"I never think of the future ... but am determined to make the most of the present.”
Montraville's own assessment of his character is sharply contradicted by the novel's events. He claims never to think of the future, but concerns about his financial future are what influence him not to marry Charlotte. (On the other hand, it could be argued that a truly foresighted man would have broken off his relationship with Charlotte as soon as he realized he could not marry her.) However, Montraville's hedonism is consistent with Rowson's opinion that people should take a measured approach to life and try to be content with what they already have, rather than seeking pleasure or adventure.
"[Mr. Temple] saw his elder brother made completely wretched by marrying a disagreeable woman, whose fortune helped to prop the sinking dignity of the house; and he beheld his sisters legally prostituted to old, decrepid [sic] men, whose titles gave them consequence in the eyes of the world, and whose affluence rendered them splendidly miserable."
Rowson's strong language here drives home her point that marrying for money is just as immoral as more obviously wanton behavior. By describing the marriages of Mr. Temple's sisters (Charlotte's aunts) as "legal prostitut[ion]," Rowson equates marriage for money with having sex for money or pure pleasure, all major transgressions in eighteenth-century British society. In addition to shrill moral condemnation, though, Rowson also takes time to sketch the unfortunate outcomes of marrying for money--namely, splendid misery.
“Oh my dear girls—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."
The narrator directly addresses readers here to caution against pursuing romance at all costs. The novel offers contradictory views on romantic love. In some cases, following one's heart can lead to happiness and even be morally superior to marrying for money, as in the case of Charlotte's parents. However, when Charlotte behaves similarly, it leads to ruin. Rowson seems to endorse men following their romantic passions (provided they lead to marriage) and women erring on the side of prudence. This viewpoint makes sense given the potentially disastrous consequences of having sex without birth control, but it also perpetuates a sexual double standard with which many later feminists would take issue.
"I confess I have rambled strangely from my story: but what of that? if I have been so lucky as to find the road to happiness, why should I be such a niggard as to omit so good an opportunity of pointing out the way to others.”
In a moment of self-awareness, the narrator pauses to justify her digression from the story. In the preceding paragraphs, she has interrupted the description of Mr. and Mrs. Temple's party planning to condemn the vapid emptiness of pleasure seeking. The narrator will repeatedly interrupt Charlotte Temple to comment on the morality of the characters (or people in general). By explaining that she is morally to help others, the narrator situates herself in the role of a teacher. Her rupture of the fourth wall is also important in that it establishes this as a didactic novel as opposed to one that was written purely for entertainment or artistic purposes.
"Thus argued this excellent woman: and in the execution of so laudable a resolution we shall leave her, to follow the fortunes of the hapless victim of imprudence and evil counsellors."
Here, Rowson ends Chapter XV by describing the fate of Charlotte's mother. The narration demonstrates the self-awareness and disregard for "the fourth wall" that characterizes Charlotte Temple more generally. The narrator openly judges Mrs. Temple to be an "excellent woman" and suggests that readers follow her example. However, the role of Charlotte's parents in her downfall remains nuanced and problematic. While her parents are both "excellent" role models, they seem unconcerned about spoiling their daughter, and early in the novel, the narrator condemns Mr. Temple for being gullible and excessively charitable. These qualities may have influenced Charlotte's indecisiveness, although Rowson ultimately gives Charlotte full responsibility for her fate.
"And am I already fallen so low?"
Charlotte asks herself this question before she has even (presumably) had sexual intercourse with Montraville. Although they are unmarried, Crayton assumes that Charlotte is Montraville's mistress, illustrating that a young woman need not actually have sex to be judged as someone who has. The harsh words and pity that Charlotte receives before she has even consummated her marriage to Montraville demonstrate the danger of spending time with undesirable people, a hazard Rowson also explores through Charlotte's relationship with Mademoiselle La Rue.
"What am I about? ... Though I cannot marry Charlotte, I cannot be villain enough to forsake her, nor must I dare to trifle with the heart of Julia Franklin. I will return this box ... which has been the source of so much uneasiness already, and in the evening pay a visit to my poor melancholy Charlotte, and endeavour to forget this fascinating Julia."
Rowson's characterization of Montraville is more nuanced than it initially seems. In Chapter I, the young captain appears to be a dashing womanizer with no regard for the consequences of his actions. However, his relationship with Charlotte seems to have changed him in a small way (although ultimately, not enough for him to marry her). While before, Montraville proclaimed himself someone who "never think[s] of the future" (4), he is now determined to treat Charlotte as honorably as possible, even though he can't marry her. Montraville's good intentions add a layer of complexity to his character while also enhancing the realism of the story, since few young women would voluntarily elope with a man who was obviously evil and did not care for them.
“That I loved my seducer is but too true! yet powerful as that passion is when operating in a young heart glowing with sensibility, it never would have conquered my affection to you, my beloved parents, had I not been encouraged, nay, urged to take the fatally imprudent step, by one of my own sex, who, under the mask of friendship, drew me on to ruin.”
Excerpted from Charlotte's letter to her mother in Chapter XXII, this quote illustrates her (and Rowson's) continuing tendency to blame others for Charlotte's downfall. In this case, Rowson emphasizes the role that a bad female role model can play in encouraging other young women to "take the fatally imprudent step." Although the author frequently seems to assume her readers are young, innocent women, there are indications in the text that she anticipates a wider readership as well. For example, she refers at one point to a "sober matron" who might be reading the book, and another time to a "Sir." Therefore, it is possible that Mademoiselle La Rue's role in Charlotte's downfall is meant to discourage Rowson's less innocent readers from corrupting younger women, as La Rue does in the story.
"'And what,' cry you, 'does the conceited author suppose we can glean from these pages, if Charlotte is held up as an object of terror, to prevent us from falling into guilty errors? does not La Rue triumph in her shame, and by adding art to guilt, obtain the affection of a worthy man, and rise to a station where she is beheld with respect, and cheerfully received into all companies. What then is the moral you would inculcate? ...' No, my fair querist, I mean no such thing. Remember the endeavours of the wicked are often suffered to prosper, that in the end their fall may be attended with more bitterness of heart."
This is one of the most elaborate instances of Rowson pre-empting potential criticism of her "tale of truth." She breaks the fourth wall, guessing at the reader's reaction to her story. Importantly, this quote also comprises the thesis of the novel; as Rowson explains, people should behave morally and modestly regardless of the consequences (or lack thereof). She proposes that a peaceful spiritual life is a better reward for virtue than wealth or popularity, and therefore it does not matter that the villainous Mademoiselle La Rue seems to have achieved a happy life for herself.
"He gave [Mademoiselle La Rue] shelter that night beneath his hospitable roof, and the next day got her admission into an hospital; where having lingered a few weeks, she died, a striking example that vice, however prosperous in the beginning, in the end leads only to misery and shame."
Here, the narrator contradicts her earlier assertions that sometimes the only punishment for sin is one's own guilt. Indeed, she openly admits that Mademoiselle La Rue is "a striking example" of her moral system, and implies that in the long term, vice is always punished with worldly suffering. Through this shift, Rowson endeavors to send the strongest possible message that promiscuity will lead to misery. La Rue's early success, then, serves as a counterargument to potential critics who might argue that outside of fiction, promiscuous women sometimes lead successful and happy lives. Through La Rue's unhappy death, Rowson suggests that punishment may not be immediate but it is inevitable, and even if it weren't, guilty feelings and remorse are the true punishment for behaving badly.
Charlotte Temple Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Charlotte Temple is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.