So, should a casual reader read WIELAND No, not really The central idea is interesting but and please know that I am quite an apologist for older writing styles the writing is enervating and the story not too well told You could spend your time on much better stuff, unless you have a particular interest.
Okay, so, that out of the way, WIELAND is famous for being an American Gothic novel why Because, let s see, the main characters father spontaneously combusts in the first chapter and this isn t any Dickens they found nothing but a heap of ash , after the fact kind of thing He goes to worship in his specially built temple in the hills north of Philadelphia and pretty much explodes violently His burned body is found We never know why he exploded This is unimportant to the main plot, really, or at least unrelated in a factual sense The father is a religious oddball, so that may have some tonal import.
Then comes the second Gothic aspect The book proper is about Clara Wieland and her brother Theodore and how they are plagued by occasional voices from nowhere, and how the sister is both attracted to and repelled by an odd but charismatic and beautifully voiced young man named Francis Carwin These voices cause much wonderment and get our narrator, sister Clara, into a pretty pickle of suppositions about her reputation and entertaining men at odd hours and many misunderstandings are fretted over and speechified about Clara thinks there is something odd about Carwin, and finds evidence that he is possibly a murderer.
Then, suddenly, brother Theodore kills his entire family because he hears the voice of God telling him to wife and 5 kids There is no forewarning Theodore also wants to kill Clara and Carwin because God tells him to and he is not at all sorry about his mass bloodshed Then Carwin reveals to Clara that he can throw his voice with amazing accuracy he is an expert mimic and also, wait for it a Biloquist, which is to say he is a Ventriloquist without a dummy and has been the source of all the mysterious voices, except he DID NOT cause Theodore to hear some divine, homicidal voice Then Theodore, who is roaming the countryside, traps them in a room Then the book ends Then, 40 odd pages later, the book actually ends.
Coincidences abound There is much flowery and high falutin talk about reputations and respect and love and such Clara loses her dashing young boyfriend, but that s okay, she regains him in the extended ending As the introduction by Fred Lewis Pattee states even while trying to rehabilitate Brown s reputation , the writing is poor sloppy and overly embellished The wind doesn t just blow, nature signs her resignation through her sweetest of voicings, spreading melancholy across the fair land even as she caresses the cheek of and on and on with much effulgence And I usually have a pretty high tolerance for this tommyrot, as I try to place writing in its proper time period.
Even worse, Brown changed his mind about the plot halfway through, so Carwin isn t evil, he s just misunderstood and, in a twist relatable to American classic CALEB WILLIAMS, under the control of some evil man never seen Unfortunately, this leaves all kinds of details from earlier in the book either hanging as red herrings drying in the salty, literary wind or hastily wound up in a totally botched extended ending Poo Carwin is kind of interesting as a character Much has been made of the book s focus on Brother Theodore s religious mania, and that s also pretty well done and frightening he evidences no traces of insanity, but Carwin s misguided tricks drive him crazy Not really noted, as far as I can tell, is that Carwin is also, essentially, a creepy stalker fixated on Clara, going into her house and bedroom when she s not there, reading her diary, hiding in her enormous closet, sticking his head through the window to cast his voice to her Creepy stalker is Carwin.
Oh, and about that last part ventriloquism is essentially treated as superpower in this book It has nothing to do with not moving your lips or animating a little man made of cork to distract people into thinking your voice is coming from somewhere else as you drink a glass of water and say I vant a gottle of geer No, if you are in a house or even wandering the countryside and you happen to be an expert mimic as well , your target will hear the voice you cast right next to them, even when they re alone, JUST AS IF YOU ARE SPEAKING IN THEIR EAR If you are Carwin, you can even mimic the sounds of a rampaging crowd or animals Crazy As noted, Brown changed gears mightily about halfway through writing the book At some point, Carwin was going to explain to Clara why he was doing what he was doing other than being a creepy stalker in the first place, but that chapter got so big that Brown broke it off and published it separately as a serial called MEMOIRS OF CARWIN THE BILOQUIST and that s appended to the end of the book It s a littlefun than WEILAND, especially as it unconvincingly tells us how young Carwin first learns of his amazing ability whilst looking for a lost cow on his father s farm in the Lehigh valley Later, Carwin, a bit of a shirk a work, lives with his rich old aunt and gets indolent, tricking people by telling them his well trained dog can talk.
Then, the story proper starts and Carwin is taken under the wing of the mysterious Ludloe, a seemingly beneficent and well traveled man who appears to be training Carwin for something but what Indoctrination into some vast secret society, it appears, through which he can help all of mankind But Carwin can never tell anyone of the existence of the society under pain of death and destruction to whomever he told isn t it always the way But Carwin is unsure Ludloe asks him to romance and marry a wealthy Irish women under the pretense of cataloging her late husband s archeological ephemera Should he accept Should he tell Ludloe about his amazing power Might Ludloe know already and is waiting to see if Carwin doesn t tell him, thus proving his disloyalty and ending Carwin s life And why does Ludloe have a strange map of some mysterious and remote island nation on his bookshelf, where rivers and town are marked but nothing is named Who are the secret society What are their goals Too bad we ll never know Brown never finished it I m not sure, but I expect the answers would have been long winded, overwrought and disappointing, regardless.
