There was an excellent turn out to this hotly awaited addition to the CRECS programme, which set out to explore the (fifty?) shades of grey that existed in eighteenth century attitudes to sex, gender and domesticity.
Participants gathered around the tables in Special Collections and Archives, upon which were scattered extracts from the texts for discussion. First, we heard from Melanie Bigold, introducing Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; or Love in a Maze (1725). A radical rewrite of the typical ‘persecuted maiden’ tale, Haywood attributes sexual desire, cunning and power to her female protagonist. Our heroine, an upper-class lady from the provinces, newly arrived in London, decides to impersonate a prostitute, upon observing the relaxed, easy conversation they seem able to hold with men. In this guise, she successfully engages the rakish Beauplaisir in conversation, an encounter which ends in her rape. Undefeated, yet concerned for her reputation, she creates a false identity, ‘Fantomina’, and continues to pursue Beauplaisir. He quickly tires of her, and in response to this inconstancy, Fantomina turns once more to her dressing up box. She dons a series of disguises in order to engineer multiple seductions of Beauplaisir, posing as different women. There is no mention of Fantomina’s hope or need for marriage; she is solely motivated by desire, and possibly the power-play and revenge implicit in routinely tricking Beauplaisir into sex. Participants took turns reading sections of Fantomina aloud, to fully immerse themselves in Haywood’s prose style. Continue reading