The term domesticity emerges from the word "domos," which means home. It simply refers to the practice of housekeeping (Chandler 1). The term may be interpreted to mean a practice, an ideology, or a virtue, or the three combined. Its reconfiguration to encompass all these elements has given women the confidence to extend their influence beyond the limits of the home.. As a result, it is embodied as a virtue that is not equally present in every woman. Hannah Foster's "the Coquette" uses facts to give a fictional account of the main character's fall. The book is an epistolary novel that is composed of a series of letters. The book adopts a conventional style of using a series of letters that are written in the main characters' voices. It is composed of seventy-four letters. The main character Eliza Wharton wrote most of the letters and addressed to Lucy Summers or her suitors (Chandler 4). The book was written in 1797 and reflects widely disseminated story in 1788 about Elizabeth Whitman. In the book, the main character Eliza Warton has an affair is abandoned (Foster 10). She later dies after giving birth to a stillborn child. While some readers view the events as a representation of a sexual fall, the book depicts ideas set within the mid-eighteenth century. It presents the loss of female innocence, which in this case occurs before the sexual fall presents itself. This paper aims to discuss how domesticity is represented in the novel "The Coquette; Or, the History of Eliza Wharton" through marriage, virtue, friendship, and gender.
Domesticity focuses on the creation of a wholesome home that is founded in marriage ties. Based on the story, a woman is supposed to get married and is often betrothed by the parents to a man (.Chandler 4). Thus, it is the norm and an expectation set in society. An engagement is planned between Eliza and MrHaly, "a man of real and substantial merit" (Foster 65). Eliza has no desire to get married. She deems the death of Mr. Haly as an event that frees her from the hold of her parent's authority. Her independence, which is not characteristic of domesticity, is displayed through her strong opinion on the role of marriage in curtailing the growth of friendship that she values. Foster asserts that marriage destroys friendship and independence among women. This view is based on her main character, Eliza, who views marriage as the tomb of association. The author argues that marriage dissolves all former acquaintances and friendship ties (Foster 2). However, within the society, marriage is viewed as an end- result that affects all the women in the community through other characters such as Mrs. Richman and Lucy. The protagonist also shuns marriage as a platform that limits choice and freedom. Eliza wants to make a decision that is against the common marriage settings. In her community, unions are controlled by parental influence (Chandler 5). Through the opinion on marriage, the author shows the realities existing within marriage, and creating a validation for Eliza's views against the idea of domesticity.
The novel expresses domesticity through the concept of virtue. Virtue was a vital aspect in the eighteenth century, especially for women, and the expectation was that they would safeguard it. Thus, women were expected to pursue men who had discretion and sense. Lack of the same made women receives judgment from society. Foster displays virtue through Eliza's actions. She shows how the character's fixation on morality eventually subjects her to criticism and hostility (Chandler 4). After the death of her husband-to-be, Eliza acquires freedom. She attracts the attention of Reverend John Boyer and Major Peter Stanford. The two potential suitors want Eliza for different reasons. Sanford loves her charm and vivacity, while Boyer is after her earnest and intelligent nature (Foster 119). While Eliza gets advances from both suitors, she still values her independence and freedom. She does not readily heed to any of the offers. Due to the persuasion of her friends, Eliza accepts Boyer's proposal. However, it is short lived as Boyer discovers Eliza's relationship with Sanford. Later, both Sanford and Boyer get married to different ladies. Eliza and Sanford start an affair after Sanford confesses that she wants to win her back despite numerous warnings from her friends to follow her virtue. Eliza flees her home to escape the condemnation due to the affair and her pregnancy (Foster 34). Eliza and her child later died in a tavern that brings sorrow to Sanford and her friends. Eliza shows that she values herself, by deciding to flee her home for exile to avoid condemnation and judgment. Foster displays the effect of societal ideals through her actions, as well as the responses took by many people to avoid conviction.
Additionally, the author develops domesticity through the development of friendships as a basis of relationships in the novel. Foster views friendship as an avenue of openness and trust. Eliza confides in her friends. This aspect is evident from her comment that marriage draw people away from associations (Foster 119). Friendship fosters character development and the way through which a woman goes through the world of love and marriage. Eliza shares her thoughts and actions with her friends with the intention of acquiring advise to assist her to make decisions. She thus believes in the power of friendship. However, the author depicts Eliza friends as judgmental through their opinions and thoughts on decisions she makes. However, their perspective on marriage reinstates to conforming to the ideals of domesticity, including the preservation of virtue, and the need for an individual to be in the institution of marriage.
Gender roles are evident in The Coquette, and this defines the ideology of domesticity, with women being confined to home-related duties and protection of traditions, while men enjoy some degree of freedom (Chandler 4). There are three roles which women play within the novel, and these are the excellent woman figure, the free-spirited and independent woman, as well as the proper and virtuous woman. On the other hand, men fall into two categories; the insidious or he religious and respectable gentleman. Women are expected to have virtue and be subordinate, regardless of the role they play within the novel. Hence, even when Eliza has strong opinions on the manner to live her life, she is still expected to promote virtuous behavior within the society (Foster 88). A lot of judgment befalls women, more so when this relates to moral behavior as compared to men. In the novel, Eliza is forced to leave home to avoid shame but Major Sanford does not receive any judgment when he states that his intention is to lead her on, "What pity it is that so fair a form, so accomplished a mind, should be tarnished in the smallest degree by the follies of coquetry"(Foster 70). Although he has no intention of tarnishing her name, the author shows that men are not confined to the societal expectations on virtuous behavior. Hence, Foster depicts the societal expectations are biased when it comes to domesticity as there is limited freedom given to women when it comes to decision making, including the choice of their life partners.
Domesticity is displayed in "The Coquette" through marriage, friendship, and gender differences. Since domesticity is guided less by location and more by its association to a person, it is a quality that a woman may possess or lack. The author adopted the story to highlight the double standard in which women were demonized for inappropriate sexual behavior, whereas men were not held accountable. Independence among women in the eighteenth century was not attainable due to the constant societal definitions of conventional standards. Foster creates a protagonist who is a strong indication of a poised woman to display how domesticity was promoted through adherence to virtue, support from friendship, and the societal definition of gender roles. Eliza decides to do against the conceptions set for women by the society regarding marriage, gender roles, and relationships. She even flees from home to exile to avoid judgment and resentment by the community. By doing so, the author develops her opinions on domesticity where she challenges convention and compliance to the societal norm on issues, such as marriage and independence through using Eliza.
Chandler, Linda Lee. Keeping Home: Another Look at Domesticity in Antebellum America. Diss. UC Berkeley, 2011.
Foster, Hannah. The Coquette; Or, the History of Eliza Wharton. www.fulltextarchive.com/pdfs/The-Coquette.pdf. Accessed 25 October 2018.
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