Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Our Coquettes

Our Coquettes: Capacious Desire in the Eighteenth Century

Theresa Braunschneider
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 200
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Our Coquettes
    Book Description:

    Before 1660, English readers and theatergoers had never heard of a "coquette"; by the early 1700s, they could hardly watch a play, read a poem, or peruse a newspaper without encountering one. Why does British literature of this period pay so much attention to vain and flirtatious young women?Our Coquettesexamines the ubiquity of the coquette in the eighteenth century to show how this figure enables authors to comment upon a series of significant social and economic developments-including the growth of consumer culture, widespread new wealth, increased travel and global trade, and changes in the perception and practice of marriage. The book surveys stage comedies, periodical essays, satirical poems, popular songs, and didactic novels to show that the early coquette is a figure of capacious desire: she finds pleasure in a wide range of choices, refusing to narrow any field of possibilities (admirers, luxury goods, friends, pets, public gatherings) down to a single option. Whereas scholars of the period have generally read the coquette as a simple and self-evident type, Our Coquettes emphasizes what is strange and surprising about this figure, revealing the coquette to be a touchstone in developing discourses about sexuality, consumerism, empire, and modernity itself.

    Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth-century studies

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2814-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction “Our Present Numerous Race of Coquets”
    (pp. 1-24)

    Before 1660, English readers and theatergoers had never heard of a “coquette”; by the early 1700s, they could hardly watch a play, read a poem, or peruse a newspaper without encountering one. Vain young women who defy dominant codes of sexual conduct by encouraging several suitors at once, the “coquettes” that abound in early eighteenth-century literature were consistently represented as creatures of their historical moment. In particular, the coquette characters of this period exercisechoicein ways only newly available to large numbers of women in Britain. They consume the imported luxury goods flooding domestic marketplaces in an era of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 A Prelude: The Novelty of Coquetry
    (pp. 25-38)

    InTatler42 (1709 ), Mr. Bickerstaff records a coffeehouse conversation about the differences between the Elizabethan and the contemporary theater. An elderly gentleman remarks that the greatest contrast between the two inheres in “the Characters of Women on the Stage.” The distinctions between the female characters of “the last Age” and this, he asserts, mirror developments in the world off the stage: “It is not to be suppos’d that it was a Poverty of Genius inShakespear,that his Women made so small a Figure in his Dialogues; but it certainly is, that he drew Women as they then...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The People That Things Make: Coquettes and Consumer Culture
    (pp. 39-63)

    In Charles Molloy’s 1718 playThe Coquet,the eponymous Mademoiselle Fantast offers the following theory and exemplum of coquettish women’s relationships to the objects of their affection: “There’s not room in a Woman’s Heart for more than one Object at a time. A little while ago I was passionately in Love with my Parrot, now I begin to grow tir’d of that, I’d give any thing in the World for a Monkey; and if that should be so unfortunate as to grow out of Favour, as who can answer for one’s Heart, perhaps, the next thing I should take a...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Coquette Here and There: A Cartography of Coquetry
    (pp. 64-96)

    Alexander Pope’s remarkably tender and good-humored “Epistle to Miss Blount, on her leaving the Town, after the Coronation” depicts its addressee as the “fairZephalinda,” a young woman who was “Drag[ged] from the town to wholsom country air” (2) by her mother, just as she had begun to perfect a series of coquettish skills.¹ In London, she had learned to “roll a melting eye” and “hear a spark, yet think no danger nigh” (3–4 ). And she had moved happily between “Op’ra, park, assembly, play,” becoming familiar with “Earls, and Dukes, and garter’d Knights. . . . scepters, coronets,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Women Who Choose Too Much: Reforming the Coquette
    (pp. 97-138)

    Johnson’s fourth and theOED’s fifth definition of “choice” both document its use to indicate theendof a decision-making process, the outcome of a consideration of one’s “preference” or desire. But neither goes so far as to note that the noun “choice” in eighteenth-century English widely functioned to name a woman’s elected spouse. That is, a woman’s “Choice” often indicated not just any “person . . . chosen or selected,” not just any “thing taken or approved,” but, quite specifically, a man selected as a husband. Periodicals, novels, and conduct books all offer illustrative examples of this usage. Addison...

  9. CHAPTER 5 A Postlude: The Coquette’s Demise
    (pp. 139-158)

    Many years ago, when I first read Hannah Webster Foster’s 1797 novelThe Coquette,I found myself wondering, several pages from the end, “How is she ever going to get out of this?!” The once-happy and popular, well-educated, upper-middle-class heroine was disgraced, pregnant, far from friends and family, and probably dying of consumption, and yet I continued to look for ways the narrative might end happily. Without a doubt, this was a boneheaded response. I’d readClarissa;I’d read enough feminist literary criticism to know that the novelistic heroine’s fate waseithermarriageordeath; I even had some inkling...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 159-174)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 175-184)
  12. Index
    (pp. 185-189)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 190-190)