Charlotte Temple Summary and Analysis
Charlotte’s French teacher, Mademoiselle La Rue, is immoral despite her genteel appearance; in her youth, she eloped from a convent with a young officer, and then lived with several different men before hiding her past to get a job at Madame Du Pont’s school. Her latest suitor invites her to lunch, and she brings Charlotte along for company. On the way to the lunch, they run into Montraville and have the exchange described in the first chapter. Charlotte cannot wait to get home, because the lighthearted men at the lunch make her uncomfortable and she is anxious to read the note that Montraville passed her.
When they return to the boarding school, Charlotte argues with Mademoiselle La Rue after the former admits that she did not have a good time at the lunch party. La Rue is offended and worried that Charlotte will tell Madame Du Pont about their illicit excursion, but eventually she changes the topic to Montraville. Charlotte initially does not want to read his letter, but eventually succumbs to curiosity and La Rue’s encouragement. She is so charmed by what she reads that she decides to meet Montraville the following night.
Charlotte’s parents plan a surprise birthday party for her in the garden of their cottage. Although they briefly wonder if they are spoiling her, they decide to hold the party anyway because Charlotte is their only child. The narrator comments that pious contentment is always better and more fulfilling than pleasure seeking.
Although she remains conflicted about meeting Montraville, Charlotte justifies doing so to herself, thinking that Montraville is putting Charlotte and La Rue at risk of expulsion from the school if he is caught contacting her. When she meets Montraville, Charlotte can ask him not to contact her anymore, and thus ensure the safety of herself and her teacher. However, she rereads his letter many times the day before their meeting.
Montraville brings Belcour along, to distract La Rue so that he can have some private time with Charlotte. He reminds her of the danger he will experience in America, and he hopes she will remember him and think about his safety. Charlotte remains noncommittal but is clearly charmed by the tragic young officer. She concedes that she might meet him again the next day.
Montraville comes from a large, wealthy family, and has always assumed that he will be able to give his children a large fortune and high social status. When he joined the military, his father gave him lots of starting money, hoping that he would advance quickly and earn a title. Montraville’s father cautioned him not to rush into marriage until he has reached a high rank, lest his children be left fatherless.
Finally, he added that if Montraville should take a poor bride, he would not help him financially. Montraville asks Belcour to find out Charlotte’s income from Mademoiselle La Rue. She reveals that at the maximum, Charlotte’s dowry will consist of a few thousand pounds, and if her father disapproves of the marriage, she might not get anything at all. Montraville concludes that Charlotte is unsuitable for marriage, but continues his acquaintance with her nevertheless.
In these chapters, the author further develops her depiction of sex as an economic transaction. Montraville initially considers marrying Charlotte, but tosses this idea aside when he realizes that she lacks a fortune and his father would not approve of the union. Thus, the harsh outlook of Montraville’s father perpetuates the corrupt system in which women are objectified and assigned value according to their financial assets.
Rowson objects strenuously to this assumption that wealthy women make better wives, and indeed many of her characters seem designed as counterexamples to this idea. Lucy Eldridge is revealed to be a warm, dutiful, generous mother, despite the fact that Mr. Temple had to break with his family to marry her. In contrast, Miss Weatherby is vain and vapid, and there is a distinct sense that a marriage to her is the punishment that Mr. Temple’s father deserves for his narrow-mindedness.
In Rowson’s black-and-white typology of moral and immoral women, it is unclear where Charlotte Temple stands. This is in keeping with her youth, but she is also clearly designed to appeal to young women who are making similar, difficult decisions about whether they will rebel against convention or follow it closely. In this section, Charlotte battles with indecision about whether to accept Montraville’s advances or reject him, and Rowson points out many instances in which Charlotte justifies bad conduct to herself. In this second section of the novel, then, Rowson clearly traces the path to immorality in a way that is titillating and suspenseful but also obviously didactic, a combination that helps explain the novel’s great financial success.
With the appearance of Mademoiselle La Rue, Rowson introduces a new type of female character. La Rue, who has pursued a wanton and hedonistic lifestyle, is not a role model like Lucy Temple, nor is she a flawed but likeable woman with whom young girls can identify, like Charlotte Temple. Not only is she immoral, but she actively tries to corrupt Charlotte, out of greed (for Montraville’s bribes) as well as sheer malice.
Through La Rue’s character, Rowson demonstrates that women can be corrupted not only by men, but also by other women. For all her desire to teach young women to make smart choices, Rowson is uncharitable towards women who have already made bad choices, showing through La Rue that such women threaten to spread immorality like a contagion. Notably, La Rue’s name means “the street” in French, alluding to her low birth and wantonness, while also associating immorality with Britain’s traditional enemy, France.
Charlotte Temple Essays and Related Content
- Charlotte Temple: Major Themes
- Charlotte Temple: Essays
- Charlotte Temple: E-Text
- Charlotte Temple: Questions
- Charlotte Temple: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Susanna Rowson: Biography
- Charlotte Temple Summary
- About Charlotte Temple
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Preface and Chapters I-V
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters VI-X
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XI-XV
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XVI-XX
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXI-XXV
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXVI-XXX
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters XXXI-XXXV
- Britain and America After the Revolutionary War
- Related Links on Charlotte Temple
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources