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.

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