Fantomina Summary Eliza Haywood

Fantomina Summary


An Introductory Note:[Fantomina Summary]

Fantomina; or Love in a Maze is a novel by Eliza Haywood published in 1725. In it, the protagonist disguises herself as four different women in her efforts to understand how a man may interact with each individual persona. Part of the tradition of amatory fiction is to rewrite the story of the persecuted maiden into a story of feminine power and sexual desire.


The story opens in a playhouse in London where the unnamed main character, intrigued by the men at the theater and the attention they pay to the prostitutes there, decides to pretend being a prostitute herself. Disguised, she especially enjoys talking with Beauplaisir , whom she has encountered before, though previously constrained by her social status’s formalities. He, not recognizing her, and believing her favors to be for sale, asks to meet her. She demurs and puts him off until the next evening. In preparation, she rents lodgings and then meets him at the theater the following night.

They go to the house and have dinner. Meanwhile the protagonist realizes that Beauplaisir wants to have sex and she tries to resist him by telling him she is a virgin. However, he is too aroused and does not listen to her protests, and he rapes her. Afterwards, she is despondent and rejects his money, which confuses Beauplaisir, who did not believe her protestations being serious. Worried about her reputation, she gives her name as “Fantomina”. Soon, however, Beauplaisir tires of her and leaves for Bath. Though she continues to employ the ruse of “Fantomina” throughout the story, the protagonist drops this alias for a short time to pursue Beauplaisir to Bath.

Dressed as a country maid, she obtains employment at the inn where he is staying, taking the name Celia. When Beauplaisir sees her, he believes her to be a new maid, and makes romantic overtures. The protagonist plots this encounter carefully and Beauplaisir’s every reaction is drawn from him by her manipulation, but the lover believes he has ravished her in spite of some protest on her part. He gives her some money in recompense. He leaves Bath after about a month, tired of Celia. On his way home, he encounters Mrs. Bloomer, who is the protagonist dressed as a widow, and invites her into his carriage. Her grief prompts him to try to raise her spirits, which results in them having sex in an inn along the way.

When this identity again begins to lose favor with him, the heroine sends Beauplaisir a letter, signed “Incognita,” declaring her undying love and passion for him. She writes there is nothing she will refuse him, except the sight of her face. They meet and she, wearing a mask, agrees to sleep with him in the dark. Beauplaisir keeps up each of these affairs, never realizing they are the same woman. The protagonist becomes pregnant and after she gives birth her mother insists she name the father. When Beauplaisir arrives, he does not know who she is until she tells her story in full. At the end, her mother sends her to live 1

An Analytical Summary:


I. Part I :

The novel opens in a London playhouse during a performance. The novel’s unnamed protagonist, a beautiful and intelligent young woman from a good family, is there to see the play. She has only recently arrived in London, having grown up in the country, and enjoys an uncommon amount of independence and autonomy. As she gazes around at the other people attending the theatre, she notices that one woman in particular is receiving a lot of male attention. This woman is readily identifiable as a prostitute. The protagonist is surprised that men, some of whom she knows and considers to be intelligent, are still so willing to associate with her; however, when she expresses this idea to the well-bred ladies sitting near her, they dismiss her as sheltered and naïve.

The more she thinks about it, the more the protagonist becomes intrigued with knowing how the experiences of a prostitute are different from her own, Spurred by her ability to follow her own unchecked impulses, the very next night she returns to the playhouse in disguise. Hiding her identity by veiling her face, she sits in a different section of the theatre and imitates the behavior of the prostitute she had observed the night before. Men are immediately attracted to her, and begin flirting with her very openly. She enjoys the attention, and is particularly excited when a man named Beauplaisir approaches her.

The protagonist has interacted with Beauplaisir before and has always felt an attraction to him , but those interactions have always taken place under circumstances where her behavior was strictly controlled by a sense of what was socially appropriate. Now she is much more free in her interactions, and he takes a new interest in her. Beauplaisir does not recognize her; while he does detect a resemblance between the woman he assumes to be a prostitute and the well-bred lady of his acquaintance, he assumes it must be a coincidence. He is impressed to find that this mysterious new woman is much more intelligent and articulate than most of the prostitutes with whom he has interacted, and the two spend hours flirting and talking.

. Part II :

When the play comes to an end, the protagonist suddenly finds herself in an awkward situation. Because he believes she is a prostitute, Beauplaisir is eager to have sex with her, and proposes that they go either to his home or to her residence. She considers telling him her true identity but comes up with another solution, which has the advantage of giving her the opportunity to see him again: she tells Beauplaisir that she already has an appointment with another client that night. Beauplaisir accepts this story, and persuades her to agree to return to the theatre the following night so that they may meet again. She agrees, and the two part ways.

