Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina” (ctd.)

After some time, Beauplaisir’s affection towards the Widow Bloomer starts to cool off as well, but Fantomina has foreseen it and already has another project “in embryo”, as the narrator notes, anticipating perhaps the conclusion of the story. She muffles herself, goes to the Mall, picks up two penniless gentlemen there. She tells them that she thinks fortune has not treated them as they deserve, which I think shows her great understanding of masculine nature. She offers them a job, which, as she assures them, is nothing illegal or compromising, just an innocent frolic, gives them some money and promises to pay much more. Of course they readily accept. She then goes off and finds another house to rent, this time picking a particularly large and expensive one. She then calls the two gentlemen and tells them to put on the liveries and pretend they are they servants. She then sends one of them with a letter to Beauplaisir, saying that he should pretend, if asked, to be unwilling to reveal the identity of his employer, not to be unable. In the letter, written with yet another hand, she introduces herself to Beauplaisir as “Incognita”, a young and beautiful lady of rank who is very much in love with him and invites him for a date tomorrow, although she will never reveal to him her name or her face. This alter ego is probably the closest to the real identity of the heroine.

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Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina” (ctd.)

In a narrative aside, the narrator foresees that her readers are going to wonder why Beauplaisir didn’t recognize the woman he had sex with. She assures us that Fantomina was a perfect actress, better than “all the comedians at both playhouses”. Instead of explaining that “comedians” are “actors”, which I guessed, I’d rather read a Helpful Footnote explaining why “both” playhouses. I had to go and do a little research myself to find out that indeed, in London at that time there were only two “patent” theatres, i.e. authorized by the monarch to perform spoken serious drama – Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Other theatres could perform only the equivalent of our musical/variety acts (for more info on 18th c. theatre, see this excellent blog). So, this acting skill combined with the fact that he meets all these women in different places stops him from making a connection, even if he feels this face looks familiar. It’s worth remembering that Haywood used to be an actress herself, if not a very successful one.

Beauplaisir and Widow Bloomer (her new alias) get along famously all the way to London. When they part, Beauplaisir gives Widow Bloomer his address and begs her to get in touch with him once she finds a place to stay. She finds another apartment and writes to him. Then she goes back to Fantomina’s apartment, pays her servants not to tell Beauplaisir that she was gone, and writes him another letter as Fantomina, changing her hand, and complaining that he didn’t write to her. Soon she gets two letters: the one to Widow Bloomer is very ardent, saying that he is going to come tonight, as soon as he can get out of this boring dinner with a lord, and the one to Fantomina is much cooler, but still he assures her of his love, tells her he didn’t write only because he forgot her landlady’s name and tells her that this inability to write actually made him cut his stay in Bath short. He also tells Fantomina he can’t come until tomorrow because of “some business”. If I were her, I would check if this lord he’s dining with is not a lady. Anyway, Fantomina seeing these letters side by side realizes what a lying cheat he is. She doesn’t really love him so she doesn’t suffer that much, and she even enjoys the feeling of out-cheating the cheater. And she still likes to have sex with him. This day, on a date with Widow Bloomer Beauplaisir is as ardent as ever, but the next day he is markedly cooler with Fantomina. But the narrator still thinks Beauplaisir is better than most of his sex because he doesn’t dump Fantomina, even if he continues to see her more out of pity than love.

Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina” (ctd.)

Fantomina in her disguise as a widow takes a coach and stops at an inn ten miles from Bath which she knows Beauplaisir will be passing. As he passes, she stops him and tells him a sob story about how she is a widow from Bristol who has just lost her beloved husband, and has got to get to London as soon as possible, or her wicked brother-in-law will transfer all her money to the Netherlands. She came from Bristol to Bath and hoped to catch a stagecoach to London there, but there were no free seats. (So how did she find herself ten miles outside of Bath? Unless stagecoach stops were, like airports, actually outside the towns they served.) She doesn’t ask him for his help in transferring the funds so that her wicked brother-in-law doesn’t get them, promising him an enormous sum as a reward, but she does ask him for a seat in his chariot. Beauplaisir of course obliges, but as they are travelling on, he starts to regret it, because she can converse on no other subject but her dead lamented husband. But then he remember the story of “the widow of Ephesus” (the same one to which Richard Steele referred in one of his essays) and thinks that a nature capable of such strong emotion of grief can be also capable of equally strong love. So he turns the conversation in this way and indeed the lady is very fond of talking about the power of love. When they arrive at the inn where they are going to spend the night, he moves from talking about love in general to talking about his love for her in particular. Fantomina thinks it wouldn’t be in her character as a grieving widow to give in too easily, so she opts for faking fainting. Beauplaisir takes her to the bed which just happens to be in the room where they are having supper, and caresses her until she comes round, after which they have sex.

Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina” (ctd.)

Even though the fact that Fantomina is the lookalike of a certain young lady does turn Beauplaisir on, eventually he grows tired of her too. When the holiday season comes, when all the fashionable people go to Bath, and she wants to accompany Beauplaisir, he tries to discourage her. She realizes what is going on and she also knows there’s no point in remonstrating or weeping. She says her goodbye, again tells some kind of story to her aunt, and goes to Bath accompanied (for her aunt’s sake) by two servants, with whom, however, she pretends to be angry and dismisses them. Then she dresses up as a country girl, blackens her hair and eyebrows, and catches a ride on a wagon going to Bath. There she gets a job as a chambermaid in the boarding house where Beauplaisir is staying. She assumes the name Celia, which sounds a bit fancy for a peasant girl, but I guess that’s not the last of the improbabilities in this story. Luckily for her, there is just one other guest, an  elderly gentleman who really came to Bath for treatment for his rheumatism, not for chasing girls, so she is safe there. Beauplaisir seems not to notice her much on her first morning, except for giving her a two or three kisses (!), but the next morning, when she brings him his chocolate, he catches her by the leg, makes her sit in his lap, starts to flirt with her and finally has sex with her. But then he does give her a purse of gold, because he is such a good guy, and she asks in character of a country lass “O law, Sir! what must I do for all this?” He laughs at her, asks her to promise to come to him tonight, which of course she does. Before a month passes, Beauplaisir is already bored of Celia and ready to leave Bath. She quits her job, rents a room and prepares her next disguise: widow’s weeds. Her hair, which both Fantomina and Celia wore loose, is now pinned up and hidden completely under her cap, and that makes her completely unrecognizable. I don’t know what makes me more sick in this part of the story: the assumption that the use of chambermaids comes with the apartment, or the assumption that Beauplaisir is basically a good guy, if as inconstant as all men, because at least he always pays generously the women he has sex with.

Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina” (ctd.)

Beauplaisir thinks the lady is crying because she is afraid he isn’t going to pay her now, so he gives her a purse of gold and assures he will keep on paying her. The young lady, stepping out of character, throws the purse disdainfully aside and says gold is of no use of her now when she’s lost her honour and many other similar sentiments. But then she says to the increasingly baffled Beauplaisir the only thing that can help her is if he promises her to love her forever. Beauplaisir is now certain that she is not a courtesan and asks her who she is and why she did that. She recollects herself, and while she tells him the truth about her motivation (she did it out of curiosity), she hides her real identity, saying she’s a daughter of a country gentleman who came to London for shopping and her name is Fantomina. Beauplaisir buys this story, thinking  somewhat cynically that if she wanted to know what the life of a courtesan is like, she is certainly going to end up being one, but, although he feels a bit sorry for her, it’s not his business to warn her.

It’s too late for Fantomina to go home, so she stays in her lodging until the morning. The next day she bribes the landlady and tells her, should Beauplaisir investigate, she should tell him exactly the same story as Fantomina told him. She also tells her she is going to come to her apartment only for her dates with Beauplaisir, but if he should come asking for her outside of her surgery hours, she should tell him that Fantomina has just gone out and keep up the pretense that she normally lives there. When Fantomina gets home, she tells her unsuspecting aunt a story about how she went with a couple she knew in their boat to their country house, but when they wanted to get back, one of the bargemen got ill and they couldn’t find a replacement. This seems to me to be a very tenuous story even for a very unsuspecting 18th c. aunt, but I guess we have to accept that.

