Engl 730: The New Rise of the American Novel: Readings

Discussion Questions/Talking Points on The Coquette

1. In Letter IX (Eliza to Lucy), Eliza writes "I am sensible, that even the false maxims of the world must be complied with in a degree." Specify what Eliza conceives these "false maxims" to be. What, to her, makes them false? Are they really false or is Eliza in error?

2. In Letter XIII (Lucy to Eliza), Lucy says of the Rev. Boyer that "His situation in life is, perhaps, as elevated as you have a right to claim." Given what we know of Eliza's background and situation, is Lucy correct? Explain the conventions and assumptions of class and commodity which cause Lucy to say that.

3. What about the various males in the novel? What are their motivations, especially regarding women? What, if any, common assumptions underpin the males" varying attitudes towards women, women's roles, women's virtue, and marriage?

4. Is Eliza an independent thinker? Doesn't her emphasis on Sanford's "equipage" show her to be unable to judge character outside of status? Isn't she seduced as much by his "situation" as by his so-called charms?

5. Does this novel seem to have a bit more of the contemporary in it? Is there shown more of the cultural background here (republicanism, self reliance, flattening of hierarchies)? If so, where and how does it occur?

6. How are to think about E's seduction? Everyone in the novel warns her, especially her "sisterhood"--unlike Charlotte Temple's kidnapping, this is really a seduction--what is the difference as far as evaluating Eliza and Charlotte?

7. What exactly is a "coquette" anyway?

8. What does Eliza really want? Is what she wants ever shown to be a possibility in the novel? Or is the point that Eliza's wants must be reined in to some other valuation system? If her wants cannot be primary, what are the restraints upon them?

9. Davidson says that seduction could show female powerlessness but that thematizing seduction in novels could actually be a means of education and, ironically, empower women. What do you think is going on in this regard in this novel?

10. Is there an "ideal" held up in the novel for Eliza to attain to? Who might she emulate? If there is no "model," what might be Foster's point?

11. Is there any evidence that Eliza's giving into Sanford is a conscious effort to destroy herself? Is she committing sort of a ritualistic social suicide? If so, why? Is it an act of rebellion? Self-control? Lack of any control whatsoever?

12. What about the tombstone? Is there a lesson there? More than one? Does it really contain the sentiment Foster wants readers to share after reading the novel?