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