The young lady starts to carry on a regular affair with Beauplaisir, seeing him three of four times a week. She feels very smug about how well she arranged all that, because her reputation is secure and she is completely indifferent to her virtue. (The anthropological distinction between shame culture and guilt culture comes to mind.) She can have sex with Beauplaisir, but all that goes to Fantomina’s credit. If Beauplaisir boasts about his conquest, it’s Fantomina who is going to be dishonoured, not the young lady. If Beauplaisir turns out to be unfaithful, like most men, the young lady will not have to face the public humiliation and fake pity over her “forsaken” status. She meets Beauplaisir in the afternoons, their dates are over by six p. m. Beauplaisir leaves Fantomina in her dressing gown and with her hair undone, and at seven he meets the haughty lady, dressed to the nines, at court or in theatre. He does wonder about how similar the two women are, but doesn’t suspect anything, even though the similarity adds piquancy to his affair and maybe even encouraged him to continue it longer than he usually did.

Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina” (ctd.)

Beauplaisir insists on spending the night with the lady. She doesn’t know what to do and is about to admit to who she really is, but her “ill stars” help her to come up with an excuse: she is kept by a rich man and has to accompany him tonight. Beauplaisir then extracts from her a promise to meet him tomorrow, same time, same place and they part: he goes to a tavern and she goes home in a hired chair. She is very happy she managed to get away, but she is also very tempted to see Beauplaisir again. So the next day before the theatre she goes out and rents an apartment, figuring it would be safer for he than to go to his house. At the theatre Beauplaisir is as attentive as the previous day and after the show is over, they walk to her apartment. Beauplaisir wants to order takeout, but the lady says it would be a disrespect to her, suggesting she doesn’t know how to entertain a guest. She sends a servant (who apparently came with the apartment) and when he returns with food, she sets a table in the way which indicates she is both wealthy and has good manners. Beauplaisir starts to think he may not be able to afford her in the long run. They have a nice supper and amorous conversation, and then Beauplaisir wants to get what he’s come for. She tries to resist, but she is at the same time attracted to him. She is ashamed to tell him her real name and ruin her reputation, but she does tell him she’s a virgin and that she did it only to flirt with him. But at this point Beauplaisir is so aroused he doesn’t pay attention, and as the narrator comments, if she told him who she really was, he probably wouldn’t pay attention either. After the deed is done, she starts crying and he is confused. Why should a woman who is not a courtesan pretend to be one? And why should she be sorry about what was expected to happen and what she seemed to want herself? (I don’t know the exact protocol for settling the financial matters with high-end escorts in the 18th c., but why didn’t he pay her first and why couldn’t she save herself just by quoting him a prohibitive price?)

Eliza Haywood – “Fantomina”

And now for something juicy, a very scandalous story by a scandalous Mrs Haywood, an erstwhile actress, writer, playwright and a woman about town. The story has many improbabilities, but we have to accept them. A young nameless lady notices one evening in a theatre that a high-end prostitute, who came to look for clients by sitting in the pit, is surrounded by many gentlemen, including some of the lady’s acquaintance. She expresses her surprise and indignation to other ladies accompanying her in the box, but they do not pursue the subject. She is secretly bugged by the question what it feels like to be pursued by so many men, and since she is left with no minders or chaperones in London (the first improbability), one evening she dresses in the style of those women and she goes to sit in the pit. Immediately she is surrounded by many gentlemen who try to outbid each other. They also notice she looks awfully like “my fine Lady Such-and-such” (meaning her real self), but it doesn’t occur to them it could be her. The game would stop there, but then she sees a man called Beauplaisir, whom she secretly fancies. Beauplaisir asks her many usual questions, which are not, however, “how much for a BJ”, but “can I accompany you home after the show” and “do you come here often”. He, however, notices that she has better manners and more wit than the courtesans, who just pretend to be ladies, and he stops using “those expressions so little polite”. They get on very well, but then the show is over and the lady doesn’t quite know what to do.