Double-Feature Review: The Coquette Meets The Group

the group movie posterDear Reader,

I just read a book that confirmed something I have believed for a long time: nothing is private. This has been true for centuries, and it will continue to be true. The only time when privacy will become a virtue is when the need for privacy becomes greater than the need for gossip. This is seen in the novella The Coquette. Now, this book was written in 1797, but one could say that it was an early attempt at celebrity-gossip exposes. The book, which tells of an affair between a married man and a friendship-seeking woman, was based on the account of a real woman whose story made newspaper headlines. Despite such speculation, there is really very little that is truly known about the woman, Elizabeth Whitman. This is particularly telling, as the novel that this is based on goes quite deeply into the problems of Eliza and her surrounding friends and family, as if the author really knew the woman and her life circumstances. This seems to enhance the theme that gossip gives us the appearance of knowing people, even when (and especially when) this is not the case at all. Though we can know of incidents, knowing a person for who they are happens only through communication, and not through living vicariously in the lives of others. Yet, if others do not believe in this, then there can be no hope for moving forward.

Social progress is also highlighted in the novel. Being in the eighteenth-century, the idea of women’s rights is being revised, but has a long way to go. I found it informative to see how American women in this time period had the “choice” between two tragedies: either they could chose a life that society approved, but risk all of their happiness, or chose a life outside of the societal norm, and thus risk permanent expulsion from that society. It’s really a captivating decision to make and the way that author Hannah Foster writes helps to reveal the greater significance of the choice made and the consequences that come with either.

Pair This With: The 1966 film The Group. No, this is not an adaptation of The Coquette. This film takes place in 1930s America and follows a group of female friends (thus the title) who gradate college and go out into the world, hoping to make something of themselves and their dreams. There are themes of insanity, marriage, gossip, social status, secrets behind social status, and choices. Placing the telephone to good use, the friends live mostly vicariously through each other in a changing world. There are some moments of rather high melodrama, though they come in short enough bursts as to be forgiven. (Also, considering the time that this was released, melodrama was not as foreign of a concept as it is in movies today. Only a decade earlier, one could go to a movie and expect a “movie star” to act just like an over-the-top movie star, rather than the less-heightened way that “average” people on the street behaved). You must also forgive the editing, which is so ragged that it feels a bit like a home video where all segments have been tapped over each other. Yet, in some ways, this overlap is fitting to the story, as if to suggest all of the potential that the girls feel that they have. It is like all of their stories cannot fit into the screen, and so must bump against one another, despite all of the adversity that they are going to face.

Putting these two together should hopefully ask more extensive questions about women’s rights, how far we have come, and how far we have to go until all equals can be treated as equals.

Sincerely,

Jumbled Writer

*Image from moviepostershop.com.

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6 Responses to Double-Feature Review: The Coquette Meets The Group

  1. What a great comparison. I guess the more things change – the more they remain the same – or – even if things change people remain the same. It is a thought provoking article. Instead of thinking men and women are the same – we should celebrate and respect the differences to help create equality. And stop thinking those differences makes one superior over another.

    • Dear Mary,
      I agree that all of us are individuals and should be treated as such, rather than being lumped together based on our gender and the stereotypes that come with that gender.
      –JW

  2. Great post JW. I don’t think the desire for privacy will ever happen. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Gossiping is addictive. Unfortunately, some people have a need to know what’s going on in other people lives and other people are just dying to invite us into their living rooms and even their bedrooms. Now on social progress. Honestly, American women did not have much of a choice in the 18th century, and this is especially true for women of color. American women didn’t have voting rights, property rights, or any kind of rights for that matter. There was even a law on the books as late as the 19th that said a man could beat his wife as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb. Thank goodness, that is no longer a law. Indeed, women still have a ways to go. Even in today’s society, and in any country, a woman is called a derogatory name for sleeping around, while a man is just being a man for doing the same thing. I believe until women get equal pay for equal work, can we finally say that we have come full circle on women’s rights. Just my two cents.

    I enjoyed your comparisons on both stories.

    • I absolutely agree with you on women’s rights. In the United States particularly, things have improved, but they are not yet perfect. Double standards are another large component to that. Hopefully we will reach that other side soon.
      –JW

  3. Never knew American women were struggling for rights too. Here in India we definitely are but things have improved a lot. Laws have changed but people remain the same. There’s always a room for improvement. Be it America or India. Loved your post.

    • There definitely are rights here in America, but they are not at the level that they should be. A lot of cultural stereotypes push women back and try to place women in obligatory roles that are not right for them. There is still suppression and male dominance (especially in the workplace), but things have improved. I love how you say, “Laws have changed but people remain the same.” That’s so true. Thanks for stopping by and giving that perspective!
      –JW

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