TITLE: Masked Presence: Gender and Genre in 18th-Century Amatory Fiction and Comedy [subject to change]
TEXTS EXAMINED: Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina (1725) + Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem (1780)
Working Abstract: This paper will examine the use of role-play and costume in subverting gender and genre in two women-authored eighteenth-century texts: Eliza Haywood’s “novella” Fantomina (1725) and Hannah Cowley’s comedy of manners production, The Belle’s Stratagem (1780).
Keywords: gender, performance, genre, drama, novel, fiction, identity, sexuality, marriage plot
- Kathryn S. Hansen, “Dress as Deceptive Visual Rhetoric in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina,” ABO, vol. 11 iss. 2 (Fall 2021): 1–18.
- Irene Soriano Florez, “Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina: Performing Femininity through the Masquerade” JACLR, vol. 5, iss. 2 (December 2017): 64–76.
- Ros Ballaster, Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998).
- Catherine Craft-Fairchild, Masquerade and Gender: Disguise and Female Identity in Eighteenth-Century Fictions by Women (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1993).
- Kathryn S. Hansen, “Dress as Deceptive Visual Rhetoric in Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina,” ABO, vol. 11 iss. 2 (Fall 2021): 1–18. This article usefully explores the twin themes I hope to address in my final paper, that of forms of feminine identity and sexuality as expressed through genre and dress. Hansen locates the power of female expression in eighteenth-century society as intersecting at both the social norms for dress, and the rise of the novel–both of which offered middle to high class British women the opportunity to subvert hegemonic and heteronormative practices. Hansen lands on Haywood’s Fantomina as exemplary of the power of fiction writers to “capitalize upon dress’s potential as an agent of deception, using clothing as a means through which characters control their identity” (1). Hansen touches specifically upon the art of deception in both clothing and writing as practice and form of inherently deceptive modes of maneuver through a sexist society that perpetuates women’s “deceit” as inherent–thus, Haywood’s “novella” works at the level of satire and comedy through punning on genre and gender.
- Irene Soriano Florez, “Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina: Performing Femininity through the Masquerade” JACLR, vol. 5, iss. 2 (December 2017): 64–76. This article, like Hansen’s, also values the role of costume and dressing up in Haywood’s Fantomina, but explicitly focuses on the “comedic” and “carnivalesque” qualities of Fantomina’s strategy to “masquerade her identity” through self-display as temporally “cheerful.” This article will be an important link to my comparison of Fantomina with Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem, which utilizes a masquerade ball scene in its conclusion in order to allow its main heroine Letitia Hardy to trick and capture her love interest Doricourt. The power of performance (both on the level of a theater performance–speaking to genre here; as well as “performativity” speaking to gender roles and costumed identities) allows for female characters in both texts to rewrite the male gaze and subvert marriage plots (either in their favor, or entirely).
- Ros Ballaster, Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction from 1684 to 1740 (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998). Ballaster is of course an invaluable source for a paper like this. Not only is this text surely a key text in the study of women’s writing and theater, but also her newly published Fictions of Presence (2020) which will also surely become a “key text” in the field. Specifically, Seductive Forms will provide a history to consider genre and gender alongside one another in eighteenth-century studies, providing a kind of history of the “rise of the woman novelist” (22). Ballaster’s chapter on “Cross-dressing and Cabals: Allegories of Female Writing,” and “Preparatives to Love: Fiction as Seduction in Eliza Haywood’s Amatory Prose,” will both usefully illuminate the intersections of developing genre and form during this period and its implications at a meta-level within the works of 18th-century British women writers.
- Catherine Craft-Fairchild, Masquerade and Gender: Disguise and Female Identity in Eighteenth-Century Fictions by Women (University Park: Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, 1993). Craft-Fairchild’s text is still relevant for asking readers to re-examine the true subversive qualities of Masquerade in eighteenth-century women’s writing. Through a close study of a selection of texts, Fantomina included, Craft-Fairchild presents a case for masquerade fictions as both subverting and upholding dominant patriarchal values. The very necessity of masquerade suggests that these women writers must draw characters who ultimately submit to the dominant economy of male desire, an argument which could be made against Letitia who changes herself into a “worldly” woman in order to seduce Doricourt into the typical marriage plot. Craft-Fairchild takes the masculine-dominated masquerade of femininity to be an all but omnipresent and intransigent textual condition that typically “appears in women’s writing as a disempowering capitulation to patriarchal structures that posit female subordination” (p. 172). She thus finally sees “the darker side of masquerade” (p. 25) as an all-encompassing framework for interpreting the psychology of gender and sexual relations.