A coquette is a woman who flirts without a sincere affection to gain the attention of the man. Eliza Wharton does her fair share of flirting in Hannah Webster Foster’s novel. She is stubborn and refuses all the advice she is offered. Eliza misses things right in front of her and doesn’t realize her mistakes until it is too late. Eliza Wharton was responsible for her own downfall.
From the beginning of The Coquette Eliza Wharton is a headstrong, freedom-seeking woman. Having escaped her impending marriage with the death of her fiancé, Eliza is determined to enjoy herself, regardless of the consequences. Eliza disregards the warnings she receives from those around her, she disregards Major Sanford’s past, and she disregards the societal impact her actions will undoubtedly have. Eliza is reckless with her reputation and virtue and she pays the price.
Eliza meets both Boyer and Sanford in the beginning of her tale. Mr. Boyer is a respectable man from a rich family. He is studying to be a reverend. Everyone likes him and he would be a very suitable husband for Eliza. However Eliza is enamored with Major Sanford. Sanford is a supposedly rich man with a reputation of being trouble. Eliza is warned of Sanford’s reputation but chooses to ignore the warnings. Eliza even tries to rationalize her feelings for such a troublesome man by telling her best friend Lucy “A reformed rake makes the best husband,” (Foster 47). Eliza also states that she wants advice from her mother about what to do, but will only follow the advice if it concurs with what she already plans to do.
Eliza’s blatant disregard for the concern of those around her contributed heavily to her demise. Had she listened to her friends and family when they told her to marry Mr. Boyer and forget about Major Sanford, she would not have ended up in the situation she got into. She would not have ended up unmarried and pregnant. While her friends and family could have perhaps been a little more proactive in their attempts to stop Eliza’s relationship with Major Sanford, it is doubtful that it would have helped. She was determined to break the rules and be with Major Sanford.
Mr. Boyer extended himself to Eliza several times and she shot him down. She was too charmed by Major Sanford to see the good man right in front of her. Eliza rejects Boyer and ignores his assertion that her interactions with Major Sanford will damage her own reputation. Eliza’s mother, Mr. and Mrs. Richman, and Lucy attempt to convince Eliza that Boyer is a good man, and the right choice for her. Eliza ignores them all. She consciously chooses to ignore the advice of her family, friends, and Mr. Boyer and to go against everything they tell her. Mr. Boyer represents the other options Eliza had at her disposal. Major Sanford was not her only choice. She could have married Boyer or found another man, but she chose Major Sanford anyway.
In all of his letters,...