Charlotte Temple

Charlotte Temple Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss Rowson's portrayal of filial piety. According to the author, when should people be faithful to their families? When should they not?

    Rowson does not portray filial piety as absolute. Obeying their families can help young women avoid mistakes like Charlotte's, especially when said young women are too young or indecisive to make moral decisions for themselves. Similarly, a family should always take care of its members, even if they have previously behaved immorally, a message that is demonstrated through Charlotte's parents' easy forgiveness of their daughter. However, one's own internal morality supersedes family loyalty when the two conflict, and one should never behave immorally on the orders of family. Examples of this include Montraville's and Mr. Temple's approaches to marriage.

  2. 2

    Discuss Rowson's use of direct address in Charlotte Temple.

    In the novel, Susanna Rowson frequently addresses her readers directly, often interrupting the story to engage in a one-sided dialogue with her audience. This is often used as a way to pre-empt criticism of the novel, as when she interpolates an explanation of previous events to satisfy readers who might not accept the story's plausibility. These addresses also reveal Rowson's beliefs about her audience--she mostly addresses her readers as "dear girls." However, at some points she also addresses men or older women who might be reading the book, suggesting that she anticipated a larger audience and the novel's didactic strain is not only addressed to girls like Charlotte.

  3. 3

    Although Montraville is directly responsible for Charlotte's seduction, he is portrayed as a tragic hero. Why?

    Montraville is arguably more accountable for Charlotte's downfall than anyone in the novel, but Rowson never portrays him as villainous like Belcour or Mademoiselle La Rue. At the beginning of the novel, he is shallow and weak-willed, but does not seem to purposely deceive Charlotte. He tries to care for her even after he believes she has been unfaithful, and is tortured for the rest of his life by the memories of what happened to his young mistress after he entrusted her to Belcour's care. This makes him more plausible as a character that might actually seduce a young woman; after all, young women would not need encouragement to stay away from obviously villainous men. He is also a relatable character for male readers, and demonstrates how not to behave in the same way that Charlotte does for female readers.

  4. 4

    What is the significance of Mademoiselle La Rue's foreignness?

    The fact that Mademoiselle La Rue is French reveals a great deal about Rowson's intentions for the character. Her name, which translates roughly to "young lady of the streets," suggests an innate deficiency of character, unlike Charlotte, who is fundamentally good but is unable to resist her infatuation with Montraville. Although Rowson would identify as American later in life, at the time she wrote Charlotte Temple, she lived in Great Britain, where she had been deported for her family's Loyalist sympathies. It is thus reasonable to assume that Rowson may have internalized that country's negative attitude toward France, its traditional rival. Associating the French with promiscuity and moral indifference was common in both propaganda pamphlets and fiction. The character's foreignness also helps explain her appeal in the world of the novel, where she is popular and has many admirers despite her bad personality; Rowson explicitly states that this is the case with her husband Crayton.

  5. 5

    What social problems does Rowson identify that make life difficult for working- and middle-class women like Charlotte?

    Rowson implicates a number of broad social trends in Charlotte's downfall, although the responsibility still lies with Charlotte, Montraville, and Mademoiselle La Rue. The most important of these is the pressure on men to marry for money, which encourages them to make poor women their mistresses as opposed to marrying them. The author also condemns the greed of rich characters like Mrs. Crayton (Mademoiselle La Rue), who do not give to charity or help the less fortunate.

  6. 6

    What differences does Rowson portray between life in England and life in the American colonies?

    In England, it is possible for young women like Charlotte to live a sedentary life suited to raising a family and making friends, whereas in the colonies, women are subject to the military routines of their husbands and must frequently move. The size of the American colonies means that it is more difficult to trace people, and Charlotte often evades the people who want to help her simply by accident, making it a very dangerous place for a young woman. Finally, social class seems to be more fluid in the colonies, with women like Mademoiselle La Rue quickly becoming the toast of New York simply by marrying an officer. In England, by contrast, it is easy to lose social status but very difficult to gain it back; despite years of thrift, Mr. and Mrs. Temple never move out of their cottage or regain Mr. Temple's lost social status.

  7. 7

    Compare and contrast Charlotte and Mademoiselle La Rue. Although they depart from England together, they have vastly different fates. Why?

    While Charlotte is a good, innocent girl who is corrupted by her weaker impulses, Mademoiselle La Rue is the closest the book comes to an innately evil character, with the exception of Belcour. Her promiscuity is accompanied by dishonesty, hedonism, and selfishness, and this allows her to be "successful" in her chosen path of immorality in a way that Charlotte is not. She is quick to abandon Belcour for a lucrative marriage to Crayton, a choice that Charlotte could easily make with her charm and beauty but chooses not to, instead consigning herself to a life of poverty and loneliness as Montraville's mistress.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of the final chapter of the novel, in which the haggard Mademoiselle La Rue apologizes to Charlotte's parents shortly before her death? How does it problematize Rowson's didactic message?

    In Chapter XXXV, Rowson delivers dramatic satisfaction by ensuring that the novel's one remaining villain (Belcour has died and Montraville has repented) suffers a death as miserable as Charlotte's. This comes at the cost of the novel's stated "message," which is that intrinsic moral contentment is more important than worldly success or misery. By giving La Rue a just, dramatically satisfying demise, Rowson contradicts her argument that people's external fortunes do not always correspond to how moral they are.

  9. 9

    Discuss Charlotte's attitude toward her child. Is it appropriate by Rowson's moral standards? Is it sympathetic?

    By the time Charlotte gives birth to her daughter, she is delirious and does not recognize the baby as her own. She is unable to care for her and entrusts her to her father, without even giving the girl a name. Several of Charlotte's actions, like calling her daughter "the offspring of disobedience" and hoping she won't have a girl, are questionable by twenty-first century standards. However, they are typical of the eighteenth century, when women had no choice but to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, and a female child would have less freedom and fewer opportunities than a male one. Thus, Charlotte's apparently cold attitude toward her daughter is actually symptomatic of eighteenth-century social problems, in which poverty was an insurmountable obstacle and women had much less freedom to try to improve their lives.

  10. 10

    Most of the chapters set at Charlotte's home in England are told from Mrs. Temple's point of view. What might be the significance of this narrative choice?

    By telling parts of the narrative from Mrs. Temple's point of view, Rowson emphasizes the impact that Charlotte's decisions have on her honorable mother. It is strong evidence that Mrs. Temple is not at fault for her daughter's weak character, and that mothers should not be blamed if their daughters fall from virtue. It also allows Rowson to emphasize Mrs. Temple's status as a female role model, who accepts her poor economic circumstances and strives to behave honorably even when her father is in debtor's prison and she is his sole support, a difficult situation for any woman from this time period.