While reading “Charlotte Temple,” I was struck by the small passages written in first person by the author. These sections are meant to stand out from the rest of the story’s third-person narrative, and remind the reader of the author’s “intentions” as are stated in the Author’s Preface.
Rowson writes in the Preface, “If the following tale should save one hapless fair one from the errors which ruined poor Charlotte, or rescue from impending misery the heart of one anxious parent, I shall feel a much higher gratification in reflecting on the trifling performance, than could possibly result from the applause which might attend the most elegant finished piece of literature whose tendency might deprave the heart or mislead the understanding.”
This paragraph, to me, is the beginning of Rowson’s relationship with the reader. Before even reading a single line of the novel, we are lead to believe that Rowson is genuine and not looking for any kind of fame or success from this novel. That it is purely for cautionary purposes. I think it’s an odd way to start a novel, but at least we know what her intentions are as an author, and who she is writing for.
Also in the Author’s Preface, we are told that the story of Charlotte Temple is based on a true story, “thrown over the whole a slight veil of fiction.” I think Rowson includes this to control how the reader might think of the story while they are reading and the events are unfolding. By claiming that it’s based on true events, we might take the story more seriously and see Charlotte as a real person. I believe this is what made the novel so popular when it was first published; one article I read claimed that there were “Charlotte cults” and even a grave in New York that was believed to be the real Charlotte’s grave. People flocked to the grave just to get closer to the legend and to feel connected to her in some more palpable way.
Rowson continues throughout the novel to make the reader aware of her “re-telling”. It resembles a moral fable or fairy tale, with a lesson to be learned at the end. She writes, “Once more read over the sorrows of poor Mrs. Temple, and remember; the mother whom you so dearly love and venerate will feel the same, when you, forgetful of the respect due to your maker and yourself, forsake the paths of virtue for those of vice and folly” (p. 49). Here she asks the reader to reread while putting herself in the shoes of the character. It’s a very effective technique for getting the reader to identify with the characters, their situations and emotions.