The Coquette

The Death of Marriage as Portrayed in The Coquette College

There is a concept of “social death” which is often applied to those individuals discarded by, excluded from, or persecuted by society. Social death has been used to describe slavery, apartheid, ostracism, or, as in the case of Hannah W. Foster’s historical novel, The Coquette, the exclusion of women who do not abide by the sexual standards and common etiquette of society. Foster’s anachronistic heroine, Eliza Whitman, has all the makings of such a social maverick. As a woman recently entering society, she lives and personifies the inconsistent transition from a marriage of convenience to that of love. Eliza establishes herself as a surprisingly spirited and individualistic female for her time, borne into a world not quite ready for her—inevitably rendering her a victim of circumstance. From the very first letter, Foster makes it easy for the reader to relate to Eliza’s struggles and personal dilemmas with freedom, lifestyles, marriage, and obligations (her views are presented through first person and she is perhaps the most interesting and complex character in the exchange of letters). However, her ultimate, untimely death is the final (and disapproving) verdict on just how appropriate or conducive her avant-garde mentality is...

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