This morning, I finished reading one of the books for my American Women Writers class, The Coquette, by Hannah W. Foster.
Have you read this book? I had never even heard of it before seeing the reading list for this class. It was written in the very late 1700s, and is about a woman trying to choose between two men: a minister who wants to marry her, and a rake. She ends up alienating the minister, who marries someone else, and so does the rake. However, she ends up pregnant from an affair with him, and dies alone in childbirth. The tale is told in a series of letters between the characters, giving a good view of the characters true emotions.
And here’s where I had a problem with this story, because some of the letters are written from the rake’s point of view, and he’s a complete and total jerk, who refuses to take responsibility for his own actions.
He makes a concerted effort to come between Eliza and her other suitor. When that relationship goes down in flames, he marries a heiress, and says she can’t blame him for his actions, because she knew how he was. What? He pursues Eliza unmercifully, and when she eventually gives in, he blames her and loses all respect for her. The pregnancy is all her fault. When his wife finds out and leaves him, and he loses everything, still he doesn’t want to accept blame. He does seem remorseful after Eliza dies, but still doesn’t really own up to his faults.
I enjoyed the book somewhat, but this character drove me mad. Deliberately hurtful, selfish, greedy…everything was her fault, even though she repeatedly rebuffed him. When tragedy struck, he still wasn’t fully ready to accept blame. I found him entirely unlikable and criminal.
And to be honest, his attitude and behavior is quite reminiscent of some of the prevailing attitudes in society today. That girl in the provocative clothing who was the victim of sexual harassment, abuse, and/or rape? That was all her fault, for dressing like that.
Since when are people not responsible for their own actions, including hurting other people?