Lust, Imagination and Gender Roles: Aesthetic Discourse in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina College

The turn of the eighteenth century is at the cusp of radical shifts in ideology, booming industry and scientific advancement for the Western World. The rapid changes, and growing middle class widens the audience for conduct books. As more people were economically secure and had access to education, more women were required to look to nobles as an example to follow. The emphasis of etiquette in polite English society serves as indicator for how gender roles were socially constructed. An increasing number of educated women meant fledgling feminist ideas. Eliza Haywood, one of the first writers of Amatory Fiction, narratives of romance and sexual love, writes Fantomina; or Love in a Maze in 1725, in which the protagonist goes to great lengths to seduce the same man repeatedly. The young lady is a Haywood’s way of reclaiming the disgraced or persecuted maiden trope, so often used in Restoration fiction. The cunning choices of disguises chosen by a morally condemnable heroine, enables the conservative audience to suspend disbelief and be delighted by her antics. The role of these distinctive characters adopted, reflect how budding feminist ideas in Eighteenth Century England were to present themselves in order not to alienate a...

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