The Coquette

The Coquette

by

Hannah Webster Foster

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The Coquette: Letter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
“I am perplexed and embarrassed, my friend,” Eliza writes Lucy, “by the assiduous attentions of this Major Sanford.” Reverend Boyer’s friend, Mr. Selby, had recently come to visit, and Sanford watched all of Mr. Selby’s actions with attention that “seemed to boarder on anxiety.” When Mr. Selby left, Sanford was “pensive and thoughtful,” and tried to speak to Eliza alone; however, she avoided him.
Sanford is clearly fonder of Eliza than she is of him, and this makes her uncomfortable. He is relentless, or “assiduous,” in his attempts to court her, and this to reflects their patriarchal society—Eliza has asked Sanford to curb his advances and he completely disregards her and does as he pleases.
Themes
Women and Society Theme Icon
Eliza agreed to go horseback riding the next day with Miss Laurence, and Major Sanford appeared just a few miles into the trip. He asked to join them, and they consented, but Miss Laurence was “rather nettled” by Sanford’s “particular attention” to Eliza. Miss Laurence soon excused herself to dress for dinner. Sanford knew that Miss Laurence was planning on going to the assembly that evening with a Mr. Gordon, so he asked Eliza to accept his own invite and “form a party with them.” Eliza agreed.
Again, Miss Laurence is “rather nettled” because her father is considering Sanford as her husband, and Sanford is clearly partial to Eliza. Not only has Miss Laurence been denied the freedom of selecting her own husband, but she may be forced to marry a man that she knows has no interest in or attraction to her, and this is particularly disheartening.
Themes
Women and Society Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Once Miss Laurence was gone, Major Sanford told Eliza that he was struck with “jealousy” by the appearance of Reverend Boyer’s friend, Mr. Selby. Eliza reminded Sanford that she is “under no special obligation to him,” and does “not intend to form any immediate connection.” As Eliza dressed for dinner, Mrs. Richman came to ask if Major Sanford would have “the honor of her hand this evening.” Eliza confirmed he would, and Mrs. Richman warned her about “the slender prospect” of reforming a rake. She claimed Reverend Boyer would be a more suitable match, and Eliza told her she had not yet decided which man to choose. Her “fancy and judgement” of these men is “in scales,” Eliza says. “Sometimes one preponderates, sometimes the other.” 
Eliza’s reference to “preponderating scales” again harkens to worth and value, which is in keeping with her preoccupation with money and wealth. Like Sanford, potential wealth is the only advantage to marriage Eliza can see, but she is relentlessly pursued and pressured to commit by everyone in her life. Mrs. Richman’s contention that Eliza can’t “reform a rake” implies that Sanford would never be faithful to her, and Boyer, a fine and moral man, would not present such problems.
Themes
Women and Society Theme Icon
Sex and Virtue Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Is it not true that “a reformed rake makes the best husband?” Eliza asks Lucy. Eliza admits that she may be “too volatile for a confinement to domestic avocation and sedentary pleasures,” but a relationship with Boyer does appeal to her in some respects. “But the idea of relinquishing those delightful amusements and flattering attentions, which wealth and equipage bestow, is painful,” Eliza says. “Why are not the virtues of the one, and the graces and affluence of the other combined?”  
Eliza’s comment that “a reformed rake makes the best husband” was a popular saying in the 1700s and it reflects the double standard present in society. Eliza’s coquettish behavior has the potential to render her unmarriable by society’s standards, but this is not true for Sanford as a rake. Sanford can sleep with as many women as he wants and still claim a virtuous wife, but Eliza does not enjoy the same privilege. Eliza also specifically mentions money in this passage. It pains her that those who are considered most virtuous and moral are often the poorest.
Themes
Women and Society Theme Icon
Sex and Virtue Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
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