Most of the novel's male characters are driven by the imperative to marry women who can increase the size of their fortunes. For Montraville and Mr. Temple, this is enforced by their fathers, who threaten to disown them if they don't marry heiresses. The weak-willed Montraville submits to this, even when it means abandoning Charlotte to his treacherous friend Belcour. However, Mr. Temple provides a positive counterexample of how to behave, reluctantly leaving his family when his father insists he marry the vapid Miss Weatherby instead of honorable Lucy Eldridge. Although Rowson believes that women have a choice in their fate, she demonstrates that the system of marrying for money incentivizes men to treat women dishonorably, and the biggest victims of this system are working- and middle-class women who are misled by their suitors.
Just as the men in Charlotte Temple are driven by their search for a wealthy fiancée, the women in the novel often make decisions based on what their peers will say about them. In Rowson's Britain and America, gossip has an unequivocally negative influence on human behavior. Mrs. Beauchamp is initially hesitant to help Charlotte because she is afraid of what her neighbors might say, and the people of New York incorrectly assess Mademoiselle La Rue's character just because she is beautiful. This condemnation of gossip is entirely in line with Rowson's assertion that morality is intrinsic and unconnected to worldly success or failure.
Most of the American characters in Charlotte Temple are subject to the rhythms and constant motion of the military, a lifestyle that takes a steep toll on the women. Charlotte's sad fate is cemented by the fact that she must move to America with Montraville. Later in the novel, the people who want to help Charlotte, including Montraville and Mrs. Beauchamp, are kept away from her because the military has assigned them to go elsewhere. Military protocol is completely integrated with daily life, a state of affairs that reinforces the highly patriarchal social order of the American colonies. The imperative to move frequently and never set down roots is just one way in which Rowson's women submit to their husbands and lovers, and for Charlotte, it has disastrous consequences.
Rowson gives filial piety a nuanced treatment in this novel. Although she generally endorses it and urges young women to stay with their families instead of eloping, she acknowledges that there are times when obeying one's family is morally wrong. The strongest examples of this are the marriages of Montraville and Mr. Temple; their fathers encourage them to abandon honorable, working-class women so they can marry rich heiresses. Rowson highly praises Mr. Temple's decision to marry the poor Lucy Eldridge anyway, suggesting that internal morality is absolute, and it must be privileged even over family when the two are in conflict.
Although Charlotte is ultimately responsible for her own death, Rowson also implicates the uncharitable individuals who refuse to help her. In the novel, charity is portrayed as a practical and intuitive remedy for individuals like Charlotte, and the narrator frequently argues that although Charlotte made bad decisions, other people should pity her and not judge her too harshly. Rowson lived in accordance with her view that charity is important, supporting many charitable ventures and starting a progressive girls' school.
Throughout Charlotte Temple, Rowson identifies numerous problems with society, including ones that make it difficult for poor women to make honorable choices. However, she ultimately stresses that people should be content with their circumstances, and that the inner satisfaction of a well-lived life is more important than popularity or material wealth.
Charlotte Temple is a novel of seduction, and its didactic message is certainly complicated by Rowson's romantic depiction of Montraville. Even after he has abandoned Charlotte, he remains tormented and even Byronic, maintaining his allure for both Charlotte and the readers. Nevertheless, despite any titillation that modern or eighteenth-century readers might have found in the novel's colorful plot, Rowson endorses sexual abstinence until marriage for both men and women. She argues that sex has negative consequences--social, emotional, and physical--for both genders, and it is not worth the momentary pleasure.
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