Quelle Coquette – Is This You?


Mary Pickford in the film "Coquette"

Mary Pickford in the film “Coquette”. Photo in public domain.

I think I first learnt the meaning of the word coquette when I read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and was introduced to Adèle, Mr Rochester’s ward (which was a way of saying his illegitimate daughter in the polite society of the late 1840s), and Jane’s pupil at Thornfield.

Joan Fontaine and Orson Wells in the film "Jane Eyre"

Joan Fontaine and Orson Wells in the film “Jane Eyre”. Photo in public domain.

Adèle was the daughter of Celine Varens, a French opera dancer. Adèle had never really been asked to study or apply herself to any serious matters, and as a consequence, was only interested in pretty clothes and seeking attention by showing off her singing and dancing skills.

Dancing Coquette

Dancing Coquette. Photo in public domain.

Jane was everything that Adèle was not. Jane described herself as ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’. Life had shown little kindness to Jane, who endured terrible punishments at the whim of her cruel Aunt and cousin.  When tired of Jane, the Aunt sent her to a bleak boarding school to be indoctrinated to a lifetime of servitude. Jane learnt these lessons well, culminating in her appointment as governess to Adèle at Thornfield.

But Jane showed empathy towards this beautiful but bewildered child and taught Adèle compassion as well as drawing, embroidery and English grammar.

Vanity of the Coquette

Vanity of the Coquette. Photo in public domain.

At the end of the book, when Jane became the recipient of a fortune thanks to a wealthy uncle’s bequest, not only did she share it generously with her newly found cousins, but she returned to Thornfield to be reunited with a now blind Mr Rochester. Jane continued to teach Adèle how to be a quelle coquette – which was very different indeed to the garden variety coquetry practiced by Adèle as a 10-year-old.

Opulent Coquette

Opulent Coquette. Photo in public domain.

Coquette is a woman who flirts girlishly with men to gain their admiration.

Quelle coquette – much depends on the nuances of pronunciation as it can mean different things with difference emphasis, but said with just the right enunciation, it signifies a woman who is concerned with her appearance, has a flair for fashion, and one who gains admiration. The quelle coquette can use her charms to please, play, flirt or seduce – as is her desire. She may have serious ambitions, but is comfortable within herself to be whimsical and playful, and for all these qualities, be regarded as admirable in the eyes of others.

Honoré de Balzac once said… Being a coquette suits only a happy woman.


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