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In the 18th century, when Charlotte Temple was written, society?s ideas

about women, love, and obligations were extremely different from views

held in the 20th century. Women did not have many rights, and society

made them think that their place in life was to marry well. They were

not supposed to have desires or hopes for an amazing kind of love. They

were merely supposed to marry the man who their families intended them

to marry, and live their lives being a dutiful wife and mother. Love

had a similar essence in the 1700?s. It was not looked at as being

essential to a relationship; convenience and social status was more

important than love in an 18th century marriage. Finally, social

obligations were almost completely opposite then to what they are now.

As opposed to 20th century obligations to the self, education, and

wealth, the 18th century focused more on social status and family, and

not so many personal or independent obligations. (?Eighteenth?) In

Charlotte Temple, a radical idea concerning a breakdown of social norms,

and a restructuring of important obligations was presented. Familial

and social responsibilities seemed to take a backseat to Charlotte?s

(and other characters) independent and personal lives. For this reason,

Charlotte Temple was a revolutionary novel that gave people in the 18th

century a new way of looking at life. It emphasized love and emotions,

while disregarding normal cultural ideas.

Persico 2

In the beginning of the novel, familial or social obligations were

told through the stories of Mr. Temple, Charlotte, and La Rue. The

narrator remarked that Mr. Temple?s brother was ?made completely

wretched by marrying a disagreeable woman, whose fortune helped to prop

the sinking dignity of the house,? and his sisters both married old men

for their social status. The narrator commented on how their marriages

were productive in the sense that the family name was held in high

regard, yet the actual participants in the marriages were miserable

(854). Temple recognized that he will be under the same obligations as

his brother and sisters, and would probably have had to marry someone

who would be good for the family. He also realized that he would risk

disownment by his father if he chose a mate not suited to his father?s


Another person bound with familial obligations was Charlotte

Temple. Even when she was away at boarding school, she still felt she

should have obeyed her mothers? wishes. She did not think she should

open the letter given to her by Montraville, because her mother told her

not to open any letters from men without letting Mother read it first.

She shied away from seeing Montraville again, for she knew her mother

and schoolmaster would not have approved. At one point, Montraville

asked Charlotte if she loved her parents more than she loved him. She

responded, ?I hope I do. I hope my affection for them will ever keep me

from infringing the laws of filial duty.? Here in the story, it was

especially evident the ?laws? that came with being an 18th century girl.

She said here that she has a specific obligation to her parents, and

Persico 3

nothing should keep her from fulfilling her obligations to them (872).

She also was distressed about leaving to go to America with Montraville,

in fear of hurting her parents. This part of the text illustrated the

strength of the responsibilities imposed on Charlotte from her family.

Everything that she encountered in her personal life she was forced to

think about the influence it would have had on her family life.

Last, instead of familial obligations, La Rue risked social

obligations to pursue personal happiness. Mademoiselle La Rue agreed to

go with Charlotte on her elopement with Montraville. Charlotte did not

think La Rue was risking very much by doing so, since she did not have a

family to answer to. However, La Rue contradicted her by saying that

she was risking her ?dear reputation? by leaving all occupational and

social responsibilities in her life. Unlike Charlotte, La Rue had no

qualms about leaving her duties. She did not waver back and forth, as

Charlotte did. She admirably made up her mind and was strong in her


As the novel Charlotte Temple showed devout loyalties to family

obligations, it also illustrated the rejection of familial and social

duties for the sake of love and personal growth. Again, Mr. Temple was

under strict orders by his father to marry a woman who was good for the

family?s status and name. Specifically in the novel, he was commanded

by his father to marry Miss Weatherby, an admired woman with an affluent

family, not Lucy Eldridge, the poor, imprisoned daughter of a sailor.

However, Temple went to his father, declared his love for Lucy, and left

the house forever. This illustrated the point that, in the 18th

century, people were growing tired of the social norms. The society was

Persico 4

being restructured, and changing from a status based society, to one who

depended more on personal attribution. ?Normal? was no longer arranged

marriages and social standing, but personal growth and true love. Also

illustrating this point is Charlotte Temple. Despite frequent wavering

between family and true love, she finally chose true love with

Montraville. La Rue also, after absolutely no wavering, left her job

and her school and her job for personal growth.

Charlotte and La Rue both valued their independence; this was

evident because they left their obligations to pursue it. However, they

each valued it differently, and therefore, each story of independence

and growth ended differently. Charlotte, in her heart, would have liked

to be independent. She felt strongly for Montraville, and longed to be

with him, but felt obligated to fulfill her duty to her parents. But,

she ended up giving into her feelings, and left her duties at home to

elope to America. She maintained her independence, even when

Montraville abandoned her. This showed that Charlotte wanted to be her

own person, with no obligations from home. However, even when she was

faltering in her attempts to be unconstrained, she knew that she could

have returned to her family in England. The fact that she tried to keep

her head above water in America illustrated her strength and

perseverance. She was scared and proud at the same time, unwilling to

return home to the safety of her family. However, after hitting rock

bottom (pregnant and homeless in the bitter winter of New England), her

father appeared by her side. She turned to him for support and

forgiveness, and finally returned to her family after years of being

independent from them. So, in the end, the reader was presented with

Persico 5

the idea that, eventually, Charlotte (or anyone) must return to the

societal norms in order to be happy.

On the other hand, La Rue did not return to the obligations that

she had in the beginning of the novel. After marrying the affluent

socialite that she met on the ship to America, she denied her past, and

even denied Charlotte in her moment of need. Unlike Charlotte, La Rue

did not return to her roots and societal obligations presented in the

beginning of the novel. And, the reader is presented again with a

consequence. La Rue denied her past, and therefore in the end, died

miserable and alone.

The two women began Charlotte Temple in the same fashion: looking

for independence and self-worth. However, then endings of the two women

were different. It seemed as if the narrator is saying if one never

leaves or even returns to social obligations, the end result will be

happiness. If one denies obligations, then the end result will be

misery. This novel, however radical it was regarding the risks of

social and familial obligations for personal attribution, basically

stated at the end that the one who does adheres to obligations will be

happy in the end. So, in conclusion, Charlotte Temple did break down

social norms by presenting the idea that people could have resisted

?normal? social obligations to pursue personal happiness. However, it

was not so radical as to say that one would have been happy if they

denied their duties.

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