A Sensual Seduction: The Value of Sight in Haywood’s Fantomina College

Two primary tropes guide Fantomina’s foray into sex and love with Beauplaisir: economic value and sight. Both of these tropes typically signify a text dominated by the masculine, treating women as commodities to be objectified and therefore controlled by a male gaze. For most of the novel, however, Haywood reverses typical gender dynamics by granting Fantomina a deceitful foresight that interrupts Beauplaisir’s gaze, replacing his sight with less valuable sensual experiences. As Fantomina changes her identity, she also changes the way Beauplaisir perceives and interprets her, and Haywood’s language reflects this shift—Beauplaisir tastes Celia but hears the Widow Bloomer, unaware that these experiences compromise the power of his gaze. In the final shapeshifting episode, when Fantomina becomes Incognita, the totalizing blindness with which she forces Beauplaisir to perceive her alerts him to his own blindness. This scene marks a fundamental change in the power dynamics of the text. After Beauplaisir leaves, Fantomina’s pregnancy—a physical condition specific to women—overshadows her ability to deceive those around her.

By transforming herself to create a new sensory experience for Beauplaisir, Fantomina uses metaphorical...

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