Eliza is young, beautiful, and charming. She does not want to settle down into marriage yet, preferring to enjoy her freedom. However, she finds herself contemplating a marriage to Mr. Boyer after it seems like her best option. Once her flirtation with the Major destroys that possibility, she plunges into depression as she tries to figure out what she wants and can get from life. The Major eventually seduces her, forcing her to depart from her family and friends in shame, bearing a child and dying alone in a tavern many miles away. Her story, as perceived by her friends, reinforces the importance of virtue and sound choices in a marriage partner.
The Major is a dashing and handsome man who captivates Eliza. He is also completely disreputable and manipulative, planning to never marry Eliza but insisting on keeping her around because of his attraction to her. His reputation as a libertine is well-known, but he does not care until the very end of the novel, when Eliza's death and the loss of his wife and fortune impress upon him guilt and grief.
Reverend (Mr.) Boyer
Mr. Boyer falls in love with Eliza, but seems not to care for her actual nature. He is nervous about her coquettish ways, and once he suspects she is not virtuous, calls off their tentative engagement and marries another woman. He is very moral, but also critical and rather dull.
Lucy (Freeman) Sumner
Lucy is Eliza's best friend and confidant, but often lectures, censures, or condemns her friend, all in the name of protecting her virtue. She marries a loving man in the same social class midway through the novel.
A recently widowed woman, Mrs. Wharton finds her own worth in her children. She invests heavily in Eliza's choice and encourages her to choose Mr. Boyer. Later, she is distressed at her daughter's depression and tries to relieve it with religion and kind words. She cares for her daughter deeply and holds none of her sins against her.
A young woman who is friends with Eliza and Lucy, Julia is beautiful and charming but very rectitudinous. She believes a woman's virtue is paramount and thus constantly worries for Eliza. She tries to give her advice and encourages her to leave the Major alone.
Although the man Major Sanford writes to, not much is known of Deighton. He is single and most likely lives a lifestyle like the Major's.
The man Mr. Boyer writes to, Mr. Selby also visits the neighborhood where the Richmans live and observes Eliza being a "coquette". He warns Mr. Boyer that she is potentially problematic. Mr. Boyer ends up marrying his sister, Maria.
Mrs. Richman's husband and an upstanding gentleman, he fully embraces his role as husband and, later, as father.
Wife of General Richman and mother (only for a time, sadly), she is a friend of Eliza's but often lectures her or tries to dictate her behavior. She is upper-class, traditional, and a perfect exemplar of "republican motherhood".
The man Eliza was to marry. He fell ill and she attended him before he passed on. She did not feel a passionate love for him.
A wealthy young woman in the Richman's neighborhood whom Major Sanford considers marrying for a time.
The sister of Mr. Selby and eventual wife of Mr. Boyer.
The Coquette Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Coquette is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.