The Coquette

The Coquette Summary and Analysis of XLVIII- LXIV


Eliza writes to Lucy of her embarrassment over writing to Mr. Boyer. Even though he was not cruel, she has “given him the power of triumphing in my distress” (105). She feels her bloom is lessening and she is not comforted by her mother’s Christian principles. She has to pretend to be happy. She asks if their friend Julia Granby can come visit her.  

Lucy responds, first gently chastising her. She asks her to regain her former sense, independence, and passions. She was indeed a coquette, and erred, but she must still have admirers. She should stop being so gloomy. Lucy also writes that Julia will visit. Eliza writes Lucy of how happy she is with the young and beautiful Julia. Julia encourages her to go visit her favorite former places and amusements, but lacks the mood to do so. She asks Lucy for new books to read.  

Julia writes to Lucy of their friend Eliza, who is practically a recluse now. They heard Major Sanford was to be married but Eliza does not believe it. One day Julia found her holding a small miniature portrait of him, which was very distressing. She wonders how Eliza can love this man and not see his vices. She hopes Eliza will come to Boston with her.  

Lucy writes to Eliza, begging her to “dissipate the cloud which hangs over your imagination” (113). She says courage is not ignoring the storms but by steering through them with prudence. There is much joy to be found in the world’s amusements. Lucy then discusses her opinions on theater and the circus, the latter of which bothers her because of women acting too unladylike.  

Eliza writes to Lucy, anguished that Major Sanford is married. Before this, she had felt like she was regaining cheerfulness, but now she is depressed again.   Sanford writes to his friend Charles, saying that he is a married man, forced into this state. He feels some remorse for taking a wife, but she should only blame herself for being captivated by his looks. He still believes himself in love with Eliza, not his wife, and is glad she is still single. He wants to see her and make her the friend of his wife, which will “alleviate the confinement of a married state” (116).  

Eliza writes to Lucy that Major Sanford came to visit her. She was sitting with Julia and her mother and did not feel like seeing him, but Julia encouraged it as a way to get over him. She thought he looked ashamed and confused. When they were alone he told her he wished she was his wife and he wished he had gotten his situation together in time to marry her. That is why, he said, he could not marry her – because he did not want to impoverish her. He then wept, at which she marveled. She asked him never to speak of such things again. On his way out he asked if she could be friends with his wife and she said she could not yet do that. After the interview, she writes, she felt satisfied. She felt she only wanted to marry him because of his putative money, and actually preferred Mr. Boyer. She is glad not to be confused, and hopes to emerge from darkness. She is not sure about Boston.  

Julia writes to Lucy that Eliza seems more cheerful but says there is evidence of “a mind not perfectly right” (121). She thinks Eliza was fooled by the Major’s visit, and still wonders how she cannot read his countenance. When they encountered him and his wife the other day, Julia was struck how he stared only at Eliza. Eliza spoke kindly of Mrs. Sanford and said she planned to visit her.  

Eliza writes to Lucy that she received an invitation to dine from the Sanfords, and she and Julia went. At the party the Major spoke privately to her, and she said she was not the same, and a tear rolled down her cheek. The Major seemed distressed. Julia noticed and told Eliza later that she thought he was too attentive, and the world was noticing. Eliza responded that she cared not for the “ill-natured, misjudging world” (123). She sees no harm in being friends with the Major since he is married and therefore harmless.  

Major Sanford writes to Charles, exulting that he is now at peace with Eliza. He teases that it took a little time since he married someone else. She is different now, and calm, which he attributes to himself, not Mr. Boyer. He laughs that he doubts he is really reformed, and hopes to see the lovely Eliza often. His wife has commented on her, but he cares not, and irritably replied that he should have married Eliza instead. He ends by saying he hopes Charles will never be “embarrassed with a wife, nor lack some favorite nymph to supply the place of one” (126).  

Eliza writes Julia that she is not coming to Boston, and sends Julia alone. She does not wish to join society. She does not think the Major is partial to her anymore, and feels at ease with him and his wife. She ends by apologizing for not writing as much, for she does not enjoy it anymore. She thinks her friends must be weary of her sadness.  

Julia writes to Lucy that she is disappointed Eliza will not come to Boston. She thinks her much different after her interaction with the Major as well; he is too attentive and, once after a party, she saw him kiss Eliza’s hand. She asks Eliza why his behavior does not alarm her. She then says she should not trick herself that he is sincere and that their engagement is a “baser passion” (131). Eliza eventually burst into tears and beseeched Julia to end the discussion. Julia prepares to leave but is nervous to leave Eliza.  

