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Early American Novel


This unit explores the novel genre itself, as well as the epistolary form. It focuses on the Early American Novel, taking as its basis Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette. As this topic is generally neglected in textbooks, this unit creates a useful introduction to American Literature that compliments the non-fiction and short story pieces normally found in the curricular resources.

Learning Objectives
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Manipulate and extend the text through authentic products
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding through the use of traditional assessment and creative writing
  • Read varied sources of text
  • Analyze the relevance of setting and time to the meaning of the text
  • Use text elements to defend responses
  • Connect literature to historical context

Students will need access to the novel The Coquette, which is available for free download in ebook form. This lesson plan is also conducive to cross-curricular activities with sociology (women's roles), history (post-revolutionary America), and geography (Eastern United States). Within the ELA content, it could be effectively paired with a reading of Chopin's The Awakening, or, for more struggling readers, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

Part 1: The novel

View the SlideShare "A Novel Idea: An Introduction to the Novel, the Early American Novel, and The Coquette". Take this short quiz over the material:

A Novel Idea Quiz:

This quiz will begin with some baseline questions about what you learned about the actual content. Check your answers after the first five questions. If you didn't get them all correct, go back and review the slidedeck again. If you did get them correct, move on to the higher level questions (questions 6-10).


Check your answers before proceeding.

  1. Paraphrase the plot of The Coquette in your own words, using fewer than 40 words.
  2. Describe what it takes to be a novel, identifying at least three features of the form. Explain it as you would to someone who is 5 years old.
  3. Predict how this story would end, assuming it is a seduction novel: Sue meets Bob. Bob is a nice guy on the outside, but inside he is up to no good. He convinces Sue to run away with him. She ____________ and then ______________.
  4. Create an acrostic poem using the word "novel" as shown below, incorporating at least seven ideas from the material in the slidedeck into the poem into the five lines. If you are unfamiliar with this, see below for an example using the word "nation."
  5. Write your own three-question quiz over the material you learned. You should have two multiple choice questions and one short answer question. Your multiple choice questions must have at least four answer choices. Your short answer question should not be a factual question, but should require thinking. Provide an answer key

Part II: Letters I - XXX

American historian Barbara Tuchman said, "Books are the carriers of civilization." In what way is this true? How can a book carry civilization? To answer this fully, think about what comprises a civilization. If a book is a sort of time capsule, what kinds of information does it convey? Write a fully developed paragraph responding to this idea. Feel free to use an example of how a book you have read before is a "carrier of civilization."


  1. Read The Coquette through Letter XXX. In a well-formed paragraph, please respond to the following question: What is the central conflict in The Coquette? Support your answer with evidence from the text.


  2. Textual Scavenger Hunt for Letters I - XXX
    • Letter I: Where can you find an example of foreshadowing in the second paragraph?
    • Letter II: Find Eliza's views on coquettes in reference to herself and describe them.
    • Letter IV: How does Foster give insight into Eliza's character through Boyer's description? How reliable do you think he is?
    • Letter V: Find Lucy's warning to Eliza.
    • Letter VI: In this letter, we get our first introduction to Sanford, and then to the Richmans and their happy marriage. Describe the juxtaposition of these two and how that is foreshadowing. Discuss the imagery of the name "Rich-man."
    • Letter VIII: Describe Sanford's initial impressions of Eliza. Analyze his intent towards her.
    • Letter IX: What are other people's impressions of Sanford?
    • Letter XII: Compare what Eliza's friends want for her with what she wants for herself.
    • Letter XIII: Find the warning and analyze whether you think it is good advice or not.
    • Letter XIV: What do you think is holding Eliza back from Boyer?
    • Letter XVII: Do you agree with Boyer's opinion of his success? How do you see Boyer? Do you like him?
  3. John Donne said, "More than kisses, letters mingle souls." In what way do letters mingle souls? Based on your reading so far, are the letters in The Coquette mingling the souls of the writers? How else can people mingle their souls? Please write a fully developed paragraph responding to these questions.


Part III: Projects, Part 1

Read through the project choices and select two. Look through the rubrics before you decide which projects to choose.

Project 1: Imagine that you are Hannah Webster Foster's publisher and that the title The Coquette has recently been taken by another author. Do the following:

  • Create a different title for the book and write a short letter to Ms. Foster explaining why you have chosen this title.
  • Create a poster advertising the book, including the title in a prominent place.


Project 2: Create voicemail messages for Sanford, Eliza, Boyer and Lucy. Each message should convey something about the character. Each message should be about thirty seconds in length and should showunity of idea among them.


