She depended on the strength of her virtue, to bear her safe thro trials more dangerous than she apprehended this to be, and never having been addressed by him as a lady — was resolved to receive his devoirs as a town-mistress, imagining a world of satisfaction to herself in engaging him in the character of such a one, and in observing the surprise he would be in to find himself refused by a woman who he supposed granted her favors without exception.
This quotation discusses the protagonist's initial intentions and frame of mind when she first initiates her plan of disguise. Importantly, she has no intention of engaging in sexual activity with Beauplaisir. Making it clear that the protagonist begins as a woman who conforms to social norms of protecting her chastity and virtue makes the protagonist potentially more sympathetic to contemporary readers, who would be inclined to judge a woman who deliberately set out in pursuit of sexual gratification. Instead, the novella becomes a story of how even a woman who expects to be able to maintain self-control can be seduced by the prospects of pleasure and freedom. The language of danger and trials in the quote creates a mood of foreshadowing, and implies that the protagonist is naïve and misguided in her beliefs. While in some ways the quote serves to align the protagonist with a more conventional model of feminine behavior by highlighting her commitment to her chastity, it also reveals her desire to occupy a position of power. She takes pleasure in the idea of undermining Beauplaisir's sense of control and dominance by turning him down after leading him to expect that she will have sex with him.
In the present burning eagerness of desire, 'tis probable, that had he been acquainted both with who and what she really was, the knowledge of her birth would not have influenced him with respect sufficient to have curbed the wild exuberance of his luxurious wishes, or made him in that longing, — that impatient moment, change the form of his addresses. In fine, she was undone; and he gained a victory so highly rapturous that had he known over whom, scarce could he have triumphed more.
This quotation reveals Beauplaisir's state of mind the first time he and the protagonist have sex, and reveals the ambiguity around power and consent in this moment. The narrator notes that by this point Beauplaisir is so determined to have sex with the protagonist that even if he had known that she was a aristocratic woman, he would likely not have stopped. It remains unclear whether the forceful, vigorous language such as "eagerness" and "impatience" is meant to signal strenuous persuasion or outright force, but it is very clear that Beauplaisir does not take no for an answer, and persists in pressuring the protagonist to have sex even when she clearly indicates she does not want to. Other words also signal that even though the protagonist has displayed agency in masterminding the plan to get to this point, she ends up losing power and being placed in a vulnerable position. "Undone" suggests the potential consequences of this sexual act for the protagonist, while the description of Beauplaisir's "victory" implies that he has defeated or conquered her in some way, not that this was an act they mutually chose to engage in.
He had no reason to distrust the truth of this story and was therefore satisfied with it; but did not doubt by beginning of her conduct but that in the end she would be in reality the thing she so artfully had counterfeited; and had good Nature enough to pity the misfortunes he imagined would be her lot. But to tell her so, or offer his advice in that point was not his business, at least, as yet.
This quotation reveals Beauplaisir's mindset when, after they have sex, the protagonist tells him part of the truth by admitting that she is not actually a prostitute and only dressed up as one in order to get close to him. He assumes that now that she has lost her chastity, she will end up in engaging in further sexual improprieties and will eventually end up actually being a prostitute. There are two reasons he might believe this. The first is the possibility that now that she has had a taste of sexual gratification, she will not be able to return to self-restraint. The second is that now that she is no longer a virgin, she will be unable to find a husband and will end up eventually relying on being a mistress for hire as a way of providing for herself. In either case, the quotation reveals Beauplaisir's cynical, worldly nature: he is very aware of how grave the consequences of sexual impropriety can be for a woman. At the same time, he feels no guilt about having seduced the protagonist, even if her life will be ruined as a result.
Thus did the lady's vivacity and wit assist her in all but where it was most needful. She had discernment to foresee, and avoid all the ills which might attend the loss of her reputation, but was wholly blind to those of the ruin of her virtue; and having managed her affairs so as to secure the one, grew perfectly easy with the remembrance she had forfeited the other.
This quotation reveals one of the major juxtapositions in the character of the protagonist: she is remarkably intelligent and calculating, and yet at the same time she can be very naïve. She readily comes up with a lie that ensures no one will know she has spent the night with Beauplaisir and is able to devise a plan enabling her to continue seeing him in secret. At the same time, as the narrator points out, she remains blind to what the consequences of her liaison might be on a personal level. In fact, because the protagonist is so confident that she can successfully have an affair while escaping social consequences, she seems to very quickly recover from any guilt or distress she might have felt when she first had sex with Beauplaisir. This quotation marks a moment where the protagonist experiences a renewed sense of power and control over her personal life, but fails to realize that by exercising sexual agency, she is actually endangering her future.
He was willing to be at liberty to pursue new conquests; and [she] wisely considering that complaints, tears, swoonings and all the extravagancies which women make use of in such cases have little prevailance over a heart inclined to rove and only serve to render those who practice them more contemptible by robbing them of that beauty which alone can bring back the furtive lover.
This quotation describes how the protagonist responds to the knowledge that Beauplaisir has grown tired of her and wants to go to Bath alone. It demonstrates both her control of her emotions, and her shrewd, pragmatic attitude. She immediately understands that her lover will not be moved by emotional displays. As the narrator notes, such displays are not only ineffective, they are actually counter-productive because a woman is less beautiful when she is weeping or scolding, and therefore her lover will be even less motivated to experience renewed interest in her. This quotation reveals the way in which the novella often takes a somewhat cold and cynical perspective on romantic affairs, as it suggests that men are primarily motivated by admiration of physical beauty, and are not likely to feel empathy for emotional suffering. The protagonist does not seem disturbed or upset by Beauplaisir's fickle nature, and accepts that it is her job to keep him interested, not his job to remain loyal to her.
