Tuesday 10 September 2013

Hannah Webster Foster, The Lady Behind The Coquette

Hannah Webster Foster (Salisbury, Massachusetts, America, 10th September 1758 – Montreal, Canada, 17th April 1840)

Hannah Webster Foster

On a few occasions now I have set quill to paper to tell the stories of some ladies of letters and on each occasion, these tales have proved very popular. One of the Gilflurt girls is always devouring books and when she left the salon last week, there on the love seat was a copy of The Coquette. I picked it up, had a browse and found myself hooked all over again, inspired to write a little something of my own!

Hannah Webster was born to Hannah Wainwright Webster and Grant Webster, a very wealthy Massachusetts merchant. She was educated in a private boarding school and proved herself a bright, intelligent student with a keen mind. By the late 1770s Hannah was writing political comments and stories for local newspapers and in 1785 married her suitor, Reverend John Foster. The couple set up home in Foster's parsonage in Brighton, Massachusetts, and had six children together, Hannah's writing career on hold for now.

However, the lure of creativity proved too strong for Hannah and in 1797 she published The Coquette, or the History of Eliza Wharton. The novel was a fictionalised account of a scandalous episode in the life of Elizabeth Whitman, one of Foster's distant relatives, and its anonymous publication caused a sensation both for its content and its engaging, unusual style. With the success of The Coquette still fresh, Hannah published a second novel, The Boarding School; or, Lessons of a Preceptress to Her Pupils, the following year. However, this less scandalous tome she could not repeat the earlier triumph and Hannah withdrew from her career once more, devoting herself to home and hearth.

No longer occupied with writing, Hannah became a doyenne of Brighton's social scene, remaining a key figure in the local community. She remained at the pinnacle of local society until Foster's death in 1829 at which point she left behind her circle and moved to live with her daughter in Montreal where she remained until her death. 

Just as grandmother and mother Gilflurt were spinners of tall tales and, some might say, fond of a gossip, so too did Hannah's girls follow in her footsteps. Eliza Lanesford Cushing and Harriet Vaughan Cheney were successful and popular writers just as their mother had been and enjoyed the prolonged success that had eluded her. In 1856, nearly two decades after Hannah's death, the sensational Coquette was finally published with its author's name displayed proudly alongside the title. It has remained in print ever since.


Unknown said...

It's so great to see when a talent such as this is perpetuated in future generations. Writing was obviously in the blood! Always so interesting that these successful books were written under a pseudonym. I wonder, was the pseudonym a male or female author?

Catherine Curzon said...

Female! She published it as "A lady of Massachusetts".

Unknown said...

Thanks for this great post!!!!!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you, Princess!

caroline Wrarfield said...

I love your posts. This one is a gem.

Catherine Curzon said...

That's very kind, thank you!