Project 3: Write a letter of advice from Lucy to Boyer about how to win Eliza's heart. Produce two separate letters, one written in the style of the novel (archaic language), and one should be written as if she were writing today (slangy, casual language).


Project 4: Create a report by a private investigator hired by Boyer to track Sanford. Where does he go? What does he do? Create a 48-hour log of his activities and draw (school-appropriate) pictures or find copyright/royalty free images to go with the at least three of the entries. If you use images, you must cite them.


Part 4: Conclusion of novel

Complete the novel (through letter LXXIV).

  1. Czech writer Milan Kundera said, "The novel's essence is in complexity. Every novel says to the reader 'Things are not as simple as you think.'" In what way does this apply to the situation in The Coquette? What (or who) is more complicated than it seems? Please respond in a well-developed paragraph.
  2. Think of a song you know that would be a good theme song for one of the main characters in the novel. Copy the lyrics (citing your source — website, CD insert, etc.) and then write a well-developed paragraph explaining why this particular song would be an appropriate theme song for the character. How does the song relate to the character? Does it reflect the characters actions toward others? His or her hopes and dreams? His or her past or future?
  3. The British Poet W.H. Auden said, "Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered." The novel that you have just read had been largely "forgotten" for nearly a century. Do you think it deserves to be remembered? Please respond in a well-developed paragraph.


Part 5: Projects, Part 2

Read through the project choices and select two, one from Projects 1 or 2, and one from Projects 3 or 4. Look through the rubrics before you decide which projects to choose.

Project 1: Read the information about Hannah Webster Foster in the article below. Prepare a three-minute newscast discussing her life as if you were reporting that a famous American author had just died. Feel free to create fake "interviews" with people who knew her. Prepare either a full script or a video.

Hannah Webster Foster

Born in Salisbury, Massachusetts, the eldest daughter of Hannah Wainwright and Grant Webster, a prosperous merchant, Hannah Webster began life in comfortable surroundings. Her mother died in 1762, and it is likely that Hannah Webster was then enrolled in an academy for young women, somewhat like the one she later described in The Boarding School; or, Lessons of a Preceptress to Her Pupils (1798). The wide range of historical and literary allusions included in her works reflects an excellent education. By 1771 the young woman was living in Boston, where she began writing political articles for local newspapers. Her publications attracted the attention of John Foster, a graduate of Dartmouth, whom she married on April 7, 1785. The couple lived in Brighton, Massachusetts, where John Foster served as a pastor until his retirement in 1827.

Before she reached her tenth year of marriage, Foster bore six children. A year after the birth of her last child, she completed The Coquette, and the following year, The Boarding School. Thereafter, she returned to newspaper writing and devoted herself to encouraging young writers. When John Foster died in 1829, Foster moved to Montreal to be with her daughters Harriet Vaughan Cheney and Eliza Lanesford Cushing, both of whom were also writers.

The Coquette follows the epistolary tradition first used by Samuel Richardson in his novel Pamela (1740). The story of Eliza Wharton's temptation, seduction, distress, and doom is revealed in letters between friends and confidants. Eliza Wharton falls victim to the rake, Peter Sanford, referred to as "a second Lovelace" — an allusion to the seducer in Richardson's second novel, Clarissa Harlowe (1747-1748). Like the heroines of countless novels, Eliza dies in childbirth. Yet unlike those countless novels, The Coquette offers characters torn between love and their own worldly ambitions, between virtue and vice.

Lucy M. Freibert
University of Louisville


Project 2: Create a list of awards like you'd find in a high school yearbook for the characters in the novel. They should begin with phrases such as "Most Likely to…" For example, if I were creating an award for some celebrities, I could say something like, "Most Likely to Divorce Quickly and Keep all the Presents." Create awards for at least four characters and explain why the character has earned that particular award. Create a script for the presentation, selecting real celebrities to act as presenters. You may record the presentation for scholar points.


Project 3: Select a quote spoken by each of the following characters: Boyer, Lucy, Eliza, Sanford and Julia. On one side of a piece of construction paper, neatly copy the quote, then either draw or glue on visual images that relate to the quote. On the back of the paper, write an explanation of how the quote and visual image connect. You may use an image editing software program for scholar tech points. You will create four posters total.


Project 4: Create dating profiles for Sanford, Boyer, Eliza, and Julia to appear on a dating service website. Create categories and then answer them as if you were each of the four characters. For example, categories could include hobbies, interests, marriage status, interest in a serious relationship, etc. Create at least six categories and use full and complete descriptions. Use an image source like Pixabay to find pictures to match the profiles. For scholar points, create an actual website with the profiles (try Weebly or Wix for easy drag-and-drop site creation).