From Haywood’s Fantomina to Davys’s Coquet: Amatory Fiction; w/Clarification of Reading Log Post

  1. First of all, thanks for your patience this week. I’m still trying to figure out how to conduct an online grad seminar, and you are helping me do that.
  2. First of all, the reading for the weekend is Davys’s Reform’d Coquet: or, the Memoirs of Amoranda (1724) a year earlier than Haywood’s Fantomina (1725).
  3. You’ll see that they share a few characteristics: a “coquet” heroine who enjoys masculine attention a little too much; plenty of episodes of sexually coded “variety” and freedom permitting her to enjoy fantasy and identity changes (coded as theatrical or via masquerade); a suggestion of sexual danger or threatened rape perceptible to reader if not coquet, if “things go too far”; a conclusion that shuts down the fantasy and freedom and teaches a lesson, if not to the coquet than to her readers.
  4. Brief critical readings: Toni Bowers on sex, lies, invisibility in amatory fiction, Jane Spencer on the “reformed heroine” tradition:

5. Weekend Assignment: Read and process the Haywood, Davys, Bowers, and Spencer texts in your reading log however you feel best. Reread. Take a passage from one of these texts or your notes and try to explain it further. What makes it important? How and why does it resonate with you?

Just do it as a comment to this post.

See you Monday,



Author: Dave Mazella

I am an Associate Professor of English at the University of Houston, Department of English, specializing in 18th-century British literature.

5 thoughts on “From Haywood’s Fantomina to Davys’s Coquet: Amatory Fiction; w/Clarification of Reading Log Post”

  1. “It is not possible for me to tell you, Madam, how shocking this was to me, I could hardly keep from swooning in the Coach; but my Passion found vent at my Eyes, and with ten thousand Tears I begg’d him to recall his scatter’d Senses, to arm his Reason for his own Defence, to consider I was a Sister, nay, a Sister who was left wholly to his Care, and one who had none to fly to for redress of lnjuries but him; and am I so entirely miserable as to find my ruin where I seek a Sanctuary?” p.26 [my version]

    There’s so much to unpack in Altemira’s story, especially in regards to her incestuous brother and their ultimately happy reunion. In many ways Altemira seems to represent everything that could go wrong for Amoranda. This is obvious in the love that Lord Lofty directs at both of them, but what I’m more interested in is the connection between the two of them that this passage reveals. They are both young women who find themselves in precarious positions (that is, unmarried without fathers) and in both cases their guardian makes romantic (or sexual) overtures towards them. In her essay Bowers notes that this is a trope of the amatory novel, especially (she implies) in the form that it takes in Altemira’s story—where the guardian’s overtures are dangerous and incestuous—rather than wholly romantic as they are in Amoranda’s case. What interests me about this passage in particular though is that it seems to critique not this one specific instance of guardian/love but the concept as whole. After all, everything that Altemira says of her position here (that her only recourse against injury is by applying to her brother, therefore when the potential injury is at his hands she has no recourse at all) also applies to Amoranda. The thing that saves her is the happenstance that her guardian is “honorable” in his love for her. Aside from this completely random stroke of luck there seems to be no distinguishing features between Amoranda and Altemira. It creates an interesting formulation that seems contradictory with itself. Based on Bower’s essay though it seems like such contradictions when it comes to sex and love are fairly common within this genre which tend toward messy, not easy to extrapolate portrayals of romance.


  2. From Jane Spencer on The Reform’d Coquette:
    “The story of Charlot is a protest against male domination: the story of Amoranda is an apology for it . . . The heroine’s basic fault is usually identified as the natural concomitant of her femaleness–her vanity, her coquettishness are nearly always specifically described as female foibles . . . Masculine guidance and protection are the anser to the heroine’s problems, and she is given a substitute father to guard her from other men, from the evil of the world, and from her own female nature.” (147)

    In reading Fantomina and The Reform’d Coquette, I was struck by the ironic portrayal of masculine and feminine morality. Both Spencer and Bowers note that the women in the story are often protrayed as needing protection primarily from themselves. As Spencer highlights in the above passage, women were prone to vanity and coquettishness which, if unchecked, would lead to their own moral corruption. But the irony is that the men in the story were obviously more vicious than women. Although women needed to be protected from vice, the men had already fallen into it. The women were in danger of losing the virtue of their virginity. The men proudly boasted about their sexual exploits and roamed the countryside in their sexual licentiousness. Yet, the story remains fixed on the moral danger of the women.

