Defining and Defying Female Stereotypes: A Comparison of Charlotte Temple and Katniss Everdeen
In today’s society, women are frequently thought of as helpless “damsels in distress,” or that they must rely on a man to rescue them from difficult tasks. This stereotype is furthered by television, literature, and Hollywood. An article by Salma Yaqoob speaks of such stereotyping among Muslim women. She says, “The perception of Muslim women in the west is invariably as… victims,” (Yaqoob). Most feel that these women are “in need of rescue.” In the same way, women are often treated as inferior to men, and in need of their guidance. The famous 18th century work, Charlotte Temple, is an early example of the stereotypical view of the helpless woman; while Suzanne Collins’, The Hunger Games, goes against the grain and attempts to abolish the gender roles put in place by our society, featuring a strong female protagonist.
The character of Charlotte in Charlotte Temple is portrayed as an innocent and helpless fifteen year old girl. This character is not merely a fictitious girl imagined in Rowson’s mind, but is representative of women during that time period. Charlotte is symbolic of a proper young lady of her time and in her expected role. American and European women were not educated and, “Casualties of a patriarchal society…” many “…would seek to demonstrate the intellectual inferiority of women,” (Barton). Women were subject to an oppressive patriarchal rule. As a result, Charlotte has not been touched by the corruption of the world, and often surprises her mentor, Mademoiselle La Rue, with her lack of worldly knowledge. Charlotte’s innocent nature is first exposed after she and La Rue return from an evening outing. Charlotte says, “…I thought the gentlemen were very free in their manner: I wonder you would suffer them to behave as they did.” La Rue insists that it was Charlotte’s own foolishness to expect otherwise and says, “…if your delicacy was hurt by the behavior of the gentlemen, you need not go again,” (Rowson 18). This dialogue is used by the author to shape the character of both Charlotte and La Rue; one as an innocent, but ignorant young girl, and the other as a woman who is socially adept, and very familiar with worldly behavior. Charlotte’s feminine helplessness will be exposed later on in the novel. Yet it is this helplessness that society has determined that the proper young lady should possess, not as an aberrant behavior that the author, Rowson, wrote into the character of Charlotte.
Charlotte endures many hardships throughout the novel, and is unable to do anything about it. She cannot help herself. She foolishly travels with Montraville to America, who shortly thereafter leaves her. Upon discovering that Montraville has left her, she immediately accepts that she is doomed to live a life in which, “…shame, remorse, and disappointed love will henceforth be [her] only attendants,” (Rowson 45). She has no idea what to do, and frequently bursts into tears thinking of her misfortune. She does send a letter to her parents, begging forgiveness for running away, but only after Mrs. Beauchamp instructed her to do so. Charlotte is utterly helpless. Not only is she unable to save herself, but she is entirely subject to the will of men. Upon leaving Charlotte, Montraville says to his companion, “It was I seduced her, Belcour. Had it not been for me, she had still been virtuous and happy in the affection and protection of her family,” (Rowson 54). Charlotte’s life is sculpted by this man, and she has no power to change it. Modern readers would view Charlotte’s behavior as ludicrous, because no one in the current era would conceive of a woman behaving in such a silly manner. Today’s readers would not relate to her helplessness, or her lack of control over her own well-being. However, this is still the expected role for a woman, to be secondary to men and to depend on men for the happiness and well-being of society’s female population.
In contrast to Charlotte’s helplessness, Katniss Everdeen is resourceful and fends for herself in the poverty-stricken District 12. “Katniss functions as a subversive character in that she goes against traditional feminine stereotypes,” (Graf). Her character contradicts the gender roles that have been put in place by society, and have been promoted through television and literature. Katniss’ father died when she was young, and her mother became completely overwhelmed with grief. Her mother did not get a job to provide for the family, “She didn’t do anything sit propped up in a chair… eyes fixed on some point in the distance,” (Collins 26-27). With her father gone and her mother mentally unstable, young Katniss was left to take care of herself and her younger sister. “…she did not follow society’s expectations for females because she became caretaker for her mother and younger sister Prim after her father’s death. Her role in the family differs from typical expectations,” (Brooks). In all respects, Katniss became the mother and the mother became the child that she needed to care for and comfort. Katniss was thrust into a “do or die” situation, and handled it well. She hunted for food to feed her family, and sold the extra in exchange for other necessities. Rather than turning to a man to save her from misfortune, she takes care of herself without complaint. It is Katniss that offers the sacrificial protection of Prim by deciding to go to the games in her place. Even when she is forced to participate in The Hunger Games she refuses to show weakness or beg for sympathy. She takes charge in the arena and eventually wins.
Collins did not do something new by creating an incredibly strong female character. Hannah Blankenship of the University of Idaho’s Women’s Center says, “Women defying typical gender roles or being perceived as ‘tough’ isn’t anything new, but the representation of this in society are few and far between,” (Blankenship). Collins’ first book was very successful and widely read; however, she does not stop after one book. In the two final books of the trilogy, Katniss’ strength is tested time after time. She endures the death of loved ones, is sent into the arena a second time, and becomes the face of the rebellion. The rebels look to her as their leader, once again breaking the mold of gender roles. Katniss leads them to the Capitol’s doorstep and rallies them to victory.
