Charlotte Temple - Susanna Rowson

Charlotte Temple - Susanna Rowson

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Charlotte Temple, a "best seller" that went through more than 200 editions, was the most popular American novel until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It tells of a beautiful English girl who at the age of 15 is courted by and runs away with a British lieutenant named Montraville. Once in America, Charlotte is abandoned by Montraville, who marries another woman and leaves to fight in the Revolutionary War. Desperate, evicted from her home, and pregnant with Montraville's child, Charlotte goes out in a terrible storm to find the French teacher who originally encouraged her alliance with the officer. Spurned by the corrupt teacher, she is taken in by her servant. Charlotte's father, the son of an English nobleman whose family name far exceeds his fortune, arrives in time to bury his unfortunate daughter and to claim her illegitimate child.

Though no historical evidence exists to confirm the facts of this story, Susanna Rowson insisted throughout her life that it was true, and it was as a "tale of truth" that it was read and loved. In the nineteenth century, someone even erected a tombstone bearing Charlotte's name in New York's Trinity Churchyard, where thousands of readers left flowers, locks of hair, and the ashes of love letters on the real grave of America's most famous fictional character.

In her introduction to Charlotte Temple, Cathy N. Davidson discusses the enormous popularity of the book and the life of Susanna Rowson, which was even more sensational than the lives of the characters in her book.