    This apparent double-standard raises the question about the distinction between masculine and feminine virtue. Is there a difference? Do these novels uphold the distinction? Or are the novels fundamentally a critique of the distinction?

    As to the differences, Spencer notes that feminine virtue is primarily sexual: “…The general view that woman’s destiny was sexual destiny and her virtue sexual virtue” (Spencer 142). But Bowers notes that even the representation of female sexuality is informed (and deformed) by a framework of male sexuality, such that “representations of female sexuality fail to exemplify a positively or uniquely female form of sexual desire, *though they do succeed in creating a space for such representation*” (Bowers 57, my empahsis). Although the these stories appear to capitulate to a male dominant form of sexuality, they nevertheless offer a moral critique of both masculine and feminine behavior within contemporary cultural confines. It’s a subtle component of the didactic nature of amatory fiction which seems to create the “space”–as Bowers notes–for alternative conceptions of virtue and human relationships.


  3. …When the base Arentia shriek’d for her Life, I heard the cry, and thought it had been yours: I then clap’d Spurs to my Horse, and was riding towards the Sound, when I met you. How full of Joy my Heart was when I saw you safe, I leave to every Heart, as full of Love, to judge; but I was resolved, if possible, to cure you at once of rambling with Strangers: in order to which, I put on an Air of Cruelty, which, Heaven knows! my Heart had no hand in, and rode from you; I knew it would give you double terror, to see a prospect of relief, then find your self abandon’d; and I likewise knew, the greater your fear was then, the greater your care wou’d be for the future, to avoid such enterprizes: but I had yet a view in favour of my self, and had reason to believe, the greater your deliverance was, the greater value wou’d you set upon your deliverer (p. 70).

    This passage from Davy’s The Reformed Coquet, in which Alanthus, who has finally revealed himself as Formator to Amoranda, explains to her why he did not save her from Berinthius, is perhaps most emblematic of Spencer’s definition of the coquette’s transformation, from the “typical heroine [who] enjoys the courtship game and delays making her final choice of a husband” to a woman who “learns to give up her power and become a dutiful wife.” Yet, ironically, Amoranda in my opinion is far less a coquet than Fantomina. It seems to me that Fantomina, by virtue of being naturally curious and desirous of wooing and tricking Beauplaisir, has full knowledge of the potential consequences of her choice to continue seeing him (under different disguises), and thus, it feels natural and pretty expected to the reader (at least this reader), when she is finally found out and sent away to the monastery in France by her mother. In contrast, although Amoranda’s initial flirtations with both Mr. Froth and Mr. Callid could categorize her as coquettish (for she leads them both on, which leads to them trying to enact revenge which she is luckily able to avoid), I would argue that her encounters with Lord Lofty and Berinthius require her to be one step ahead of each of them, as it turns out that Lord Lofty is already in an engagement with Altemira, and Berinthius comes to her disguised as a woman. Alanthus’s reprimands of Amoranda’s behavior, and thus, his unwillingness to save her from Berinthius the first time around, feel unfair. Alanthus himself (disguised as Formator) had no certainty as to the true identity of Berintha, only conjecture, which, if he were wrong, could have brought shame and embarrassement to Amoranda’s entire household. Further, Amoranda could not have known that the servants that were asked to accompany her would turn against her. At the end of the day, it seems almost necessary for Amoranda, or women like her, to purposefully be coquettish, so as to be able to discern those men who want to take advantage (sexually or monetarily) from those who are honorable. Even Alanthus himself, being an honorable man, kept his identity from Amoranda throughout the story— it seems unfair that Amoranda should face his critique for failing to “avoid such enterprises.”