Lucy writes to Eliza, trying to convince her to see how Major Sanford is a libertine and her reputation, “an inestimable jewel” (133), is the only thing that matters. Eliza responds, saying she is not interested in writing of late. She conveys the news she heard that Mrs. Richman’s daughter died. She muses about how she is pleased with no one, especially not herself. She is also trying to be strong for her mother, but feels terrible inside.  

Julia writes to Eliza, saying she had hoped she would feel better but it seems she is not. She speaks a bit about Lucy and Mr. Sumner’s happy union, and that she hopes she and Eliza will not “ever be tried by a man of debauched principles” (136).  

Julia writes to Lucy of her return to the Wharton home and how Eliza is consumed by her grief. She seems haunted and her health appears to be in decline. Mrs. Wharton told Julia that Eliza and the Major talked occasionally but Eliza shied away from the public. It also seemed that the Major’s character was worse than ever, as he was always traveling with his debauched friends and spending massive amounts of money.  


In the aftermath of Eliza's failure to secure marriage to Mr. Boyer, the climax of the novel, she suffers a precipitous decline. She is humiliated not only by the original event but also when he smugly writes back that he is married to Maria Selby, who, his subtext reads, is actually worthy of him. She grows reclusive and depressed, which everyone who sees her noticed. She claims that her looks are fading and her friends' words are no consolation. The news of Major Sanford's marriage is a terrible blow, but he does his best to secure her sympathy and continued friendship by a display of love, regret, and apology. This does little to improve Eliza's spirits, however, as she becomes further enmeshed with him. She states that she does not love him, and can regard him as a friend because he is married, but it is clear to the reader that the combination of the marriages of Boyer and Sanford and her own ascending years and dismal failure of her attempt to act in a sphere of freedom has rendered her mordantly melancholy.  

The danger now, as her friends see it, is that she may enter into an inappropriate relationship with Sanford as a married man. Julia continually chastises her, with comments such as "His assiduity, and obtrusion ought to alarm you" (129) and "it is not love, which induces him to entertain you with the subject! It is baser passion" (130). Lucy sums up what is at stake in her pronouncement: "Slight not the opinion of the world... No female, whose mind is uncorrupted, can be indifferent to reputation. It is an inestimable jewel, the loss of which can never be repaired" (133).  

Eliza's friends are right to note that Major Sanford is dangerous, and that she should not dally with a married man, but the entire situation is a result of the gendered system in which the characters exist. Critic David Waldstreicher writes, "The injustices of the patriarchal society constitute both the tragedy and the realism in this story of seduction." Eliza is, as most contemporary critics agree, the typical 18th-century woman. Heidi Johnson notes, "the novel shows that even with middle-class status and an education, women had few choices." Eliza is firmly put in her place when she attempts to exercise her freedom. Having escaped one marriage that would have been disastrous, she tries to listen to her heart before entering another, but is not allowed to consider the shortcomings of a potential husband. She must accept someone in her social class with a decent reputation. She is not allowed to entertain multiple flirtations. As Cathy Davidson notes, the problem does not lie in the fact that Eliza sets her sights too high, but rather the model she seeks to emulate – the egalitarian and mutually affirming Richmans. She is offered, "instead, a difficult choice between unsatisfactory alternatives, a common quandary in early American sentimental novels and a dilemma no doubt faced by many young American women."  

Another interesting lens with which to view Eliza and her quest for freedom is in the context of the young nation's own quest for freedom. Walter P. Wenska, Jr. acclaims Foster's commitment to making her novel about something more than just a young woman's misadventures in love. He writes that it "suggests that the health of the republic in no small way depends on the maintenance of a social order newly threatened by misapprehensions of the nature and meaning of freedom." Eliza, exhilarated by her freedom in the aftermath of the death of Mr. Haly, reflects an equally exhilarated America. This makes her similar to other classic American questers for freedom, such as Natty Bumppo, Isabel Archer, and Dean Moriarty. Her choices of suitors reflect a choice between reason and emotion, but Eliza regards marriage as "unfreedom." Wenska calls her an antinomian, and says in this case she actually has a lot in common with Sanford. Both of them are defeated in their quests, however – "what neither can ever be free from, of course, is their imperfect selves, their 'natural dispositions.'" Wenska concludes that their quests are doomed from the beginning, "compromised by biological and economic facts of our social life. Inevitably frustrated by psychological determinants beyond our comprehension or control." Wenska admires Lucy, who, tellingly, gives up the name "Freeman" and reconciles liberty and matrimony, the individual and the social order. She is the ideal that citizens of the young nation must look to. Eliza may be a hero of sorts, and most certainly a rebel, but Foster notes that that is not entirely sustainable in this time period.