Hannah Foster’s The Coquette
Discuss the relationship between Eliza and Rev. Boyer. Should Eliza have married Rev. Boyer? Is this the message of the book? What does his correspondence with Selby reveal about his motivations and character? What does he want in a wife? Analyze the series of letters on pp. 101-6. Is Eliza’s change of heart toward Boyer convincing? How does each character “rewrite” the narrative of their courtship?
What does this novel imply about the relevance of republican ideology for women’s lives? Identify passages in which Eliza uses revolutionary terms such as “rights,” “independence” and “liberty.” How does Eliza employ these terms? Is her adoption of revolutionary discourse inflected by her gender? What role do you think Hannah Foster envisioned for women in the new republic?
Analyze the character of Maj. Sanford. What are Sanford’s feelings toward Eliza? Why does Eliza remain so blind to his failings, when everyone else sees them so clearly? If Sanford is such a depraved character, then why is he admitted into society? Do you think that Sanford is a convincing character? Analyze his letters to Charles Deighton on pp. 18, 55-6, 139-40: what do they reveal about the “battle of the sexes” in the late 18th century? Why was the “rake” such a common figure in literature of the time?
Analyze the portrayal of female friendship in this novel. Consider Eliza’s relationships with Ann Richman, Lucy Freeman (Sumners) and Julia Granby. What role do these young women play in her life? What strategies do Eliza’s friends pursue in trying to persuade her to abandon her attachment to Sanford? Why do they ultimately prove ineffective? Analyze the letter by Julia Granby on pp. 141-7. How does she respond to Eliza’s “fall,” and what does her response suggest about the strength and limitations of female friendship?
Is Eliza a heroine or an anti-heroine? Can the novel be read as a feminist critique of a patriarchal society? What does Eliza ultimately want? Are her desires reasonable? Is she portrayed as a victim of a social order that oppresses women? Is she a sympathetic character, or simply a pathetic one? How do you think that young women readers related to her character? What sorts of feelings and identification might she have evoked?
How can we use this novel as a primary source? What insights do you think it provides into the culture of the emerging middle class of this era? Are there possible problems or pitfalls in using novels like this one as historical sources?