Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Haywood's Fantomina: The Ending?

Well, I was teaching Fantomina a few days ago in my grad novel class, and I realized that I was having trouble with (what I considered to be) one of the most interesting turns in that text, the ending.

We'd talked a little about the running comparison between F's deceits and Haywood's enterprise as a fiction-writer. For me, this becomes explicit in the crisis created by her pregnant fits in public, the naming of Beauplaisir as the father, and her mother asking her if she is finally telling the truth, or just offering her "a fictitious tale."

Then we get this ending, which describes the resolution as if all the parties were waking up from a dream, when F finally tells the truth about herself and her adventures to her mother and Beauplaisir (interestingly, we don't receive F's own account of her adventures]:

Both [B and the Mother] sat for some Time in a profound Revery; till at length [the Mother] broke it first in these Words: Pardon, Sir, (said she,) the Trouble I have given you: 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, and I have nothing to request further of you, than that you will not divulge the distracted Folly she has been guilty of. — He answered her in Terms perfectly polite; but made no Offer of that which, perhaps, she expected, though I could not, now inform'd of her Daughter's Proceedings, demand. He assured her, however, that if she would commit the new-born Lady to his Care, he would discharge it faithfully. But neither of them would consent to that; and he took his Leave, full of Cogitations, more confus'd than ever he had known in his whole Life. He continued to visit there, to enquire after her Health every Day; but the old Lady perceiving there was nothing likely to ensue from these Civilities, but, perhaps, a Renewing of the Crime, she entreated him to refrain; and as soon as her Daughter was in a Condition, sent her to a Monastery in France, the Abbess of which had been her particular Friend. And thus ended an Intreague, which, considering the Time it lasted, was as full of Variety as any, perhaps, that many Ages has produced.

[from Jack Lynch's etext]

This to me seems like a conscious unraveling of the retributive, didactic ending that readers apparently expect: even Austen's Marianne has to pay for the rest of her life for her bad judgment about Willoughby. By contrast, Fantomina goes off stage, B never sees the "new-born Lady" again, and the mother arranges a convenient exit for her daughter that to me seems quite mild, at least compared to the fates of other coquets who get reformed or suffer the consequences. No death, no reformation, not even an affirmation of marriage or "realism" at the expense of her fantasy.

So what seemed to me really provocative, felt pretty flat in the room. Perhaps all this is too obvious to need reiteration. Anyone else taught this lately?