The Coquette

The Coquette Literary Elements



Setting and Context

New England in the 1780s during the immediate Post-American Revolution/New Nation period

Narrator and Point of View

Multiple first-person narrators through letters

Tone and Mood

The tone shifts markedly from letter to letter, ranging from elation to despair to ennui to glee to moralizing to anxious.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Eliza Wharton (Protagonist), Major Sanford (Antagonist)

Major Conflict

The major conflict consists of whether or not Eliza will allow herself to be seduced by the wiles of the known libertine, Major Sanford, losing her virtue and bringing shame upon herself.


The climax occurs when Mr. Boyer discovers Eliza behaving inappropriately with Major Sanford and breaks off their engagement. The rest of the novel deals with the effects of this event.


All of the repeated warnings from Eliza's friends foreshadow her eventual fate of ignominy and shame. Lucy also writes Eliza of how she cannot get the doomed lovers in Romeo and Juliet out of her head.




"Her fame has often reached me; but, as the Queen of Sheba said to Solomon, the half was not told me" (10) refers to I Kings 10, in which Sheba visits Solomon to hear of his relationship with the Lord.

"The feast of reason, and the flow of soul" (25) is from Alexander Pope's Imitations of Horace.

"Richardson's Clarissa" (38) refers to the heroine of the famous work by Samuel Richardson. Clarissa is a young woman whose virtue is also threatened.

The poem Boyer quotes on page 83 that begins with "Since all the downward tracts of time" is a hymn, words by James Hervey (1746) and music by George T. Smart (1795).


See other section.





Metonymy and Synecdoche



"The mind, after being confined at home for a while, sends the imagination abroad in quest of new treasures, and the body may as well accompany it." (15)

"Your own heart is too sincere to suspect treachery and dissimulation in another." (38)