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The Coquette (Early American Women Writers)

3.21 of 5 stars 3.21  ·  rating details  ·  1,163 ratings  ·  80 reviews
The Coquette tells the much-publicized story of the seduction and death of Elizabeth Whitman, a poet from Hartford, Connecticut.

Written as a series of letters--between the heroine and her friends and lovers--it describes her long, tortuous courtship by two men, neither of whom perfectly suits her. Eliza Wharton (as Whitman is called in the novel) wavers between Major Sanfo
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 19th 1987 by Oxford University Press, U.S.A. (first published February 19th 1797)
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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel HawthorneThe Portrait of a Lady by Henry JamesLittle Women by Louisa May AlcottThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Early American Novels
20th out of 33 books — 9 voters
My Ántonia by Willa CatherJourneys in New Worlds by William L. AndrewsThe Song of the Lark by Willa CatherNarrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowla... by Mary RowlandsonCharlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson
Lives of Women in American Literature
7th out of 48 books — 4 voters

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Community Reviews

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Sep 02, 2014 Alex rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
American literature didn't get off to a fast start. Our best efforts to convince the world that Puritan sermons count as literature aside, nobody really got anything decent written until Poe in the early 1800s.

Except there's this, which I found referred to fleetingly as the first viable American novel - 1797 - and I'd never even heard of it, and it's actually pretty great.

The titular coquette, Eliza Wharton, joins a long list of vile women in literature who do gross things like flirt, or show a
Megan Ensign
Nov 21, 2007 Megan Ensign rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone.
The Coquette is an epistolary novel based on an actual event that occurred in the "Era of Good Feelings"--that is, the period immediately after the Constitution was ratified. It tells the story, through letters, of a woman's fall from grace.
To contemporary readers, the story might seem a little bland. Really, I consider it very similar to the side plot in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, but if one is able to contextualize the novel, it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.
I read a critic
Faith Bradham
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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Three stars because it was an interesting text to talk about in class, not because it was a particularly enjoyable read.

"The Coquette" constituted week two of our 'seduction narrative' segment of this seminar, and made more sense to me than "Charlotte Temple" beneath this umbrella term. Eliza Wharton truly is seduced in a way that Charlotte Temple is not (I would call "CT" an abduction narrative, but for some reason, my class didn't want to talk consent); because of this, though, I found Eliza t
The use of letter writing, as opposed to an omniscient narrator, offers up a unique way of giving each character within the novel, The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster, a distinct voice and personality. It is easy to discover who is the prude, the coquette, the rake and the righteous. Each letter grants readers insight into the varying personalities represented through individual writing styles. It is from these writing styles that we are given vision into the characters personal lives, showing ...more
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A sentimental eighteenth century American novel with surprising insights on politics, sexuality, and the social order.

Full disclosure: I had to read this for school, but I feel edified for having read it. It's quick and entertaining if this is the kind of book you enjoy.
angrykitty's written in letters, which is kinda's another feel sorry for the pretty girl story.....third.....wait....i don't have a third.....
Worst thing I ever read.
This is a very interesting book, and Eliza is a very frustrating character. She is always asking for advice, but never heeds it. She is in her 30s but seems much younger due to her carefree attitude.

I read the preface after I finished, and was very surprised to learn who the character of Major Sanford represented. The seducer was identified as none other than Pierpont Edwards, son of the famous Rev. Jonathan Edwards! The book became much more interesting when I found that out.

Some quotes I highl
Jean Marie
In a nutshell, not the worst school related read I've been subjected to but it was definitely one of those reads that caused me to struggle throughout it. It being written in letter format certainly helped with the changes in narration, but I think was the cause of my overwhelming disappointment (I mean, honestly, I should have really enjoyed this all things considered) was what always hurts a good book to me: consistent detailing from beginning to climax followed by a noticable quickening come ...more
Paul Beimers
Feb 10, 2014 Paul Beimers rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who: are interested in the history.
An overly moralistic little cautionary tale of the antiquated codes that women were once subjected to (and still are, admittedly) told in the ever odd epistolary format. Its messages are outdated, its characters are simplistic, and it concludes in the predictably morose fashion that one can expect from this sort of fable.

Still, it's an easy read, and a bit of historical writing to be remembered for its contextual relevance.

One of those books I sort-of read in college but didn't read very well because of course there were half a dozen other books competing for my attention and blah blah. Still can't remember if I properly finished it or whatever.

Anyway, it's interesting to sit down and just read it as a novel. I know how it ends and whatnot (I mean, it's pretty obvious--and also it was discussed to death in whatever class I read it for) so I'm enjoying teasing out the little things that color characters' world.

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The original 'gossip magazine' in American literature, The Coquette tells the fictionalized version of the fall of Elizabeth Whitman in early US. Although it was a bit flowery at times, and the high dramatism often left me rolling my eyes, this text is a wonderful peek behind the early-American domesticity (think of it as an early soap opera). Bonus marks for the intriguing depictions of Eliza's two suitors, Rev. Boyer and Major Sanford.
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This story of a woman's fall from grace, told through letters, was one of the few books that I was forced to read for American Literature that I enjoyed.

