This story is about a woman named Eliza Wharton. Many referred to it as a cautionary tale because of the combination of Eliza’s character and the fate she meets. At the beginning of the book her betrothed, Rev. Haly , whom Eliza nursed during his final days in her own home dies, she is actually ok with it because the marriage was forced and she wanted to be free from marriage . After his death, she decides she wants friendship and independence and is reluctant to get married. In a short amount of time, she gets to know two men. One is named Boyer, a respected but boring clergyman, whom all of her friends and her mother approved of. The other, Sanford, has no intention to marry Eliza. However, he is determined not to let anyone else have Eliza. Because she is indecisive about who she wants to marry, and she seems to like Sanford more, Boyer eventually gives up on her, deciding that she will not make a suitable wife, mostly because he sees them in the garden together. Sanford also disappears from her life and marries another woman, Nancy, for her fortune rather than love (he still likes Eliza). Eliza, being alone comes crawling back to Boyer. However, Boyer is already married to a woman named Maria Selby. Sanford later comes back and is also married, but has an affair with Eliza. This goes on until she is overcome by guilt and does not want to face her family and friends and decides to run away. She dies during childbirth (her baby is dead too) and is buried by strangers. Sanford is devastated by her death, and in a letter to his friend Charles Deighton expresses his regret at his actions.
The first half of the book introduced the characters and then left with a cliff hanger at the mid point because Mr. Boyer had just confessed that he was not going to persue Eliza anymore. So from then on I think Eliza will start going to more parties with Majour Sanford. Her life will go into a downward spiral because Boyer was sort of a rock that Eliza could anchor against. Eventually Majour Sanford and Eliza will get romantically involved but I think that Sanford's true motives for being with Eliza is just to use her, even though Sanford did send a letter to Charels Deighton saying that he loved Eliza. I also think that Eliza will atleast think about Boyer and miss him a little bit since he ended things so abruptly. Eliza will probably have a meltdown because she has found out that Sanford was just using her for fun. She will run to Mr. Boyer to console her in that time but Mr. Boyer will have moved on with his life. Eliza will see that she missed out on a great opportunity to have a steady relationship that would last but instead she went with the wild and crazy one. She will eventually end up wandering aimlessly because she feels used and abandoned and thinks there is no where else to go. Along the way she will die of either a disease or lack of love.
Eliza v. Society - Eliza has conflicting ideas with what is expected of her within the boundaries of society. She wishes to be free and gay, while society expects her to be submissive, domestic, and to marry. This conflict is illustrated in the book numerous times, especially in letters back and forth between Eliza and Lucy, for the fact that Lucy is Eliza's best friend, she has 'the right' to critique Eliza's actions as compared to societal standards.
Eliza v. Friends/Family - Eliza’s friends and family find Eliza’s ambitions in life to be unworthy of contemplation. She should not be out in society just to “have fun” and she can’t keep waiting around for “true love”, she needs to settle down and find a good husband, one that will provide finical comfort and companionship. They have options about Eliza’s suitors. They like Boyer, who is steady and safe, but they disapprove of Sanford, who is wild and dangerous. Eliza's mother and best friend (Lucy) are especially wary of the situation, however they regard her with compassion because their sole purpose is to support Eliza no matter what she does, despite any disapproval they might have regarding Eliza's social practices.
Friends/Family v. Sanford - Eliza’s friends and family don’t approve of Eliza and Stanford relationship. They wish Eliza to end all connections with him because he is well known as a womanizer. Sanford can also be considered to represent a typical chauvanist. It seems as if everyone in the story, except Eliza, is wholly aware of his true intentions. However, it is apparent in various instances that Eliza is aware of his intentions, but she chooses to disregard her 'gut feelings' towards him in pursuit of her own happiness.
Eliza v. Boyer - While Eliza likes Boyer and knows that he is smiled upon in society, she finds him dull. Eliza and Boyer don’t see eye to eye on their life ambitions. Boyer would like Eliza to consent to an engagement, while Eliza would like to enjoy her freedom a little more and just have fun. Furthermore, Eliza sees Boyer as being to up front about marriage, and too persistent. Boyer also dissapproves of Eliza's beliefs regarding her freedom to see different men -- again, a view that is also reflected in societal standards.
