Bound By Grief: The Role of The Coquette and Charlotte Temple in Early America

Johnson, Briana
The novels Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson and The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster were popular when first printed in America in the 1790s. A time of suspense for many Americans in the early Republic, the 1790s were characterized by deep-seated political uncertainty. I became interested in these two seduction novels, which prominently feature wildly different protagonists because graves were erected to the main characters of both novels, which became popular tourist destinations. Using post colonialist and affect theory methods, I discover that the appeal of these novels was specific to underrepresented or unrepresented groups in the foundling nation, regardless of gender and class boundaries. I find that these novels united the fledgling American readership under one bond of mutual sympathy for the sacrificed women, allowing them to experience the loss of the innocent and accept the terms of their own betrayal at the hands of democratic rhetoric. Grief transformed the readers of these seduction novels into a community with mutual feeling. These seduction novels, while popular from the 1790s through the 1860s, became obsolete and gave way to new stories in the mid-nineteenth century, as America gained an established voice and identity.
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