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The Couette tells the much publicized story of the seduction and death of Elizabeth Whitman a poet from Hartford ConnecticutWritten as a series of letters between the heroine and her friends and lovers it describes her long tortuous courtship by two men neither of whom perfectly suits her Eliza Wharton as Whitman is called in the novel wavers between Major Sanford a charming but insincere man and the Reverend Boyer a bore who wants to marry her When in her mid 30s Wharton finds herself suddenly abandoned when both men marry other women she willfully enters into an adulterous relationship with Sanford and becomes pregnant Alone and dejected she dies in childbirth at a roadside inn Eliza Wharton whose real life counterpart was distantly related to Hannah Foster's husband was one of the first women in American fiction to emerge as a real person facing a dilemma in her life In her Introduction Davidson discusses the parallels between Elizabeth Whitman and the fictional Eliza Wharton She shows the limitations placed on women in the 18th century and the attempts of one woman to rebel against those limitations

10 thoughts on “The Couette

  1. says:

    American literature didn't get off to a fast start Our best efforts to convince the world that Puritan sermons count as literature aside nobody really got anything decent written until Poe in the early 1800sExcept there's this which I found referred to fleetingly as the first viable American novel 1797 and I'd never even heard of it and it's actually pretty great It's also based on a true story that apparently had America's panties all moist and knotted for whatever that's worthThe titular couette Eliza Wharton joins a long list of vile women in literature who do gross things like flirt or show a little reticence about marrying whatever boring Casaubon everyone else decides they should marry It never works out so don't get your hopes up But author Hannah Foster is less interested in indicting Eliza than everyone around her Eliza begins the book Emma ish headstrong and pleased with herself The old guy her parents foisted on her has conveniently died before marrying her and she cheerfully reenters the dating scene writing that every thing tends to facilitate the return of my accustomed vivacity She makes no effort whatsoever to pretend this is a disappointment; she hopes only to find someone a little interesting this time around These bewitching charms of mine have a tendency to keep my mind in a state of perturbation she chatters I don't know how it is but I am certainly very much the taste of the other sexBut she's immediately directed toward the reverend Boyer a safe guy whose love letters are crashingly boring She prefers the company of Major Sanford a kindred spirit who unfortunately and pointedly can get away with being a couette himself because he is a dude When she puts off Boyer hoping to have just a tiny smidgeon of fun in her life he storms off in a huff; her friends judge her mercilessly; she's written off as a couette and abandoned As the story progresses and Eliza's options narrow precipitously her tone changes too from the vivacity she starts with and she uses that word like ten times to a glum desperation May my unhappy story she finally writes serve as a beacon to warn the American fair of the dangerous tendency and destructive conseuences ofthe practice of couetry So the message here isn't that Eliza is a bad person; it's that society sucks and vivacity like hers will be crushed It's a bummer message but not a uniue one the literature of destroyed women is rich This is a worthy entry in it I'm not sure why it isn't well known; it should be

  2. says:

    In the class I read it for there was uite a healthy debate over who The Couette actually is Eliza while initially labled a couette for showing attraction to than one man never acts couettishly She's always forthcoming with her intentions; from the beginning she tells Boyer she doesn't want a loveless marriage and then tells Stanford she wants no love without stability It's the men who constantly change their minds and use Eliza's emotions as a ploy Boyer threatens to stop wooing her if she keeps up friendships with other men Stanford plays the I love you Never mind I hate you game the whole book to get her into bed So it only seems natural that the label should apply to them Except it doesn't The group casting Eliza as the couette was uick to point out that the term itself is designed to insult women Etymologically it comes from the French word for a small cock the double entendre existed even back then and the implication was that it was a woman who dared take a man's role during courtship Of course it's likely Hannah Foster knew this It's also likely that Hannah Foster was upset at this idiotic double standard Stanford after acting the exact same as Eliza does gets treated like a lost soul everyone hoped for his reform whereas Eliza gets tossed aside and labelled as a broken woman It's fascinating to see all the reversals that take place in The Couette In its 169 pages passions are repeatedly ignited and stifled Eliza first views marriage as a necessary evil but when no man wants to settle down with her she views it as the highest honor she could have hoped for Stanford thinks of love as an unwanted byproduct of getting laid and getting rich only to realize that human connection is all he finds valuable But the most thought provoking reversal is the real life one Eliza was based on Foster's distant relation Elizabeth Whitman whose story scandalized a young America Although she came from a wealthy background she slept with a married man and died in childbirth Whitman was fond of reading romance novels so the narrative became that her love of books resulted in her having sex which resulted in her death Conservatives of the time used her tragedy as an indictment on women's right to an education Foster hated that explanation so she flipped the script She instead wrote that Eliza's lack of choice in her own future made her bored with the idea of marriage which got her into a strange man's bed and caused her deathIs this change perfect? Of course not ElizabethEliza's worth as a human being is still too heavily tied into her hymen in Foster's story But the rebellious nature and the refusal to submit to norms certainly justifies The Couette's place in the canon In fact it's amazing how relevant the whole women should hope to be independent especially in marriage theme still is today

