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Charles Brockden Brown is known as the "Father of the American novel" and is considered to be our first professional author. At least by those who do consider him at all. To be perfectly frank, I'd never really heard of the guy before now. But this excellent gothic tale, which was based on the true story of a farmer who thought that angels had commanded him to kill his own family, is so clearly the forerunner of the fiction of everyone from Hawthorne and Melville to Poe and Henry James to H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard right on up to Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, that it is hard to believe that his work is not better known nor taught more often.
Wieland, his first novel, tells the story of a religious fanatic who builds a temple in the seclusion of his own farm, but then is struck dead, apparently by spontaneous combustion. Several years later, his children, in turn, begin to hear voices around the family property, voices which alternately seem to be commanding good or evil and which at times imitate denizens of the farm. Are the voices somehow connected to a mysterious visitor who has begun hanging around? Are they commands from God? From demons? Suffice it to say things get pretty dicey before we find out the truth.
This is a terrific creepy story which obviously influenced the course
of American fiction. Brown develops an interesting serious theme
of the role that reason can play in combating superstition and religious
mania, but keeps the action cranking and the mood deliciously gloomy.
The language is certainly not modern but it is accessible and generally
understandable. It's a novel that should be
-Encyclopaedia Britannica: Your search: "Charles Brockden Brown"
-PAL: Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810)(AL: Perspectives in American Literature: A Research and Reference Guide)
-BIO: From Evert A. Duyckinck, Cyclopaedia of American Literature, (New York: C. Scribner, 1856): CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN
-Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810)(American Literature on the Web)
-TEACHERS' GUIDE: Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810)( Contributing Editor: Carla Mulford)
-Collection Guide: Charles Brockden Brown papers (Bowdoin College)
-ETEXT: Wieland; or the Transformation: An American Tale (Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library)
-ANNOTATED ETEXTS: of Charles Brockden Brown (Self Knowledge)
-REVIEW: of Charles Brockden Brown Three Gothic Novels. Wieland: Or, The Transformation. Arthur Mervyn: Or, Memoirs of the Year (Caleb Crain, NY Times Book Review)
-ESSAY: Sleep-Walking Out of the Revolution: Brown's Edgar Huntly (Paul Downes, Journal of 18th Century Studies)
-EXCERPT: from INTRODUCTION to American Gothic Tales (Joyce Carol Oates)
-ESSAY: Charles Brockden Brown and Elihu Smith in the New York Epidemic of 1798 (Bob Arnebeck)