The Commentary On Female Self-discipline In Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple And Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette




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This thesis studies Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette to explore the embedded commentary about the discourse of female selfdiscipline in the two novels. As two best-selling seduction stories in post-Revolutionary America, Charlotte Temple and The Coquette have often been discussed in terms of what the authors assert about the cultural emphasis on women's virtue in the early Republic through their stories about a young woman suffering and dying as a result of seduction and abandonment. In this thesis, I argue that Rowson and Foster use their narratives to study the particular rhetoric of rewards that was used in conduct writings on female self-discipline widely read in late eighteenth-century America. Propagating the tenets of women's self-discipline, conduct writers presented moral autonomy and supportive friendship as two rewards to the woman who successfully proved herself as a self-regulating, virtuous woman. Using the narrator figure and the epistolary form respectively, Rowson and Foster modify the heroine-centered seduction plot to build their narratives in a parallel structure, in which they study and question the viability and the logical cogency of this rhetoric of rewards of conduct writers. By elucidating this questioning of the rhetoric of conduct writers in the two novels, I aim to shed light on both the cultural commentary about female self-discipline in Charlotte Temple and The Coquette and the structural machinations working in each novel to accommodate such a commentary.