Women Writers I
Hannah Foster’s original intent for The Coquette, however, was for it to be a cautionary tale for young girls to follow. Eliza Wharton is not a female protagonist that is to be admired, nor is she a character that young girls should mold themselves after, but rather she is someone to be pitied. She keeps Reverend Boyer and Major Sanford waiting for so long, that eventually both men decide to marry other women. This now leaves Eliza alone in her late thirties, meaning that almost all prospects of finding a husband are gone. Returning to the idea of the cult of domesticity, women were expected to marry young, so they could have more time to have children. Since, during the 18th century, women could still not inherit property, it was necessary for a woman to have a son so he could inherit his father’s property and secure his mother’s and any unmarried sister’s futures. Eliza has at this point reached an age where it is much harder to conceive children, and as a result is much less desirable as a wife. Eliza begins to regret her decision, and tries to go to Reverend Boyer and tell him she made a mistake, and does want to marry him. Unfortunately it is too late, and Reverend Boyer no longer thinks Eliza would make him a suitable wife. In her time of vulnerability, Major Sanford comes to her and claims he still loves her, even though he is now married. Eliza, lonely and still in love with Major Sanford in some ways, willfully begins to have an extra-marital affair with him. While today adultery is looked on as a dishonest and very selfish action, in the 18th century it was a monumental sin. In society’s eyes, Eliza has made terrible choices that were all made through her own doing. She did not do what was expected of her and as a result she is a spinster with no prospects and is having pre-marital sex with a married man.