HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER 1758-1840 • Adapted from: • W. M. Verhoeven, “Hannah Webster Foster.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 200: American Women Prose Writers to 1820. Eds. Carla Mulford, Angela Vietto, and Amy E. Winans. The Gale Group, 1999. pp. 122-131.
“Rather lusty stuff for its day (1953). Lady Caroline de Bievre (previously read about in "Caroline Cherie") is a noble in pre-revolutionary France. Here she becomes enmeshed in the Terror, and only her sexuality can possibly save her life!” (amazon.com)
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Hannah Webster Foster was born on 10 September 1758 in Salisbury, Massachusetts • daughter of Grant Webster, a wealthy Boston merchant, and Hannah Wainwright Webster • Not much is known about her early life • she was sent to a boarding school in 1762 following the death of her mother • In the early 1770s she was living in Boston
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • in the 1780s she began publishing short political pieces in local newspapers • 1785 Hannah Webster married the Reverend John Foster, a graduate of Dartmouth College, who later served as pastor of the First Church in Brighton, Massachusetts • Between 1786 and 1796, she gave birth six children • Still had time to write The Coquette during this time
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Like most other novels from the period, The Coquette was said to be "Founded on Fact" • unlike most, however, the claim was accurate in the case of Foster's novel. • The character Eliza Wharton is based on Elizabeth Whitman (1752-1788) of Hartford, Connecticut, a distant cousin of Foster's husband • The story of Elizabeth Wharton's elopement and her subsequent death of complications following the birth of her stillborn, illegitimate child at a roadside tavern in Danvers (now Peabody), Massachusetts, was sensationalized by the media in 1788
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Whitman, who was thirty-seven when she died, came from a long line of well-connected New England families and was the daughter of a highly respected minister • An intelligent and well-educated woman, she was, moreover, an accomplished poet and a popular and witty member of Hartford high society
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Ministers, maids, and moralists almost immediately filled newspapers and magazines with accounts that cast her tragic demise in terms of an awesome moral lecture and ultimate warning to all young ladies of America • Within months of Whitman's death, her sad history had been completely submerged into and replaced by a moral allegory of the dangers of licentiousness and coquetry • Novel reading blamed for her demise; in the words of the Massachusetts Centinel (20 September 1788), Whitman owed her shameful fate to the reading of novels: "She was a great reader of romances, and having formed her notions of happiness from that corrupt source, became vain and coquetish."
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Whitman's two suitors, the Reverend Joseph Howe (her parents' first choice, who died before the marriage could take place) and the Reverend Joseph Buckminster (who subsequently sought her hand) are only slightly veiled in the novel as the Reverends Haly and Boyer, respectively • Major Sanford’s real-life counterpart was generally assumed to be Jonathan Edwards's son Pierrepont, but Aaron Burr (later vice-president who killed Alexander Hamilton in the famous duel) and Hartford poet Joel Barlow have also been mentioned as possibilities.
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • The Coquette (1797) was one of the two best-selling American novels of the eighteenth century. (The other is Susanna Rowson's 1794 novel, Charlotte Temple.) • Thirteen editions of The Coquette appeared in the thirty years that followed its first publication, with its greatest popularity occurring between 1824 and 1828, when it was reprinted eight times.
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Foster's second book, The Boarding School (1798), was much less popular than its predecessor • Dedicated to "the young ladies of America," the novel is essentially a series of lectures on female education and deportment • Disputing the accepted maxim that "reformed rakes make the best husbands," Foster's novel denounces seducers and pleads for more tolerance for their victims • The Boarding School is in fact a critique of the submerged notions of public and private spaces that policed male-female relations at the end of the eighteenth century
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Foster did not write any other full-length books after The Boarding School • contribute anonymously to The Monthly Anthology or Magazine of Polite Literature, a Federalist journal that later became The North American Review • After her husband's death Foster went to Montreal to live with her two daughters, both of whom had embarked on literary careers of their own • Foster died in Montreal on 17 April 1840 at the age of eighty-one
HANNAH WEBSTER FOSTER • Foster died in Montreal on 17 April 1840 at the age of eighty-one