Kirk's Reviews > Charlotte Temple & Lucy Temple

Charlotte Temple & Lucy Temple by Susanna Rowson
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Jan 04, 2009

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bookshelves: currently-teaching
Read in July, 1990

This is the first selection in our 19th Cent American Novels class this semester (even though, technically, it's an 18th cen novel), so I'm rereading. It'll be a challenge bc novels of this period are so different from ours---the horizon of expectations, shall we say, might as well exist in a whole other world. The key thing to getting into this book is understanding the social function of this genre: Charlotte Temple---a huge bestseller all the way up to the early 1900s---is a seduction novel a la Pamela and Clarissa, the latter of which really did explain it all ... seven volumes worth. As with these progenitors, CT is full of stock characters, including the soon-to-be devirginated damsel, the rakish ne'er-do-well, the disappointed parents, and the older fallen woman who fails to preserve her charge's cherry. Then there are the authorial intrusions, all of them so exclamatory (dare I say shrieky) you'd be forgiven if you thought you'd tuned into Dr. Laura. Those are prejudices we'll have to overcome. The books also served a feminist agenda: they taught young readers that they deserved companionate marriages, cautioned them against the many pitfalls of men (not the least of which is the saying of anything to get into a woman's petticoat), and critiqued the novel's own dangerous power to propogate unrealistic fantasies of romance (not sex, romance). On the positive side, CT is at least a bit more dramatically straightforward because, unlike The Coquette, it's not an epistolary novel, which are brutal to get students into. Additionally, this edition has an excellent introduction that links the book's drama to Rowson's experience as a playwright and within the tradition of American melodrama. Still, this one to me is better suited to study than to enjoyment, and that will be the big obstacle. Facing it, I've figured out a gambit for kick-starting the discussion: I'll be using Caitlin Flanagan's excellent assessment of the Twilight phenomenon ( to make a basic argument: Susanna Rowson was the Stephenie Meyer of her day--and I will mean it as a compliment.

Please discuss.
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message 1: by Pinky (new)

Pinky Wow--outstanding review, and (as another person always circling 'round my books as potential objects of classroom conversation) a great teaching set-up. I'd dig this class, man. (Run through the whole syllabus for us, book by book!)

message 2: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jan 04, 2009 08:29AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) Manny needs to see this review! Too bad you can't recommend reviews the way you do books around here ....

I'd love to see the syllabus too. My own education skipped over most of these gems, and only rarely included profs who were interested in getting students engaged in the material. Eye-opening.

message 3: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Obviously, I really rushed through college to get my lit degree. I never heard of this book and this is a topic we never really looked at in the classes I took.

message 4: by Kirk (last edited Jan 04, 2009 07:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kirk Thank you both all three. (You snuck in there on me, Sandi!). I'm definitely going to put up the books as we go along, Mike, though I'm not sure if I should go pre- or post-op: I may wait until after the class session to diagnose what was good and what tanked. And EM, you didn't have teachers who wanted you to get into the books? I can't imagine not doing that---if the students aren't into the reading, class crashes and burns like the Hindenberg. Don't feel bad, Sandi---CT has only recently been rediscovered. It was ignored for a long time after a critic dismissed it as a "melodrama of beset womanhood."

message 5: by Manny (new)

Manny I love the review, and Muse, I'm flattered that you thought I should see it! But alas, I must confess to my shame that I have read none of these books. Though I do love the Clarissa entry in One Hundred Great Books in Haiku. If I remember correctly, it goes like this:

"To Miss Howe: send help!
I've been ravished in book six
with three more to go"

message 6: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jan 04, 2009 08:29AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) Granted, it was *ahem* 25 years ago since I studied literature in a formal academic (undergraduate) setting, but no ... I can count on one hand the number of profs I had who really seemed to care about anything they were teaching, or even whether they were teaching. I wonder if Canadian academia is different from the U.S. in this respect, perhaps because of funding or research imperatives that take precedence over teaching? It may have changed here too since the early/mid 80s.

My high school experience, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar in terms of teaching quality. (Led me to study English lit in university, and gave me enough self-propulsion to see me through). I went to a public high school in a very small town. I wonder if that, too, is different north vs. south of the border?

message 7: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jan 04, 2009 08:29AM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) Manny ... LOVE the haiku!

It is the creative use of Twilight I thought you'd enjoy ... more fodder for your "study" ;-)

Kirk ... the Atlantic link is not working for me -- anyone else?

Oh ... here ... does this work? What Girls Want, Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny Ah, the more I study Twilight, the more I realize my own limitations. It is indeed a humbling experience. But thank you, perhaps this will help...

message 9: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Eccentric Muse wrote: "Granted, it was *ahem* 25 years ago since I studied literature in a formal academic (undergraduate) setting, but no ... I can count on one hand the number of profs I had who really seemed to care about anything they were teaching, or even whether they were teaching."

I had a few professors who cared about what they were teaching. I went back to college about 10 years after dropping out. The English 101 (literature) teacher I had there is the one who really turned me on to literature as a field of study. I had always loved reading and essay writing, but this guy taught me that I could read deeper and write about what I learned. He always wrote encouraging comments on my papers.

I think the guy who taught the Chaucer class I took at the university really loved what he was teaching. He did have kind of a snobby attitude about it. The teacher who taught the Introduction to English Literature 1700-present (or whatever year) was a gem. She was a prim, older lady who always wore a hat and gloves. But, she loved literature and loved the writers. She'd tell us stories about every author/poet's life. I think she had a crush on Byron.