I can only say that besides the alteration which the change of dress made in her, she was so admirably skilled in the art of feigning, that she had the power of putting on almost what face she pleased, and knew so exactly how to form her behavior to the character she represented that all the comedians at both playhouses are infinitely short of her performances.
This quotation attempts to explain how the protagonist is successfully able to disguise her identity, even while pursuing intimate relationships with Beauplaisir. It implies that she has strong acting skills and that she also understands how factors such as education and social position can manifest in someone's speech and mannerisms. Part of what is so disruptive about the protagonist's trickery is that she moves between different social classes. This cannot be achieved simply by altering one's physical appearance: it also requires a finely nuanced understanding of how an aristocratic woman behaves differently from a maidservant. By being able to switch between these roles, the protagonist reveals both her own skill and cleverness, as well as the unsettling possibility that women from different social ranks might not be so different from each other after all.
Had he been faithful to me, (said she, to herself) either as Fantomina, or Celia, or the Widow Bloomer, the most violent passion if it does not change its object, in time will wither: Possession naturally abates the vigour of desire, and I should have had at best but a cold, insipid, husband-like Lover in my arms; but by these arts of passing on him as a new mistress whenever the ardour which alone makes love a blessing, begins to diminish, for the former one, I have him always raving, wild, impatient, longing, dying.
In this passage, the protagonist rationalizes why it is actually to her advantage to be constantly deceiving Beauplaisir about her identity. She presents the cynical perspective that sexual passion is short-lived and that relationships are only exciting in their initial stages. Thus, Beauplaisir constantly reenacting what he perceives to be the start of a new relationship leads him to be a more enthusiastic lover than if he were to remain faithful to her. The quote makes clear what is implicit throughout the novel: that the protagonist, and by extension women in general, value sexual gratification as an important part of a romantic relationship. By contrasting the ardor of a man with whom she pursues an illicit relationship to a faithful but less sexually energetic husband, the quote subverts stereotypes of what women hope to obtain in their relationships.
She, covering herself with the cloaths, and ready to die a second time with the inward agitations of her soul, shriek'd out, Oh, I am undone! —I cannot live and bear this shame!
This quote is located at the point when the protagonist's mother drags Beauplaisir into the room where the protagonist has just given birth. She realizes that she will have to reveal all of her actions, and reacts with horror and shame. Her attempt to hide herself under the bed cloths ("cloaths") mirrors her various disguises throughout the novel, but now in a pathetic way: her trickery has failed. Interestingly, the phrase she uses to describe the situation (being "undone") is the same word that the narrator used in a previous climatic moment, to describe the protagonist losing her virginity to Beauplaisir (see Quote 2). This repetition of language could be interpreted in a number of ways. On one hand, it could suggest that the protagonist's sexual activity was always going to be her downfall, and that she was doomed from the time she first had sex with Beauplaisir. On the other hand, it could reveal how the protagonist does not view her sexual behavior as transgressive, and is not ashamed of what she has done, but only that she failed to fully conceal it.
A thousand times has he stood amazed at the prodigious likeness between his little mistress and this court beauty; but was still as far from imagining they were the same, as he was the first hour he accosted her in the playhouse though it is not impossible but that her resemblance to this celebrated lady, might keep his inclination alive something longer than otherwise they would have been; and that it was to the thoughts of this (as he supposed) unenjoy'd charmer, she owed in great measure the vigour of his latter caresses.
This quotation describes Beauplaisir's thoughts and feelings during the time in which he is pursuing an affair with protagonist disguised as Fantomina. The quotation adds a touch of realism to the novella in that it acknowledges that he does notice a physical resemblance between the protagonist and her disguised self. It also shows why the protagonist is able to successfully maintain the illusion: it is so inconceivable to Beauplaisir that a well-born woman could engage in the kind of behavior that his mistress does that he never even considers the possibility. He does, however, achieve greater erotic satisfaction due to the resemblance, which also suggests part of the power that the protagonist wields by disguising herself. She can take advantage of the fantasy of having multiple women at the same time and also the possibility of combining traits from what are assumed to be totally separate social spheres. In her guise of Fantomina, the protagonist combines the elegance and education of a lady with the frank sexuality of a prostitute, and Beauplaisir finds the combination intoxicating.
With her sex's modesty, she had not also thrown off another virtue equally valuable, tho' generally unfortunate, constancy: She loved Beauplaisir; it was only he whose solicitations could give her pleasure; and had she seen the whole species despairing, dying for her sake, it might, perhaps have been a satisfaction to her pride, but none to her more tender inclinations.
This quotation suggests one of the ways in which the protagonist's character offers a complex and ambivalent perspective on femininity. She is often presented as being unlike other women due to her assertiveness, intelligence, and open sexuality. However, here the narrator suggests that she does embody a stereotypical characteristic in that she is very faithful to Beauplaisir and not interested in pursuing any other lovers. Although it often seems that the protagonist has a great deal of agency and independence in the relationship, this attachment to only being with one man makes her vulnerable because it prevents her from simply abandoning the relationship when he grows tired of her.
Fantomina Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fantomina is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.