Capacious Desire in the Eighteenth Century
Before 1660, English readers and theatergoers had never heard of a "coquette"; by the early 1700s, they could hardly watch a play, read a poem, or peruse a newspaper without encountering one. Why does British literature of this period pay so much attention to vain and flirtatious young women? Our Coquettes examines the ubiquity of the coquette in the eighteenth century to show how this figure enables authors to comment upon a series of significant social and economic developments—including the growth of consumer culture, widespread new wealth, increased travel and global trade, and changes in the perception and practice of marriage. The book surveys stage comedies, periodical essays, satirical poems, popular songs, and didactic novels to show that the early coquette is a figure of capacious desire: she finds pleasure in a wide range of choices, refusing to narrow any field of possibilities (admirers, luxury goods, friends, pets, public gatherings) down to a single option. Whereas scholars of the period have generally read the coquette as a simple and self-evident type, Our Coquettes emphasizes what is strange and surprising about this figure, revealing the coquette to be a touchstone in developing discourses about sexuality, consumerism, empire, and modernity itself.Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an outstanding work of scholarship in eighteenth-century studies
Braunschneider makes an important contribution to our understanding of eighteenth-century English (and Anglo-American) thought and culture in her study of coquetry as a way of negotiating the meanings of modernity, particularly as she ties coquetry to ideologies of consumerism and gender. Her historical treatment of the word and concept of coquetry is extremely valuable. Our Coquettes is well-written and engaging."
Our Coquettes is smoothly written, elegantly argued, and provocative. In Braunschneider’s telling, the coquette is of interest not simply for what she tells us about early eighteenth-century English standards of female virtue. The coquette also stands for a world of expanding choices: in marriage, in consumer goods, in public spaces. This focus on the modernity of choice is quite fresh."
Theresa Braunschneider is Associate Professor of English at Washington and Lee University.