The Coquette

The Coquette tells the fictional story of a young woman’s downward spiral in society as she becomes involved with two men who then both leave her, until later on, one gets her pregnant and she dies giving birth. Readers will experience Eliza’s downfall as a successful society girl whose relationships prove to be detrimental to her and her social status. It is not hard to pity Eliza who beings the novel as an independent, smart young woman, with coquettish ways, and then gets carried away with the attention of two men, who ultimately want nothing to do with her in the end. This book clearly illustrates how manipulative men can be, especially Major Sanford, who perseveres through with the thought of Eliza not belonging to anyone besides himself, without the intent of even marrying her.

This novel is intriguing because it is written in a form of letters, which illustrates the ways of communication in the 1790’s. When women would read books such as this one, in a time when women were viewed as housekeepers and mothers, this enabled them to think. By reading about a character who is destined to domestic duties, readers can not only see this character in themselves, but see the obvious way Eliza would retract towards having to become a domestic housewife. This then may have encouraged some women to step up and make their similar feelings known, as conversations of women’s rights became more and more popular. One quote that stuck out to me in the introduction by Cathy Davidson, was “Eliza naively sought to exercise her freedom only to learn that she had none.” [1] I think this quote emphasizes the point of women during this time and when wanting to have more freedom from their husbands and making efforts to do so, they realized how much they actually didn’t have.

I would like to talk about the series of letters from Boyer, Eliza and Sanford all surrounding the occurrence when Boyer found Eliza and Sanford in the garden and broke things off with Eliza because of this moment that finally ended the relationship. Boyer was having suspicions between a secret relationship between the other two and this time he caught them and ended it. It is interesting to see how different perspectives are displayed in these letters and actually how much people reveal in letters that are going through the mail and could be seized by anyone and read. Although this was the primary mode of communication, it seems daring to enclose such personal information, as some of these characters do.

Boyer’s letter is full of emotions of anger as he describes the scene he walked in on and reveals his thoughts about Sanford and his negative effect on Eliza and her social status. Where Eliza’s letter reveals her intentions of cutting off Sanford to settle with Boyer and this was her final time with him, until Boyer walked in and made of fuss about everything. Eliza’s intentions of this is questionable, since she is writing to her friend Lucy and may want to come off as innocent in the situation. This then raises a problem with letter communication, as truthfulness may be hidden within the words and the reader may not be able to tell if the writer is actually lying. In face-to-face communication or voice communication, people can oftentimes catch if others are lying because of a change in their voice or their posture, but with letters, none of this is observable. Sanford’s letter is comical because he writes as if he did something so great to finally have Eliza as his own, when in fact, only his constant appearance with Eliza broke off the two. He states he has “no conscious” [2] and seems to be bragging about the situation and how it ended.

Not often enough do books reveal situation from different character perspectives but it is important to see to understand the characters better. From this one situation, I have seen how emotional and sometimes irrational Boyer can get, how dumb Eliza is, and how deceitful Sanford is. Communication through letters is a way to see these different perspectives, but leaves out the background story, because what is expressed through these letters is only from the person, and although many viewpoints are helpful, one letter doesn’t allow for this. If this book were filled with only letters from Eliza, I would often question the truthfulness in her words. My point about the three letters, expresses the importance of having perspective and how detrimental it may be to the reader to not have that option.

Also, in the time it takes to write a letter and send it, I don’t know how anyone would be patient enough to wait for a response, especially if the news was as vital/gossip-ish as some of these letters seem to be.

What are other’s people’s opinions about this whole perspective thing, is it helpful in understanding the story, or does it make things more confusing?


[1] Hannah Webster Foster, and Cathy N. Davidson. The Coquette. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. xvii.

[2] Hannah Webster Foster, and Cathy N. Davidson. The Coquette. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. 95.




6 thoughts on “The Coquette

  1. I really liked how you brought in the whole concept of not being able to fully understand the emotions behind a written letter, much like it is now with texting and messaging. Emotions and body language really play a big role in understanding a conversation to its full extent and it is really easy to hide the truth or the important information in a letter that one cannot decipher the true emotion behind it. Great job! 


    • Thank you so much, I totally agree with body language playing a major role in conversations, how did people then know what people were honestly feeling, unless they actually spelled it out to them.


  2. Well in the time that it takes to send a text today, I can understand why it’s harder to understand how people were able to be so patient to wait for gossip. Imagine sitting in a doctor’s office for 20 minutes without a phone. That sentence is almost cringe worthy for someone from this time and era because we are so used to having something to do at all points in time (i.e. play with the phone, read on it, etc). But people didn’t have that technology to instantly get something back then and tended to be much more patient, especially since most of what they did took a lot of time. Instead of driving into town to run a quick errand that could take 30 minutes, people tended to make an all day event of it since it took them longer to get there and back. So, waiting to hear about the next juicy piece of gossip from a friend’s letter was probably easier to do since, A., they were used to waiting and , B., they were probably happy to get something to spice their lives up.


  3. I like how you brought up the fact that a book such as this would make women think while they were reading it. Do you think that the author purposely exaggerated the actions of Eliza and her two suitors in order to dissuade women from acting in a coquettish way as well as staying away from men? This idea of a novel provoking ideas such as these is an interesting way to view how the media manipulated the people in America.


    • Yeah Pat, as we discussed in class, a woman such as Eliza stood as an example of what might happen if you disobey the norms. I wonder, however, as the author is a woman, if she faced this type of situation herself with wanting more freedom but not being able to have it, and created a character to express that for her.


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