Collins has crafted her heroine, Katniss to become a strong model for modern men and women. Society will often honor those who fight against steep odds, to gain freedom, and this is what attracts the reader to Katniss’ fight even though she fights contrary to society’s social roles for women. The fact that she can hunt and kill both animals and humans, in order to survive and protect her loved ones is as aberrant as Charlotte Temple’s lack of action, and both authors present shocking and memorable characters.
These two novels are very different. The main difference, however, is that one conforms to stereotypes and one breaks away. Charlotte Temple creates a fairly typical female character. She makes poor decisions and must be rescued by a smarter and stronger man as a result. She is a helpless damsel in distress. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, features a female character that is far from typical. Katniss not only provides for her family, in the place of her father, but she also liberates a nation and topples an oppressive government. The contrast of these two characters and novels provide a commentary on stereotypes in media and forced gender roles in society.
Barton, Paul. “Narrative Intrusion In Charlotte Temple: A Closet Feminist’s Strategy In An American Novel.” Women & Language 23.1 (2000): 26. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Blankenship, Hannah. “‘The Hunger Games’: Hope for Women in Pop Culture.” University of Idaho Women’s Center. N.p., 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Brooks, Roze. “May the Odds Be Ever in Your Gender: Women’s Center Discusses Subtext in ‘The Hunger Games'” University News. N.p., 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.
Graf, Joseph. “Using The Hunger Games to Question Gender Roles.” The Preface (2012): n. pag. 28 Apr. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple. N.p.: n.p., 1791. Project Gutenberg. 12 Mar. 2006. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
Yaqoob, Salma. “Doing It For Ourselves.” New Statesman 139.4988 (2010): 40-41. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.
The Haunting of Charlotte Temple
In Susanna Rowson’s novel Charlotte Temple, the main character dies; this spoiler is given immediately at the beginning of the book, leaving no question as to whether Charlotte Temple will thrive on to live a happy life. With a (rather horrific) death undoubtedly present in the story, the potential arises for post-life encounters…especially ones with ghosts. Who is the one conveying the tragic events that led up to Charlotte’s death? With a story ridden with details, emotion, tone, and insight, we readers may logically believe that the mysterious narrator is none other than Charlotte Temple’s ghost. The ghost of Charlotte cannot rest peacefully in the afterlife because its mortal life was cheated away through foolish mistakes. Therefore, the only way to cope with the entrapment in this realm is to ensure that other mortals do not endure the tragedy that came upon Charlotte Temple.
On numerous occasions throughout the novel, the narrator seamlessly addresses the reader directly. Narration goes from the story, to the back story, to the reader, to the story again, creating an elaborate and conversational recollection of events: “Now, my dear sober matron…” (Rowson, 28), “Oh my dear girls…” (29), “Look, my dear friends…” (34). All of these instances demonstrate the pointed communication of the narrator. By stepping away from the timeline in the events, we can surmise that the narrator already knows what happens and has the liberty of adding additional information as she pleases. Furthermore, since the narrator exhibits the power to speak personally to the reader, readers have a chance to in turn get to know the narrator.
In the “tell-taling” nature of the narrative, the narrator includes her disposition regarding men. While introducing the budding romantic relationship between Charlotte and Montraville, the narrator adds quick bits that suggest cynical feelings towards the male characters: “In affairs of love, a young heart is never in more danger than when attempted by a handsome young soldier” (28). This sentence, saturated with sarcasm, drips cynical tones that only a person with poor experiences of love can possess.
To be more forward, the narrator concludes this chapter with direct instructions on dealing with men: “…be assured, it is now past the days of romance; no woman can be run away with contrary to her own inclination: then kneel down each morning, and request kind heaven to keep you free from temptation, or, should it please to suffer you to be tried, pray for fortitude to resist the impulse of inclination when it runs counter to the percepts of religion and virtue” (29). This ending sentence of the chapter nearly begs young girls to stay away from the temptations of young love and to hold fast to the virtues that they have been taught. This desperate expression of instruction points towards a narrator who has experienced the downfalls of leaving virtue for love and wishes only to prevent other girls from falling into the same fate.
The omniscient presence of the narrator is a perspective not easily attributed to a person. This narrator is always there and has the power to know what other characters are thinking, but never exactly is in concord with their perspectives. It is the presence of someone who already knows what will happen and is in the room with a given character but not the character itself. This familiarity establishes already formulated opinions of characters tones of agitation, intimacy, sarcasm, and other emotions. Such qualities are portrayed throughout the narration style. For example, when meeting Mademoiselle La Rue, the narrator tells the reader immediately what kind of person she is: “But Mademoiselle possessed too much of the spirit of intrigue to remain long without adventures” (27). This indication of character demonstrates someone who already knew La Rue and guides the reader with the personal knowledge the narrator possesses. Being that in this portrayal of Charlotte Temple with Charlotte’s ghost recapping the tale, it is seen in the language regarding Charlottes character that a very personal touch is given.