The protagonist returns to her home in a flurry of emotions. She knows she is taking a risk by continuing the charade; however, she is intoxicated by the freedom it gives her, and she believes she will be strong enough to resist sexual temptation. She is also obsessed with the idea of continuing her interactions with Beauplaisir. The next day, before she goes to the theatre, she rents rooms in a nearby house. This gives her a space to which she and Beauplaisir can go, one where she hopes she will feel a sense of agency and control. That evening, she meets Beauplaisir at the theatre again. He is determined that she will go home with him after the play ends, and happily accompanies her back to the rooms she has rented.

Once there, he tries to make arrangements to have food delivered to them, but she has a lavish meal provided at her own expense. This makes Beauplaisir believe that she must be a very high-ranking courtesan; he becomes concerned that her services will be very expensive, but he decides that she will be worth the expenditure. After they eat, Beauplaisir becomes very assertive in his attempts to seduce her. The protagonist begins to panic and almost reveals her true identity, but she realizes that she has already violated social convention and that revealing her true identity will only damage her reputation. She tells him that she is a virgin and that she only pretended to be a prostitute in order to get close to him, but this does not dissuade Beauplaisir . The two have intercourse.

III. Part III :

Afterwards the sexual encounter, the protagonist is very distressed; Beauplaisir is very confused as to why she had pursued him if she did not intend to have sex with him. He thinks she might be afraid that he is unwilling to pay her, and offers her a gcnerous amount of money. The protagonist reacts angrily to him giving her money, saying it cannot compensate her for what she has lost. She tells Beauplaisir that the only adequate compensation for her loss of virtue will is his love and fidelity. Beauplaisir vows to be true to her . No longer believing she is a prostitute, he asks her who she is. The protagonist is still unwilling to reveal her true identity and risk losing her reputation , so she tells him her name is Fantomina. and that she is the daughter of a country gentleman.

Beauplaisir thinks to himself that she will undoubtedly eventually end up as a prostitute, but does not say anything to this effect. Beauplaisir does not leave until very late, and Fantomina makes him promise to return to her the following day. In the morning, she bribes a servant of the house to back up her story if she is ever questioned. She also explains that she will only be at the house while visiting Beauplaisir, but, should he come looking for her, he is to be told that she has just gone out. With these arrangements made to keep her secret safe and conceal her identity, she returns to her actual residence and tells her aunt that she had taken a short trip and been left unable to return the night before.

As she reflects on what has happened, Fantomina feels secure that she has protected herself: even if Beauplaisir proves untrue, she will never have to worry about being publicly shamed. As time passes, she does indeed seem to be successfully executing her plan. She regularly meets Beauplaisir, but tells no one about the affair. She conceals her identity so effectively that when she meets her lover while presenting herself as a well-born lady, he has no idea that she is the same woman he knows as Fantomina. He notices a strong physical resemblance, but this similarity only makes the affair more arousing to him.


Part IV :

In time, Beauplaisir eventually begins to grow bored with her. It is time for him to go to Bath for the summer, and when Fantomina offers to go with him, he makes excuses about why she should not. Fantomina is hurt by this but conceals her feelings and sends him off, all the while laying plans to follow him. She desperately wants Beauplaisir to be infatuated with her again. As soon as he leaves, she tells her aunt that she is going to visit another relative and sets off, accompanied by two servants whom she quickly dismisses.

Before arriving in Bath, the protagonist assumes her second disguise, adopting a country accent and unfashionable clothes. She goes to the house where she knows Beauplaisir is lodging and offers to work as servant; the landlady hires her to attend to the male guests by bringing them their breakfasts and making their beds every morning. This role brings the disguised Fantomina, now going by the name of Celia, into close proximity with Beauplaisir, who is immediately attracted to her. The second morning that she comes into his room, he seduces her; after she feigns some shyness so as to maintain he disguise, the two have sex. Afterwards he gives her money, which she takes in order to avoid alerting his suspicions.

Beauplaisir plans to stay in Bath for a month; at first the two enjoy the affair, but he eventually becomes tired of Celia as well. Knowing this, the protagonist prepares a third plot. She quits her job and moves to a different house in the town in order to assume her new disguise. This time she poses as a widow, and when she knows Beauplaisir is on his way back to London, she arranges to be at an inn just outside of the town. When his carriage is passing by, she stops it and calls out to him, asking for help. Beauplaisir is surprised by this request, since the widow appears prosperous, but he is eager to help.

The disguised protagonist explains her story: she is a widow from Bristol and is trying to get to London so that she can claim her inheritance before the brother of her deceased husband squanders her. However, she has not been able to secure a coach and is now stranded; she asks if Beauplaisir would be willing to let her travel in his carriage.

