The Coquette

The Coquette Summary and Analysis of XXXVII-XLVII


Sanford exults to Charles that Eliza no longer slights him. He wishes he could marry her but knows he cannot. His goal is to break her and Mr. Boyer up though. He is thinking about marrying Miss Laurence but hopes she does not think she can reform him or confine him.  

Eliza writes to her mother of how she enjoys her time with Mrs. Sumner. She spent a lot of money to keep up appearances though, and Mr. Boyer tried to lecture her and in the end annoyed her by doing so. She wonders how, if their dispositions are so different, they could be happy.  

Mr. Boyer writes his friend Mr. Selby about how he now believes there is foundation to the suspicions of Eliza’s character. He saw at parties her frivolity and decadence, and began to notice her engagement with Major Sanford. He tried to get a clear answer from her about their relationship but she said she was not ready. She even became frustrated with him when he sounded jealous about the other man. However, he still loves her.  

He writes another letter, this time stating that all is over between Eliza and himself. He is finally free from her deceits and coquetries. He recounts how he asked her for more commitment but she would never provide it. He asked about Sanford and she became defensive and mad. They later made up, but one of his other friends warned him about the rumors flying about her and Sanford. He spoke with Eliza's mother and she confessed she did not know what her daughter was up to. He asked to see her but she was lying down. He said he would come back, and when he did, he was told she had gone for a private walk in the garden. He went there and was shocked to see her with the Major, looking confused and deceitful. He could only give them a look of indignation before he ran off. Eliza came in, and begged to tell him what had really happened, but he did not want to hear it. He bowed, and left. Later he found himself in tears, but eventually began to thank God for delivering him and "enabling me to break asunder the snares of the deceiver" (82).  

He includes a copy of a letter he sent to Eliza. It addresses her as a friend but states that he sees now that she rejects "the sober, rational frugal mode of living" (83) and prefers a man whom her friends warn her against. He cautions her about Major Sanford. He also chastises her for her manners, extravagance in her attire, and lack of prudishness. He says he does not want an answer because his mind is fixed, but hopes she will find wisdom.  

Eliza writes Lucy of how delightful Major Sanford's presence is in the neighborhood, and how he is decorous though some of the old men do not find it easy to get over their preconceptions. She still plans to marry Mr. Boyer but wants to have fun before she becomes a recluse. She likes how the Major enlivens her days, and is annoyed with those who seek to tell her about her own happiness or unhappiness. She does see that he wants to break her and Mr. Boyer up, but wonders why he is so mysterious about his own plans. She asks Lucy what to do about this man.  

She continues the same letter, detailing the irrevocable separation between her and Mr. Boyer. Major Sanford had gone to see her mother and wrote her a note begging her to see him in the garden the next day. She gave him a time. The next day came and she was prepared to accept Mr. Boyer, even though the duress it would cause the Major distressed her. She met him in the garden and told him her plan. He was upset, and then Mr. Boyer found them. She tried to defend herself but could not. After he had gone, she fainted. Her night was restless. She received his farewell letter the next day and fell into despair.

Major Sanford writes to Charles, exalting that the girl is his. He laughs that he has no conscience. He writes of how he went to see her after her separation from Mr. Boyer. He told her he would be gone for a few months. He left her with regret, claiming he wanted to make her his own and let no one else have her.  

Mrs. Richman writes Eliza and tells her she has heard what happened. She believes there is still happiness in store for her, and that no one is perfect. She details her own glee in being a mother, exclaiming, "conjugal and parental love are the main springs of my life" (97). She relates news that Miss Laurence is to marry Mr. Laiton, and invites Eliza back to visit.  

Eliza writes Lucy that she is depressed and plans to go visit the Richmans. She begins to think more on Mr. Boyer's merits and worth, and how she lost a great man. She is tired of being gossiped about.  

In a follow-up letter she says her visit to her friends was fine but could not calm her disturbed mind. She wonders why she has not heard of the Major in a long time, but cares more about how she lost Mr. Boyer, who now seems inestimable. There is a rumor that Major Sanford plans to marry, but she plans to try to get Mr. Boyer back. She writes to the Rev. J. Boyer, saying she cannot offer a meaningful apology but states that she loved him very much. She offers him her heart and her hand. If he is already with someone, she hopes for happiness for them.  