To reach this stage of post mortem status, Charlotte died during childbirth: “…a sudden beam of joy passed across her languid features, she raised her eyes to heaven––and then closed them forever” (116). Before such a peaceful end could come to be, after child birth Charlotte suffered immensely from hysteria and overall disorientation while she physically withered away. Such a traumatic end certainly allows the opportunity of haunting to be presented, as suggested by Arthur Redding in his book, Haints. Redding discusses the haunting culture exhibited throughout different examples of American literature and the breeding ground of haunting that occurs from trauma. “Traumatic experience introduces a radical and disabling aporia into the conventional narrative mechanism by which human beings stitch together a coherent understanding of the world our place within it” (Redding, 4). The purpose of this ghost serves more than the addition of a paranormal experience or that of relating a tale through an abstract perspective. “The revenant––a ghost who returns to the scene of the crime––often figures as the stand-in for a violence that cannot be overcome, or possibly even named” (4). Charlotte’s ghost stands as a medium in relating the events that happened personally to her and now haunts her tremendously. This trauma Redding speaks of correlates to the authorship of Rowson in writing Charlotte Temple.
In his book, Redding describes how ghosts emerge in literature as ways to cope with the unknown. “The ghosts have a way of speaking that which cannot be spoken; it personifies and expresses those peoples, events, or aspects of one’s past that have been violently disappeared or repressed” (4). From this understanding, it is crucial to remember the own traumas Rowson experienced in her lifetime. As a bystander during the Revolutionary War, the violent events personally affected her greatly. “Early in the Revolutionary War Lieutenant Haswell stubbornly remained loyal to England and was placed under house arrest. He was later removed with his family to Hingham, his property was confiscated, and they lived on the charity of the town” (History of American Women Online). This occurrence in Rowson’s life creates deep psychological and sociological traumas which, as Redding states, can in turn be projected into works in the form of haunted entities.
To further understand the reasoning behind a ghost narrator, we must consider other aspects impacting Rowson’s portrayal that are foundational in achieving this conclusion. Rowson’s own experience as a successful actress inherently suggests the added flair of drama. This background gives room for readers to not be surprised at a dramatic addition of a ghost narrator. Along with the dramatics, edging along the Romantic period in literature, the concept of ghosts is seen to be not outlandish but rather a gothic addition to the story. Recalling that the Romantic period thrived for its amoral themes, exploitation of the dead as lesson-giving ghosts would not be seen to be wrong or immoral.
As important as it is to consider the authorship mentality behind narration, it is equally as important to recall what the general conception of narration. In Peter Lang’s scholarly book, Disputable Core Concepts of Narrative Theory, author Sten Wistrand writes on narrative theory in his “Time for Departure? The Principle of Minimal Departure– a Critical Examination.” In this article, the overall study of narration is encapsulated: “Somebody telling somebody else on some occasion and for some purpose that something happened” (Wistrand, 15). This simple description on the use of narration relates towards the purpose of Charlotte’s ghost in narrating. The “somebody” in this situation is Charlotte’s ghost telling young girls for the purpose of preventing a horrific fate. Wistrand goes on to describe the limits and benefits of narration in stories. “But in comparison to a real world the fictional world can be considered “incomplete” since it would be impossible for the author of a novel to mention and describe everything which might belong to this implied world” (15).
Understanding Wistrand’s statement implies that narration in fiction is somewhat inchoiate or incomplete. It cannot be that an author can pour out every detail they create in a made up story on the shoulder’s of the narrator to include throughout the story. By having a ghost narrator, the author here creates an elaborate, personal layer. The order in events goes from plot occurred to plot reviewed with first hand experience adding personal touches. Charlotte’s ghost acting as the narrator works as Rowson’s agent in giving more room for error in authorship by denying the minuscule details that could not be properly included in the story. Partly the “blame” goes onto the ghost narration as a flawed narrator with certain biases due to the haunted nature. If a mortal narrator were to take on the responsibilities of telling the story, she would have the burden of being accountable for what she relates to the reader and how the reader takes in that information.
This explanation of general narrative functions covers the purposes of narration in any given fictional story. There do exist, however, narrative functions that exists for the purpose of ghost stories. These specific functions are explained in Tommi Auvinen’s scholarly journal “The Ghost Leader: An Empirical Study on Narrative Leadership.” Throughout this journal, Auvien creates the specific qualities demonstrated with narratives involving a non-present narrator. She includes three necessities for what she coins “ghost leadership.” These necessities are:
“‘First, there is a leader (with material, organic and/or mental origins) that gains leadership power more or less in organisational storytelling.” “Second, narrative leadership is a panoptic phenomenon that may not be much more than the conscious awareness of authority monitoring.” “Third, storytelling has to do with the construction of leadership (the “birth” or emergence as well as the “death” or rejection of the assumed leader). It is a kind of dynamic interaction process between human beings and discourse; the experiences are narrated…” (Auvinen, 1).
In this ghost leadership, Auvien gives the example of Santa Claus: “At the beginning of December he came to me and said: “Daddy! I really can’t wait till Christmas. I am tired of being neat, and I do not like Santa’s elves anymore. Besides I haven’t seen them at all” (1).
