Dressing as a prostitute, but maintaining the expectations of a lady (Situational Irony)
In Haywood’s novella, the protagonist Fantomina is a lady who dresses as a prostitute to experience freedom. She is therefore aware of her higher status, despite her lower-class dress. Others, such as Beauplaisir, see only her outward dress, and not her true status as upper-class. It is ironic that Fantomina dresses as a prostitute yet expects her virginity to be treated with respect when she and Beauplaisir spend the night together. This highlights the difference between female and male expectation of desire. For Fantomina, a woman should be treated in accordance to their social status, whereas Beauplaisir assumes her as lower-class due to her clothing. Ironically, Fantomina expects treatment in accordance with the very status she wants to keep secret.
The irony of accusing Beauplaisir of treachery (Situational Irony)
After Fantomina has played out her roles as Widow Bloomer, Celia, and Fantomina, she returns to London and writes letters to Beauplaisir under her different personas. When Beauplaisir refuses Fantomina, but agrees to see the Widow the next day, Fantomina accuses him of treachery and betrayal. There is an undeniable sense of irony here: she brands Beauplaisir as a typical, lying male, when she has fooled him no fewer than three times already by dressing as different women. However, the motive behind her deception almost makes this irony acceptable. Becoming three different women at once was the only way in which Fantomina could prove that Beauplaisir is a rake, promising affection to many women simultaneously. This irony does not, then, mock Fantomina, but is rather a result of what she must do in order to prove the unreliability of the male gender.
The irony of claiming control over female sexuality (Dramatic Irony)
The motivation behind Fantomina’s actions throughout the entirety of Haywood’s novellas is freedom from the constraints that accompany her role in society as a lady. Most importantly, this is inclusive of sexual freedom: without her usual upper-class dress, she can now interact with men without any judgement. Fantomina thereby possesses control over expression of her female sexuality, and refuses to conform to the constraints of a society that expects women to only become sexually active as a man’s wife. It is therefore ironic that at the end of the story, despite her greatest efforts, Fantomina goes in to labor and is finally a slave to the bodily functions that only occur to the female sex. Fantomina has fought for the entire novella to dictate her own secret desires, only to be forced to submit and admit to the societal bonds that her status as a female impose on her.
The irony of the protagonist loving Beauplaisir, yet approaching him as a prostitute (Dramatic Irony)
Upon meeting Beauplaisir for the first time, Fantomina mentions that she has seen him before and taken a shine to him. While the only way she can approach him is dressed as a lower-class prostitute, this comment confirms that she seeks him out specifically, suggesting there is more to her interest in him than just lust. It is therefore heavily ironic that Fantomina perhaps seeks something similar to love by approaching Beauplaisir dressed as a prostitute: by tricking Beaulaisir into thinking she is a prostitute, Fantomina effectively prevents him from falling in love with the person who she truly is.
Fantomina Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fantomina is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.