotype of the woman by the wardrobe she wears to receive the attention of men, such as “a night-gown laced and adorned” (pg. 2571). She is now seen as a desperate woman trying to get the attention of men losing her “beauty, wit, and spirit.”

How far must she fall to keep him?

The disguise of Celia is a step, more like a fall, down from Fantomina. Fantomina, was much like the lady herself, a curious, young, “stranger to the world.” This disguise most closely relates to a New Woman, one who has desires and is curious about the world around her. Celia, on the other hand, was simplistic and available to wait on Beauplaisir hand and foot. This disguise falls more under the Fallen Woman category, especially because she no longer has her virtue. This shift demonstrates the lady’s desperateness and decrease in self confidence. Instead of being a woman with “so much beauty and wit” who captivated the man with conversation, she became a maid who wore a short petticoat to catch his attention. Fantomina/Celia embodied the role of a fallen woman. A woman who has nothing to lose because it has already been taken from her. After the Beauplaisir grew tried of Fantomina, the lady’s confidence in her charm and wit diminished. So, she became an object that she believed the man would desire. Celia was obedient and very outwardly fond of Beauplaisir. He could have her any time that was convenient for him. For a lady who is of “distinguished birth, beauty, wit and spirit,” the change to Celia was a demoralizing and desperate move. As Celia, the lady served only to please him, whereas, this was not the case with Fantomina. This illustrates how desperate the lady had become to retain the love and affection she once received from the man she loves, because what man wouldn’t want a woman who’s only purpose is to wait on him? The young lady’s true identity has been lost in her quest to become the woman that Beauplaisir desires. But how far must she fall to keep him?

Setting New Standards: How Different Can She Be?

Although the lady in Fantomina is initially described as an upstanding woman of the 18th century, it is soon evident that this lady is quite different from the norm. Haywood’s opening line depicts a “young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit” (2566). Yet as she observes a group of men pursuing a woman of the night, she’s very curious and eager to know how all the attention feels. Simply being inquisitive sets the young lady apart from other 18th century women, yet she also takes action and disguises herself as Fantomina in order to pursue her “Beauplaisir” (2567). Her thoughts and ambition reflect a New Woman, contrary to the typical Angel in the House.

Even further differentiating herself, the lady seeks control over her Beauplaisir without his knowledge of such. For example, she didn’t want to stay with him the first night so she cleverly responded that “she was under obligations to a man who maintained her” (2568). This allowed her to prolong the interest and anticipation of the man while also promising to see him the next day. The lady even fooled the man into believing her to be a mistress “of a superior rank” (2569). Furthermore, she gives him a false name, Fantomina, as to not harm her honor or social standing. Even though she had the responsibility of this new relationship, she “never missed any assembly” in her true life. The lady successfully pulls off this double life for months fooling the Beauplaisir and everyone else in her life.

Her wit, cunning, and go-get-em attitude absolutely separates her from other ladies of the 18th century. Yet she amazingly maintains her normal life of civility and social standing. The young lady is truly a New Woman hiding in an Angel in the House’s clothing.

Could There Be More Similarities Between Fantomina and Celia Than We Think?

There are obvious differences in the personas of Fantomina and Celia; however, the subtle, but important, similarity in the way Beauplaisir approaches and communicates with each persona helps additionally understand Fantomina and Celia.

Fantomina is characterized with the determination to “[practice], as much as she had observed… the behavior of [the] woman” at the beginning: “a young lady of distinguished birth, beauty, wit, and spirit,” someone who all the men desire (pg. 2566-2567). She achieves this quite magnificently. Fantomina is “naturally vain, and [receives] no small pleasure in hearing” “she [is] the most lovely woman in the world” (pg. 2567). All the compliments, attention, and adoration from the men do not even affect her to any extent; she is used to it. In contrast, Celia is humble. She takes Beauplaisir’s gift “with humble curtsy” and is “very [obedient]” (pg. 2573). In my opinion, Celia’s most defining quality in this second persona is her innocence. I believe her persona of innocence doesn’t necessarily translate into her wanting Beauplaisir to think she is sexually innocent prior to meeting him, no not at all. When conversing with Beauplaisir for the first time, he asks her lots of personal, and very pointed, questions, “all which she answered with such seeming innocence” (pg. 2573). She wants Beauplaisir to think she is vulnerable and she accomplishes this through the passivity in which she answers his demanding questions. She presents herself to Beauplaisir as an innocent maid; a stark contrast to the directness and confidence in which Fantomina presents herself to the men.

There is an interesting parallel in Beauplaisir’s approach with both women. With both Fantomina and Celia, he is direct and abrasive, to an extent, regardless of their obvious differences in character. My natural inclination would be to think that a man would approach each woman differently, seeing that they are almost complete opposites: one radiates confidence and the other encompasses innocence and passivity. Yet, Beauplaisir doesn’t approach them much differently. His approach with Fantomina and Celia is clearly distinct from the very tactful and patient approach he uses with the third persona. This made me wonder if there were maybe more similarities between Fantomina and Celia than I initially thought.

