Staves notes that the era 1715-1737 was best known for satire, and that women wrote in many genres, including satire, farce,
epic, political writing, travel literature, translation, philology, and philosophy (167). "Fiction," she writes, "was still
by no means the dominant literary form, even for women writers" (167). That said, this week we turn our sights to the
early novel with two examples by two of the most important writers of the period: Haywood and Rowe. As you read this
narratives, also keep in mind Behn's fiction and the various influences on women's novelistic writing.
Fantomina is one of the most popular of Haywood's fiction today; it is highly anthologized and frequently cited in scholarship. In part this
is because it was one of the earliest works recovered by feminist critics in the 1980s. Scholars and teachers continue to find in it
contemporary resonances of gender, sexuality and in particular rape. How does this fiction speak to audiences today? What are some of the important
historical obstacles for understanding Fantomina?
Paula Backscheider and John Richetti include Fantomina in their Popular Fiction by Women 1660-1730, and they provide some strategies for reading fictions like this.
“Joining the critics giving new attention to the non-realist novel, they have revealed unions of form and content and effective statements of personal and
public engagement worthy of serious attention.” Haywood’s stories are “a sustained critique of her society, male-female relationships, and class politics,
and that these characteristics should be recognized and integrated into studies of the eroticism and wild fantasies also typical of her texts” (xiii).
In what ways are such insights helpful for reading Fantomina? What statements does she make about her society? What is the effect of the
tension between profound social criticism and the sheer eroticism of the texts?
Staves points out that Haywood wrote fiction in several genres, from the scandal chronicle, to political satire, to what becomes known as amatory fiction. She quotes
Cheryl Turner on Haywood's unparalleled productivity during the 1720s, and notes how writers like Pope interpreted her success as a failure of
culture (167-8). Note in particular the publication of her collected works in 1725, decorated with a canon-making gesture of a portrait
frontispiece. What does this indicate about Haywood as an author? How do you view this literary event in the history of women's writing?
How do you read Fantomina's decision to play the role of prostitute? What does this role playing suggest about the construction of gender, virtue and money in the work?
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?
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?
Note the two letters that Beauplasir writes to Fantomina and Mrs. Bloomer. What do their differences suggest? What do their similarities suggest about the character
of Beauplasir (for that matter, what does his name suggest)?
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" (240). To what
extent does this frankness qualify as erotic? Knowing the reputation that Haywood gained (as a popular writer of erotic tales and scandal), what does
this story tell us about the culture for which Haywood wrote?
On pages 192-3, Staves reviews some critical interpretations of Fantomina ranging from a feminist protest on patriarchal economies of desire to
"nadir of feminine representation." Where do you stand on this tale?
Evaluate the word cloud of Fantomina in Canvas. As a visual representation of verbal frequency, what does this tell you about the story?
Elizabeth Singer Rowe
"Haywood thus aligns herself with a libertinism that was under attack by moralists in this period" (Staves 193). One of those moralists would be
Elizabeth Singer Rowe. How do these two fictions speak to one another? What might they indicate about the history of women's writing at this
Friendship in Death. In Twenty Letters from the Dead to the Living (1728) is one of Rowe's most popular works (and it is excerpted in Backscheider and Richetti's
Popular Fiction by Women 1660-1730. Here letters tell a variety of stories with implicit and explicit morals about life before and notably after death. In
her preface, Rowe likens these to fairy tales. How do they stand the test of time?
Staves compares the short letters to periodical essays more than fiction because of their topicality and brevity. What topics does Rowe treat? How are the topics similar to other
writings by women?
Many letters concern the outcome of love affairs, and in this way resemble the fictions of Behn, Manley and Haywood (Staves), but with a difference. How does
Rowe represent female sexuality in these letters? Male sexuality?
While Staves and Richetti find the fictional prose of Rowe anticipating or influencing the later fiction of Richardson and Austen, other contemporary critical modes
might suggest alternative ways to value this work. To what extent does Rowe take up issues of science fiction? Human-animal relations?
Note the use of letter conventions in the work. How do the writers situate themselves? Do they have material or physical locations?
Note the variety of relationships portrayed in the letters and evaluate the representation of family in the work.
On pp 218-223 Staves elaborates on the success and seriousness of Rowe's religious poetry, which may help you understand the theological concerns at play in
Friendship in Death. What happens to the characters after death? What surprises you about the beliefs represented here? What seems consistent
with your current worldview?
Frequently the letter writers express their inability to describe the divine in human terms, and yet this is precisely what Rowe attempts to do in this fiction. How
does she resolve this tension (if she does)?
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