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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

** VIRTUE AND KNOWLEDGE -- LIMITS OF REASON **

Reading Assignment:

    Eliza Haywood, Fantomina (1724)
    Demaria, p. 602

    DUE: Weekly Post #12 for Scotland and Ireland




The readings for this week continue to test the human capacity for REASON. Today's reading is a short fiction that puts Reason at odds with Virtue by employing it in the service of preserving one's reputation through deceit.



Notes and Discussion Questions:

1.

Eliza Haywood's short story takes up the problems of a specifically gendered virtue, chastity, and exposes the hypocrisy of the beau monde as well as the double-standard of sexual behavior for men and for women. As you read the story, note the ways in which Reason and Virtue are invoked.

Note the description Haywood provides for the main character. What can we infer is important to know about her?

What leads Fantomina to don the mask of the prostitute? What will this allow her to do that her ordinary role would not? What does this role playing suggest about the construction of gender and virtue in the work?

What does Fantomina struggle against in her decision to see Beauplasir on the second evening? What does she mean when she tells him that she has forfeited her honor? In what way has she materially changed? What consequences does she pay? What might we infer about the concept of female honor?

Why does she never tell Beauplasir her real name?

In the course of the story, Fantomina constructs three other identities to seduce or entice Beauplasir. Examine the roles of Celia, Mrs. Bloomer and Incognita. What are the important characteristics and traits that she changes? To what does Beauplasir respond in each case? How is class or status a factor? How is beauty a factor? How is perceived virtue a factor in his behavior to these women? What does this role playing suggest about Fantomina? What does it suggest about Beauplasir? What does it finally suggest about the nature of romantic or erotic love?

On page 609 the narrator raises the absurdity of Beauplasir's continual deception regarding the person (i.e. body) of his beloved. What does the narrator ask us to believe about Fantomina's character?


2.

Note the two letters that Beauplasir writes to Fantomina and Mrs. Bloomer. What do their differences suggest? What do their similarities suggest? What is Fantomina's reaction?

She continues on with this deception to gratify "the inclination she had for his agreeable person, in as full a manner as she could wish" (610). What does this suggest about Fantomina?

The narrator suggests that pride goeth before the fall: "Thus did she pride herself as if secure she never should have any Reason to repent the present Gaiety of Humour" (613). And the narrator further suggests that the enjoyment of such an amour is limited. What do these indicate about the narrator's attitude toward Fantomina?

Things change rapidly when Fantomina's mother returns to town and Fantomina finds herself pregnant. Explain the mother's response to discovering her daughter's pregnancy. Explain Beauplasir's response to being named the father. Why is he exonerated?

What does the story conclude? What are the implications of such an abbreviated ending?

In what ways does the story demonstrate a separation between form and content similar to Gulliver's errors of judgment in Houyhnhnm-land? What is Fantomina's major fault?

If chastity is supposed to be the highest female virtue (but relatively unimportant to men), in what ways does this story challenge notions of gendered virtue? In what ways does this story challenge reason?


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