What’s a Young Woman Supposed to Do?

As Fantomina concludes her first disguise and enters her second as Celia, we see a change in her character dynamics; one from a public display of sexual curiosity with a great deal of naivety to one of private and a much more intimate desire for masculine affection. In her first disguise, a previously unnamed protagonist and “stranger to the world” dresses as a prostitute making her way down to the pit where she is surrounded by a “crowd of purchasers…each endeavoring to outbid the other in offering her a price for her embraces”. She is neither discreet nor shy as a prostitute, but rather she is a young sheltered woman who is driven by curiosity and finds herself in a world in which she “did everything as her inclinations or humors rendered most agreeable to her.” Where Celia is more refined and purposed in her sexual desire, Fantomia is a public figure that has been released from the restrictions of her class and finds a “vast deal of pleasure in conversing with him in this free and unrestrained manner.” Her introduction to the public world of passion and sexuality illuminates her innocence as she reacts with hurt and disgust at Beauplaisir’s attempt to pay her as an assurance of his affection following her being raped. She has either forgotten that she is indeed a prostitute to Beauplaisir or lacks an understanding of the role she is playing. As she dons the much more private disguise of the maid, Celia, Fantomina begins to understand the nature of her “dilemma” and the real dangers to her reputation and her heart. But she now has an insatiable desire to be pursued again “remembering the height of transport she enjoyed…she longed to prove the same again.” Her new disguise as one who has lost her sexual modesty yet more discreet as a result of loss of honor is a desperate attempt to maintain the affections of a manipulative player. Fantomina/Celia is represented as a malleable character with no real personality, with the ability to change into whomever Beauplaisir will desire next. Rather than maintaining an individual identity, she would rather disguise herself as another person, or in this case, a seductive maid longing for connection lost in the world of gender identity.

 

 

“Let’s Just be Friends”: Camilla and the Circumscribed Desire for Male-Female Friendship

Throughout Fanny Burney’s novel Camilla, the societal constraints on male-female friendship quickly become clear. Once Camilla reaches marriageable age, the possibility for friendship with Edgar is completely erased– the persecutions of Mrs. Margland and Indiana ascribe romantic meaning even to something as small as a geranium. There is no longer room for kindness untainted by suppositions about one’s romantic affections.

Does Camilla understand that male-female friendship is impossible in her society? On one level, it appears that she does– she recognizes, for example, that there may be something improper, or at least unusual, about Mrs. Burlinton’s intimate correspondence with her mysterious friend (who, spoiler alert, turns out to be the infamous Bellamy). Yet she defends her friend’s practice despite Edgar’s condemnation:

"Yet, in the conversations she held with him [Edgar]
from time to time, she frankly related the extraordinary attachment of
her new friend to some unknown correspondent, and confessed her own
surprise when it first came to her knowledge.

Edgar listened to the account with the most unaffected dismay, and
represented the probable danger, and actual impropriety of such an
intercourse, in the strongest and most eloquent terms; but he could
neither appal her confidence, nor subdue her esteem. The openness with
which all had originally and voluntarily been avowed, convinced her of
the innocence with which it was felt, and all that his exhortations
could obtain, was a remonstrance on her own part to Mrs. Berlinton.

She found that lady, however, persuaded she indulged but an innocent
friendship, which she assured her was bestowed upon a person of as much
honour as merit, and which only with life she should relinquish, since
it was the sole consolation of her fettered existence" (Book 6, Ch. 12).

 

From her defense of this uncommon practice, what are we as readers supposed to gain? On one hand, this sets up Camilla’s fateful naivete. No matter where she looks for friendship– Sir Sedley, Hal Westwyn, and even crusty old Lord Valhurst– she is not safe from romantic proclamations, and it is naive for her to even think so. Her kind, but merely friendly, actions cause others, including Edgar, to label her a “coquette.” There’s no such thing as the “friend zone” for Camilla, and she’s always the last to realize that she is sending the wrong social messages.

On the other hand, could Burney be setting up a social critique of the societal constraints set up to prevent and circumscribe male-female friendships? Every time Edgar and Camilla have a chance to talk to each other, they are interrupted and prevented from communicating fully. Even Edgar has this desire to remain Camilla’s friend, to give her counsel (of course, though, this is tainted by romantic interest). When he warns her against Mrs. Arlbery and Mrs. Burlinton, he consistently appeals to her on the basis of friendship:

"Tell me, candidly, sincerely tell me, can you
condescend to suffer an old friend, though in the person of but a young
man, to offer you, from time to time, a hint, a little counsel, a few
brief words of occasional advice? and even, perhaps, now and then, to
torment you into a little serious reflection?" (Book 4, ch. 1).

It seems that both Edgar and Camilla are longing for a different kind of relationship, or at least a venue for more open communication between the sexes. If so, would this perhaps change our reading of the novel from a critique of Camilla’s and Edgar’s respective misreading/naivete to a critique of their society’s constraints upon friendship?