American Romanticism, was the first of the entirely-fledged movement of literary works that emerged in the USA between 1820 and 1860 as America was still a young and undeveloped nation (Gilmore p56). The authors for this works were influenced by the earlier groups who developed similar like the romantics from Britain. The British Romantics’ works were based on writings about emotion, exploration of nature, imagination, and about love. The American landscape like the frontier and chronological events had a great influence on the group of American romanticism authors. For instance, they dwelt on questions that addressed democracy and about freedom, which were the basis of American Revolution that contributed to the 1776 American independence from the British rule. American culture that fueled ideas like individualism were some of the aspects that were reflected in the American romanticism. The content of American Romanticism was marked with characters who showed a lot of excitement and sensitivity as they had chances to exercise free will actions; these led to an increased number of women readers and authors who contributed to the expansion of the works (Marshall p18). This period was known for people showing a great desire to acquire knowledge. This period was also significant since it promoted ideas of liberty and equality and hence women could air their voices and be heard. Before women could gain a social status that was equal to men, many women activist explained that promoting equality was equal to the promotion of liberty. They argued that for the claim that liberty was a natural human right to be realistic, women need to share the same liberty with men. Some of these women writers who spearheaded American romanticism from the feminine perspective included Mary Wollstonecraft, who came up with the essay about the vindication of the rights of women, which led to a lot of debates and some ended up in legal battles in the quest for men and women equality. Another feminine romantics was Hannah More, who wrote about the expected appropriate conduct in the society (Powell para 3). The paper will focus on various themes that have been used by Susanna Rowson in her writing Charlotte Temple, as part of the role of women in the platform of American romanticism.
Susanna Rowson was born 1762, was American – British poet, novel writer, actress, teacher and she wrote religious articles. In 1791, she contributed to the field of American romanticism by having Charlotte Temple published (Powell para 2). The novel was a best-seller in America. She is a distinguished contributor of American romanticism, and her novel Charlotte Temple expressed the American values and culture in the 1700s as portrayed in the following themes.
Marriage for money is a theme that is evident in this novel, considering that the value of individualism was common Among American culture. Men in Charlotte temple as portrayed as men looking forward to marrying women who will help in the expansion of their wealth and not only to squander. This makes sense since these were days America was a young nation and very undeveloped with scary frontiers. The culture to marry women of stature to accumulate wealth is promoted by fathers and hence will probably have a trickle effect on their grandsons. Montraville and Mr. Temple has conservative and materialistic fathers who threaten to disown them if they fail to marry heiresses (Parker 59). Their fathers don’t care about their emotional needs as long as their financial plans are realized. Montraville is weak enough not to stand for what his heart wants and succumbs to his father’s threat. He ended up with breaking his relationship with Charlotte, who is taken over by his friend Belcourt, who is extremely cunning. On the other hand, Mr. Temple does not succumb to any of his father’s threats but decide to move away from his father’s home and decide to marry Lucy Eldridge, who was an honorable woman. He is a good example of the liberty that was being promoted in the American Renaissance period. He declines his father’s command to marry Miss Weathersby, who would have led to the accumulation of fortunes according to his father’s view. The two characters show antagonistic characteristics, the son is not materialistic and values social order and liberty, but his father is materialistic which helps to show the theme of marriage for money as the only reason he would have married his son. The author tries to show that despite women having the power to determine their destiny when it comes to marriage, the system values marry for money that gives men more influence hence treating women without honor. Those who are most affected are the women in the working and those in the middle class whose suitors determines the outcome of a marriage. This shows their suitors have to place a price tag on them, and if their value is not enough, they will not end up in a marriage union.
Gossip is another theme that Susanne uses to portray American romanticism in the novel Charlotte Temple. Men in the novel make choices based on the material benefits they will get from the marriage. Women have a high chance of getting married if they are possibly going to influence a positive financial outcome for the family they will be married to. Similarly women in the novel choose suitors based on the comment about the specific suitor from their peers (Parker 42). Those suitors who get a negative review from their friends will automatically be disqualified. Both in Rowson’s Britain and American context, gossip has been of negative influence to people’s behavior. For instance, Mrs. Beauchamp is reluctant to help Charlotte since she was wondering what the neighbors would comment on the act. She addresses gossip as an element of morality in the society, and the writer tries to show that being moral upright is inborn, and it is not associated with any economic failure success. This shows gossip was a social problem that was included in the American culture. With the rise of ideas of individualism, where people are supposed to focus on personal development especially after the American Revolution and gossip becomes less popular social activity.
