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.
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