Reaction to The Coquette (option 2)

The Coquette is an epistolary novel written by Hannah Foster in the  late 1700’s. The novel consists of a series of letters depicting the tale of Eliza Wharton. While many of the letters are by Eliza herself, they are many from other characters in the story including her two love  interests, Mr. Boyle and Mr. Sanford, as well as Lucy Freeman her best friend. Throughout the novel, not only do we as readers get the privilege to learn the details of Eliza’s love life, we also get to learn how letters were used as an intimate form of communication. The use of letters in the novel indicates to the reader the importance of letters during that time period and shows how media was able to use this form of communication to further their ideas and to get people interested in their story. In The Coquette, it seems as though these letters are supposed to help the reader relate to Eliza and also feel for her and the other characters.

At one point in the story, Eliza finds herself at a loss when both of the men in her life have moved on and gotten married. In a frantic message to Lucy, Eliza writes, “Instead of two, or three, more than twelve months have elapsed, and I have not received a line from Major Sanford in all that time, which I fully expected, though he made no mention of writing; nor have I heard a syllable about him, except a report circulated by his servants, that he is on the point of marrying, which I do not believe .”(1) In her panic, Eliza shows how important letters are between friends. This can connect to almost every teen movie where the girl is waiting for the guy to text or call her even if she’s been a jerk to him (much like Eliza was to Major Sanford). Letters was one of the  main ways of communicating between friends and were a way of proving to someone that you care about them.

This novel was based on the the true accounts of Elizabeth Whitman, a poet from Hartford Connecticut whose story was widely discussed in the 18th century. Therefore, we as the readers, can see that the novels of the time were based on events that could and sometimes did happen to people. It also is meant to teach a lesson because no matter whether or not you believe Eliza to be the victim, you can learn from her mistakes. This novel is also directed at young women at the time perhaps as a warning to not steal men from their wives or it could be seen as teaching women to be independent and to stand up for what they believe. The author, Foster, was aiming to address many feminist issues that came from Elizabeth Whitman’s story. Some of these issues were “female education, female employment, political and legal rights of women, and the double sexual standard.”(2) The last part specifically is showcased throughout the novel. While Mr.Sanford is known for having many lovers and still being important to society, Eliza is frowned upon when she begins pregnant with his illigitimate child. There is a lack of respect and understanding for women who do the same things as men and Eliza challenged these ideas with her relationship with Mr. Sanford. While this could be to show a lesson that she needed to learn it can also be used to show women the injustices in their society and to prove to them they are not seen as men. Since novels are typically aimed at young women, this story would have opened the audiences eyes to these injustices and have helped them to see how they can worked past the societal boundaries.

[1] Hannah W. Foster, The Coquette (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986),100.

[2] Foster, The Coquette, ix.

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2 thoughts on “Reaction to The Coquette (option 2)

  1. You made some really good points! I agree with you when you pointed out that letters were very important to all the types of relationships in this story. Another thing that In really liked was when you related it to modern day. It was very much teen movie. While I was reading I was just picturing them subtweeting each other, which is as close to letter writing as some people get today. The part were you talked about 18th century novels following this time of structure and story line makes sense to me. While I was researching Charolette Temple, it was written in the same format and had the same love interest thing going on (and I’m pretty sure she died at the end.) I also thought a lot about the Scarlet Letter, which I think she died at the end? You made lots of great connections! Great job.

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your post! I think you’re right that the use of letters in this novel indicate the importance of them. I think the letter format better shows the relationships between the characters, more than a standard narrative would allow. For example, the language Eliza uses when she writes to Lucy is completely different than how she writes to her mother or Major Sanford. When Eliza panics about not receiving a letter from Sanford in over a year, it reminded me of a teenager worrying about not getting a text back in the same day. It’s strange to think how long communication took and how much information was relayed in each message. As we discussed in class, people would put a weeks worth of events in one letter, or until they ran out of paper since it was generally expensive to send letters. There are a few letters in the novel that are less than a page so it’s safe to say that the wealthy have more leeway with how frequently and how long their letters can be. You make a good point about the novel being aimed at women and I agree that the novel would serve as a lesson or guide to its female readers.

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