Through Auvien’s son’s example, the qualities of what makes up ghost leadership are found. Ghost leadership can be applied metaphorically towards non-haunted stories as well. “It is about discursive character, a leader that is constructed in organisational storytelling and exists in the reality of meaning” (1). Metaphorically, ghost leadership would be discovered simply when leadership narrative is passed on from one person to another. Charlotte’s ghost makes a connection to this concept as well for her own presence in ghost leadership. The ghost becomes the leader in constructing the storytelling organization, eases in to the automatic motion of narration, and finally arises from her own death to take on the leadership of relating the story.
With the connections of narrative theory, ghost leadership, historical context, and literary examples, the emergence of Charlotte’s ghost as a narrator in Charlotte Temple becomes conceptual. Charlotte’s ghost as a narrator gives the piece a deeper connection with the message she tries to convey to readers. Additionally, the overall concept of a haunted soul suffering from the choices made during her mortal life gives a completely different perspective to the novel. No longer is the novel seen as light, airy with a sad ending. Rather, the story is layered with complex, troubled emotions adding wealth to the literary value of the story. The narrative of Charlotte Temple, as told by Charlotte’s ghost, leaves a mark in literary history as the ceaseless tale of a restless soul victimized by the injustices and naivety of young love. Works Cited
Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple. Oxford University Press, 1986, 27-29, 34, 116. Print. Redding, Arthur. Haints : American Ghosts, Millennial Passions, and Contemporary Gothic Fictions. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011, 4. Web.Laclean, Maggie. “Susanna Rowson: Early American Educator, Novelist and Actress” History of American Women Online. Womenhistoryblog.com. 2012. Web. Sten Wistrand. “Time For Departure? The Principle of Minimal Departure––a Critical Examination” Disputable Core Concepts of Narrative Theory. Rossholm, Goeran & Johansson, Christer, 2002, 15. Web.Auvinen, Tommi. “The Ghost Leader: An Empirical Study on Narrative Leaders” Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organizational Studies. Vol. 17, 1, 2012, 1. Web.
Democracy’s Threat to Colonial Establishment
The advent of democracy in America brought with it a slue of worries and concerns held by the newly independent colonists. Some felt like the lost, orphaned children of Great Britain while others pondered the uncertain future of the new nation. One of the gravest concerns was the novel threat democracy brought to civic order. Charles Brockden Brown, who authored Wieland, and Susanna Rowson, who penned Charlotte Temple, were both gravely distressed by rhetoric and persuasion, and how they might ultimately lead to deception. Brown employed a Gothic approach to explore how irrational forces could lead to fraud, while Rawson used sentimentality to explore how human feeling could create this same problem. They both used a female protagonist to embellish this weakness, as women were perceived to be the societal “weak link” of the new republic.The 1790s was an age of passion. As more and more Americans became aware of their own inability to live up to the high expectations of the 1770s and 1780s, there evolved a distinct desire to rebuild and buttress the fragile social order. In Brown’s,Wieland, the fragility of the family — as well as its vulnerability to deception — was brought to life by the story of an agrarian family whose ultimate destruction is caused by the deception of a biloquist named Carwin. The rural family structure is disturbed by Carwin, who is a mysterious outsider from the city. The central thread of the book’s plot mirrors the vulnerability of democracy to deceptive rhetoric. The new republic was innately open and welcomed the fluidity of society and mixing of peoples caused by commerce and immigration. Although the new form of government was perceivably virtuous and noble, it allowed room for the deceptions of cosmopolitanism. Some Americans at the time might have viewed cities with a cautious eye and worried if such metropolises could threaten the ideal of a yeomen republic. The agrarian lifestyle was seen to demonstrate the purest of virtue, while the urban environment was believed to foster the most sinful of vices. Brockden Brown employed Carwin, a city dweller, to represent the threat metropolitan areas had on the rural. The book’s gothic nature also warns of irrational forces as a means of deception and misguidance. Wieland and Clara’s father instilled in them an enthusiastic religious background — one which later drove Wieland to kill own his wife and children. Brown used this element of the novel to show the danger of such religious devotions as well as the danger in relying solely on faith without consulting human reason.Rowson’s Charlotte Temple is another piece of literature from the new public that expresses the concern some Americans had regarding the new democratic government. In the novel, a young girl falls victim to the rhetoric and charm of a man named Montraville. She abruptly departs from her family in England and follows the British army officer to New York, where he cruelly abandons her. The tragic tale ends with Charlotte’s death at the age of nineteen.The novel sets out with a clear and intended purpose — to instill and teach the concept of virtue to young women and admonish them against the guises of clever men who might deceive them out of such values. Rowson made Charlotte the protagonist because her youth and innocence mirror that of the new nation. America was a land of naiveté and inexperience, and many 18th century Americans feared the government’s immaturity could lead to a deception and downfall similar to that of the novel’s protagonist. The book also explores the notion of human emotion, and furthermore, how it operated within the culture of the new republic. On one hand, sentimentality served as an argumentative tactic. Rowson thought if she could get her readers to feel a certain way, she could inspire concordant actions. A similar rhetorical devise would later be used in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s groundbreaking novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” However, the use of emotion to conjure certain behavior was also a weak spot in the new republic. Women were seen as emotional beings who could be easily swayed by passion and sentiments, whereas men were thought to rely more on reason and rationale. Though Wieland and Charlotte Temple differ in tone, plot, rhetorical method and intended audience, they share a common message. The fact that concerns about the vulnerability of the new republic manifested themselves in works of literature, as well as other cultural outlets, proves the centrality and gravity such issue had in 18th century America — and these concerns live on. The United States has long grappled with immigration and the entrance of strangers because its citizens are fearful of the threat of the “other.” The Anglo-Saxon movement of the 19th century, tightened immigration laws during the 20th century and a general concern over the loss of “American” identity with the influx of thousands of immigrants each year clearly indicate the concern confronted by the two novels is not unique to the era of the new republic. Instead, vestigial worries about deception remains a constant staple in American society to this day.
