The Liminal Time of Friendship: Narrative Delay in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette

  • Molly Ball


While many scholars have analyzed friendship’s role in The Coquette, scant attention has been paid to friendship’s tendency to slow the novel’s plot. By impeding plot progression, Eliza Wharton’s friendships allow her to linger in a liminal state. In this way, she defers a future (both personal and national) determined by Republican Motherhood—a role that required wives in the early republic to reproduce ideologies that perpetuated their own subordination. Yet friendship’s remedy is temporary at best. Ultimately, the novel presents friendship as a relationship predicated on formal equality; The Coquette suggests that class and gender differences render friendship unsustainable. Thus, friendship proves unable to replace marriage as a model for more equitable sociopolitical relations. Still, in spite of these failings, friendship in The Coquette works to repurpose seduction fiction by inscribing the desire for a more expansive feminine self into a genre that often sought to contain such desires.

Works Cited

  1. Boydston, Jeanne. “The Woman Who Wasn’t There: Women’s Market Labor and the Transition to Capitalism in the United States.” Wages of Independence: Capitalism in the Early Republic, edited by Paul A. Gilje. Madison House, 1997, pp. 23–47.Google Scholar
  2. Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. Harvard University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, Gillian. “Consent, Coquetry, and Consequences.” American Literary History, vol. 9, no. 4, 1997, pp. 625–652.Google Scholar
  4. Chambers-Schiller, Lee Virginia. Liberty, A Better Husband: Single Women in America: The Generations of 1780–1840. Yale University Press, 1984.Google Scholar
  5. Davidson, Cathy. Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America. Oxford University Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  6. Dolan, Frances E. Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  7. Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750–1800. Cambridge University Press, 1982.Google Scholar
  8. Foster, Hannah Webster. The Coquette and the Boarding School: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Jennifer Harris and Bryan Waterman. W.W. Norton and Company, 2013.Google Scholar
  9. Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977–1978, edited by Michel Senellart, translated by Graham Burchell. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.Google Scholar
  10. Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, translated by Jane E. Lewin. Cornell University Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  11. Hamilton, Kristie. “An Assault on the Will: Republican Virtue and the City in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette.” Early American Literature, vol. 24, no. 2, 1989, pp. 135–151.Google Scholar
  12. Hoff, Joan. Law, Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women. New York University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  13. Kazanjian, David. The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.Google Scholar
  14. Kerber, Linda K. Towards an Intellectual History of Women: Essays by Linda K. Kerber. University of North Carolina Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  15. Mower, C. Leiren. “Bodies in Labor: Sole Proprietorship and the Labor of Conduct in The Coquette.” American Literature, vol. 74, no. 2, 2002, pp. 315–344.Google Scholar
  16. Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of Women, 1750–1800. Cornell University Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  17. Pettengill, Claire C. “Sisterhood in a Separate Sphere: Female Friendship in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette and The Boarding School.Early American Literature, vol. 27, no. 3, 1992, pp. 185–203.Google Scholar
  18. Salmon, Marylynn. Women and the Law of Property in Early America. The University of North Carolina Press, 1986.Google Scholar
  19. Schweitzer, Ivy. Perfecting Friendship: Politics and Affiliation in Early American Literature. The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  20. Stern, Julia A. The Plight of Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent in the Early American Novel. University of Chicago Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  21. Tennenhouse, Leonard. “Libertine America.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, vol. 11, no. 3, 1999, pp. 1–28.Google Scholar
  22. Turner, Victor W. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. Aldine Publishing Company, 1969.Google Scholar
  23. Weyler, Karen A. “Marriage, Coverture, and the Companionate Ideal in The Coquette and Dorval.” Legacy, vol. 26, no. 1, 2009, pp. 1–25.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Molly Ball
    • 1
  1. 1.Eureka CollegeEurekaUSA

Personalised recommendations