Friendship According to Rowson and Brown – Literature Essay
Friendship, according to some literature of the late 1700’s, seems to serve as a reprieve to those in need of advice or comfort, and as a duty for those who are able to give either. Friendship offers a salvation to those who
do not know which way to turn when it comes to love and life, as well as those with any number of faults or problems who need help in making important decisions and someone to turn to when they are facing complications in life. The importance of friendship and support among women is explicitly demonstrated by William Hill Brown in The Power of Sympathy, Susanna Rowson in Charlotte Temple, and Charles Brockden Brown in Ormond. As each of these authors demonstrate, alliances and love shared between women are essential for the survival, and for the happiness, of women at a time of such revolutionary change.
Friendship in Brown’s The Power of Sympathy is exhibited as the source of advice and intelligence. In her letters to her friends Myra and Harriot, Mrs. Holmes constantly gives advice against the wiles of men and the dangers of seduction. Mrs. Holmes attempts to warn her friends against the dangers of naiveté and to promote the power of education, telling them to keep their innocence and to recognize the importance of learning. She also attempts to warn Harriot of the dangers of her relationship with Harrington, eventually telling Harriot of her sibling connection with Harrington when her subtler endeavors fail. Mrs. Holmes takes it upon herself to tell the truth when it comes to the good and protection of her friend Harriot, revealing the truth no matter how much it pains her to do so. In this way, Brown demonstrates how friendship can serve as a resource for women, as a forum for advice and for the truth. Mrs. Holmes takes her duties as a friend to these women seriously and warns them against the dangers they are up against, even though the outcome is not to be desired. In this instance, as well as in others found in literature of the time, friendship is a source of protection, and will be essential when it comes to survival and pleasure in life.
True friendship is emphasized as the only type of relationship women should place faith into in Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, and is illustrated as an element of one’s life which can either aid or ruin a vulnerable woman during her time of need. Friendship has the opportunity to save a broken woman or to lead her into misery, the latter of which is illustrated in Charlotte’s relationship with Mademoiselle La Rue. La Rue takes advantage of Charlotte’s trust in her friendship by using her as a ticket out of England. La Rue does not protect or advise Charlotte in a manner beneficial to her situation, but instead places Charlotte at risk, harming her and serving as an example of a woman not doing her duty as a friend. In this instance, friendship does not work the way it is supposed to, and has devastating effects for Charlotte. However, La Rue’s false friendship does not go unpunished, as she eventually ends up in misery, devastated as a result of her scheming. Had she been a friend the way Rowson and other eighteenth-century authors believed a woman should have been, La Rue could have protected Charlotte or warned her to stay away from Montraville. Perhaps then, La Rue and Charlotte would have encountered much happier endings. Through La Rue’s actions and eventual failure and misery, Rowson bestows on her readers a lesson of the importance of friendship, showing the ill-effects that can arise when friendship is not used correctly.
The good consequences of friendship are demonstrated in Charlotte Temple through Charlotte’s other real friendships, which she eventually finds in America. Charlotte’s friendship with her neighbor, Mrs. Beauchamp, serves to sustain her during her lonely days outside of New York, and brings her an ounce of happiness at a time when she has little else to live for and when everyone else seemed to have forsaken her. Mrs. Beauchamp is there to lift Charlotte’s spirits, and she is willing to help her in any way she possibly can. In fact, if Mrs. Beauchamp had been around when Charlotte is forced to leave her home, she could have undoubtedly given her the reprieve she needed and prevented the despair and fatigue which eventually kills her. Mrs. Beauchamp could have saved Charlotte’s life. Friendship could have had the power to save Charlotte’s life.
The saving power of friendship is demonstrated in Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond as well. Constantia has a healing effect on Helena when she is in most need of a friend, and she even goes so far as to appeal to Ormond to marry Helena to save her reputation and her happiness. Undoubtedly, Constantia’s friendship serves to raise Helena’s spirits, keeping her from her melancholy fate as long as possible. Although Helena eventually ends her life, it is not Constantia who causes such a dire even to happen; Constantia can not even fathom a relationship with Ormond which would come between him and her friend Helena. All Constantia desires is to help her friend, and she does so by offering her kindness, advice, and help when it is most needed. Again, friendship is a place for a woman to turn, and serves as a bright spot in an existence which in this case is full of misery. Even though her friendship could not prevent Helena’s death, Constantia is there to make her life better and to offer her protection and love for a short time.
The success of friendship as protection and reprieve is also demonstrated in Ormond, through the friendship between Constantia and Sophia. The devotion between Constantia and Sophia is demonstrated over and over in Ormond, and Sophia’s concern for the welfare of her friend continues to be proven throughout the later section of the work. Through the relationship between the two, Brown seems to be supporting the idea that it is up to women and their concern and care for each other to serve as protectors and sources of aid and advice for each other. Not only do Constantia and Sophia derive enjoyment from being in each others’ company, but in the end of the work, Sophia comes to Constantia’s aid when she is locked in the mansion. Sophia goes to every extreme to protect Constantia from the malice of Ormond, hurrying to her side when she suspects or senses any danger and being there for her when she is in need. Sophia even travels across the ocean to find her friend, yearning to help her when hearing of Craig’s betrayal of Constantia’s family and her and her father’s poverty and bad luck. While Ormond offers Constantia nothing but threats and more sorrow, Sophia sacrifices her time and safety in order to help her friend. At a time when Constantia has no where to look for help, at least emotionally, she has a friend to count on, demonstrating that friendships between women are the best source of support among women. Again, friendships between women are expressed as the answer, as the haven for protection, advice, and happiness.
As men in these works continued to seduce and hurt women, it is up to women to bond together to offer each other the companionship and love they may otherwise lack. The authors of these works seem to be supporting the idea that women should learn to turn to each other when in need, and that men have little to offer when it comes to comfort and safety. The works seems to serve as warning to women readers, advising them to seek the happiness essential to life not through their relationships with men, but in their friendships with women. Only by finding a friend worth trusting and by being a woman others can call a friend, can a woman find happiness in such a world of danger and unceasing change.