Defining Virtue in Colonial America
The concept of virtue in colonial America was a multi-faceted patchwork of varied attributes and values. Its definition was complex and included a range of expectations from primarily women, who were perceived as the weak point in the social order of the new republic. Society’s most virtuous women were sympathetic, pure, innocent, compliant, domestic, graceful, emotional and poised, along with a number of additional traits. Virtue was instilled in women during this time through a variety of cultural mechanisms, including literature, paintings and domestic creations such as samplers.One of the more explicit pronouncements of the importance of virtue to the new republic was Susanna Rowson’s cautionary and sentimental novel, Charlotte Temple. Subtitled “A Tale of Truth,” Rowson prefaced her work with an assertion that the fictitious story was “not merely an effusion of fancy” but rather a real life issue facing her respective society. Rowson saw her own role in the development of virtue in young women as extremely important. She claims to provide the “service” to “direct” young women “through the various and unexpected evils that attend [them] in their first entrance into life.”Throughout the novel, Rowson presents the concept of virtue boldly and directly. Perhaps the strongest evidence of this is in her direct addresses to the reader. At these points in the book, Rowson turns away from the story and characters to expressly confront the reader. “Oh my dear girls,” she writes, “… pray for fortitude to resist the impulse of inclination when it runs counter to the precepts of religion and virtue.” (29)Rowson uses pithy yet memorable statements to convey the nature of virtue to readers, for instance: “Pleasure is a vain illusion; she draws you on to a thousand follies, errors and I may say vices, and then leaves you to deplore thoughtless credulity.” (34) Rowson continues to describe the character Belcour as the manifestation of this vice. “He paid little regard to moral duties, and less to religious ones,” she writes. Rowson also added that he was “eager in the pursuit of pleasure” and demonstrated other questionable personality traits.As a young woman, Charlotte embodies the perceived weakness of the new republic. The main character is naïve and easily deceived by charming men like Montraville. Thus, Rowson presents Charlotte as a bad example for all women. Her mistakes serve as admonishments for the book’s readers. In John Trumbull’s 1771 poem, “Advice to Ladies of a Certain Age,” virtue plays a key role in the message conveyed to the women of colonial society. Trumbull recommended women focus not on appearance — though this was important, as seen in artwork of the time — and instead realize the beauty of age. Trumbull saw beauty as fleeting and believed “when beauties lost their gay appearance,” virtue would remain eternal. “Virtue alone with lasting grace, embalms the beauties of the face,” he said.The poet also warned of the threat beauty presented to men because of its ability to diminish their rational sense. Because of this perceived threat, Trumbull warned women against the lifestyle of the coquette. This specific fear mirrored the universal concern of deception in colonial America and the new republic.Philip Freneau’s 1797 poem, “Constantia,” describes a woman who has become “sick of the world” and resolves to enter a convent to become a sister. The woman confronts a sailor who tells her that “the shade” is where “kisses freeze and love is snow.” The sailor advocates the Protestant valuation of love, marriage and family — three qualities that helped form the colonial definition of virtue. At the poem’s conclusion, Constantia falls in love with the sailor and thus conforms to the virtuous ideal of Christian domestic life.The centrality of virtue to colonial life was also evident in the visual arts. In many paintings of the time, women were activated through various domestic duties like sewing and childcare. In his 1729 painting, “Mrs. Francis Brinley,” John Smibert presented the woman holding a small child. She is also placed within the home, though a fruit tree — symbolizing fertility — is visible just outside. Most women painted by Smibert and his contemporaries were placed in a similar domestic setting, including “Mrs. Maria Taylor” by Charles Bridges (1724) and “Portrait of Catryna van Rensselaer ten Broeck” by Nehemiah Partridge (1720). Additionally, some images reflected the sentiments of Trumbull in his “Advice to Ladies.” Younger women were typically presented as idealized, while older women were at times depicted as more homely. Some older aristocratic women, however, were made to look more “beautiful” in their portraits. This reflected the higher value upper classes placed on appearance and aesthetic desirability.Cultural leaders of the time — like authors and artists — were not alone in their quest to define and spread the concept of virtue. Women themselves also confronted this task by making needlework samplers. Both the creation of as well as the final products themselves represented and reflected the centrality of virtue in 18th century society. Cynthia Burr’s 1786 embroidery sampler is a prime example. Burr, who was 16 years old when she created the artifact, would have been taught the value of domestic ability at a young age. Girls were instructed in the ways of the “domestic arts,” like needlework, housework and cooking, as these were seen as necessary to the social order of the new republic.As further evidence of the importance of virtue to young women in the new republic, Burr’s sampler featured the phrase, “Let virtue be a guide to thee,” in her sampler. The simple statement sits above a picturesque home, the women’s “sphere,” and is surrounded by flowers, which symbolized fertility. Though the piece is fairly rudimentary in terms of its artistry and message, it demonstrates the manifestation of the virtue ideal in early American culture.The pervasiveness of virtue in colonial America is evidenced in nearly all facets of the culture of the time. From novels to poetry and from paintings to needlework, both visual and written representations gave weight to the issue. Such efforts to teach the ways of virtue were focused on women, who were seen as the weakest members of the new republic. If America represented a new “Eden,” the colonists did not want to allow Eve — or American women — to be tempted by vice again. In many ways, the societal struggle to implant virtuous ideals into its women was a concerted effort by the masses to prevent another “fall from grace.”
