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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
better known and more widely read, if not for historical reasons then just because it's great fun.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Charles Brown Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Charles Brockden Brown
    -INTERVIEW: The Other American Gothic: Director Cody Knotts on Adapting Charles Brockden Brown’s Macabre Masterpiece for Film : Speaking with LOA via email, director Cody Knotts shares his personal connection to Wieland, the challenges of converting eighteenth-century dialogue to the sensibilities of twenty-first century viewers, and his plans for building out a rich cinematic universe based on American Gothic literature. (library of America, 6/13/23)

Book-related and General Links:
    -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)

    -ETEXTS: The Electronic Archive of Early American Fiction (UVA)
    -American Literature on the Web (Akihito Ishikawa)
    -The Literary Gothic
    -Writing the Fever: explores some of writing spawned by the yellow fever epidemics of the 1790s
    -A STUDENT'S HISTORY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE: Part-5: Chapter-2 (Bibliomania)
    -ESSAY: Among the Indians: The Uses of Captivity (Annette Kolodny, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Frederick Crews: Whose American Renaissance?, NY Review of Books
        American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman by F.O. Matthiessen
        The American Renaissance Reconsidered: Selected Papers from the English Institute, 1982-83
        The Unusable Past: Theory and the Study of American Literature by Russell J. Reising
        Ideology and Classic American Literature edited by Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen
        Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance Writings in Cultural Context by Donald E. Pease
        Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 by Jane Tompkins
        Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville by David S. Reynolds
        Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel by Philip Fisher