He adily agrees, but is disappointed to find that, once she enters the carriage, she weeps, laments, and will only talk about her dead husband. Hoping to distract her, he brings up the subject of love, and is surprised and pleased to notice how passionately she talks about love. Beauplaisir now hopes to seduce the attractive widow, but he takes a much less direct tactic. He gradually indicates his interest, and when the two stop to spend the night at an inn, he makes bolder overtures. In order to maintain her disguise, the protagonist pretends to faint.

He takes her to lie down, and when she has recovered, the two have sex. The protagonist is so skilled at disguising herself that Beauplaisir does not see any connection between her and his previous lovers. They return to London together and promise to continue seeing each other . Beauplaisir gives her an address at which to contact him, and the protagonist promises to provide her details as soon as she has determined where she will be staying.

Part V:

Once the protagonist and Beauplaisir part ways in London, she rents rooms under the name of Widow Bloomer and sends word for him via letter to come and visit her there. Then she goes back to the rooms she rented as Fantomina and instructs the servants to make sure that if Beauplaisir comes looking for her, he is not told that she has been away from London. Disguising her handwriting, she sends him a letter lamenting that he has not come to see her, and attributes it to Fantomina. Beauplaisir promptly responds to both letters, vowing his affection and fidelity to both women. The protagonist is outraged at his lies, but is relieved that she has protected herself, and decides to keep enjoying the sexual aspect of the relationship.

Beauplaisir visits her both when she is the Widow and when she is Fantomina, and she notices that he strongly prefers the former, because that relationship is newer. However, within a fairly short time, Beauplaisir has also tired of the widow. Fantomina now has a new scheme, and this one requires help. She finds two men and offers to pay them to render her some service. They happily agree and she arranges to meet them the following day. Then she goes to rent a large and splendid house. When she meets the two men she has hired, she presents them with uniforms resembling those worn by the servants of the wealthy.

She tells one of them to deliver a letter to Beauplaisir. This letter has been written in a handwriting that is different from that of her other letters. It purports to be from an anonymous woman (signed Incognita) who is in love with him and wants him to come and visit her. She promises to do anything he wants, but insists that she will not reveal her name or face. The messenger has been instructed to refuse to give any details if Beauplaisir tries to find out her identity. When the letter is delivered, Beauplaisir does indeed try to find out who Incognita is, but he is not given any information. With his curiosity inflamed, he writes back expressing his eagerness to meet this mysterious woman.

The two meet at the house the protagonist rented, and she appears with a mask. They have sex, and then Beauplaisir begins to try to persuade her to show him her face. She refuses, and when he realizes she is not going to change her mind, he asks if he can spend the night at her house. The protagonist agrees, but is suspicious of what his motives are. She is right to be suspicious, as Beauplaisir plans to unmask her while she sleeping.

The protagonist ensures that she poins him in bed in a very dark room, and even when it grows light outside, the windows are so tightly sealed that no light penetrates the room. As soon as they awake, she hurries out of the room without his having seen her face. Frustrated, Beauplaisir expresses his unhappiness that she will not show him her face. However, the protagonist holds firm, and he leaves the house determined not to see her again.

III. Part VI :

Over the next several weeks, the protagonist continues to see Beauplaisir in the guise of both Fantomina and the Widow Bloomer, but she is bored by the now unenthusiastic encounters. This pattern is interrupted by two surprising events. First, the protagonist’s mother arrives in the city, having heard rumors of her daughter’s reckless behavior. She has no idea of the extent of what the protagonist has done, but is sufficiently concerned so as to begin to limit her daughter’s freedoms. More importantly, the protagonist discovers that she is pregnant.

It is difficult for her to hide this condition from her mother, but she manages to do so for a time. Since her mother plans to send her back to the country anyways, her plan is to wait until she leaves the city, then slip away and discreetly give birth in secret. Unfortunately for the protagonist, she goes into labor during a court ball. She is clearly in pain, but everyone at the ball assumes she has been abruptly taken ill, including her mother. She rushed back home, where her mother summons a doctor. The doctor quickly informs the protagonist’s mother what the situation actually is; the mother is horrified and outraged. She demands that the protagonist reveal the father of her child, which is something the protagonist tries to avoid doing.

The mother, however, insists that she will not call a midwife to help the protagonist unless she first reveals her lover. Afraid and in pain, she names Beauplaisir as the father. The mother immediately sends for a midwife and also sends a message for Beauplaisir to come and see her. He promptly arrives, confused as to why this aristocratic woman has summoned him. When she accuses him of having impregnated her daughter, he denies it, insisting that he has had only brief interactions with her during formal social occasions.