  3. says:

    The Couette is an epistolary novel based on an actual event that occurred in the Era of Good Feelings that is the period immediately after the Constitution was ratified It tells the story through letters of a woman's fall from graceTo contemporary readers the story might seem a little bland Really I consider it very similar to the side plot in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility but if one is able to contextualize the novel it suddenly becomes a lot interestingI read a critical review of the book which I liked very much Ian Finseth basically argues that The Couette doesn't intend to blame Eliza for what happened to her Instead the novel is a major critiue on the failure of republican rhetoric Throughout the novel Eliza writes to her friends to solicit their advice on her actions and she doesn't listen to a single one of them This is because Eliza functions on a purely emotional level and the logic that was employed by her friends failed to communicate to her on any comprehensible level Finseth Ian 'A Melancholy Tale' Rhetoric Fiction and Passion in The Couette Studies in the Novel 332 Summer 2001 125 159 MLA International Bibliography EBSCO Roosevelt University Library Chicago IL 11 October 2007Another interesting feature of the novel exists within the fact that it was written by a woman When one looks at the work of Anne Bradstreet and then looks critically at The Couette it becomes apparent that Foster did an excellent job of protecting herself as an author First she writes the novel in epistolary form which essentially ejects the author from the work entirely Second she makes it very clear that this story is based on an actual event which leads the reader to assume that Foster is simply dramatizing a well publicized scandal instead of commenting on the shortcomings in the new republicI'd recommend this novel to anyone who wants to do a fair bit of thinking If you don't read between the lines the story is actually pretty bland If you accompany your reading with some scholarly criticism it suddenly becomes a lot interesting

  4. says:

    Classics Cleanup Challenge #17

  5. says:

