From Philadelphia to Arden and Back: Reading Shakespeare in The Story of Constantius and Pulchera

Sari Altschuler
University of South Florida

Though set in “the suburbs of the city of Philadelphia,” Constantius and Pulchera opens with our heroine, “on the terrace of an high building, forty feet from the ground…a most beautiful Lady of age sixteen…clad in a long white vest her hair of a beautiful chesnut colour hanging carelessly over her shoulders, every mark of greatness was visible in her countenance, which was overcast with a solemn gloom, and now and then, the unwilling tear unnoticed, rolled down her cheek” (4). A student put it best: “I turned the page expecting to her to shout, ‘O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ Or at least ‘Wherefore art thou, Constantius?’” Pulchera essentially does. “Constantius! Constantius!” she cries after filling the night air with the frustrated sighs of “cruel fortune,” a “cruel parent,” and a “banished” lover (5).

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Amelia and Charlotte

Sari Altschuler
University of South Florida

I taught Amelia: Or the Faithless Briton this semester at the midpoint of my American literature survey paired with Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, and it worked wonderfully. Students really enjoyed the novella and overwhelmingly preferred it to Charlotte Temple, with the discussion eventually turning (perhaps a bit reluctantly on the part of some) to how much more they had learned about the seduction narrative and gender in early America by reading both texts together. The students preferred Amelia for a variety of reasons: 1) The text is shorter and easier to discuss comprehensively in a 75-minute class period. 2) The students concluded, along with Marion Rust, that Charlotte was frustratingly passive. They delighted especially in the comparison between Charlotte’s habit of inopportune fainting and Amelia’s quick return from her fainting spell to wipe away “useless tears” and to embrace “boldness,” “enterprize,” and “the noblest fortitude” (7). Not only did they value Amelia’s strength and resilience, but they were also relieved that the anonymous text placed less blame on Amelia for her fate. Students who had read Charlotte Temple,Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, and Amelia were additionally able to recognize the rigidity of the seduction narrative’s form, and, thus, appreciated Amelia’s determination all the more. 3) Students really enjoyed the discussion of anonymity in the early republic (my thanks on that score to Ed White’s terrific presentation on the topic at the last Society of Early Americanist’s meeting). They were surprised to find out how common anonymous publishing was, and the discussion led one student to announce that she would love to take a course that featured only anonymous texts to get her out of a dependency on biographical reading.
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