Themes of Hannah Webster Foster’s The Croquette

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Themes of Hannah Webster Foster’s The Croquette

Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, published in 1797, has long been regarded as a sentimental novel with little literary quality. Though The Coquette was a best seller at publication and remained in print for most of the 19th century, critics gave it little attention other than to ridicule the novel. Not until 1978 with the publishing of Walter Wenska’s The Coquette and the American Dream of Freedom did Foster’s book receive critical attention and praise. Since then, other literary critics have given their attention to The Coquette for critical analysis and praise. These critics have focused on facets of the novel that were completely ignored until the last twenty years. The themes critics discuss include the injustices of patriarchal culture, societal attitudes, the depiction of an economy of vision, treatment of language and the role of the female circle. It is obvious modern critics have delved below the surface of the sentimental novel to extract meaningful themes and information written by Foster.

In her book Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America, Cathy N. Davidson includes The Coquette in the historical chronology and criticism of the American novel. Davidson concentrates her writing about The Coquette’s theme as it “does not openly challenge the basic structure of patriarchal culture but instead, exposes its fundamental injustices through the details and disasters of the plot” (144). The novel opens with Eliza Wharton expressing both her sadness and relief over the death of Mr. Haly. Davidson points out the injustice of Eliza submitting to an arranged marriage out of obedience to her parents which contradicts the supposed...

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... by the aforementioned writers must emphasize the depth of Foster’s novel.


Baker, Dorothy Z. “Detested by the Epithet!”: Definition, Maxim and the Language of Social Dicta in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette.” Essays in Literature 23 (1996): 58-68.

Davidson, Cathy N. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. New York: Oxford, 1986.

Hamilton, Kristie. “An Assault on the Will: Republican Virtue and the City in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette. Early American Literature 24 (1989): 135-151.

Pettengill, Claire C. “Sisterhood in a Separate Sphere: Female Friendships in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette and The Boarding School.” Early American Literature 27 (1992): 185-203.

Waldstreicher, David. “Fallen Under My Observation: Vision and Virtue in The Coquette.” Early American Literature 27 (1992): 204-218.

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