Stratagem In Eliza Haywood's 'Fantomina'

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Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina focuses on an unnamed woman who seduces Beauplaisir several times, using stratagems that on first glance consist of wearing disguises and taking on a new identity. I argue that each of the heroine’s stratagems go beyond simply allowing her to pretend to be something other than she is by giving her agency when it comes to romance and letting her pursue her sexual desires in a time where honor means everything. However, her stratagems are so successful in playing on the perceptions and desires of Beuaplaisir because they appear to give this control to Beauplaisir, making him seem the ‘mastermind’ romancer of ‘many’ women.
In her first disguise as Fantomina, the unnamed heroine is less guarded than future disguises-
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For instance, as she takes the task of tending to the two male guests, she notes that “she was in no apprehensions of any amorous violence, but where she wish'd to find it.” To put it simply, she is recognizing the unusual amount of power she has in this situation. No man can force her into a romantic encounter unless she wants to be. The woman decides what man she has sex with, even though the heroine pretends like Beauplaisir is making this decision. As an illustration, when she visits his room and waits on him, Haywood writes, “His wild desires burst out in all his words and actions: . . . [H]eld to his burning bosom her half-yielding, half-reluctant body, nor suffered her to get loose, till he had ravaged all, and glutted each rapacious sense with the sweet beauties of the pretty Celia.” That is, by using the phrases ‘burst out’ and ‘half-yielding, half-reluctant’, Beauplaisir appears to be the one who chose to have sex with her. But once again, this is just an example of her bending his wishes to match hers. He thinks he’s romancing some new girl, when he’s actually with the girl who he had just abandoned- he is given the sense of choice to please his desires, but really, she made the choice for him. Hence, the woman gets the final say in the matter, forcing her lover to stay constant so she can be…show more content…
At first, Beauplaisir has to use his own stratagem to ‘persuade’ the Widow: “He did not, however, offer, as he had done to Fantomina and Celia, to urge his passion directly to her, but by a thousand little softning artifices, which he well knew how to use, gave her leave to guess he was enamour'd.” That is, she creates a fake chase by pretending to be disinterested in order to give him a sense of agency as he actively ‘chose’ to pursue her. Conversely, the heroine really controls the narrative- he is attracted to the same woman again, albeit unknowingly thanks to her acting. In fact, the heroine directly acknowledges the acting she is doing as Bloomer to keep her control hidden. Particularly, Haywood writes, “She said little in answer to the strenuous pressures with which at last he ventur'd to enfold her, but not thinking it decent, for the character she had assum'd, to yield so suddenly, and unable to deny both his and her own inclinations, she counterfeited a fainting, and fell motionless upon his breast.” In short, she purposefully faints so he would take her to the bedroom and they could act on their attraction without her going out of character. This hides the agency that
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