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Review: Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson

Friday, April 10, 2015

Charlotte Temple
Susanna Rowson

Genre: Historical, Sentimental Novel
Paperback: 192 Pages
Publication: September 23, 2010
by Bedford/St. Martin's

A novel of seduction, abandonment and villainy, Charlotte Temple was initially published in England in 1791 before making its American debut in 1794. Susanna Rowson's short novel became the first bestseller in America and its most popular novel until Uncle Tom's Cabin, and has gone through more than 200 editions. This Bedford College Edition is based on the 1794 edition, and features editorial matter that engages key questions for responding to the novel, including those of genre, authorship, book history, gender, sexuality, family, class, and community.


Charlotte Temple was so bad, I couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it. So many factors were working against Charlotte that I kept turning the pages to find out what happens to her. Yes, she does things that she knows she shouldn't do, but not-so-nice people also use her for their own gains. This was why I stayed up reading this novel; I felt so bad for Charlotte. With all the terrible developments, the plot moves forwards fairly quickly. There is also the time Charlotte faints, and we do not know if she would have had the willpower to resist the influences of the not-so-nice people.

A story of emotion and ethics, the goal of the sentimental novel (like Charlotte Temple) was to teach young women good morals and to warn them against associating with certain types of people who would certainly lead them to ruin. You can see the didactic messages in Charlotte Temple when the narrator speaks directly to the audience about what we should be learning from the story. The seduction plot teaches us the potential consequences of loving and following the wrong man. Of course, the consequences wouldn't be as bad today as in Charlotte's time, so the primary value of reading this novel would be to learn more about the culture during the colonial period.

That said, the characters are one dimensional for the most part. Mr. and Mrs. Temple are obviously the ideal sentimental hero and heroine respectively, Montraville is the seducer, La Rue is the seductress / temptress, and Charlotte is the naive heroine . . . to name a few. While there are a couple changes in some of the characters, they're very subtle and aren't enough to make them multi-dimensional. We also don't get to peer much into the minds of the characters other than those that contribute to the plot, so we don't learn much about them as people. While Charlotte Temple provides a different kind of read, it wouldn't be my first pick for leisure reading.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of intricate plot and character development, I did enjoy reading Charlotte Temple. I read this book for my American Heroine class, and it made for some fantastic discussion on the different characters and how they relate to one another. Fun fact to consider while reading this novel - though Rowson was a British writer, Charlotte Temple sold better in the Americas than in Britain.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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