Wednesday 1 April 2020

Review: Fantomina by Eliza Haywood

Fantomina is the only book from this collection that I had already read and was a big reason I wanted to read it, because Fantomina is the most wonderfully crazy concoction. A balls-to-the-wall pantomime of the most wonderful sort.

A young woman of “unaccountable whimsey“ and “wild unaccountable desires” sees a man she fancies at the theatre. She is all too respectable to go up and speak to this dreamboat but she notices all the masked prostitutes who flirt with the man freely so she decides to call herself Fantomina and do just that. Things go better than she could ever hope, not only is she flirting with this handsome young man but he wants more. The narrator reflects that if this man knew the class of woman he is putting the moves on, he would have backed down but he doesn’t know and the two have a wonderful time. 

This goes on for a number of months but he starts to get tired of his masked madam so he goes off to Bath to seek new pleasures. She secretly follows, dressed as a halloween costume sexy countrywoman outfit. The man doesn’t realise this is the woman he’s been with for the last few months, falls in love with her again and they have a wonderful time.

However, after a month he again begins to tire of her and goes back to town. This time she dresses up as a sexy widow. The man doesn’t force his attentions or come out forthright this time, he woos the widow gently and carefully and our heroine realises that the game is as much part of the fun as anything else. However, once the game is done and the two are again shagging, he gets bored of the widow quicker than he had Fantomina and the country wench.

So our heroine dons another mask and sends teasing letters as Incognita. This starts to work but our heroine realises that she is pregnant and it’s getting harder to hide. Worse, her mother spots it, quickly gets the truth about which man has done this to her daughter and uses the Incognita ruse to get him to meet them. The man is shocked and utterly bewildered when a pregnant woman on a couch explains how his last four lovers were all her in various disguises and the mother is so ashamed of her daughter she sends her to a nunnery.

I love this story. I love the fact there is an element of power fantasy. The unnamed woman has the power to be anybody, to try out all sorts of social roles in order to trap the man she fancies. He is obviously an idiot and she is a scheming fantasist but there is something gleefully vivacious and larger than life about Fantomina’s plotting and the whole book in general.

Best one in the collection, highly recommended.

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