Babies symbolize the danger and drawbacks of marriage and the domestic sphere. Three babies are born in The Coquette: the General and Mrs. Richman have a baby, Major Sanford has a baby with his wife, Nancy, and Sanford also has a baby with Eliza Wharton. Sadly, all three babies die, and while this is certainly not unheard of in 1797 (a time when infant death was common), the fact that all of the babies in the novel die is significant: it seems to suggest that marriage is not always the blissful experience eighteenth-century America’s patriarchal society will have women believe, and that the domestic sphere, while certainly enjoyable and rewarding to many, is not always full of happiness. Of course, the General and Mrs. Richman have an exceedingly happy marriage—Eliza refers to them as “a picture of conjugal felicity”—but even they are not immune to the heartache caused by the death of their infant daughter.
Conversely, Major Sanford’s marriage to Nancy is exceedingly unhappy. He treats his wife with disrespect and is really in love with Eliza. Sanford only marries Nancy for her money, and by the time she gives birth to their son, who dies immediately after, their marriage is all but over. Eliza’s own baby dies at the inn at Danvers, after both she and Sanford are disgraced in the eyes of society—Sanford for his rakish ways and his affair with Eliza, and Eliza for her attraction to Sanford and initial refusal to settle down and marry the Reverend Boyer. With the death of Sanford’s babies with both Eliza and Nancy, Foster implies that while Sanford and Eliza should not have approached marriage with such indifference and disregard, marriage simply isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be presented as the only option for respectable women (and men) in America’s new and developing nation.
Babies Quotes in The Coquette
How natural, and how easy the transition from one stage of life to another! Not long since I was a gay, volatile girl; seeking satisfaction in fashionable circles and amusements; but now I am thoroughly domesticated. All my happiness is centered within the limits of my own walls; and I grudge every moment that calls me from the pleasing scenes of domestic life. Not that I am so selfish as to exclude my friends from my affection or society. I feel interested in their concerns, and enjoy their company. I must own, however, that conjugal and parental love are the main springs of my life. The conduct of some mothers in depriving their helpless offspring of the care and kindness which none but a mother can feel, is to me unaccountable. There are many nameless attentions which nothing short of maternal tenderness, and solicitude can pay; and for which the endearing smiles, and progressive improvements of the lovely babe are an ample reward.
Should it please God to spare and restore me to health, I shall return, and endeavor, by a life of penitence and rectitude, to expiate my past offences. But should I be called from this scene of action; and leave behind me a helpless babe, the innocent sufferer of its mother’s shame, Oh, Julia, let your friendship for me extend to the little stranger! Intercede with my mother to take it under her protection; and transfer to it all her affection for me; to train it up in the ways of piety and virtue, that it may compensate her for the afflictions which I have occasioned!