Kristi Latimer

English 341

Professor Laura Arnold

Research Paper Proposal


A Proposal to Scream at the Coquette

When reading Hanna Foster's The Coquette, I found myself wanting to talk to the characters, advise them, set them aright. I felt like a frustrated movie-goer screaming at an unresponsive screen. I think employing this frustration and researching exactly why I react the way I do to Eliza and Co. will enable me to understand Foster's intentions. Who was her audience, and why would they either support or disapprove of the actions of the characters of The Coquette? What is the moral of the story, if there is one, and how does that reflect the parallel social situations of Foster's audience?

Of course this eager need for information will be best drawn out by using Reader Response criticism to understand the novel. I aim to employ the methods of reader-response to understand my personal view of the novel and how that might be a reaction particular to my own viewing of the nineteenth century through the lens of the twentieth century. In fact, I find the most appealing aspect of Reader Response criticism is that it allows me to employ aspects of historical criticism, because I need to understand how Foster's contemporaries would have viewed her novel, as well as feminist criticism, as my own interpretation of the novel is slanted greatly by my personal opinions about the representations of women in literature.

With my paper I would like to transpose myself into the role of the nineteenth century woman. I will write a series of letters to the characters of the novel, explaining my interpretations of their actions. The fun side of this letter-writing technique is that my personal, twentieth century voice will inevitably weave itself through the letters. Consequently my reader response, though researched and influenced by the particular historical situation of Foster's readers, will rely almost completely on subjectivity and personal opinion.


1. Jauss, Hans Robert. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.

I will attempt to employ a bit of Jauss's multi-faceted view of Reader Response theory. Mostly I am interested in his idea that the "reconstruction of the horizons of expectations [...] enables one [...] to pose a question that the text gave an answer to, and thereby to discover how the contemporary reader could have viewed or understood the work" (p. 28).

2. Leverenz, David. "Mrs. Hawthorne's Headache." in The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston: Bedford, 1991.

Leverenz's essay helped me to understand the usefulness of applying Reader Response criticism to a text.

3. Moi, Toril. Sexual Textual Politics. London: Routledge, 1985.

What interests me most about Moi's text is the notion of a feminist reader response as well as the idea that to interpret from one's own perspective is the most "democratic procedure."

4. Murfin, Ross C. "What is Reader-Response Criticism?" in The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston: Bedford, 1991.

Murfin's essay was useful in giving me an over view of Reader Response criticism.