Boyer writes back, and says he is happy to hear from her and does not have an accusing thought in his mind for her. He says, though, he is now with Maria Selby, and esteems her greatly. He and Eliza should not regret their separation, as it was for the best. He is her friend now, not her lover. He thanks her for her kindness.  


At the beginning of this section Eliza exhibits the same ambivalence about marrying Mr. Boyer as she always has. This ambivalence seems justified in the obnoxious way Mr. Boyer tries to control her behavior in public and treats her more like a child or parishioner than his future wife. Eliza decides to eventually marry him regardless of the bleak future he poses for her, but she feels compelled to tell Major Sanford about her decision. The discovery of the two of them in the garden is, then, partly an unfortunate coincidence that makes the reader feel badly for Eliza. However, she is also at fault for entertaining the Major and feeling as if she needed to account for her decision to him rather than simply refusing to see him. Foster makes Eliza sympathetic, but also reveals her immaturity and lack of thinking.  

Mr. Boyer’s character is revealed further in his vicious letter breaking off their engagement. Critics debate whether or not he was justified in his anger. Critic Laure Korobkin notes, “Rev. Boyer’s letter has received unqualified condemnation from critics, who complain with some justice that it shows him to be prudish, carping, and more concerned with reputation than real virtue.” One could add hypocrisy to this list as well, for the very things that Boyer proclaimed to like about Eliza – her vivacity, manners, and charm – he now censures. He makes sure to assume a paternalistic tone about her putative relationship with the Major. He attacks her character as well as her fashion choices and pursuits. His tone and histrionics reveal him as wounded by her, but he assumes a mantle of superiority by avowing, “I wish you to regard this letter as the legacy of a friend” (85). He also acts holier-than-thou: “But should you hereafter be convinced of the justice of my conduct; and become a convert to my advice, I shall be happy to hear it.”  

On the other hand, as Korobkin notes, Boyer’s argument may contain some credence as to his hurt feelings. After all, Eliza did lead him on in the sense that she never broke things off with him or gave him a definitive answer. By modern standards there is nothing wrong with flirtation or lack of interest in settling down, but when one receives a proposal, a definitive answer is required. Boyer correctly identifies Eliza’s passion for luxury and her desire to move up in social class.  

Mr. Selby, while a relatively minor character, offers more insights into gender norms and double standards. Initially he is quite pleased by Eliza, commenting that he finds the “brilliancy of her wit, the fluency of her language, the vivacity and ease of her manners” appealing. He quickly becomes judgmental, though, critiquing all women, even the most virtuous, as “naturally prone to gaiety, to pleasure, and, I had almost said, to dissipation!” (53). He even refers to women as the natural “rakes” when any look at Sanford’s letters disabuse that notion completely. A voyeur, he spends his whole evening watching Eliza diligently, looking for any instance when she might do anything that could warrant being "jealous" on his friend's behalf. Mr. Selby and Mr. Boyer are both watching Eliza to make sure she does not make a coquette of him, but her friends are watching and judging her as well for her choices.  

Indeed, much of this novel takes place in a public arena in which watching and looking for cues takes on paramount importance. In his article on the novel, David Waldstreicher writes that the novel depicts "an economy of vision: a new system of exchanged signs of sentiment governed by particular rules for viewing and interpretation." The characters live in a public sphere and a circle of respectability "that is never absent, even in the characters' self-scrutiny." Eliza's reputation of "sensibility" is first constructed by this public sphere, and then celebrated and sustained by the community. This means, though, that she is also subject to scrutiny, as all acts of looking in this republican community are part of the politics of virtue. Waldstreicher notes that as Eliza enters the public "she regulates her sensibility and rises in the view of others, her prospects, in her own mind, seem to rise. Actually, she becomes less free, for in virtue's marketplace she is a defined commodity: not allowed to change, to be various, or even to have an interior will that differs from the true feelings she must show." He sees the central conflict of the novel as one in which this young woman faces both intense scrutiny and an ethic of sensibility (acting and saying what the heart feels), which makes it difficult for her to actually act.