“Charlotte Temple” was not what I was expecting. At best I was hoping for a Jane Austen-type read, seeing as how the author’s overlapped. I was also looking for early American novel to potentially teach to my students. Unfortunately, I neither enjoyed reading this book, nor will I teach it to my students. The main problem with this book is that it’s very problematic for a modern reader. I don’t see how anyone could sit down and read and enjoy this. I think this work is better served in college where one can dissect the writing, plot, and period in which it was crafted. There is interesting literary value, but not much entertainment value.
Susanna Rowson uses the character of Charlotte Temple to scare young woman into being pure, virtuous creatures who must be obedient to their parents or else might end up as someone’s baby mamma in a foreign country, no reputation, friendless, poor, and…we’ll stop there before the spoilers start. By the end of the novel I was almost sorry for the way Ms. Rowson treated Charlotte. The Charlotte character is used as Ms. Rowson’s moral punching bag. So many terrible things happen that I had a hard time believing someone could have that much bad luck. And then there was all the writing.
The “Norton Anthology” from which I read this piece had an introduction in which they explained that Ms. Rowson was part of the post-colonial sentimentalist writers. It would be hard for anyone to argue against this seeing as how all of the characters either cry themselves unrecognizable or are constantly fainting whenever things get tough. I think my hurts from rolling everyone someone burst into tears or fainted.
Now, what I did find interesting was that Ms. Rowson does critique the attitude that young women who make a mistake and are considered “immoral” or “without virtue”, should not be castigated for the rest of their lives. She argues that they should be helped back into society and supported so that they don’t keep making the same mistakes or so that the consequences don’t lead them to a more dire situation in life. Rarely do you see someone in this early 19th century period come out in support of women who have eloped or had a child out of wedlock, so on one hand I do think this is an interesting piece on that point.
As important as this social critique is, it wasn’t enough for me to recommend this book to anyone. The caveat to this is, I would if you’re going to be studying the period and the ethics of the day. Otherwise, skip this and head right for Jane Austen.