    Hannah Webster Foster's The Couette is a 1797 American epistolary seduction novel and a roman à clef about the death of Elizabeth Whitman fictionally re christened Eliza Wharton a woman of the Connecticut gentry who is impregnated by a married man and who then dies in a tavern after giving birth to his stillborn child A fun fact Whitman's seducer may have been the grandson of the Great Awakening divine Jonathan Edwards—a possibility that Foster leaves unmentioned The Couette is a novel of primarily historical value as an early instance of American fiction—here patterned after such European models as those other novels in letters of seduction by Richardson and Rousseau—and as a window onto the sexual s of the upper class in the early republic Foster's heroine Eliza Wharton favors her freedom to choose over any particular man she might decide to marry; but this desire to enjoy liberty leads her to be mistaken for a mere couette and to become entangled by slow degrees in the snares of the decaying aristocrat libertine Sanford a seemingly inevitable fate after she forfeits the love of the pious minister Boyer Through this narrative of decline Eliza's friends Lucy and Julia send her letters that frame the story as a moral tale which urges American ladies to guard their virtue by preferring reason to fancy domesticity to couetry duty to pleasure and truth to art Despite feminist critics' understandable desire to read a subversive message into the novel its characters incessantly moralize and its tendentious plot ensures that the guilty are punished; a novel that spends as many words on flat didacticism as does The Couette is unlikely to be a radical tract in cipher The novel is rather an elouent if none too complex statement of civic republicanism an instance of eighteenth century American neoclassicism which is not inimical to an idealist and elite model of proto feminism but is hardly revolutionary even by the standards of its own dayIt is said she has many admirers and I conceive it very possible that this may be one of them; though truly I do not think that she would esteem such a conuest any great honor I now joined in the general topic of conversation which was politics; Mrs Richman and Miss Wharton judiciously yet modestly bore a part; while the other ladies amused themselves with Major Sanford who was making his sage remarks on the play which he still kept in his hand General Richman at length observed that we had formed into parties Major Sanford upon this laid aside his book Miss Lawrence simpered and looked as if she was well pleased with being in a party with so fine a man; while her mother replied that she never meddled with politics Miss Wharton and I said Mrs Richman must beg leave to differ from you madam We think ourselves interested in the welfare and prosperity of our country; and conseuently claim the right of inuiring into those affairs which may conduce to or interfere with the common weal We shall not be called to the senate or the field to assert its privileges and defend its rights but we shall feel for the honor and safety of our friends and connections who are thus employed If the community flourish and enjoy health and freedom shall we not share in the happy effects? If it be oppressed and disturbed shall we not endure our proportion of the evil? Why then should the love of our country be a masculine passion only? Why should government which involves the peace and order of the society of which we are a part be wholly excluded from our observation? Mrs Lawrence made some slight reply and waived the subject The gentlemen applauded Mrs Richman's sentiments as truly Roman and what was they said truly republicanNow to aesthetics is The Couette a good novel ua novel? Not especially alas While a novel in letters might offer its writer an opportunity to do the police in different voices Foster gives almost every character the same stiff and formal register Only the libertine villain Sanford expresses himself at all tartly but even he is mostly frozen in elevated and euphemistic rhetoric Good news Charles good news he writes to his confidant after having finally slept with the unfortunate heroine I have arrived to the utmost bounds of my wishes—the full possession of my adorable Eliza Eliza's friends are hectoring and monitory voices of social consensus and her would be lover the minister Boyer is an especially insufferable prig—so much so that here even I suspect Foster of some satire The novel is without physical description or sensuous reality; it takes place in a wholly abstract world of mere social forms and not in a good way As for Eliza herself she remains something of a blank This blankness is in fact the novel's one minor glory as it renders its heroine prophetic of things to come in American fiction In Foster's rather bold beginning Eliza starts her first letter by announcing her pleasure that a dull fiance has just died months after her own fatherAn unusual sensation possesses my breast—a sensation which I once thought could never pervade it on any occasion whatever It is pleasure pleasure my dear Lucy on leaving my paternal roof Could you have believed that the darling child of an indulgent and dearly beloved mother would feel a gleam of joy at leaving her? But so it is The melancholy the gloom the condolence which surrounded me for a month after the death of Mr Haly had depressed my spirits and palled every enjoyment of life Mr Haly was a man of worth—a man of real and substantial merit He is therefore deeply and justly regretted by his friends He was chosen to be a future guardian and companion for me and was therefore beloved by mine As their choice as a good man and a faithful friend I esteemed him; but no one acuainted with the disparity of our tempers and dispositions our views and designs can suppose my heart much engaged in the alliance Both nature and education had instilled into my mind an implicit obedience to the will and desires of my parentsFrom this defiant beginning we might expect Eliza to pursue a determined course of rebellion or at least to vacillate on principle in the name of ontological freedom itself—one wishes to hear the ghost of Anne Hutchinson rustling among the novel's pages And Eliza does get some good linesShe thought Major Sanford too particularly attentive to me considering what had previously happened She said it would be noticed by others and the world would make unfavorable remarks upon any appearance of intimacy between us I care not for that said I; it is an ill natured misjudging world and I am not obliged to sacrifice my friends to its opinionIn such all too brief moments we get a glimpse on the horizon of those antinomians of our literature Hester Prynne Isabel Archer Edna Pontellier—even Captain Ahab and Bartleby But Foster's intention seems wholly didactic and her heroine insufficiently characterized suffering mainly from a moral lapse that may be attributed to mere love of sensual pleasure a motive that would be beneath the dignity of the great American anti heroines In his Studies on Classic American Literature a crazed treatise that would not deign to attend to an early female authored sentimental novel Lawrence sets out a manifesto for the critic of American fictionThe artist usually sets out—or used to—to point a moral and adorn a tale The tale however points the other way as a rule Two blankly opposing morals the artist's and the tale's Never trust the artist Trust the tale The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created itNow we know our business in these studies; saving the American tale from the American artist The Couette is best in those moments of Eliza's rebellion when this rescue of the heroine from the author's pious design becomes possible But these moments are infreuent and so this is not a great American novel It does however stand at the head of a line of great American novels—those in which the problem of the soul in conflict with society is allegorized as a problem of female desire The Scarlet Letter The Portrait of a Lady The Awakening The House of Mirth uicksand Sula—which makes it a work of literary historical interest that students of American fiction should certain peruse Here I should say that I read this in the version that perhaps most readers will encounter that in The Norton Anthology of American Literature thus testifying to its primarily antiuarian value The Couette may even have special relevance to today's bewildering sexual morality its bizarre two fisted barrage of puritanism and pornography We are seeing one of feminism's periodic bouts of sex skepticism even as we witness a perhaps unprecedented boom in explicit sadomasochistic pornography by and for women Hannah Webster Foster would no doubt approve of a puritan stance toward female and male sexuality but Eliza Wharton might well be curious in the name of art and pleasure and in contempt of the preachers cluttering her pigeon holes with their black and white moral missives to view all those storied shades of gray