Explaining the Success and Popularity of Susanna Rowson’s ‘Charlotte Temple’
In her novel Charlotte: A Tale of Truth, probably better known under the title of Charlotte Temple, Susanna Rowson relates the unfortunate life of a young girl for a specific purpose that she presents in the opening lines of her work, through the following words: “and may, I flatter myself, be of service to some who are so unfortunate as to have neither friends to advise, nor understanding to direct them, through the various and unexpected evils that attend young and unprotected woman in her first entrance into life” (Rowson 3). The author of this masterpiece probably ignored at that time the success that her work would encounter through the following centuries. Indeed, firstly published in 1791 in England, Charlotte Temple has gone over two hundred editions to this day and is still described as “entertaining and readable” nowadays (Parker 59). The fact that a conduct manual originally written to educate young girls of the late eighteenth century remains popular to this day is probably the result of countless factors. The purpose of this essay is to discuss three of the numerous aspects of the story that contributed to the popularity of Charlotte Temple. It will be suggested that the success of this novel comes, primarily, from the form which Rowson has chosen to compose her work; secondly, from the author’s intrusions throughout the tale and finally, from the verisimilitude of the plot.
In the first instance, this essay will thus focus on what is partly responsible for Charlotte Temple’s success, namely the form Rowson has selected to relate Charlotte’s story. The particularity of this tale is that it includes a certain number of letters, without however being categorized as an epistolary novel. This framework has allowed Rowson to exclusively select the benefits of the epistolary structure and, as it will be discussed later, to simultaneously avoid the negative effects that this form might cause. First of all, let us focus on four strengths of the epistolary form that are present in Charlotte Temple. Professor Donna Campbell brings up three of them, which are: “[to allow] feelings and reactions to be presented without authorial intrusion, [to give] a sense of immediacy because the letters are written in the thick of the action, and [to allow] the writer to present multiple points of view” (Campbell). Fourthly, I would like to suggest that the epistolary form globally leads the reader to get more implicated in the story. Hence, the combination of both, the benefits listed by Campbell and the aspect of implication, is a first approach to explain the success of Susanna Rowson’s novel. In accordance with the advantages put forward by Campell, it is true that Rowson takes the opportunity to let her characters express their state of mind by themselves through their letters. Mrs. Temple, for example, uses one of her letter to demonstrate her maternal affection towards Charlotte when she writes that “As to-morrow is the anniversary of the happy day that gave my beloved girl to the anxious wishes of a maternal heart” (Rowson 72). Charlotte also expresses her feelings back towards her mother, later in the story, when she mentions her remorse, asserting that “my heart bled at the thought of what you would suffer” (132). In the same letter, she also shares her pain by writing “Oh! never, never! while I have existence, will the agony of that moment be erased from my memory” (132). Eventually, she mentions her helplessness when she asks, “But how shall I proceed?” (133). By accessing directly to the feelings of the characters, the readers are given the opportunity to get to know better each of the letters’ writers and will consequently get more implicated in the story.
Besides the free expression given to her characters, Rowson also uses the “sense of immediacy” that Campbell praises in epistolary novels. Indeed, the author of Charlotte Temple applies the idea that the character composes his or her letter in the heat of the moment. This can be seen when Charlotte inserts the following detail in a letter to her mother: “(I feel the burning blush of shame die my cheeks while I write it)” (133). The same effect can also be noticed in Montraville’s letter to Charlotte when he adds “To-morrow – but no, I cannot tell you what to-morrow will produce” (158). These kinds of comments give the audience the impression that the characters genuinely wrote the letters, which brings verisimilitude to the story. Therefore, if the plot seems plausible or even entirely real to the readers, the latter will, once again, feel more implicated in it. Finally, Rowson has exploited the last advantaging feature that Campbell highlights regarding the epistolary form, namely its ability to allow several points of view in the same story (Campbell). She gives Lucy Temple, Montraville and Charlotte the opportunity to express themselves and share their inner thoughts through their letters. The multiplicity of the points of view shows to the reader that Rowson does not simply add characters to shape a story around the protagonist, but that she creates them fully, giving them the ability to write, to think and to feel, which, again, increases the plausibility of the plot and the reader’s implication in the story. Either it is with the genuine expression of the character’s feelings, the “sense of immediacy” or the multiplicity of the points of view, the readers are given every chance to get involved in the story. According to Janet Gurkin Altman, “the epistolary form is unique in making the reader (narrate) almost as important an agent in the narrative as the writer (narrator)” (Altman 88). It is true that , more generally, this form creates a feeling of implication in the story which is explained by Altman as “the result of a union of writer and reader.” (88) and by Blythe Forcey as a “correspondence between the writers within the novel but also a correspondence between the writer of the novel and its readers” (Forcey 229). The main idea behind these two explanations is that by adding letters in a story, the writer creates a connection between himself or herself and the readers. Therefore, thanks to this bond, as well as Campell’s list of the epistolary form’s benefits, Rowson’s readers feel more implicate in the plot which leads them to have a better appreciation of the story in general and this can primarily explain the extent of the success encountered by Charlotte Temple.
