Motherhood and literary form in Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women

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Title: Motherhood and literary form in Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women
Author: Aday, Melissa
Abstract: In 1794 Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple : A Tale of Truth appears in the United States . Unmistakably a novel about seduction and abandonment , the tale is also one which discusses the tie between a mother and daughter , an image heavy in both its real and symbolic value for the post -Revolutionary American nation . In a poignant early scene of the novel Mr . and Mrs . Temple , the parents of the main character , Charlotte Temple , walk in an almost utopian garden discussing their daughter who is away at school . As they praise her beauty and affection her mother states that Charlotte “will never lose sight of the duty she owes her parents ,” and her husband in turn formulates a telling response : “If she does…she must forget the example set her by the best of mothers” (Charlotte 32 ) . It is this image of the ideal mother , described by Rowson as possessing “Humility , Filial Piety , conjugal Affection , Industry…Benevolence [and] Content [sic]” which is held up throughout the text as the framing device of the narrative and the touchstone for the fallen daughter’s actions (Charlotte 32 ) . In this essay I will examine mother -daughter relationships in eighteenth and nineteenth century American novels , claiming that the mother characters instruct their daughters to function within society’s guidelines while at the same time encourage them to develop individuality . I will frame my argument using Lora Romero’s discussion of nineteenth century American domesticity in which she claims that domestic novels are conservative in some areas yet progressive in others . I compliment this perspective with that of Julia Stern who provides criticism of eighteenth century American sentiment which I use as a model for acknowledging the ambiguities in mother -daughter relationships . My essay directly responds to a recent special edition of Studies in American Fiction in which editors Jennifer Desiderio and Desireé Henderson call for a recontextualization of Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple . In analyzing the relationships between mothers and daughters in Rowson’s Charlotte Temple and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women , I will show that eighteenth and nineteenth century American daughters can neither separate themselves entirely from maternal figures nor wholly conform to them . Instead daughters must find ways of manipulating the socially constructed maternal role in order to illustrate their own individualities and function within the changing American nation .
URI: http : / /hdl .handle .net /2346 /45366
Date: 2012-05

Citation

Motherhood and literary form in Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Master's thesis, Texas Tech University. Available electronically from http : / /hdl .handle .net /2346 /45366 .

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