Saturday, November 26, 2011

Who's the stronger character?

We started the semester out by reading a scandalous story about a young woman choosing to leave her elevated place in society behind in search of adventure and, of course, sex. Since then, however, we have almost forgotten about the poor Fantomina, banished to a French convent (possibly to live out a sequel to her promiscuous story).

Earlier this semester we compared the agency and progressiveness of Pamela to that of Evelina, and despite our general dislike for Pamela, we deemed her the stronger female character (more realistic portrayal of the female teenager, being forced to and successfully saying no to Squire B, etc). But, what if we were to compare Pamela to Fantomina? Both women enticed their men, both behaved promiscuously at different points in time (obviously to different extremes), and both did in fact refuse the advances of their beau (Fantomina didn't succeed, but she did say no at first). Who of these women, Pamela or Fantomina, is more inclined to gain the readers sympathy (both 18th and 21st century)? Who exercises more agency, and who presents a more progressive female role? Keep in mind that, although Fantomina does get sent away, Pamela is eventually forced to conform to a typical 18th century female role.


  1. I feel that Pamela is still a more sympathetic character because her story is much longer and more inclusive for the reader. We get the opportunity to see her entire thought process and call for help before we see her "fall" into the trap of open female sexuality. To me, it seemed as if her resistance was much more prolonged and genuine than Fantomina. Maybe it is just the fact that Fantomina continually seduced her mate, but I believe that her actions were a more planned out than Pamela's.

    However, I find Fantomina to be a more progressive character. She is unafraid to go after what she wants - despite warnings or appearances. This reminds me of a Robinson Crusoe/Unka type of character more than a Pamela, but I feel the comparison is necessary to show the growth of both characters. She shows a level of independence from the early stages of her story, which is what makes her so uneasy to sympathize with. Her character is the beginning of the development of the 21st century woman, but doesn't quite go all the way. Maybe the world wasn't ready for a woman to place herself on an equal plane with men, but Fantomina's banishment to a convent seemed necessary when I think about an 18th century story.

  2. I agree with Keena. I think Fantomina is a more progressive character. Fantomina has desire and acts upon her desire. She actively searches out and acquire what she wants. I guess I see her being sent away just to appease what the reader would expect for a woman in her position. Fantomina is the focus and she feels stronger and more independent. Pamela, on the other hand, is always constrained by 18th century expectations. She must meet expectations for her virtue and can never truly act on her desires.

    In terms of agency, I have to go with Fantomina. She's intelligent enough to seduce Beauplasir and it seems she does have a lot more control over her situation than Pamela. To me, the only little piece of agency Pamela expresses is her ability to say no and that doesn't seem all that great or progressive to me.

  3. I personally think that Pamela has more agency of the two characters. While I don't actually like her character all that much, I can't deny that she gets what she wants. While she doesn't admit at first to wanting Squire B, it's clear that Pamela has feelings for him. Her agency lies in her abstinence; by holding out, she manages to promote herself from potential "kept woman" to an actual wife, a woman of class. Her self-control wins out in the end, affording her more opportunities. Fantomina falls prey to her weaker instincts, going after what she wants. By today's standards, this would be the more progressive woman, but she ends up failing to achieve her goal, whereas Pamela, a woman with apparently less agency, manages to snag the man she loves and elevate her status simply by denying her own baser instincts.

  4. Yeah I think it has to be Pamela here. It's been touched on in the previous answers, but what's really at the core of the argument for Pamela is the fact that she ultimately gets that which she wants. If that doesn't demonstrate agency and a progression of feminism, what does?

    Think about it from this perspective - so much of what we've read (including parts of Pamela) is centered around these young women being deprived of anything and everything. Their love interests, the places they want to be, the people they want to be there with, their pursuit of one thing or another... Well Pamela encounters those but unlike so many of our other protagonists ultimately manages to overcome the obstacles before her, and does so largely with conviction. As Brittany said, in the end she has both her man and her elevated position in society. Hard to progress much further than that.

  5. In my opinion Fantomina represents the progression of the female role much more than Pamela does. Pamela's agency only allows her to hold off on sex, while that is impressive it is not really progressive. Since women in the 18c are not "supposed" to want sex and are "supposed" to wait until marriage Pamela falls more into the traditional 18c value system. In our readings this semester Fantomina is the only female character who does not end up married and who has a child, this is progressive as far as the traditional role of women is concerned. She becomes an un-wed mother which is a character who is absent from all of the texts we have read so far. If memory serves then working for the church was a sought after job (at least for men) so perhaps nuns received payment for their work in 18c? Which would also make Fantomina the only female character who had to procure a job as well.