Apr 11, 2016

Charlotte Temple: America's first best seller



I am an avid reader and love finding good books at second-hand stores and other various venues.  I happened to come across a small book called Charlotte Temple a little while back. It has probably a year since I first brought it home. The author, Susanna Rowson, referred to this small novel as, A tale of truth and added that little line to the title when it first published in 1791. The novel was available in America by 1792. Over the years, the novel came to be known simply as Charlotte Temple.  The only extant copy is in the Barrett Collection at the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia. 

Charlotte Temple the first American best seller that went through more than 200 editions and was the most popular novel until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, which I plan to read next. I am ashamed to say how long I've had that book on my shelf and not read it. 

This is a tale of a young girl about 15 years of age who was seduced by a man, they eloped to America with the promise of marriage upon arrival, then Montraville abandoned Charlotte, while heavy with child, to marry another woman. In that time period, women were considered ruined if they deviated from the societal norm of not having sex outside of marriage and Charlotte knew it. The desire to be forgiven by her parents was nearly more than poor Charlotte could bear.  The author meant for this tale to be an inspiration to young women that virtue is a possession that females must hold in high esteem and to protect until marriage. Even though our society has become lax with this view, I believe that some still cling to it.  Oh I know it is a melodramatic novel, written simply and at times the author writes directly to the reader, but take it for what it is worth, a novel meant to help young girls.  

Fans of the novel had a stone placed for Charlotte Temple in the Trinity Churchyard in Manhattan, New York.  Click on the link and it will take you to her burial place, well, hypothetically. 

The book ends with poor Charlotte dying as soon as her father arrives, but her deceivers get a bit of karma, which I liked the best. Why can't real life be like that?