Geographical mobility, Susanne the writer of the novel is a practical example of this theme. Her father was working in the Navy and was on a constant move with his ship that contributed to her landing in America from Britain, Portsmouth. A large number of the American characters are in a constant move since they serve the military in one way or another. In this rapid movements, women are the victims since it tolls on them a great extent. Charlotte is saddened by the fact that she must move to America with Montraville (Parker 85). Due to geographical mobility, Charlotte faces more problem with Mrs. Beauchamp and Montraville having been assigned by the military to move to different geographical regions leaving her with problems in the new geographical she never anticipated. The frequent movement without settling down for a social life is a way women are kept submissive to men by the patriarchal society and women like Charlotte experience the pain of unsettling lifestyle of men in the society.
The theme of filial piety is conspicuous in the novel as illustrated by Rowson. She encourages young ladies not to elope from their families and persuade them to stay with them. Bur still she recognizes that obeying some tyrannical family rules can be a burden and should not be upheld, she sometimes says it may be morally wrong to observe selfish family directive would not be morally wrong. Montraville and Mr. Temple are the best examples representing this theme. It could be immoral to leave honorable women from the middle-class families due to their financial status and marry rich heiresses (Parker 80). The marriage of rich women would not be based on truth or love, but on selfish desired which are automatically wrong. Mr. Temple is praised by Susanne in the novel for taking a bold move of marrying Lucy, showing that acts of morality should be considered and given the priority even before family. To be the poor Eldridge he had to move away from his family, that was a heroic act. Montraville on the other end in cowardice and left Charlotte, which is presented by the author as a disappointing move for a lover to take.
The theme of charity has been promoted in the novel Charlotte Temple. Charlotte is responsible for the occurrence of her death. Individuals like Mrs. Beauchamp had a chance to help her but was reluctant she also blamed for her death for being so uncharitable to Charlotte. The novel shows charity activities was the charitable remedy that was required in Charlottes situation. The author acknowledges that Charlotte had made wrong decisions that she ought to own, but she did not deserve the harsh judgment that she received (Parker 83). The author shows that charity is important, and she is an example of charity since she established a progressive girl school, showing that she was walking her talk. Charitable activities are believed to promote social morality and social balance. In the American Renaissance period, people had developed the idea of individualism and would not consider helping others to improve their social-economic status. Charlotte somehow condemns the uncharitable actions that were common the American romanticism error.
The theme of inner content has been echoed in the novel, the author finds a lot of faults with the society and condemns the nature of young women from humble background not capable of making honorable choices concerning their lives, since they would for instance based their decision on who they should marry from views of their friends which is wrong (Parker 26). She condemns the selfish natures of for instance Mr. Temple’s father who only valued material gains. The authors talk about people being contented with what they have and should not value material possession or any form of popularity in place of human beings.
The theme of sexual abstinence has been elaborated in the writings of Rowson. The novel is full of deductive messages and is amplified by Rowson. For instance, Montraville has abandoned Charlotte but remains tormented by that act of cowardice. The author promotes the chaste living by avoiding sexual activities until a person is married (Parker 66). She claims that if sex is committed outside marriage, it has a negative impact socially, physical, and emotionally.
The theme of love and lust, this are eminent throughout the writing love is always mentioned and celebrated, but lust is shown through characters. Once a person loves with their heart, the feeling is constant and realistic and long-lasting. On the other end, lust is not based on the heart but on the eye and is short lived. Love may show appreciation of beauty and physical charms, but it is rooted from the heart. The experience of Henry Temple and Lucy shows true love as expressed by the fact that Henry was charmed by Lucy’s beauty at the first sight. He shows an act of generosity to her father by ransoming his debt since he perceived the act would help him win her heart easily, as she would come to show gratitude. The fact that her father had a debt shows that she came from a poor origin but still was beautiful enough to capture the eye of Henry, who came from an affluent family. Although his materialistic father is not into the idea of marrying a lady from a poor family. The two passes through a series of challenges but conquers them all and ends up a happily married couple loving and supporting each other unconditionally. As they constantly show love to their prodigal daughter( Parker 84). They are a good example of couples who overcome social construction of marriages that the rich should marry the rich and those in lower economic strata marry people from their category. They had to overcome the family barrier and move away to get a different life that supports their love life. Henry defiled his father’s order not to marry Lucy and threat of disownment, but still life turned out well.
