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.

 

 

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