Although it seems different from any other book I've ever read currently, I found the storyline to be more interesting and engaging. How she continues to ignore advice from friends and family, how she puts herself in dangerous situation (dangerous to her reputation anyway), and how she does everythign she is not meant to do and the consequences
Joseph Soler
A wonderful book, from 1797, that shows us all that even has society has changed and evolved, as our manners, means of living and courting have changed, men and women continue to be the same people, to make the same mistakes, and behave in startlingly recognizable ways.
Joy Davis
The Coquette is a fictionalization of the real life story of Elizabeth Whitman, a woman who became famous through newspaper articles informing the world of her death after giving birth alone to a child who was not the product of marriage. As such, The Coquette acts as an moral instructional tale, basically saying "Don't have premarital sex because you will get pregnant and die." By straying from the path of societal normative behavior (marriage), Eliza brings her downfall upon herself.
I had to read this for a class... Otherwise I would not have wasted the time wading through it.
Thanks to Christina for telling me about this great little book written in 1797. It was one of the best-selling novels of the 18th century, and I'd never even heard of it! This is a cautionary tale that would have been more enjoyable for me if I hadn't read the back cover first (plot revealed!). The story is told through letters. What letters! Did people really write like that? The main character is sympathetic even though you know she's headed for trouble. The rake is deliciously selfish. The w ...more
Mar 07, 2012 Brianna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Women who like to read 19th century stories
This was a pretty cool story. It is all in correspondence. It's like a bunch of letters.
Do it! Read the book, because who knows what new world one might fall into? What interesting characters with interesting lives you might meet and fall in love with? You won't know if you like it unless you give it a try. You won't know if you love them unless you crack open the cover and say "Chapter One...." What's the worst that could happen? The universe could implode.... but that's very unlikely.
Michael Wolf
Learned about the subtleties of the epistolary genre from this work and how the typical upper class female of the middle to late 18th century of the United States was not so typical nor as readily understood as society projected, that there was a vast underworld of conspiracy and adultery amidst the guise of coyness; hence, the title The Coquette, a character that embodied this archetype. I have to admit that it kind of unjustly pushed me away from female writer, effects in which I am still reel ...more
I just moved this book up to 4 stars because it has been months since I read this work and I still think about it all the time. Although written in the didactic style of the time period, there is a lot of substance to the story. The rake is absolutely diabolical and in this world where rakes are often looked up to and the hurting of women discounted, I think this should be read. The author really captured the emotional bankruptcy that often happens before we make poor choices.

I would love all teenage girls to read this book if they could get by with the 18th century language, which I definately could, it was a page turner. The book is written all in letters concerning Eliza Wharten and two suitors that are complete opposites of each other and not exactly suitable for Eliza. It ends in tragedy, but teaches about looking at true character, moving forward and receiving mercy (which Eliza has dificulty doing, which causes her ruin).
To be fair, I read this book for a class about four years ago, and forgot all about it, except for a lingering sense of exasperation. I did not know that it was based on a real story. If I had, I'd be a bit less annoyed with the main characters, and instead be a lot more annoyed with society. Maybe I shouldn't say anything. I barely remember the plot, and I've forgotten the character names. But the idea of having to reread this is completely unappealing.
Written in the epistolary style, the book is a deceptively simple moral tale. It certainly requires more than one reading. BUT one must be careful not to apply today's standards to the behaviors of 210 years ago. I sat in on an argument in which a reader asked just what it was that the main character did wrong. By today's standards, absolutely nothing, but by the cultural conventions of 1797, a great deal indeed! A must for gender studies.
Jan 28, 2009 Hannah rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: English lit loving nerdy-types
Recommended to Hannah by: read it for class
This was pretty good - a quick read and a much better experience than my recent run-ins with epistolary novels. The failures of Eliza Wharton reminded me slightly of Lily Bart from House of Mirth, who is one of my favorite fictional characters. I'd definitely recommend The Coquette for English lit nerds and fans of women writers/stories about the woes of women past (those types seem to go together quite a bit).
I read this book for a class I'm taking on America post-revolution/early Republic. It was interesting especially since it is 1) an epistolary novel and 2) written by a woman, which in the early history of America is a bit of a novelty. It was a bit dry at times but kind of interesting. Much more interesting than a text book, in any event. If you're interested in early female American novelists... then this is the book for you!
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Hannah Webster Foster (September 10, 1758 – April 17, 1840) was an American novelist.

(from Wikipedia)
More about Hannah Webster Foster...
The Coquette and the Boarding School The Boarding School: Or, Lessons of a Preceptress to Her Pupils; Consisting of Information, Instruction, and Advice, Calculated to Improve The Coquette: Or, the History of Eliza Wharton The Power of Sympathy and The Coquette The Night Before Christmas in Africa

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“He is a gay man, my dear, to say no more; and such are the companions we wish when we join a party avowedly formed for pleasure.” 2 likes
“The mind, after being confined at home for a while, sends the imagination abroad in quest of new treasures; and the body may as well accompany it,” 2 likes
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