Hannah Webster Foster Criticism - Essay

Frank Shuffelton (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mrs. Foster's Coquette and the Decline of Brotherly Watch,” in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Vol. 16, 1986, pp. 211-24.

[In the following essay, Shuffelton discusses The Coquette in the context of the changing culture in eighteenth-century America, focusing on how fashionable behavior displaced religious dictates as the standard of morality.]

If one makes an informal survey of the novels written by Americans and published in New England before 1800, one is struck by the overwhelming preponderance of sentimental fictions about beleaguered females, hapless orphans, and seduced and abandoned heroines.1 The earliest of these...

(The entire section is 6192 words.)

Carroll Smith-Rosenberg (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Domesticating ‘Virtue’: Coquettes and Revolutionaries in Young America,” in Literature and the Body: Essays on Populations and Persons, edited by Elaine Scarry, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, pp. 160-84.

[In the following essay, Smith-Rosenberg examines Eliza as representative of the nascent middle class in eighteenth-century America, characterized by a desire for individualism and risk-taking. According to Smith-Rosenberg, in The Coquette Foster reevaluates the place of women in society within male notions of nationalism and class.]

Passion corrupting virtue, libertines destroying happiness, independence misused, seduction, betrayal...

(The entire section is 8903 words.)

Claire C. Pettengill (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sisterhood in a Separate Sphere: Female Friendship in Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette and The Boarding School,” in Early American Literature, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1992, pp. 185-203.

[In the following essay, Pettengill analyzes the function of the circle of female friends in The Coquette and The Boarding School, asserting that the parallel plot involving what happens to this powerful group of women is equally integral to the novel as the seduction plot.]

Much recent scholarship interprets the early American novel in light of complex economic and social forces that, in the wake of the Revolutionary war, transformed institutions...

(The entire section is 8216 words.)

David Waldstreicher (essay date 1992)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Fallen under My Observation’: Vision and Virtue in The Coquette,” in Early American Literature, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1992, pp. 204-18.

[In the following essay, Waldstreicher evaluates the unspoken communication of sentiment that aids characters in interpreting one another's actions, noting that women's subjective experience comes under the closest scrutiny.]

It seems appropriate, particularly for the student of American literature, to publish The Power of Sympathy and The Coquette in a single volume. The novels are representative pieces of early native fiction, exhibiting the weaknesses and the strengths of the many...

(The entire section is 6703 words.)

Sharon M. Harris (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette: Critiquing Franklin's America,” in Redefining the Political Novel: American Women Writers, 1797-1901, edited by Sharon M. Harris, The University of Tennessee Press, pp. 1-22.

[In the following essay, Harris suggests that in The Coquette, Foster satirizes women's social reality and sentimental language in order to expose the sexist basis of the national political ideology.]

Crime has no sex and yet to-day
                              I wear the brand of shame;
Whilst he amid the gay and proud
                              Still bears an honored name.
Can you blame me if I've learned to...

(The entire section is 9354 words.)

Gillian Brown (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Consent, Coquetry, and Consequences,” in American Literary History, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1997, pp. 625-52.

[In the following essay, Brown interprets Eliza's plight in The Coquette in terms of her self-determination, or desire to create her own individual identity. Brown points out that women's role in the social contract of the American republic did not necessarily benefit them or even ensure their rights.]

When Eliza Wharton, the heroine of Hannah Foster's best-selling novel The Coquette, frankly describes her engagement as the sacrifice of her own “fancy in this affair” (5), she is voicing a standard criticism about the constraints on female...

(The entire section is 11871 words.)

Julia A. Stern (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Beyond ‘A Play about Words’: Tyrannies of Voice in The Coquette,” in The Plight of Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent in the Early American Novel, The University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 71-151.

[In the following excerpt, Stern explores the connection between women's imagination and freedom in The Coquette, concluding that women lacked true freedom in the American republic of the time.]


Lucy's programmatic diatribe [in Foster's The Coquette] on the heroine's failure of resolution is followed in the same letter by perhaps the most fascinating and certainly the least explored passage in Foster's...

(The entire section is 19236 words.)

Jeffrey H. Richards (essay date 1998)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Politics of Seduction: Theater, Sexuality, and National Virtue in the Novels of Hannah Foster,” in Essays in Performance and History, edited by Della Pollock, The University of North Carolina Press, 1998, pp. 238-57.

[In the following essay, Richards examines the motif of theatricality in The Coquette and The Boarding School as a paradigm for women's lives in the America of Foster's era, noting that women were called upon to know how to act on the social stage, yet they were expected to resist its attractions.]

The novels of Hannah Webster Foster (1759-1840) show a thematic richness and a complexity of text that have only recently begun...

(The entire section is 9821 words.)