Viewpoint has been used by Susanne, and she starts the novel by telling the audience that the novel is based on a true story, but she has chosen not reveal the true names to protect those innocent characters in the real occurrences. She claims the real characters were deceased by still chooses to conceal their names. She was staying in the British colonies during the American Revolution that contributed to independence. She was a loyalist and, as a result, was captured and imprisoned for a while before she was returned to Britain. Later she returns to America and starts her writing career, with events she has the best knowledge about. She does not consider morals so much and gives negligible details about the events and places she had been (Parker 108- 109). Her writing incorporated a stiff warning to young women to shun activities that may lead them into temptation. She was the writer of religious contents, and so the moralistic emphasis for the young women to embrace makes a lot of sense. She advises them to be vigilant enough to identify the moment of life where they may be victims of immoral conduct and avoid them.
The theme of betrayal has been used, with industrial revolution American were embracing the idea of individualism and the support of liberty. On page 4 Montraville claims that he is not focusing on the future and that he is only determined to make the best out of the current moment. He betrays marry Charlotte by not marrying her. He might have promised her but out of his selfish desire he breaks her heart. He betrays himself by not marrying charlottes since he was planning his future instead of enjoying the moment, contrary to his claim above. He would have honored his words by not worrying about the future and marry Charlotte since she was the one at the moment. The author makes it clear that instead of ruining the moment by obsession over the future, one should be content and have a quality life at that moment. His cowardice and individualism made him betray his fiancée( Parker 6). He was overcome by individualistic and materialistic thinking that were perpetrated by his father. This shows his claim is not thinking about the future to be a lie, and it’s not considered a moral act. Henry Temple was issued with a threat by his father that he would be disowned if he chooses to marry a girl from the poor background. Henry Temple is already in love with Lucy and makes a bold move of moving away from his family to some place same where they could consummate their love. The act of abandoning his family for some stranger she has known for a short while in the name of love is an act of betrayal. He betrayed his family members, and his actions were based on individualistic desires. Also, his father betrayed him by showing concern over money and not what his son wanted. The novel rotates around acts of betrayal.
In conclusion, Rowson has addressed various themes in her work, which portrayed how American romantic feminist, viewed the world in their times. The themes show the socio-political and cultural-economic times that marked American Renaissance period (Powell para 4). The issue of women being valued less than men, according to romantic feminist, was due to the improper education levels women had as compared to men who had more education. The women from middle and upper class were slightly privileged to acquire some form of education. For instance women in this times were taught basic feminine skills like dancing and sewing put were not given a chance to practice philology or other forms of politics (Wu, Duncan p 35). Women we like objects to men since the society modeled them with skills on how to attract and please a man. And so some feminist centered their writing of how to behave before a husband. They were never taught how to how to think creatively about social issues. The feminist argue that women should be given education so that they can be better mates in the marriage. Some peoples argue that education for women has threatened (Woodlief’s 63). Rowson was educated, and that’s why she could see the various social issues as disclosed in her novel. Although the romantic feminist did not succeed in pursuing equality of men and women, it helped to create a way for later feminine activism. Currently in American men and are equal and have equal opportunities with men. People should thank the American romanticism feminist who fought for the currently enjoyed status of women.
Gilmore, Michael T. American romanticism and the marketplace. University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Marshall, Megan. The Peabody Sisters Three women who ignited American romanticism. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.
Powell, Kat. “Romantic Feminism.” Romantic Feminism. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://web.utk.edu/~gerard/romanticpolitics/feminism.html>.
Parker, Patricia L. “Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson.” English Journal(1976): 59-60.
Wu, Duncan, ed. Romanticism: an anthology. Vol. 5. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
Woodlief’s, Ann. “Intro to American Romanticism.” Intro to American Romanticism. 2001. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm>.
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