One thing which defines the Gothic movement is a ponderous and measured movement Scenes and events are allowed to unfold minutely, creating tone not with a word, but with a constant and inexorable movement This allows the author to subtly ease the reader into a strange and consuming world without relying overmuch on symbols and archetypes.
The world of Wieland is strange, and neurotically consuming, but Brown s wealth of words areoverstimulating than engrossing To paraphrase Mark Twain s critique of Cooper, the author throws his entire force against every action, treating a momentary aside with the same gravity and complexity as a climactic revelation.
As the seminal American novelist, Brown left behind a literary philosophy evident in both Cooper and Hawthorne never use five words where twenty will do Brown s contemporary, Jane Austen, utilized a similar formality of speech, and with it exerted careful control over sprawling tales of minute human conflict.
But Austin was a master of tone and character, and filled her plots with intrigue Brown s characters are shallow, melodramatic, and as dumb or brilliant as the plot requires The plot itself meanders around the pretentious, flawed narrator, and the construction and pacing leave much to be desired.
Brown sets up impossible mysteries which build and build until some deus ex machina enters and explains it all in a flurry of exposition We then find that the mystery was entirely red herrings and the explanation relies on what I d call plot magic In such cases, instead of an actual human solution, we are told it was done by a wizard, or a hypnotist, or some other agency that was both impossible to guess and never foreshadowed This is also why JK Rowling will never succeed at her wish to write adult mysteries.
This is the chief difference between Austen and Brown s styles her plots hinge on the same emotional drama that her characters constantly spout, while Brown s is entirely divorced from the constant whirlwind of tears, fainting, and madness that his unlucky characters inhabit.
Looking on his characters from the present, they may seem to have an air of sophistication and intelligence, but they are really just goofy dorks We must recall that arguing the particulars of Cicero was the 17th century equivalent of discussing different classes in WOW They are ultimately idle, eccentric, and self involved, producing nothing of worth.
So we have a lady writing about a handful of dorky homebodies weeping over an unsolvable mystery in a guilelessly complex hand It is sometimes interesting for its sheer ridiculousness, and for its period, but it isnotable as a gothic influence than as a stand alone work.
Phew, glad that one is over I mean, it s not like the story is bad It s actually quite atmospheric and creepy But the narration oh dear The writing just does nothing to recommend this book to the reader whatsoever In the beginning, I didn t mind it, but as I kept on going I found itandoff putting I have yet to find an 18th century novel that I like.
I must note that this one is an acquired taste, as it is pretty dark, but I enjoyed it for its originality Think 19th century X files spontaneous human combustion and all though not aliens Mysterious, sometimes frightening and serious also must read Memoirs as it is critical to Wieland and not just an addendum.
Dude couldn t really write, but an interesting book nevertheless.
All the Gothicists are gonna come after me, but I enjoyed Wieland better than anything by Radcliffe Despite overwrought prose, the pace is decent, and actual interesting things happen to a brave, likeable heroine This book is best enjoyed knowing little of the plot many blurbs actually spoil several imporant plot points Trigger warnings view spoiler religious fanatism, death in family, murder, threat of rape, gruesome death, suicide on page suicidal rationalizations hide spoiler A Terrifying Account Of The Fallibility Of The Human Mind And, By Extension, Of Democracy Itself, Wieland Brilliantly Reflects The Psychological, Social, And Political Concerns Of The Early American Republic In The Fragmentary Sequel, Memoirs, Brown Explores Carwin S Bizarre History As A Manipulated Disciple Of The Charismatic Utopian Ludloe Charles Brockden Brown certainly has a way to gimmick around the actual themes in his writings but i love how he negotiates america s past trauma of puritanism through ventriloquism at first a seemingly random plot device that slowly turns into absolute devilry and drives everyone insane enables already mad characters to completely flip this was WILD What an arduous read This being the second time reading Wieland, I must say however that I liked it a lot better than the first time around It is not without its qualities the character of the narrator Clara is certainly interesting, as is the question of guilt and responsibility in her brother and in Carwin Also, the secluded, almost incestuous nature of their little community is striking, especially in the light of questions regarding puritanism and the pre war of independence setting of the novel and post war date of publishing America For me, however, these qualities are overshadowed by the many lengths this novel has It drags along for most of its course without really gripping the reader This I found especially disappointing since Wieland is first and foremost a Gothic novel, and there are Gothic novels from that time that are justeffective in delivering on their promise in terms of atmosphere I can recommend Wieland as a canonical piece of American literature that deals with many issues pertinent at the time but if you read it for mere pleasure and expect a scary and effective page turner, it might not be the book you want to read.