I’m in control! (My wife said I could be.) Right?

The opposite of control is submission. With this in mind, it is necessary to take a good look at who really has control in Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina”: the Lady, or Beauplaisir.

Spoiler alert: it’s the Lady.

The Lady goes to great lengths to repeatedly win her Beauplaisir’s affections. This does not mean that he is in control, however. Never in the story could the Lady’s character be described as submissive. Instead, Beauplaisir is forced into submission repeatedly by his wonton libertine desire. The Lady uses this to control him, to manipulate him to suit her needs. Her desire “was once more to engage him; to hear him sigh, to see him languish”(p. 2572). She wants to feel desirable, admirable, and heartbreaking. Thus she takes on the different personas, cleverly and of her own design, and plays him like a violin.

The alternative title for this work is “Love In a Maze”. This title gives great insight into who really has control. The Lady is building an intricate maze, with moving parts painstakingly and precisely timed, to catch the ignorant and helpless Beauplaisir over and over again like a blind rat. The real precision of the timing can be seen when it’s revealed that “though she met him three or four days in a week at that lodging she had taken for that purpose, … she was never missed from any assembly she had been accustomed to frequent” (2571). You could say she gave the illusion of being in two places at once, which is not an easy thing to accomplish.

Beauplaisir is caught in the web of his desires and cannot wriggle out due to his own scruples. Although he only loves one of her personas at a time, whether Fantomina, Celia, the Widow, or Incognita, he feels obliged to continue seeing the “other girls” not out of greed or lust, but simply because “he had a greater share of good nature than most of his sex”, and felt unwilling to “break it entirely off, without any regard to the despair of the abandoned nymph” (2577). Thus he found himself tied to these “other girls” and morally obligated to continue spending time with “them” even though it was more “a penance than a pleasure” (2577). This is yet more proof that Beauplaisir is the victim of the Lady’s con, manipulated to meet her needs. However, if Beauplaisir was really deserving of pity, he would have chosen to do the decent and break up with her. Instead he has affairs and can’t muster the backbone to cut the old lovers off. It is true that she was pretending to be a prostitute as Fantomina, and it is generally implied that there is no continued relationship after one night. But he knew almost immediately that she wasn’t really a prostitute, and they carried on with a serious romantic attachment for many days.

Thus the ending is just when one considers that the Lady was in control the whole time. It was she who manipulated Beauplaisir from the beginning to repeatedly have affairs with her, starting with her prostitute act, and therefore, as the Lady’s mother says, “the blame is wholly hers” (2584). Although he could have done the decent and married her, knowing that she was so well suited to his taste and so full of changeable fun, he was under no obligation to, and it probably would not have worked out. After all, Beauplaisir is a libertine, and his wonton ways are what allowed him to be so dominated by the cunning control of the Lady in the first place.

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