The Coquette (Paperback)
The Coquette (1797) is a novel by American author Hannah Webster Foster. Published anonymously, The Coquette was one of eighteenth-century America's bestselling books. Based on the story of Elizabeth Whitman, a New England socialite whose death during the birth of her illegitimate child was a sensational topic in newspapers at the time, Foster's novel attempts to turn tragedy and gossip into a topic of serious moral and social discussion. The Coquette both empathizes with its main character and promotes the need for educating women, making it a groundbreaking work of early feminism and an important example of the epistolary form, a popular style of eighteenth century fiction which uses letters between characters as narration.
Having been released from an unhappy marriage by the death of her husband, Eliza Wharton-the daughter of a prominent clergyman-finds herself hoping for more from life. As she begins to envision the independent life she desires, two competing suitors threaten to disrupt her plans before she can even realize them. Rev. J. Boyer is a kind but unappealing man who fails to inspire a sense of romance in Eliza, while Major Peter Sanford, a known womanizer, is an exciting and unpredictable man who manages to pique Eliza's interest before marrying another woman. As she loses sight of her newfound sense of independence, Eliza becomes a mere object of male affection, a woman to be seduced, but not respected. When an affair with Sanford goes terribly wrong, and finding herself with nowhere to turn, Eliza's life slowly falls to pieces before our eyes. The Coquette is a tragic novel with a complex message. While it critiques Eliza's moral failures, it also deconstructs society's attempts to blame women for the ways in which men manipulate and abandon them. The solution, according to Hannah Webster Foster, must be to educate women so that they will not only be given the tools for independence, but the ability to succeed either without men or as their rational equals.
With a beautifully designed cover and professionally typeset manuscript, this edition of Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette is a classic of American literature reimagined for modern readers.