It is now legitimate to wonder why Rowson has not chosen to construct her novel entirely in the epistolary form as it possesses several silver linings. Blythe Forcey comes up with one main issue linked to this structure which can justify Rowson’s choice. When thinking of the exchange of letters as a reciprocal experience between the reader and the writer, as mentioned above, the audience has to interpret correctly what the author wants to convey. However, the period in which Rowson has written Charlotte Temple, as well as her purpose to write for young and innocent girls, were incompatible with such form, “[k]nowing that [she was] writing in a time of rapid transition and for many possible audiences (rural/urban, British/American, naïve/worldly, male/female, moral/amoral)” (Forcey 229). In this context, Rowson’s public was too diversified to be assured that everyone would interpret correctly the message the author wanted to communicate. Following, this idea, Forcey also points out that “all the characters, even the villains, are allowed to ‘speak for themselves’ through the inclusion of their letters, they each have an opportunity to attract the sympathy and identification of the reader” (233-34). As the purpose of Rowson is to offer a manual of conduct for young girls, it would have been, once again, too dangerous to let them interpret the story by themselves. Thus, “[w]ithout the protective boundaries established by a controlling narrative presence, the epistolary novel leaves the female protagonist exposed, vulnerable, and even invisible” (230) and hence, what prevented Rowson from writing her whole tale in the epistolary form is the lack of directions that the narrator needs to give to the reader in order to avoid misinterpretations, misunderstandings and the risk of being seduced at the same level as Charlotte was.
The second aspect that contributed to Charlotte Temple’s success as a conduct manual is Rowson’s participation to the novel as a “guardian” narrator. This specific appellation used by Forcey to describe the author’s voice is, according to him, a “warm, motherly presence, [through which] this narrator acts as an editor, moralizer, translator, and guide for her young reader” (Forcey 230). In addition to Forcey’s explanation, I would suggest that Rowson’s voice as a “guardian narrator” possesses three functions that all contribute to the popularity of the novel. It acts firstly as a counter-effect of the negative aspects of the epistolary form. Her intrusion in the story serves secondly to guide the audience by insisting on important aspects of the tale and finally, Rowson’s voice, by using direct address, aims at grasping her readers’ attention and giving them a sensation of individualization. Even if Charlotte Temple is not considered as an epistolary novel, the risk remains that naïve young girls get seduced by some of the letters written by “the villains”, as Forcey call them (229). To counter this danger, Rowson has simply chosen not to include some letters, whose content might attract young and innocent souls. For example, she substitutes Montraville’s letter by the following explanation:
Any reader who has the least knowledge of the world, will easily imagine the letter was made up of encomiums on her beauty, and vows of everlasting love and constancy; nor will be surprised that a heart open to every gentle, generous sentiment, should feel itself warmed by gratitude for a man who professed to feel so much for her; nor is it improbable that her mind might revert to the agreeable person and martial appearance of Montraville. (Rowson, 39)
Thus, Rowson has succeeded in writing her tale of truth and in conserving all its verisimilitude but without damaging her idea to make her novel a conduct manual adapted for young girls. Another function of Rowson’s voice as a “guardian” narrator is to insist on certain passages to make sure that the readers understand the message she conveys. This phenomenon occurs several times in Charlotte Temple. It is the case, for example, when she relates the early life of Mr. Temple and when, at some point, she explains that “Temple heard the news with emotion: he had lost his father’s favour by avowing his passion for Luca, and he saw now there was no hope regaining it” (34). At first sight, this summary of the situation given by Rowson can seem useless to any attentive reader. However, it is not impossible that young readers could have misunderstood the previous dialogue between Mr. Temple and his father. Extrapolating on the idea that she writes for innocent souls, it is true that the author’s comment is justified. This insistence on specific aspects of the story can be easily noticed with the introduction of new characters in the plot too. For instance, when she mentions Miss Weatherby for the first time, in addition of a preliminary description and the insertion of an illustrating poem, Rowson comments that “[s]uch was Miss Weatherby: her form lovely as nature could make it, but her mind uncultivated, her heart unfeeling, her passions impetuous, and her brain almost turned with flattery, dissipation, and pleasure” (32). The same process applies to the description of Montraville (57), a character with whom the reader is already familiar at this point of the story. Probably the most striking examples of Rowson’s insistence are the following: “The reader, no doubt, had already developed the character of La Rue; designing, artful, selfish, . . .” (92) and “Let not the reader imagine Belcour’s designs were honourable” (95). Thus, even if she is aware that the audience is, at this stage of the tale, well-acquainted with the characters of Charlotte Temple, the author keeps pointing out certain aspects on which the readers are expected to be focused in order that they cannot be confused later with any of the characters or with any of their intentions. Finally, the third function of the guardian narrator is Rowson’s ability to catch her audience’s attention thanks to direct address. Throughout Charlotte’s tale, she keeps speaking directly to them with interpellations such as “Oh my dear girl” (41), “thoughtless