In juxtaposing “Fantomina” by Eliza Haywood to the standards set by Samuel Johnson in his essay, “Rambler #4”, which focused on the genre “Fiction”, one will find an interesting agreement emerge between the two. While fiction, “Fantomina” deviates from the common practices of the era, but alludes to them as though to give credibility with the familiar market. In doing so though, Haywood better meets the standards laid out by Johnson in his essay. By making the story less ordinary, less instructional, it better espouses its own message, improving it by Johnson’s standards while not quite achieving them in their entirety. The story fits to the description that Johnson gives for the genre and fits most tenants, but breaks others. As the woman learns about the world in the story, she only finds beauty and pleasure instead of fear and enforced conformity. The Lady takes advantage of numerous conventions, just as Haywood did in writing the story, to achieve her ends and the moral of the story. This is a moral that differs as much as the Lady does from what is expected.
Fiction gives us something familiar with its own unique twist. Johnson defines the standards of the format as “their authors are at liberty, though not to invent, yet to select objects, and to cull from the mass of mankind, those individuals upon which the attention ought most to be employed”; That the author is to relate a story true to reality, true to the existing possibilities. “Fantomina” holds the element that many of the Lady’s plans are quite realistic and possible to execute. It is also just the character, nature and qualities of the Lady who serves as the focus. That she herself is described to be so real is what sets much of the standard for the story. “Its province is to bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity without the help of wonder” (Johnson) as the Lady in “Fantomina” manages with no aid, simply her curiosity and scheming. Throughout the entire story, everything moves by the Lady’s whims and will. That alone gives the story something else in terms of substance to many novels of the time, as males typically dominated stories in one fashion or another. “For this reason these familiar histories may perhaps be made of greater use than the solemnities of professed morality, and convey the knowledge of vice and virtue with more efficacy than axioms and definitions” Johnson accurately said in his essay about the genre, the use of fiction to instruct and help guide the younger generation to a true understanding of the expectations on them. The previous incarnation of stories, of fantastical romances tell another story making for a different point of view:
“In the romances formerly written, every transaction and sentiment was so remote from all that passes among men, that the reader was in very little danger of making any applications to himself; the virtues and crimes were equally beyond his sphere of activity; and he amused himself with heroes and with traitors, deliverers and persecutors, as with beings of another species, whose actions were regulated upon motives of their own, and who had neither faults nor excellencies in common with himself.”
That instead of teaching, they offer little and can only work to confound the reader in their growth into the world. All the story offers can easily be achieved, but it benefits none of its readers in aiding with their growth.
Johnson goes into fair depth about what defines not only the genre, but the style of writing itself: “This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance, and is to be conducted nearly by the rules of comick poetry”. This fits to “Fantomina” very well as we see it, a young lady giving herself the license to pursue any whim for any duration. Johnson stated these books to be aimed at the younger generations as “impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account” unusual twist as this is the creature whom the story is about. Haywood wasted no time in establishing the unusual amount of freedom the Lady had in the story. The plot began to move once that was established beyond her ever-shrouded identity. As in the very telling scene early in the story where Beauplaisir first meets the woman “Fantomina”: “He looked in her Face, and fancied […] that she very much resembled that Lady whom she really was; but the vast Disparity there appeared between their characters prevented him from entertaining […] that they could be the same.” (Haywood) This part of the story does aim it toward the specific audience of the time stated. Johnson tells his readers “These books are written chiefly to the young, the ignorant, and the idle, to whom they serve as lectures of conduct, and introductions into life” as they teach lessons better than any philosopher and engage the reader many times more. Johnson addresses a concern of the literary arts by “That the train of events is agreeable to observation and experience, for that observation which is called knowledge of the world, will be found much more frequently to make men cunning than good.” which “Fantomina” debunks this in the middle and at the end of the with the man Beauplaisir taking his full responsibilities for the child he fathered with our mysterious heroine and realizing just what the young woman had blinded him to. As the man is called to account for his action, the Lady is to however, while he takes on a burden, she is sent to a place where her inclinations could well let her reap many rewards.
While much of “Fantomina” fits to the description given by Samuel Johnson, it isn’t a perfect fit all around. A few points of the story conflict with the facts he presents for what makes a good fictional story. In the essay he states “For pride, which produces quickness of resentment, will obstruct gratitude, by unwillingness to admit that inferiority which obligation implies; and it is very unlikely that he who cannot think he receives a favour, will acknowledge or repay it” as “Fantomina” instead focuses on how the Lady’s pride in her skills only leads her to greater things. While obligations appear, they only serve to bring the story not to the expected conclusion, but to one that has many befuddled. “Fantomina” offered something rare for its time: The Lady. Even at the conclusion of the story, the reader was left with nothing to hint at her full origins. While the protagonist, she is the source the altered story-line followed by opting for her curiosity and intelligence. The Lady’s mother saying “I must confess it was with a design to oblige you to repair the supposed Injury you had done this unfortunate Girl by marrying her, but now I know not what to say:- - The Blame is wholly her’s …” (Haywood) gives something that no reader of the time would expect. The woman was at fault for getting herself pregnant for desiring after a single man, who she seduced many times. The evidence that she presents in the pangs of labor shows no fault on Beauplaisir’s part, yet for acting in the way he had, he remains accountable for all his actions. This is one point that blatantly is in opposition to Johnson’s views: “this fatal errour all those will contribute, who confound the colours of right and wrong, and, instead of helping to settle their boundaries, mix them with so much art, that no common mind is able to disunite them”. The Lady is seemingly punished with her being sent to France while in fact she is only going to places that allow for grander things and give her more to explore.
Samuel Johnson and Eliza Haywood decidedly would have been at odds for “Fantomina” in relation to his essay “Rambler #4”. While Haywood gives a story that meets much of what Johnson expects of a good fictional narrative, she also delivers something different. Both would agree on the purpose of the genre leading toward instruction, even if the method of instruction would be radically different. Ultimately though the story breaks drastically from the formulaic ending, instead having its own with the Man accounted for and the Lady is sent somewhere to cover for the honor of her family. The Lady though created much of the story in a different light because of her innocence. This laid the foundation of what defined the story to Johnson’s standards. Then it was the same woman who would take much of what Johnson defined to be quality fiction and lay it to the side in favor of her own schemes: breaking from the expected convention in big enough ways for them to be noticed without totally breaking from the same thing. This mystery woman changed something old into something new, guiding people to new potential from Haywood’s pen. Johnson would approve, if with some reservations, of her fiction and this story in particular.
Haywood,Eliza. "Fantomina". Rutgers, Insititute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience
Johnson, Samuel. "Rambler Number 4". Virtual Salt.