Eliza v. Sanford - Eliza is attracted to Stanford, but tries to push him away because he is a “bad boy” in society’s eyes. Stanford wishes to continue to pursue Eliza, so he follows her around and “accidentally” runs into her on her daily excursions, making it had for Eliza to break off the relationship. So there for, society cast a disapproving eye on them both. Everyone involved in Eliza's life has similar opinions about Sanford as well, and even in cases where Eliza seems to agree, she constantly gives Sanford the benefit of the doubt in their 'relationship'.
Boyer v. Sanford - There is obviously a conflict between these two, because they are each vying for Eliza’s favor. Each wants to spend time with Eliza and be bestowed with the honor of being her suitor. This conflict is ever-present in the story and is illustrated throughout many of the letters in the book. Boyer considers Sanford 'a deciever' and warns Eliza of this fact. Sanford considers Boyer is just a minor 'roadblock' in the relationship and considers himself the 'superior man' and 'best suited' for Eliza.
Eliza vs. Society
Society vs. Sanford
Sanford is looked at by society as too much of a bad boy.
Society does not approve of Eliza/Sanford’s relationship.
Sanford is known to be a womanizer, so they know Eliza is just another of his victims.
Society is the only one that see’s his true intentions, while Eliza seems to be blind to them.
Revised by Terra Potts
Eliza is the main character within the book. She is a young, intelligent, eloquent and attractive girl. At the very beginning of the story Eliza’s fiancé dies of an illness that he has been deteriorating from, his death is no surprise to Eliza. Although Eliza felt a strong friendship for him, she was never passionate in the relation ship. Instead of being grief stricken she is somewhat relieved and excited at the prospect of freedom and fun. Being uncommitted Eliza is very social, outgoing, and quite popular with the male sex. Eliza has a strong sense of right and wrong from her upbringing but despite her wishes and best, often mislead intentions she has a difficult time sticking to her morals. She is pursued by a few different men, but is not ready to make a commitment. Eliza wants to be married at some point after she has fulfilled her fun and freedom seeking, but because of her coquettish ways she has several men pinning for her hand in marriage, which ultimately ends in tragedy.
Reverend J. Boyer:
He is another primary character and the first man who is suited to Eliza after her fiancé’s death. He too is young and intelligent. He is known to be very modest, polite, and sincere. However he tends to be timid, naive, and sometimes seems nervous when he speaks, which seems to work against him when trying to receive her hand in marriage, but after becoming close friends with Eliza she notices him becoming more confident. He is a minister and is viewed to be spiritual and selfless. Despite his earnest want to be married to Eliza, her attitude toward marriage and her interest in other men eventually lead him to stop seeking her hand. Later in the story he marries a different woman more fitting of his desires and lifestyle.
Major Peter Sanford:
He is the third main character in The Coquette. He is the foil to Boyer, meaning he is pretty much the exact opposite. He is the bad boy and is described as rugged, witty, determined, charming, fashionable, and an all around ladies man. Eliza views him as immoral, seducing, and reckless, somebody who would not make a good suitor but she cant help being strongly attracted to him. Sanford is not affluent of his own accord and therefore seeks to marry a woman of money. Although Sanford loves Eliza and will not bear to see her with another, she has no money to offer him so he disappears and marries another. He returns to her life with disregard for her well being and that of his wife and creates sizeable mess of things.
General S. Richman and Mrs. Richman:
A wealthy couple with whom Eliza stays during her "mourning" period after the death of her fiancé. Mrs. Richman is Eliza’s cousin. They are giving, loving, and wise. They often try to give Eliza good advice, in honest concern for her best interest, but to Eliza they are just being prudish.
Mr. T. Selby:
He is a confidant and friend to Reverend Boyer. He does not fancy Eliza and views her as a coquette almost right from the start. He worries about his friend Boyer and seems to believe that his friend's best interest is not in marrying Eliza, which proves to be true as the story progresses.
Lucy plays an important role as of Eliza’s confidant and best friend. She is quite a contrast to Eliza, in that she is much more reserved and marries as soon as she finds someone to suitable to her liking. She does her best to give Eliza good advice, to be there when Eliza is troubled, and to act as somewhat of a moral compass for her.