daughters of folly” (51), “Oh my friends” (85), “my dear young readers” (86), and so forth. Several times she goes further than just naming them and actually interrupts the story. It occurs when she devotes a whole chapter to the reader’s hypothetical reaction to her tale. Indeed, in the twenty-eighth chapter, Rowson anticipates the fact that the reader are getting tired of Charlotte’s misfortune and writes “my lively, innocent girl, I must request your patience. . . . I pray you throw it not aside till you have persued the whole; mayhap you may find something therein to repay you for the trouble” (169). In the same chapter, she also imagines the questions that are being raised by her readers and answers them (170). This interruption in the course of the story calls the readers to order and grasps their attention back. The idea that Rowson catches the interest of her audience can be seen in shorter passages as well. The following passage is a common example of Rowson’s brief intrusion in Charlotte’s tale :
Oh my dear girl – for to such only am I writing – listen not to the voice of love, unless sanctioned by paternal approbation: be assured, it is now past the days of romance: no woman can be run away with contrary to her own inclination: then kneel down each morning, and request kind heaven to keep you free from temptation, or, should it please to suffer you to be tried, pray for fortitude to resist the impulse of inclination when it runs counter to the precepts of religion and virtue. (41)
Further than just catching their attention, this extract even gives to the reader a sensation of individualization. This feeling comes from two main aspects. On the one hand, Rowson addresses directly her reader when she starts with “Oh my dear girl”. On the other hand, she dictates a certain behaviour through imperatives such as “listen not”, “be assured”, “kneel down”, and so on. These instructions resemble greatly the guidance of an older sister or a caring mother. And how could a lost and confused young girl ignore the advice of an older and caring relative? Another typical example of this motherly role appears when Rowson acts like a big sister in the name of mothers to underline the pain undergone by Mrs. Temple with Charlotte’s disappearance (85-86). Hence, Rowson’s voice appears to be a way to grasp the readers’ attention and even give them a sense of individualization that could explain the success of Charlotte Temple.
The third and last factor suggested to explain the success of Rowson’s novel is the verisimilitude of the story. This phenomenon is defined by The Oxford Dictionnary as “[the] appearance of being true or real” and the author of Charlotte Temple makes sure that her plot complies with this idea. Firstly, and from the very beginning of her novel, she draws the readers’ attention on the fact that they should “consider [Charlotte Temple] as not merely the effusion of Fancy, but as a reality” (3) and confirms the real existence of the protagonist when she claims that “an old lady . . . had personally known Charlotte” (3). This is what critics, such as Elias Nason, praise in Charlotte Temple by asserting that it is “a faithful transcription of real life, in 1774, and hence it is a living book, and criticise it as we may, the people after all will read it, weep over it and enjoy it” (Nason 47). Several factors contribute to the verisimilitude of the plot. As previously mentioned in this essay, the letters enhance the plausibility of Charlotte’s story thanks to the way they are composed, the multiplicity of their writers and their content. What also gives the story an aspect of reality is the recurrent shifting of the points of view. It is a way to remind the reader that life goes on after the departure of the protagonist to the New World and that although Charlotte is the centre of the story, other characters continue to exist. This can be seen when Rowson devotes a whole chapter to Charlotte’s parents who remain in England (Rowson 151-54). The same effect applies with Montraville when he has an argument with his father (61-64). The plausibility of the plot plays a major role for a conduct manual. Indeed, if the author wants to convince young girls by making them learn anything from Charlotte’s experiences, the plot must either be real or at least seem to be, so that it can have an impact on them.
Charlotte Temple has encountered a success that remained unrivalled for a long time and the reasons that could explain such popularity are probably countless. The purpose of this essay was to discuss three of these reasons. The first way to explain such success has been said to lay in the structure of the novel itself. The fact that Rowson chose to include a certain number of letters without relying entirely on the epistolary form allowed her to create the perfect framework for a conduct manual. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that this structure allows the reader to be confronted to the character’s feelings, to benefit from a sense of immediacy, to discover the story from several points of view and generally, to get more implicated in the plot. It has also been discussed why Rowson did not only rely on the epistolary form despite all its strengths. The second part of the essay has been devoted to Rowson’s voice, which plays a crucial role to reach the goal of her work, either in countering the negative effect of epistolary novels, in guiding her reader on important aspects of the story or in giving the audience a sensation of individualization. Last but not least, the third part of this essay has suggested that the verisimilitude of the plot was also necessary to the novel’s success. Further elements probably also contributed to the popularity of Charlotte Temple, such as the presence of morals throughout the story, the universality of the themes, the societal context of the end of the eighteenth century, and so on. But what can be therefore assumed at the end of this paper, is that the three aspects presented above can be considered as central pillars of the popularity of Charlotte Temple.
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