  6. says:

    I had not heard of this novel before but I had to read it for an American literature class Overall it was pretty enjoyable I really appreciated my class discussions as well; I think they really enhanced the novel and helped explore what it might mean Hannah Webster Foster’s The Couette is a tragic tale of Eliza Wharton seeking freedom and independence for the first time Eliza is also being pursued by two men Reverend J Boyer and Major Peter Sanford The story is told in a series of letters so we get to see multiple perspectives Eliza hopes to enjoy independence before settling down but her friends have other ideas of what she should be doing and who she should marry I really enjoyed how this novel discusses marriage and wealth In that regard it reminded me a lot of Jane Austen’s Emma and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women In my literature class we talked about how this novel is actually a metaphor for the birth of democracy It was interesting to play around with this idea and what it meant for the story as a whole We saw Eliza as early America and the male suitors as the two political parties These ideas were strengthened because we also read some of the Federalists Papers beforehand I appreciated how Foster seems to use letters as a metaphor for democracy while also considering the effects of social conventions

  7. says:

    Although she wrote one of the best selling novels of the early national period and a work widely regarded even in its own time as one of the finest early American novels Foster like most women writers of that era has been largely passed over by social and literary history I rewatched the US version of 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' last weekend I still prefer the Swedish version especially since the rest of the trilogy except for the non actual authored fourth for some suspicious reason seem suck in US development limbo hell but I noticed a commonality between this ultra modern tale of hacking Nazis and violence against women this tome from the late 18th century people go open eyed to murder rather than offend conceptions of polite society Oh he's a rake oh he's a wretch oh he deserves to be thrown to the wolves but does anyone do it or better yet uestion why so many of these men are bred from birth to become such absolute motherfuckers? If he has money a title and prestige men will slobber all over him and male slobber necessitates women accepting even if other women tell her she is in the right to refuse Such behavior likely has as high a body count today as it did in 1798 judging by the Kavanaugh horrorfest If Foster's villain seems cartoonish watch the inuiry of the aforementioned Supreme Court nominee and tell me how far we've come in the last 200 years and how doomed we are as a result It is an ill natured misjudging world; and I am not obliged to sacrifice my friends to its opinion Perhaps it is because this book comes right on the tail end of the 18th century but it rings much strongly of Austen than say Defoe or Radcliffe The epistolary form is acknowledgeably off putting than the novel form but I still found this book to be much accessible than I had assumed This assumption came mostly from my lack of recent indulging in 18th c lit in 2810 but it seems my reading experiences have piled up into too solid an experience to be worn away by a mere year's worth of reading in other modern centuries In any case my only struggle came when one character or another waxed too long on self pitying andor moralizing throes which made the multiple occasions where a character called themselves out for moralizing slightly humorous That meant I could devote nearly all my reading energies to considering the story and two hundred and twenty years on it's still harrowing in the way only a self proclaimed and all too realistic train wreck can be I'd call it something that couldn't happen today but Stormy Daniels has come forward and no one's succeeded in silencing her yet Much has changed with regards to social outings and circuses and much remains the murderous sameFinishing this book means finally finishing on of this year's reading challenges which is a welcome relief after so many months of plodding along unfulfilled tracks in so many aspects of my life I have a solid two thousand pages left to churn through in addition to the odd school assigned work but that's a mere three weeks of reading if I stick with it and while school work got to me last week I knew that going out of town would do such and I caught up enough by the end of the weekday run to not be worried I don't see myself coming to as definitive a conclusion as Eliza Wharton did anytime soon It's yet another valuable lesson in the vein of patriarchal rape culture but I am nowhere near as potentially destitute as the average white woman was back then and pursuit of higher education will only reduce that possibility further Things could go wildly wrong but for now I have things under control But I despise those contracted ideas which confine virtue to a cell

