I Lost My Chastity, Suffered, and Died
Hello, I am Violet Meltzer. Today, we have, in our studios, three fictional women who died as a result of lost Virtue, which is to say, Chastity
, which most woefully was taken from them at the hands of uncaring libertines. Fallen women all, they have come to retell their experiences so that their auditors may be educated in the lessons of constancy, atonement, and the surety of marital bliss. I beg my audience's indulgence at the indecency of their stories; I trust we can learn from them.
Written about in the pages of William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy
(1789), Harriot Fawcett hails from Boston, Massachusetts. Featured in Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette
(1797), Eliza Wharton comes from Hartford, Connecticut, and, finally, the eponymous Charlotte Temple (from Susanna Rowson's 1791 book) resides in New York. Women, welcome.Mingled murmured thanks.
Violet: My first question for you all is this: were you not happy in your lives, settled as you were among friends and family who would support you? What made you stray from your own better judgment?
Charlotte: I own that I was happy. In England, I lived away from my parents at Madame Du Pont's boarding school under the care of a Mademoiselle La Rue. My attachment to Mr. Montraville, indecorous and rash, led me to a retired New York situation and to ignominy.
Violet: Ah, the French! I am unduly surprised your parents allowed them as your moral guardians. But what made you stray from your own better judgment?
Charlotte: Upon reconsideration, the base machinations of Mademoiselle La Rue, fear of offending Mr. Montraville, and further fear of breaking my engagement and having this known among my peers. My rising shame of my earlier behavior compounded my initial crime of indecorous meetings with Mr. Montraville.
Violet: Did you not love him?
Charlotte: I admit, I was at pains to resist him.
Violet: I should tell our audience that you were actually taken from England to America. At what point were you promised marriage?
Charlotte: Before we left, Mr. Montraville promised to marry me upon our landing in America.
Violet: And you believed this falsehood!?!
Charlotte: I took him at his word.
Violet: The man who detained you in a garden, who pressed a secret correspondence upon you, and who encouraged you to steal away from your guardians?
. The very same. But then Mademoiselle La Rue abandoned Mr. Montraville's friend Belcour during the voyage in favor of marriage to a Mr. Crayton. In discussion with Mr. Montraville, I expressed the indelicacy of such arrangement, holding that Mr. Belcour should keep his word. At which point, Mr. Montraville proclaimed "Well, but I suppose he has changed his mind and then you know the case is altered." At this instance, I saw myself for what I had become.
Violet: And you, Eliza, were you happy?
Eliza: After the death of my fiance, Mr. Hay, I was exceedingly happy. I wished only to spend time in good company, enjoying my unattached state.
Violet: Indeed, you have been recorded as having said "Marriage is the tomb of friendship. It appears to me a very selfish state. Why do people, in general, as soon as they are married center all their cares, their concerns, and pleasures in their own families?" (123). Tell me, how did you propose to comport yourself in an indefinitely unmarried state?
Eliza: I confess, I had no plan to guide me. Mrs. Sumner once wrote me monitorially "We are dependent beings" (212), and this has stuck with me ever since. Of my two suitors, Reverand Boyer, my trustworthy and constant friend, dissolved his attachment when he found me in private conversation with Major Sanford. For his part, Major Sanford married another, continued to pursue me, and was ultimately author of my ruin.
Violet: And, finally, Harriot, describe your undoing.
Harriot: Actually, Violet, though my chastity was never breached, I confess my heart had been. Unbeknownst to me, my suitor was my brother.
Violet: Yikes! How did this scenario come to pass?
Harriot: Mr. Harrington, my father
I must now call him, did criminally abuse his Maria whilst unmarried after which time he married the more fortunate Amelia. After the death of my mother, I, the result of his secret and unhappy union, was preserved in perfect ignorance of my parentage.
Violet: "Perfect ignorance" is an interesting term. Describe, if you can, the education you received upon the topic of sexual congress.
In corresponding with my friends, I was related two stories in which women were seduced from all good company and brought low as a result.
. Though not touching specifically on the act...that is to say not...I was
given much advice on the worthiness of some suitors over the depraved attentions of others.
Violet: Did you know aught of birth control? The oldest known condoms date back to 1640.Bewildered looks.
Violet: And Eliza and Charlotte, how were you delivered of child?
Charlotte: I was cast out of my sinful home by the removal of the monetary support once supplied by my debauched protector. I delivered my child in the home of charitable strangers, lived to see my father come for me, and died soon after.
Eliza: Having flown my maternal home and all former friends, I, too, was dependent on strangers, gave birth, and died with no friends around me.
Harriot: Um...I died of shame. I mean, I know it's not the same thing...
Violet: Yes, very interesting, though: you all died. Now, I know this wasn't a personal
choice as you are all fictional characters, but I must point out how convenient
these deaths actually were. None of you were forced to live with the shame of your actions nor were you given time after repentance of them to become re-integrated into society. Fascinating!
Well, that completes our interviews tonight! I thank all of our guests for their grace and candor in this discussion. And, to my audience, I avow the vast difference between the state of these unsupported, unenlightened, and dependent women and the women of our own present-day acquaintance who are given every benefit of sex education, including federally-supported knowledge of their bodies' workings, birth control of their choosing, and freedom of sexual expression as well as proper health care and government-funded support of daycare for working mothers who have choosen to bear children. Or not. Perhaps we like the eighteenth century more than we like to admit, yes?