The Coquette

The Coquette

by

Hannah Webster Foster

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Babies Symbol Icon

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

The The Coquette quotes below all refer to the symbol of Babies. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Women and Society Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of The Coquette published in 2015.
Letter 43 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mrs. Richman (speaker), Miss Eliza Wharton, Reverend J. Boyer
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile
Letter 69 Quotes

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!

Related Characters: Miss Eliza Wharton (speaker), Miss Julia Granby, Mrs. M. Wharton
Related Symbols: Babies
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Coquette LitChart as a printable PDF.
The coquette.pdf.medium

Babies Symbol Timeline in The Coquette

The timeline below shows where the symbol Babies appears in The Coquette. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Letter XXXV. to Miss Eliza Wharton.
Women and Society Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...Richman writes Eliza at “Mrs. Richman’s request,” as she has just given birth to a baby girl. General and Mrs. Richman are glowing with happiness over their expanding family and hope... (full context)
Letter XXXVI. to Mrs. Richman.
Women and Society Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
“Hail happy babe!” Eliza writes to Mrs. Richman. After relaying her happiness regarding the newest addition to the... (full context)
Letter LXII. to Miss Julia Granby.
Women and Society Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...“which suits me not at present.” Eliza reports that, sadly, Mrs. Richman “has buried her babe.” Eliza has just written Mrs. Richman a long letter but has otherwise been ignoring society.... (full context)
Letter LXIII. to Miss Eliza Wharton.
Women and Society Theme Icon
Sex and Virtue Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Julia writes Eliza and expresses her condolences for Mrs. Richman’s baby. She speaks briefly about her time in Boston with Lucy and then tells Eliza about... (full context)
Letter LXV. to Mr. Charles Deighton.
Sex and Virtue Theme Icon
Marriage and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...health have been “impaired,” and Nancy too has not been well. She recently birthed a baby boy, “a dead one though,” Sanford says. These events, however, bring Sanford “neither pain nor... (full context)
Letter LXIX. to Miss Julia Granby.
Women and Society Theme Icon
Sex and Virtue Theme Icon
...and repent for her indiscretions, but if she dies “and leaves behind [her] a helpless babe,” she begs Julia to “intercede with [her] mother to take it under her protection.” She... (full context)
Letter LXXI. to Mrs. Lucy Sumner.
Women and Society Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...“several scraps of [Eliza’s] writing, containing miscellaneous reflections on her situation, the death of her babe, and the absence of her friends.” The woman was indeed Eliza.  (full context)