I wish my high school experience had been better. The highlight was reading "Julius Caesar" out load. I got to be the hag and Caesar's wife. It was fun. The low point was studying Bruce Springsteen lyrics as poetry in 1976.

message 10: by Kirk (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kirk Damn, I guess I'll take "Blinded By the Light" off my syllabus now, Sandi! Haha---I always hated when teachers put music lyrics in a poetry class to make it "relevant." They were usually Simon & Garfunkel, though.

I had a lot of uninspiring teachers now that I think of it.... maybe four or five who really made me want to read. The lame ones were usually middle-aged men in midlife crises who preferred questions from somebody with breasts.

Manny, I love that haiku. I had to read a one volume condensed version of Clarissa for a class in college, c. 1986. All I remember is how hard it was not to giggle whenever we had to talk about the rake. (His name is Lovelace).

message 11: by Salma (new)

Salma Kirk-

This reminded me of Louisa May Alcott's "A Long Fatal Love Chase." As in the case of F. Scott Fitgerald in my "Beautiful and Damned" review last week, the name says it all, right? I'm looking forward to reading your recommend- been looking for a damsel in distress romantic suspense forever.

I'm going to go out on a limb here about the Twilight comment- I can't tell if you (and other people here) are being sarcastic about the compliment. I absolutely adore Twilight (Jacob all the way, baby!), so if you're NOT being sarcastic, that's a great correlation.

Last thing- teachers used Simon & Garfunkel instead of Dylan? Freaks. I love, S&G, but come on...

message 12: by Kirk (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kirk Hi Salma:

No, I'm being absolutely sincere about the Twilight books---I haven't read them, but I'm intrigued by their appeal and effect on readers. I really recommend the Atlantic article linked above: it does a great job, in my view, of discussing the appeal of Meyer's work, and I think her argument applies as well to Rowson.

I haven't read "A Long Fatal Chase," so thanks for reminding me of it---isn't that the one she originally published under another name? Many of the pre-1860 damsel novels are cut from the same cloth, but that's the source of their fascination: as with any genre, the pleasure and appeal lies in what elements recur from book to book. Little Women was a breakthrough in moving away from the seduction plot.

And yeah, nothing makes me less interested in music than having a teacher analyze the lyrics. "'Mr. Tambourine Man' is really about the neo-Marxist repression of percussion that occurred directly as a result of US foreign policy under the Johnson administration'" ---zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

message 13: by Salma (new)

Salma I can some up the appeal of Twilight for so many women, including myself, in a couple of sentences.

Romance is dead. Twilight brought it back.



Bob does think about the government a lot, though. Did you read Suze's book?

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

So THAT's what "Mr. Tambourine Man" is about. Yeah, great review, Kirk, and do post the syllabus. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine whose a professor at Western Illinois got me interested in the gothic pot boilers of the 19th century. I cannot tell you how much fun I've had reading these things, and Oxford seems to publish them all.

message 15: by Salma (new)

Salma Not to put down anyone on this thread- but I think it's interesting how a lot of intellectuals are willing to read potboilers from the nineteenth century, but not from our own.

message 16: by Kirk (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kirk I'm guilty of that, Salma, but it's more a matter of time than inclination. I try to work in potboilers on every syllabus I teach just so I can get a chance to read a variety of stuff. But honestly, if I'm not teaching it or using it for work, I usually don't get to read it except over my breaks. (I sandblasted through three or four Hard Case Crime pulps over Xmas).

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

I stand accused, Salma, and don't deny it. And I guess I think there is something more edifying about potboilers from two hundred years ago than those from today. For starters, those potboiler writers of two hundred years ago tend to be much better writers than our potboiler gang today. Grisham is a pathetic sentence maker, Baldacci is ridiculous, and even DA VINCI CODE was horribly written. Can't say the same about Wilkie Collins or Samuel Richardson or Ellen Wood or Matthew Lewis. Plus, the potboilers of two hundred years ago drop me into a world about which I know nothing, or very little. I'm pretty well-versed in today's world. So am I a snob for not wanting to waste time on Grisham or Steele or Patterson? Maybe, but I still think Grisham and Steele and Patterson aren't worth my time, although I do like Le Carre, probably because he's a much finer writer.

message 18: by Salma (new)

Salma That makes sense, Kirk- you seem pretty open-minded about it. As you can tell from my reading list, I'm open to everything- Stephenie Meyer and Thomas Hardy are both on my favorite lists.

I just bring this up bc I've met people who act like you're scum of the earth if they see you reading 'popular' books. Case in point, one time I was reading some King, and a friend came over and knocked the book out of my hands and told me I shouldn't read that trash. Needless to say, we're not friends anymore. lol Like Ray Bradbury said, you need both treasure and trash in your writing life.

message 19: by Salma (new)

Salma Erik-

There's definitely truth in that. I actually have read none of the contemporary 'pot-boiling' authors you've mentioned. When it comes multimillionaire bestsellers, I've stuck with Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Meyer.

After poo-pooing paperback romance novels all my life (yes, I've been a snob too), I picked up a Nora Roberts, and it's now on my faves list.

I like what Joyce Carol Oates said once- 'there's no bad genre, only bad writing.'

message 20: by Salma (new)

Salma oh, and I obviously meant 'sum' up in my earlier post about 'twilight'- not 'some'

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Great quotation by Oates. Nails it perfectly.

message 22: by Kirk (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kirk Yup. I agree with you both. Group hug!

Salma, my girlfriend spent three consecutive days reading the Twilight books--one a day. I had to pretend I was Edward just to get any love at all.

message 23: by Salma (new)

Salma I hated Edward (but not Robert Pattinson ;-p)) until the fourth book. I was jacob all the way- i think I said this once to someone, but Edward reminds me too much of those uptight preppy dudes I made fun of in high school.

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