Haywood wrote in an era that tended to focus less on prose description, so much of her imagery is subtle. Simply by setting the first scene of the novella in a playhouse, she conjures up imagery of wealthy individuals wearing their most fashionable clothes, and of a hot, crowded atmosphere in which bodies were crammed close together. The space of the theatre was always sexually charged and involved potential voyeurism, both because of the opportunity to watch bodies on stage and also the opportunity to observe individuals from different social classes gathered in the audience together.
The contrast between Fantomina in disguise and the protagonist in formal attire
In order to explain how Beauplaisir fails to see the similarity between his mistress and the woman he frequently observes in social situations, the narrator uses imagery to describe the contrast between them. When he sees the protagonist in disguise as Fantomina, she is wearing loose, flowing, and revealing clothing, all of which communicate intimacy and accessibility. The imagery of what she wears in formal situations is the exact opposite, with tight, impenetrable clothing and many jewels to signal her wealth and status. The imagery subtly conveys the difference in class position between the two women, and this is why Beauplaisir perceives them so differently.
The dawn of morning when Beauplaisir spends the night with Incognita
After having sex with the protagonist in her disguise as Incognita, Beauplaisir persuades her to let him spend the night in hopes that he can see her face. He is very impatient for the day to dawn so that the room will be light enough for him to see. Imagery, particularly auditory imagery, is used to convey that it is morning; he can hear the sounds of the city coming to life outside of the house. The imagery is important because the room remains totally dark and he has to rely on the sounds to know what time it is. This darkness prevents him from glimpsing the face of the woman with whom he has spent the night; it also symbolizes the ignorance and blindness of Beauplaisir throughout the novel.
The description of the protagonist going into labor
When the protagonist goes into labor, she is attending a court ball and tries to hide what is happening. She is in too much pain to disguise her suffering, and imagery is used to dramatically convey this. To other individuals, such as her mother, it seems like she must be extremely ill. This imagery conveys the physical pain and danger that the protagonist is in, and also suggests the way in which her pregnancy might be perceived as a punishment for her sexual transgressions.
Fantomina Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fantomina is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.