The Coquette was originally published in 1787. Immediately, you are having one of two thoughts: 1) Anything this old must be good, 2) The only reason this is special is because it is so old. I tend to fall into the second category. If a fictional book isn’t enjoyable, I don’t care whether it was in any way important to a particular time period. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the history of a written work (for instance, I think Beowulf has a fascinating “story behind the story,” but the work itself is not great, not terrible, it’s just okay).
The story itself is fiction, but its roots are from an actual person named Elizabeth Whitman. She was a pregnant woman who died in a tavern, and, because she seemed to be upper class, talking about it became all the rage back then. People loved gossip so much that Hannah Foster was able to write a fictional book that paralleled the possibilities of Elizabeth’s life (with a character named Eliza, so original!) and actually have it published. The book is actually a series of letters among all the characters (epistolary novel).
The excessively flowery language of the Victorian times is littered throughout the letters that make up the novel. Rather than saying, “I like you,” a character would instead say something like, “After we have spent such time together I can only hope that with the connection we have made you might give me the honor of considering our connection with much esteem.” I’m not a fan of the 18th century (no Internet, no knights, who cares?), so that didn’t help. I was also rather annoyed at the actions of the main character, Eliza, who acts as a child when she is, in fact, in her mid-thirties. The novel was a painful experience.
If you’ve found a way to force people to read (e.g., you’re a college professor teaching a course that is required for a degree), this would make a most excellent torture device. I’m sure that if people were tied to chairs with only the book and a fork present, they would choose to gouge out their eyes with the fork. You could replace the fork with a baby spoon if you were really cruel.
If you enjoy this time period and you absolutely love reading a book that is composed of letters, all from characters that you’re bound to hate, then this might be for you.
Most Memorable Quote
I’ve done my best to force the last remnants of this tormenting book from my mind, but I suppose the most memorable line is the over-used “I am undone!”