She is another of Eliza’s closest friends. After Boyer has rejected her, and Sanford runs off and returns with his new wife, she is asked to come and give Eliza comfort. She is much like Eliza in her pursuit for fun and entertainment, but appears overtly energetic when compared to Eliza’s depressed state.
Mrs. M. Wharton:
She is Eliza’s recently widowed mother. She is lonely without her daughter and in mourning over the loss of her husband. Mrs. Wharton is quite pleased when Eliza returns home to live with her, and then again saddened by the deterioration of her lovely daughter.
A pal of Sanford. He merely provides Sanford an outlet for his thoughts and emotions. He never actually writes back, but is written to often.
He was Eliza's fiancé and a good man, but unfortunately passed away due to illness. He is only mentioned in a few pages.
A minor character who is only mentioned in Sanford's letters. She is a wealthy woman (which is why Sanford married her) and is handsome, but said to be not as beautiful as Eliza. She is well mannered and amiable. Unfortunately she too is afflicted by Sanford’s misbehavior.
He plays a minor roll, simply as large estate owner, who’s daughter is the heiress. His daughter was once pursued by Sanford.
A very minor character, he is Lucy's husband. They move to Boston after the marriage separating Lucy and Eliza. He never writes any letters or is written to, he is merely mentioned from time to time.
Hannah Webster Foster
The formation and style of the Coquette is quite interesting. The story is told through the means of letters to and from the characters in the novel. While still keeping the reader engaged and interested, this unique aspect of the book also differs from a lot of the writing about this time era. The letters are sometimes means of just telling the reader’s stories of what happened at certain meetings or gatherings or they stand alone as plot or character developers. The majority of the group found the letters to be interesting, for example when you are writing a letter to someone you leave out most of the boring details and make the letter engaging. Obviously when you write a book from a perspective like that, the author can make it dull sometimes trying to display all of the plots meaning, intricacies, and details, however Foster makes the letters seem natural and realistic, they do not look contrived and seem like they are really letters amongst friends and lovers.
-Focusing on a sub-point of the letter style, the letters serve to both keep the plot moving as well as aid to developing the characters. Specific examples of this are seen throughout the novel. For furthering the plot, the reader can look to letters sent to Eliza from both Sanford and Boyer, each letter resolving the reader’s questions and finalizing the final plot twists and endings. We learn from Boyer’s letter that he has found another woman and marries her, we also learn from Sanford that he has also married another but still retains his passionate love affair with Eliza, and we also learn in the final letters that Sanford is “devastated” at the news that Eliza has died and Sanford regrets letting her go and not having the chance to form a true relationship with her. From analyzing the letter style more carefully the reader can see the characteristics and developments of the characters, especially Eliza in her change from a very youthful, happy, energetic writer, to a woman of sorrow, uncertainty and shame. Subtle characteristics are also seen in other characters as well as final revelations of who the characters are. From his last letter, Boyer remains polite and a gentleman “wishing Eliza would find a man “worthy of her and that he would always rejoice when hearing new of her welfare”. As shown in this example, the way in which the story is writing really creates and distinguishes the characters and their personalities, a feat that would be difficult to do without the use of letters and the way they are written between the characters.
This vehicle of telling the story also showcases Foster’s talent as an author as she writes from different perspectives that are unique to each individual character; she finds the correct voice for the characters while still furthering the plot and themes. Many critics have found her writing to be intrinsically feminine, in that it harbors some romantic ideals and a strong female network of friendship and bonding. Having, read the book, however most readers and critics can agree that it takes a lot of understanding to be able to convincibly write from different perspectives not just between genders but also writing from a number of personalities. The reader can see differences between Lucy and Eliza, the reader can also see differences in Boyer and Sanford. The gender roles seem to be distinguished through the letters and through the text, different types of languages are used, and there is a generally different tone depending on the gender of the writer of a particular letter. One thing I noticed in particular was that the overuse of exclamation points was common not only in letters from women but also men. Exclamation points always seemed a bit feminine especially when they are used profusely like in the coquette. So I guess that is one “tell” of there being a female influence on the writing style of the novel.