  4. “In the seventeenth century, a promise of marriage was binding, and failure on the part of one of the pair subsequently to marry was grounds for legal action. But amatory fiction depicts a new universe, where a woman who trusts the promises of her suitor does so at her own risk, and earns as much scorn as pity when she finds herself abandoned” (Bowers 64).

    I think this quote shows a lot of the dramatization that both Spencer and Bower talk about. It makes me realize how surprising Lord Lofty’s deceit to Altemira is. Obviously, there is a certain security because Altemira is without a male guardian, and she needs a male authority to deal with her legal matters. Thus, Lord Lofty has less to fear of a prosecution than if he were in a normal circumstance should Altemira retain her hold on the written promise of marriage. The promise of ten thousand pounds should Lord Lofty back out of the engagement also seems rather inflated but perhaps is meant to speak more to his “honor” than anything else. The potential for legal action should the document fall back into Altemira’s hands and she acquire a male supporter also makes me wonder why Lord Lofty never burned the document, why did he carry its container (the silver box) with him to the estate where Amoranda was staying and carelessly leave it behind? This suggests that Lord Lofty truly did care for Altemira despite his deceit and was thinking of her with regret as he was pursuing Amoranda. This implies that his pride only (not any lack of love for her) kept him from returning to Altemira and makes his forced union with her much more endearing. However, his thought to merely scratch out Altemira’s name on the marriage license and write Amoranda’s above it seems to dispel this idea, and it seems rather foolish as anyone who read it would notice that he had been promised in marriage to another. I think amatory fiction accurately portrays a certain risk in trusting a suitor (for he could be a libertine), but in trusting your fiancé I think it misconstrues. A fiancé is bound under threat of legal action to do right by his soon-to-be wife. The idea that a man would risk prosecution (and the sum of ten thousand pounds as Lord Lofty does) portrays a certain frivolousness that is traditionally reserved for women.


  5. “Disguise” in The Reform’d Coquet

    Davys makes the guardian the lover and supports his programme of courtship-by-reform. The father substitute, instead of being a quasi-incestuous ravisher, is the legitimate mate for a thoughtless young heroine. His advice is wisdom, and his lifelong control is necessary for a woman who, though basically virtuous, is inevitably subject to vanity that ‘Foible of … [her] Sex.’ (Spencer 147)

    While the Words were yet in their Mouths, Jenny came running in, and said, The Young Lady who had bene here some time ago, was come again in Lord B——’s Coach, and was just alighting. Pray, my Lord, [said Amoranda] put on your Disguise once more, that I may have the Pleasure of seen your own Sister as much deceived as I have been.

    Toward the end of The Reform’d Coquet, Amoranda, have just discovered that her elderly mentor Formator is the young marquis Alanthus in disguise, wishes that Alanthus puts on his mask again to deceive his own sister. Here, Amoranda’s words seem to finally affirm the purpose of disguise. While men have used disguise to deceive Amoranda throughout the story — she has been tricked and almost raped by Biranthus; deceived by Alanthus who aims to protect her — the story ends in the realization of disguise as a means for men to save young women from dangers in life. 

    Why is disguise necessary in women’s salvation/education? We need to remember that amatory fiction is written during the time of burgeoning capitalism, during which father/fatherly figures are often at work, leaving young women at the hands of lesser authority (e.g., maids, relatives.) This is also a time of social conservatism that largely confines young women to their households, with limited opportunities to gain life experiences. Therefore, they become easy prey to the men outside. The introduction of lover-mentors reflects the need for new fatherly authority in the place of the missing father, not only subjecting women to guidance and direct control but also educating them and preparing them for their future marriage. To make such education more effective, real-life examples are needed. Just like novels provide simulated experiences for their women readers, a mentor-in-disguise also offers his mentee an environment in which she can learn the lessons without being exposed to real harm. Such an environment also makes sure that women are not too exposed to the outside world — in which case they might discover their own agency and become, instead of matured housewives, more subversive figures.


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