All Is Fair In Love and War

Haywood keeps readers interested with the frequent question of who has ultimate control in his novel, Fantomina. This eighteenth century novel represents the viewpoint on female power and control and offers two sides to consider. One aspect portrays the Lady as a female who is subject to oppression and suppression due to her willingness to do anything it takes to gain approval from her lover. In contrast, the Lady represents freedom from society’s constraints by expressing her sexual desires, while simultaneously manipulating her lover to fall in love with her again and again.

 

Due to the fact that Fantomina remains nameless throughout the novel, this leads to the idea that she represents a character of submission. Fantomina is constantly changing identity out of desperation for her lover, conveying the idea that she has no true identity or personality- she will transform into whomever it takes, as long as Beausplaisir desires her. The Lady becomes so desperate due to obsession that she claims she could die “with the agitations of her soul” (2584). While a woman of power and self-respect would likely move on to what is deserved, Fantomina remains trapped under the control that her lover has over her with his ability to move on at any point her decides. Her lack of control is stemmed from the act required of her to maintain several different identities in order to be considered worthy of affection. This considers the ultimate power of the male gender over women in this time period, as their tendency to be unreliable proves that women were incapable of satisfying them.

 

In contrast, the sexual freedom that Fantomina acquires through her manipulating plot to gain affection from Beausplaisir ultimately enables her to control the situation. Fantomina uses her wit and charm to outsmart her victim- I mean lover-, who remains foolish and oblivious to the scenarios of all of her characters. Fantomina executed her power by being so skilled in her acting that “she had the power of putting almost what face she pleased” (2576). The Lady’s talent to act all of these parts resulted in her ability to gain what she desired, along with liberating her from society’s oppression. In addition, Beausplaisir’s inability to resist his own sexual desire represents his greatest weakness of all. Fantomina was ultimately able to “triumph over her lover’s inconsistency” with her “strength of genius and force of resolution”, representing the manipulation that led to her victorious achievement (2580). Her character is powerful enough to enjoy the ability to attract and control men, gain freedom of desire, all while surpassing the judgment that would have accompanied nonconformity.

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