While reading The Coquette by Hannah Foster, the first thing that strikes me in relation to communication during the 1790’s is just the vast difference in language between then and now. It seems people spoke much more eloquently and did not really use short cuts or slang at all-and basically took a long time to express one thought in writing. But, I am appreciative of the fact that despite the difference in language this novel is still easy to read and follow. This book is written in the form of letters sent to and written by the various characters, showing how that was basically all people had in terms of long distance communication. So far in the novel, the characters are writing to each other about their social and love lives. One of the main characters, Eliza Wharton, has been writing to a friend (who seems to be more reserved and seems more like a typical of women at the time, based off of Eliza’s responses to her) about how she feels freedom after the death of Mr. Haly, a man she was set to be married to. This reminded me of a short story I read that was written about a century after this novel called The Story of an Hour, by Kate Chopin. It expresses a similar sentiment-a strong desire to break the mold of a male dominated world. Eliza writes to her friend about Mr. Boyer, a new man who was caught her attention. It seems like Eliza is more of a free spirit than most women at the time-she seems to desire more power of herself and her future than most females were allowed at the time.
Mt. Boyer also writes to his friends about Eliza, and even talks about being jealous that she spent a night out with another man. This novel also reveals a lot about the social lives of wealthier men and women during the turn of the 19th century. Especially revealing in regards to the life of women, Eliza is seen as “entertainment” since she is a guest in the home of another family and is expected to act a certain way.
The novel also shows how much people treasured their letters. Today, I could write a text message to a friend, send it, and not really think much of it, knowing I would probably get a response within the next few minutes. But back then, weeks and weeks could pass by while waiting for a response, and their exchanges show how important their letters were-writing about important things and not wanting to waste a letter. Eliza writes about her fears, desires, and hopes to her friend, Ms. Lucy Freeman. These were obviously private thoughts that were important to her and important to share, otherwise she would not waste the letter. Newspapers are also mentioned in the novel, and Eliza’s mother even finds out about her daughter’s death through a newspaper, showing how essential they were in spreading information and events.
Overall, The Coquette by Hannah Foster offers a very valuable glimpse into the lives of those living in the last 18th century. Letters were the main form of communication, and were very important to those who could send them. Newspapers were also important in spreading news and information. The novel also shows how women lived during the time-Eliza Wharton expresses relief when the man she is to marry dies, showing her desire for freedom and to control her own future. I can see how this book would have been extremely popular at the time, as it is well written and easy to follow, and was a woman I think it would be somewhat refreshing to see a somewhat liberated female, even though she ends up dying in childbirth. Despite her tragic end, Eliza still yearned for independence which I imagine most woman at the time could relate to.