In Hannah Foster's The Coquette and Mary Wollstonecraft'sA Vindication of the Rights of Women, both authors deal with the rivalry of reason versus passion in the 18th century. These books assess major issues of reformation at the time including the fall of aristocracy and sociability to the rise of the enlightment and democracy, all leading up to a modification of women's roles in society.
Through The Coquette, Hannah Foster demonstrates the sexist ideologies that existed during the 18th century. The character of Eliza exemplifies the 18th century view of a society solely consisting of pleasure, where ideas of sociability, flirting and mixed company are encouraged. Throughout the book, Eliza is constantly being judged by her confidants whose outlooks on society focus more on the new enlightment. Eliza's friends, Lucy and Mrs. Richman, feel as though they have a moral responsibility for Eliza, thus they persistently criticize her for abandoning her virtuous role as a woman in the public sphere of reason.
Despite the intolerance society has for her conduct, the protagonist strives to negotiate newly found freedom and independence within the gendered constraints of virtue and propriety. Eliza's choice between superficial and substantial exhibits the narrow field of choices available to young women during the early national era. The choice, simple as it may seem, is the basis of the novel, ultimately complicated by its inflections by way of the political and social culture of the early American Republic.
In Foster's novel, Eliza makes a compelling argument for her freedom and desire to remain in a society full of parties, flirting and mixed company. She says: "Let me then enjoy that freedom which I so highly prize. Let me have my opportunity, unbiased by opinion, to gratify my natural disposition in a participation of those pleasures which youth...