The Coquette and The Boarding School
  • Publication Date: July 14, 2011
  • ISBN: 9781551119984 / 1551119986
  • 356 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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The Coquette and The Boarding School

  • Publication Date: July 14, 2011
  • ISBN: 9781551119984 / 1551119986
  • 356 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Hannah Webster Foster based The Coquette on the true story of Elizabeth Whitman, an unmarried woman who died in childbirth in New England. Fictionalizing Whitman’s experiences in her heroine, Eliza Wharton, Foster created a compelling narrative of seduction that was hugely successful with readers. The Boarding School, a less widely known work by Foster, is an experimental text, part epistolary novel and part conduct book. Together, the novels explore the realities of women’s lives in early America.

The critical introduction and appendices to this edition, which explore female friendship and the education of women in the novels, frame Foster as more than a purveyor of the sentimental novel, and re-evaluate her placement in American literary history.


“This is an indispensable critical edition for scholars, teachers, and readers interested in women’s culture and women in the culture of the early Republican period. The editors bring Foster’s enduring novel, The Coquette, together with her subsequent and lesser-known volume The Boarding School, contextualizing both with historical materials. Not only does this double edition honor female voices and female affiliation, but it helps us to view Eliza Wharton’s plight in its larger and less tragic dimensions.” — Ivy Schweitzer, Dartmouth College

“While one might legitimately ask why we would need another edition of The Coquette, Desiderio and Vietto’s volume, which includes Foster’s lesser-known The Boarding School, is a significant new contribution. Not only will it allow us to introduce Foster’s fascinating epistolary work to students, but it also includes a host of other contextualizing materials. Their volume reveals a vibrant portrait of women’s lives in 1790s New England and gives students an opportunity to read two major works by one of the most important writers of early American letters.” — Elizabeth Hewitt, Ohio State University

“This volume puts Foster’s two novels in dialogue and broadens our understanding of both. Desiderio and Vietto’s introduction considers both historical and modern criticism and anchors Foster’s work in studies of the novel, epistolarity, seduction, and women’s education and reading in the New Republic. With an excellent bibliography and helpful notes, this new edition will be useful for undergraduate and graduate courses in early American literature and culture, novels, letters, women’s education, and women’s and girls’ studies.” — Lisa M. Logan, University of Central Florida

Hannah Webster Foster: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

The Coquette

The Boarding School

Appendix A: Elizabeth Whitman: The Model for Eliza Wharton

  1. Whitman Death Notices
    1. Notice of Elizabeth Whitman’s Death, Salem Mercury (Massachusetts), 29 July 1788
    2. From the Independent Chronicle (Boston), 11 September 1788
    3. From the Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), 20 September 1788
  2. From Elizabeth Whitman’s Letters
    1. To Joel Barlow (19 February 1779)
    2. To Joel Barlow (17 October 1779)
    3. To Ruth Barlow (25 November 1782)

Appendix B: Manuals on Letter-Writing and Letters of Advice on Marriage and Friendship

  1. From The American Letter-Writer (1793)
  2. From John Bennett, Letters to a Young Lady (1791)
  3. From The American Spectator, or Matrimonial Preceptor (1797)
  4. From Letters Written by the Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, To His Son, Philip Stanhope, Esq (1775)

Appendix C: The Education of Young Women

  1. From Judith Sargent Murray, “On the Equality of the Sexes” (1790)
  2. From Benjamin Rush, Thoughts upon Female Education (1787)
  3. From Miss Ann Negus, “The Valedictory Oration.” Delivered at the commencement of the Young Ladies’
    Academy of Philadelphia (1794)

Appendix D: The Letters of Eliza Southgate Bowne

  1. To Her Father (13 February 1798)
  2. To Her Sister Octavia (7 February 1800)
  3. To Moses Porter (October 1800)
  4. To Her Mother (9 September 1802)

Appendix E: Mirth and Gaiety in the Early Republic

  1. “Logick and Dancing, Compared” (September 1791)
  2. From “To the Fair Sex” (10 March 1798)
  3. Rules for the Providence Assembly (1792)
  4. From “A Collection of Contra Dances Containing the
    Newest Figures” (1792)
  5. From John Griffiths, A Collection of the Newest Cotillions (1794)
    1. Cotillions
    2. Instances of Ill Manners
  6. “Homespun” (July-December 1791)

Works Cited and Select Bibliography

Jennifer Desiderio is Associate Professor of English at Canisius College, Buffalo, New York.

Angela Vietto is Associate Professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois.