History/GWS 249 Reading Guide

Masquerade:  An Eighteenth-century “Best Selling” Novel as History


  • Hannah Foster (1758-1840), The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton; A Novel; Founded on Fact (1797).


  • To what audience was Foster writing?  How did her perceived audience shape her telling of the story?  To what extent is the story also about that audience?
  • Why did Foster use letters to tell the story?  What kind of voices did this give her to work with?
  • Is this a masquerade—a novel masquerading as history?  Or is it a novel masquerading as a novel masquerading as history?  How does The Coquette contrast with the typical masquerade?  Was Eliza a typical heroine?  Did Foster show virtuous women being rewarded?
  • How does this “novel” present and critique the choices and options that women had in their lives?
  • What was the cause of Eliza’s “downfall”?
  • Why did Foster denounce novels as “dangerous” (1798, quoted in Kerber, p. 239)?  As Cathy Davidson asks, “How does one grant a voice to a woman who, given the society in which the novel is written and read, enjoys neither voice nor privilege?” (xix).

Further reading:

  • Eliza Southgate (b. 1783), Letters (1800-2), in Nancy Cott, et.al., eds., Root of Bitterness, 2nd. edition (1996), 98-102.