Further more this writing style also fosters the theme of kinship amongst the women, showing the intimate thoughts and relations between characters through the means of letters. In the novel whilst readings the letters, there is a definite bond formed between the Eliza and Lucy for instance. Both ladies write their thoughts and stories relating to men, marriage and even society. Many argue that the coquette offers a interesting social commentary on females and their bonds with each other. When women weren’t treated as equals to men they lived lives of domesticity essentially being tied down to the household and only being useful for housework and social events. Thus, women created an intricate world sort of “behind closed doors” where they lived their lives and expressed their thought through the means of letters, fostering a bond between females that were essentially stuck in the same rut and feminine mystique of domestic and social affairs. The Coquette presents this as one of its major themes and it is shown perfectly in the novel. It is easy to wonder if that type of social commentary was one of the author’s intentions.
While some might think that literature written during or about this time era can be dull or hard to comprehend will certainly find the Coquette to be a change. The Coquette fundamentally reads smoothly and Foster’s diction, while eloquent, is at times quite stripped of embellishments and fanciful language which make the discourse and the plot enjoyable and easy to follow. The female voice and romanticism can be seen throughout the novel, but still makes it easy to enjoy from both gender standpoints.
The Coquette is an adaptable book in terms of reading, but not something that you can skim quickly through. This may not seem engaging to some, but it includes rather risqué material that could indeed entice the attention of the reader. It is important that when reading a novel such as this, you embrace the writing style for what its worth and what it had to offer.
As this book was based off of the true story of the actual circumstances of Elizabeth Whitman’s seduction and death, The Coquette (published in 1797) has many themes that held relevant to the issues facing woman of that time.
The book was published as a teaching tool for women. It was a story, a lesson of cautionary advice, showing women what could happen if their personal liberties and female rights were taken too far. “The Coquette was said to have been, next to the Bible, the most popular reading material of early 19th century New England.”(Marchione) After all who doesn’t like to read about scandal?
Purity is the main theme because it deals with the idea of “the fallen woman”, which is what Eliza eventually becomes. Women were expected to come into the marriage “pure”, a fallen woman was not viewed as very desirable in marriage because she showed a lack of control, values, and loyalty. Women were expected to be pious, pure, and submissive as it was considered their “natural state” (History 7) “Less than 10% of newly married woman gave birth less than 8 ½ months after marriage.” (Digital 10) The "fallen woman" theme is one that has manifested itself in other early American literature -- does the Scarlet Letter sound familiar?
The theme of the oppression of woman ties directly into the story. The novel underlines the helplessness that women welded in the late 18th century. “[The
Croquette]…realistically examine[s] the ‘parameters of female powerlessness and female constraint’…It also exposed the fundamental injustices of a patriarchal culture that places opportunities of women within a limited domestic sphere.” (Davidson quoted in The Coquette Intro) Women were not expected to do anything in life outside of their home. Their “job” was to find a proper husband, get married, and care for their husband, children, and home. Education and employment were not acceptable attributes in women of her time.
The theme of marriage is thread throughout the novel, which illustrates the extent to which women were tied down by social expectations. It shows us the views on marriage at the time and how once a woman was married, she became the property of her husband and had no rights of her own. A women’s “legal existence […] was suspended during marriage, or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of her husband.” (Patai 492-93) For Eliza, “Marriage is the tomb of friendship. It appears to me a very selfish state” (24) No wonder Eliza wanted to remain free and gay!
The final theme that seems to indirectly manifest itself into The Coquette is one of constant conflict. With the numerous aforementioned conflicts, the idea of mainly struggles between Eliza and society, shown through the words of the people in her life, is a theme that cannot be overlooked.
"Courtship in the 18th Century." Digital History. 12 May 2006
Foster, Hannah W. "The Coquette." New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
"History of Women in the United States." Wikipedia. 11 May 2006
Marchione, William P. “Hannah Foster: Brighton's Pioneer Novelist” Allston Brighton Historical Society. 2001. 8 Feb. 2007
Patai, Raphael. "Women in the Modern World." New York: The Free Press, 1967.
Yalom, Marilyn. "A History of the Wife." New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.
“Clothing of 18th Century England.” 3 May 2006
“Dress: Sources for Clerical Costume.” Feb. 2001. Revised Jan. 2006. May 3, 2006
Freiber, Lucy M. “Hannah Webster Foster (1785-1840)” 8 Feb. 2007
“The History of Costumes.” Germany: Braun & Schneider. C1761-1780. 3 May 2006
National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C. 2006. 6 May 2006
An on-line text of The Coquette.