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Our Coquettes

Capacious Desire in the Eighteenth Century

Theresa Braunschneider

Publication Year: 2009

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 Coquettes examines 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.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Series: Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. v

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pp. vii-ix

Most of Our Coquettes was written during a year’s fellowship at the National Humanities Center, and I am immensely grateful to the Jessie Ball duPont Religious, Charitable, and Educational Fund for making that fellowship possible. Further research at the Huntington Library was supported by a Frank Hideo Kono Fellowship and an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship....

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Introduction: “Our Present Numerous Race of Coquets”

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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...

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Chapter One: A Prelude: The Novelty of Coquetry

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pp. 25-38

In Tattler 42 (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...

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Chapter Two: The People That Things Make: Coquettes and Consumer Culture

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pp. 39-63

In Charles Molloy’s 1718 play The 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,...

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Chapter Three: The Coquette Here and There: A Cartography of Coquetry

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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 “fair Zephalinda,” 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...

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Chapter Four: Women Who Choose Too Much: Reforming the Coquette

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pp. 97-138

Johnson's fourth and the OED’s fifth definition of “choice” both document its use to indicate the end of 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...

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Chapter Five: A Postlude: The Coquette’s Demise

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pp. 139-157

Many years ago, when I first read Hannah Webster Foster’s 1797 novel The 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...


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pp. 159-174

Works Cited

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pp. 175-183


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pp. 185-189

E-ISBN-13: 9780813928142
E-ISBN-10: 0813928141
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813928098
Print-ISBN-10: 0813928095

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize
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OCLC Number: 681508240
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Our Coquettes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Flirting in literature.
  • Social interaction in literature.
  • Man-woman relationships in literature.
  • Young women in literature.
  • Consumption (Economics) -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • Young women -- Great Britain -- Social life and customs -- 18th century.
  • Literature and society -- Great Britain -- History -- 18th century.
  • English literature -- 18th century -- History and criticism
  • Consumption (Economics) in literature.
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