The Coquette

The Coquette

by

Hannah Webster Foster

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The Coquette: Letter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
“I am so pestered with these admirers,” Eliza writes Lucy. Since arriving in New Haven, Eliza has been “followed, flattered, and caressed,” but the only “serious lover” worth mentioning is Reverend Boyer. He has given Eliza much attention, although he has said nothing of his intentions. Eliza herself has “studiously avoided every kind of discourse which might lead to this topic” and does not wish for a serious relationship with any man, especially one she “cannot repulse and does not intend to encourage.” To Eliza, Boyer brings “a deceased friend to mind” and makes her “pensive.”
To Eliza, Boyer is too much like Mr. Haly, whom she did not love, and this causes her to hesitate. Eliza doesn’t want to encourage Boyer’s attention because if he decides to pursue her, she will be unable to “repulse” (or reject) him. He is precisely the type of man her patriarchal society expects her to marry, and like her engagement to Mr. Haly, Eliza will have little say in the matter. 
Themes
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Mrs. Richman recently asked Eliza about Reverend Boyer. Eliza knows that Mrs. Richman is very fond of Boyer, and this is enough to make Eliza “partial to him.” Mrs. Richman asked if Eliza’s heart was “free,” and Eliza reassured her it was and that she hoped it would stay that way. Mrs. Richman told Eliza that her friends are “solicitous for [her] welfare and wish to see [her] suitably and agreeably connected.” Eliza is aware of this and told Mrs. Richman that she hopes her “friends will never again interpose in [her] concerns of that nature.”
Mrs. Richman’s use of the word “free” is interesting. While Eliza’s heart is free—that is, unattached—she certainly does not have the freedom to follow it wherever it may go. Instead, she will be forced, by way of her friends and society’s expectations, to give her heart to Boyer, and Mrs. Richman’s gentle prodding is the first step in that process. Here, Eliza expressly asks Mrs. Richman to stay out of her affairs, which she obviously does not do.
Themes
Women and Society Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
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Mrs. Richman knows as well as anyone that, had Mr. Haly lived, Eliza would have forfeited her own desires. “I am young, gay, volatile,” Eliza told Mrs. Richman. “A melancholy event has lately extricated me from those shackles.” Eliza “highly prizes” her newfound “freedom,” and wants the “opportunity, unbiased by opinion, to gratify [her] natural disposition in a participation of those pleasures which youth and innocence afford.”  
As Mrs. Richman knows Eliza so well and is a dear friend, she should be supportive of Eliza’s desires to stay single. Eliza views marriage as oppressive, which is reflected in her reference to “shackles,” and she would rather remain unattached and have the freedom to live for herself and simply enjoy life. This is the exact opposite of what she is expected to do—settle with a husband and family.
Themes
Women and Society Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
“But beware, Eliza!” Mrs. Richman warned. Pursuing such freedoms may be tempting, but it is “a slippery, thorny path.” Mrs. Richman spoke with “emphasis” and claimed freedom could lead to “wretchedness.” When she wished Eliza a goodnight, Eliza did not reciprocate. “I despise those contracted ideas which confine virtue to a cell,” Eliza writes Lucy. “I have no notion of becoming a recluse.” Eliza has always considered Mrs. Richman a dear friend; however, she finds her “rather prudish.”
Mrs. Richman views Eliza’s “freedom,” or her tendency to flirt with multiple men, as being akin to sexual promiscuity, which Mrs. Richman equates with immorality. She fears that Eliza’s “path” will forfeit her virtue, but Eliza has done nothing inappropriate to warrant such a mark on her virtue. For Eliza, true virtue is more than simply abstaining from sex.
Themes
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Related Quotes
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