  8. says:

    From my friend Joy Walsh's review who I read this book for since she teaches American Lit and was thinking of adding this to her syllabus Fans of Jane Austen will very much enjoy this little known tale of warning for young women to carefully guard their reputation against the “rakes” who are out there to conuer and destroy them The fact that this was a very popular book in its time and that it precedes Jane Austen’s earliest work by at least ten years begs the uestion of its possible influence on Austen It was just an ok read for me but I can appreciate its skilled use of the epistolary form and the ways it depicts the gender expectations of its time What this breaks down to it this IF you like Jane Austen as I do you will like this book though the actions of the two main characters will cause you to bang your head against the wall and scream in frustration something that has not yet happened when I read a Jane Austen book Eliza Wharton MC #1 is a stupid silly girl who needed to be smacked upside the head by her mother and friends instead of written letters of gobbledygook Seriously She drove me crazy Peter Sanford has his own circle of hell EVERYONE should wish to have such good and devoted even if they DIDN'T smack her upside the head friends as Eliza had Even in the end they praised her and her friendship and forgave her wayward ways Reverend Boyer while a bit of a bore was the most sensible of them all and Eliza was a fool to let that one walk away This must have scared the bejeesus out of girls in this time period Eliza is a good girl who comes from money and connections and her fall from grace is a tough one to watch; I am sure parent's made their daughters read this in hopes to save them from their own sort of Peter Sanford He is the worse kind of unsavory character like all the bad guys from Jane Austen's books plus some rolled into one and that combo makes him both disgusting and a real degenerate His letters to his friend made me uncomfortable and at one point almost sick to my stomach with his glee at how his was winning and this is 2018 I am not sure what it says about his friend either that was so willing to receive such missives from this vile man; I think his morals and character must too have been much like Major Sanford's and therefore he too much have received these letters with glee to live vicariously through his friends conuests I initially dreaded reading this book and when I first started there was a ton of eye rolling etc but once I got into the story and got the feel of all the characters and the story itself I started to really enjoy it It is a sad sad tale of many things lost and I found it very much worth my time to read it I am not sure how modern folksstudents etc would react to it it is flowery in language at points but I would hope they would stick with it as the story itself is good and the moral dilemma is clear and the outcome happens even today for than we realize

  9. says:

    Another one of the first American novels Another book about the game of love that is describing the morals of the time in relation to marriage and the great dangers of erotic passions that mathematically accurately bring destruction A book that it has an interest but in general is not something great or original is rather boring and so instructive that some people even dare to assume that it is an allegory about the dangers that threaten the newly established United StatesΆλλο ένα από τα πρώτα αμερικανικά μυθιστορήματα Άλλο ένα βιβλίο για το παιχνίδι του έρωτα που περιγράφει τα ήθη της εποχής σε σχέση με το γάμο και τους μεγάλους κινδύνους των ερωτικών παθών που με μαθηματική ακρίβεια φέρνουν την καταστροφή Ενα βιβλίο που έχει το ενδιαφέρον του άλλο γενικότερα δεν είναι τίποτα σπουδαίο ή πρωτότυπο μάλλον βαρετό και τόσο διδακτικό που κάποιοι τολμούν ακόμα και να υποθέσουν ότι πρόκειται για μία αλληγορία για τους κινδύνους που απειλούν τις νεοσύστατες Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες τώρα που είναι ελεύθερες

  10. says:

    Reads like if the 18th century had reality TV Or if Jane Austen was American and a little less idealistic The titular couette Eliza Wharton harbors a surprising amount of modern sensibility concerning her desire to remain single and enjoy the social life that comes with youth and being out in society Her suitors? The rakish Major Sanford or the virtuous Mr Boyer both of whom she shows relatively eual favor towards Whether or not society will allow her to follow her volatile whims is a whole other thing entirely On the whole deliciously trashy with just a dash of political allegory the newly freed young woman desirous of guidance? Yep it's young America seeking a properly democratic government which exhibits both graces and virtues get hip to it