Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
A woman’s role in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a difficult one. A woman’s purity was her most valued attribute. Women were the source of sexual morality within society. Men would only be as moral as women would demand. Seduction novels were a popular phenomenon at the time. They would often show the horrible consequences of women who were unable to retain their chastity until marriage. In this master thesis four novels are used as examples including Charlotte Temple, Maggie, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and House of Mirth.
Charlotte Temple tells the story of the conflict between rationality and romance. Charlotte ignores the warnings of her mother and is seduced by a soldier who has no intentions of marrying her. Charlotte’s life ends in tragedy. Charlotte can be a warning for girls on what not to do.
Maggie shows a similar fate within a lower class society. Maggie is a naïve and innocent girl who wishes to escape from poverty. She sees her chance in her brother’s friend, and gives herself to him. Her friends and family abandon her as used-up and she also has a tragic ending. This story speaks for the perceived value of women and the false morals of the time.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an autobiography of a young girl born into slavery. Her master continuously harasses her. Not wanting to be forced into a sexual encounter, she instead chooses to take a lover. She shows a person who wants to live up to society’s moral standards, but cannot.
The last book, House of Mirth, focuses on upper class women, and their role as parasitic ornaments to their husbands. The main character in this story seeks to marry a wealthy man, even at the expense of love. She feels love towards a poor man, but chases after wealthier prospects.
McIntyre, Christine, "Sexual Desire and Social Conventions in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century American Seduction Novels" (2000). English Master’s Theses. 113.