Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth Summary

Susanna Rowson

Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth

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Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth Summary

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Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth is a novel by Susanna Rowson. The novel begins with an unexpected meeting between British Lieutenant Montraville and Charlotte Temple, a tall, beautiful girl of fifteen. Montraville and Belcour, two officers in the British army, are about to be assigned to America, and as they take a walk in the town of Chichester, they see the lovely Charlotte Temple.

The story tells how Charlotte’s parents met. Her father, Mr. Temple, was the son of an earl and known for his charity. One day, he is asked to help an honorable man in debtor’s prison, Captain Eldridge. Eldridge went into debt to help his son, George, get started in the Navy, and was taken advantage of by his cruel creditor, Mr. Lewis. Eldridge has spent nearly two years in prison, supported by his faithful and kind daughter, Lucy. Mr. Temple pays off Mr. Eldridge’s debts, at great expense to himself, and marries Lucy, although this results in him being estranged from his family. Despite their unfortunate circumstances, the happy couple lives with Mr. Eldridge in a cottage, and has one daughter, Charlotte.

The story returns to the present day. Charlotte is a well-meaning but indecisive girl. She is good friends with her promiscuous French teacher, Mademoiselle La Rue. One day, La Rue brings Charlotte along on a visit to one of her many suitors. As they cut through a field to get to the suitor’s house, they are met by Montraville, who has been looking for a way to see Charlotte again, and Belcour. Charlotte is charmed by Montraville and accepts a letter from him. He then bribes La Rue to allow Charlotte to see him again.

Although Charlotte is initially uncomfortable with the older man’s attention, she continues meeting him after being moved by his love letter. During these meetings, his friend Belcour begins a relationship with Mademoiselle La Rue. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s parents plan a surprise birthday party for her at home.

One evening, Montraville explains that he is about to be sent to America, and he wants Charlotte to come with him, to get married there. However, he knows he cannot marry her because his family would not approve of his marriage to a woman with no wealth. Charlotte initially agrees, but has second thoughts when she receives a letter from her mother asking her to come home for her surprise party. Montraville convinces her to go to America with him. La Rue comes along, to be with Belcour.

Charlotte writes a letter to her family explaining where she has gone, but Montraville destroys it, afraid her parents will pursue them. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s family is heartbroken by her disappearance, and hope for her return after the marriage. They decide that they will forgive her and welcome her back into the family when she comes home.

On the voyage to America, an officer named Crayton falls in love with Mademoiselle La Rue. He proposes to her at the end of the trip, and she accepts; Belcour is not offended as he has realized she has a terrible personality; he is glad to be rid of her. Charlotte is seasick throughout the voyage and bonds with Montraville as he takes care of her, but she begins to realize that Montraville could leave her at any time without marrying her. When they arrive, Crayton introduces Charlotte and La Rue to his daughter (by his deceased first wife), Mrs. Beauchamp. Charlotte feels great shame when Crayton introduces her as Montraville’s mistress.

Montraville buys Charlotte a house outside of New York, and gives her an income and a servant. However, he rarely visits, and she becomes very lonely. Meanwhile, Montraville is charmed by Julia Franklin, a young heiress. Although he is more attracted to her than Charlotte, he feels bound to Charlotte and refuses to pursue Julia.

Belcour decides he wants Charlotte as his mistress, and tries to sabotage her relationship with Montraville. He visits Charlotte and tells her about Julia Franklin, but she refuses to leave Montraville even though she is heartbroken. Mrs. Beauchamp, who lives in Charlotte’s neighborhood, sees how sad Charlotte is and decides to befriend her, even though it will endanger Beauchamp’s own social status to associate with Charlotte.

Montraville soon loses interest in Charlotte and, being led by Belcour to believe in Charlotte’s supposed infidelity toward him, trusts Belcour to take care of Charlotte and the child she is expecting. Following the advice of her newfound friend, Mrs. Beauchamp, Charlotte writes home to her mother. Her parents decide to receive her, and her father goes to New York to get her. Without any financial support (Belcour does not give her the money Montraville gave him for her) Charlotte has to leave her house and, having walked to New York on a snowy winter’s day, asks Mademoiselle La Rue (Mrs. Crayton) for help, but La Rue pretends to not even know Charlotte.

Charlotte is taken in by Mrs. Crayton’s servant and soon gives birth to a child, Lucy. The doctor, however, has little hope of her recovering. Mrs. Beauchamp is shocked when she sees that Charlotte is in terrible condition and the doctor says there is no hope. As Charlotte is lying on her deathbed, her father arrives, and Charlotte asks him to take care of her child.

Upon returning to New York, Montraville searches for Belcour and Charlotte. Learning of her death, Montraville is remorseful for his part in her downfall, and angrily seeks out Belcour, killing him in a fight. Montraville suffers sadness for the rest of his life.

Mr. Temple takes Charlotte’s child back to England. The novel ends with the death of Mrs. Crayton (Mademoiselle La Rue), who is discovered by Mr. Temple in a London doorway, separated from her husband, living in poverty, and repenting for her involvement in Charlotte’s downfall. Mr. Temple admits her to a hospital, where she dies.