Daughters of Misfortune
Anatomy of the 1790s Seduction Novel
by Sarah Cornwell
"'What pleasure,' cried Mr. Eldridge, as he stepped into the chaise to
go for his grand-daughter, 'what pleasure expands the heart of an old
man when he beholds the progeny of a beloved child growing up in every
virtue that adorned the minds of her parents'" (Rowson 43). Thus begins
the chapter of Charlotte Temple when Charlotte's grandfather, Mr.
Eldridge, arrives by carriage to collect his fifteen year old
granddaughter from boarding school and escort her home, where her loving
parents have arranged a surprise party for her. But Charlotte is not at
school. "Bear it like a Christian," says Mr. Eldridge when he informs
Charlotte's father of what has happened. Mr. Temple informs his wife in
the following exchange:
'Lucy,' replied Mr. Temple, 'imagine your daughter alive, and in no
danger of death: what misfortune would you then dread?'
Charlotte Temple has been seduced by an unvirtuous man, along with
all the other tragic heroines of her popular genre: the
story. These novels were generally intended for young, female audiences
as cautionary tales against the evils of coquetry, disobedience to one's
parents, and social and sexual promiscuity. In 1728, Samuel Richardson's
prodigious Clarissa began the trend, which manifested
in sensational news items and dramas written for schoolgirl actors.
Seduction rhetoric is also present in the Gothic novels of the era, such
as Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk and Charles Brockden Brown's
Ormond, where villains enact elaborate schemes to possess the young
ladies of their choice.
'There is one misfortune which is worse than death. But I know my child
too well to suspect--'
'Be not too confident, Lucy.'
'Oh heavens!' said she, 'what horrid images do you start: is it possible
she should forget--'
'She has forgot us all, my love, she has preferred the love of a
stranger to the affectionate protection of her friends.'
'Not eloped?' cried she eagerly.
Mr. Temple was silent." (Rowson 48-49)
For more information on the seduction story:
Relevant Bibliography Entries
Relevant Chronology Entries
History 9.0 (1997), 625-652.
Janet Eldred and Peter Mortensen.
"Gender and Writing
Early America: Lessons from Didactic Fiction." Rhetoric Review
"Women, Consumption and Coverture in England, c.
1760-1860." The Historical Journal 39.0 (1996), 703-722
Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to
the Brontes. University Park (PA): Pennsylvania State UP,
Contexts for the Consideration of the Transgressive Antitype."
and Notorious: Female Transgression in the Eighteenth Century. Ed.
Katharine Kittredge. Ann Arbor (MI): U of Michigan
P, 2003. 1-15.
in a New Key."
American Literature 44.4 (1973), 570-58.
Torrid Zones: Maternity, Sexuality, and Empire in
Eighteenth-Century English Narratives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
Demon-Lovers and their
Victims in British Fiction. Lexington (KY): UP
of Kentucky, 1988.
"Ruined Women and
Revolution and Female Sexuality." Lewd and Notorious: Female
Transgression in the Eighteenth Century. Ed. Katharine Kittredge.
Arbor (MI): U of Michigan P, 2003. 283-310.
The Libertine's Progress:
in the Eighteenth-Century French Novel. Hanover: Brown UP,
The Plight of
Feeling: Sympathy and Dissent
in the Early American Novel. Chicago: U of Chicago
America." A Journal
Feminist Cultural Studies 11.0 (1999), 1-28.