The mother is more infuriated than ever, and drags Beauplaisir into the room where the protagonist is resting, having just given birth to a baby girl. Humiliated and horrified, the protagonist reveals the whole story of how she deceived and tricked Beauplaisir repeatedly, so that, while he is indeed the father of her child, he is innocent of any deliberate intent to dishonor a respectable lady. After listening in astonishment, the mother admits that she can no longer demand that Beauplaisir marry her daughter, which is what she had initially planned to insist on.

She asks only that he not publicly reveal the scandal to others. He agrees to keep the secret and also offers to raise his daughter, but both the protagonist and her mother reject this offer. Beauplaisir leaves the house in a state of deep confusion and shock. For a time, he continues to visit to check in on the protagonist’s health, but when her mother becomes concerned that these visits will lead to the two renewing their affair, she puts a stop to them. As soon as the protagonist has recovered, she is sent to a convent in France.


Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina,” the title character blurs the traditional gender and society roles that prohibited women from entering the public sphere of money and politics by stepping out of her prescribed private life as a high born woman. As a woman of the upper class, Fantomina would have been expected to follow “welldefined codes of behavior,” which would preserve her reputation and increase her value on the marriage market. These codes of behavior are applied to

In the different classes of women Fantomina inhabits. In Fantomina’s use of her own money, she enters into the male, and therefore public , world of commerce, while maintaining her guises and their specific roles in society. She not only purchases her many costumes but she rents multiple homes, hires employees, and works when she does not have to. Moreover, each of the different women she pretends to be has in some way control over their own funds, whether as a prostitute, maid, widower , or wealthy aristocrat.

It is because of her plentiful funds she is able to create elaborate alternate personae in order to fool Beauplaisir into believing that it is he who is doing the chasing and not the other way around. It is made clear that almost anything can be bought for a price, except Beauplaisir’s affections and in the end Fantomina’s freedom. Throughout the story the discourses of commerce highlight Fantomina’s role in this monetary world that is usually reserved for men.


Fantomina; or Love in a Maze (1724) is a short story about a woman who assumes the roles of a prostitute, a maid, a widow, and a Lady to repeatedly seduce a man named Beauplaisir . Schofield points out that, “Not only does she satisfy her own sexual inclinations, she smugly believes that ‘while he thinks to fool me, [he] is himself the only beguiled Person” (50). This novel asserts that women have some access to power in the social sphere, one of the recurring themes in Haywood’s work. It has been argued that it is indebted to the interpolated tale of the “Invisible Mistress” in Paul Scarron’s Roman Comique.

Character List:

Fantomina – Fantomina is the first disguise the protagonist uses. Initially just wanting to see what it’s like, she eventually encounters Beauplaisir and, after some misgivings after he rapes her, falls in love with her. However, Fantomina’s charm quickly wears off and he leaves her.

Celia – This is the second identity that the protagonist uses. Beauplaisir moves to Bath, the protagonist follows him, and takes on the identity of a country girl working as a maid. There, she seduces Beauplaisir without him realizing being persuaded. Soon, Beauplaisir gets tired of Celia, and leaves.

– Mrs. Bloomer · The protagonist’s third disguise, Mrs. Bloomer is a recent widow that Beauplaisir meet after she lost her way back to London. After a tryst at an inn, the disguise loses favor when she realizes Beauplaisir wants to see Fantomina.

Incognita – The protagonist’s final identity, used by her to captivate Beauplaisir anew. Incognita sends Beauplaisir a letter promising an ardent lover if he can accept the condition of her not revealing her true name or face. She keeps her mysterious air by wearing a mask and meeting with him only in the dark. The protagonist does not receive the opportunity to fully play out this identity’s trick before her enterprise come to an end with the return of her mother.

Beauplaisir – He is an aristocratic male enticed multiple times into a sexual relationship with the same woman wearing different disguises. Though he knows the protagonist, he does not recognize her in any of her false identities. Due to the sexual nature of their relationship, Beauplaisir unknowingly gets the protagonist pregnant. The truth is revealed to him through the protagonist’s mother. At first he promises to look after the child, but then, by the mother’s choice, is “ensued from these Civilities’t9) and leaves the infant with her.

The protagonist’s mother – The mother of the protagonist abruptly appears late in the novel when she learns that her daughter is misbehaving. She is very shrewd and observant, which makes it difficult for the protagonist to conceal her pregnancy. She is also interested in preserving norms and social conventions, and hopes that she can conceal the illegitimate pregnancy by quickly arranging a marriage between her daughter and Beauplaisir.

The protagonist’s aunt – At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist is being supervised by her aunt. However, the aunt is easily fooled and does not place any constraints on her behavior, which leaves the protagonist free to pursue her own desires. 


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