10 April 1998
English 341 Final Project Proposal
For my first trick, I plan to use Hannah Foster's The Coquette as the basis for a Reader-response critical analysis. However, in lieu of a traditional academic paper, I will be composing a series of letters between a brother and sister to demonstrate how eighteenth century readers would have responded to a story such as that of The Coquette. Considering that Foster's story was one of the most popular American novels ever, it must have struck something particular in its readers that made them read it themselves and recommend it to their friends.
Reader-response criticism in itself is a response to New Criticism, which has the tendency to separate the meaning of the text from the text itself. In concentrating on the response of readers to a work, Reader-response criticism replaces meaning in the text itself. In order for each reader to respond differently to the work -- for the work to affect its readers -- the work must have some sort of interpretable meaning imbedded in its words and themes. In its article on Reader-response theory, the online Johns Hopkins Guide notes from Jane Tompkins book Sensational Designs that "the reader's historical situation does not simply affect our view of the work but actually produces whatever it is that we call the text in the first place." (link to Johns Hopkins) The most important thing for me to concentrate on in this project will be staying loyal to eighteenth century mentality and eliminating my own feminist tendencies.
Keeping this historical influence on the reader in mind, I will be researching eighteenth century behavior to get a feel for Foster's actual readers. I will also be using the critical theory of Steven Lynn from his book Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory (1994) and Toril Moi's Sexual/Textual Politics for the feminist perspective in Reader-response theory.