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Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown
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Wieland is considered the first American Gothic novel. It is a story which begins in Saxony with the narrator's grandfather whose surname is Wieland. His son, the narrator's father, emigrates to America with the intention of founding a new religion based on the beliefs of the Albigensians. He settles in Pennsylvania on the banks of the Schuylkill River where he eventually abandons his missionary endeavors in favor of farming. He marries and raises a family in prosperity while continuing to pursue private religious studies in a temple he has built high on a bank above the river. But one night a bizarre light illuminates the temple, and Wieland suffers injuries both physical and psychological which send him into a steady decline, ending in his death.

The temple continues to be the focus of strange events--unusual lights, prophetic voices, and sudden warnings. These bizarre phenomena increase in frequency and occur in other locations after the appearance of a mysterious stranger named Carwin. He is homeless and shabbily dressed, yet articulate and strangely compelling. The Wieland family befriends him at first, but then begins to suspect that he is connected to the supernatural events. Eventually fear, sexual tension and suspicion come to dominate their lives as they descend unawares into a maelstrom of terror, insanity and violence.

We are well into the story before realizing that the narrator is a woman, Clara Wieland, the daughter of the temple-builder. While the novel reflects conventional 18th century attitudes toward women (e.g. "The gulf that separates man from insects is not wider than that which severs the polluted from the chaste among women."), Clara has more pluck and intellect than most Gothic heroines and should appeal to modern readers. Another area in which Wieland differs is in its attitude toward religion. Instead of being anti-Catholic or anti-monastic, as many contemporary Gothic novels were, Wieland is a cautionary tale about religious mania in general.

Wieland has moments of spine-tingling suspense and some truly shocking scenes. The narrator's formal language may be difficult for some readers, and others may object to the ending which leaves some important questions unanswered, but I found Wieland hard to put down once the tension began to build and one of the best Gothic novels I have read. ( )
5 vote StevenTX | Sep 3, 2014 |
I really didn't like this book. At first, I thought it was because of the style of writing. This book was written in 1798, and it is a little difficult to get used to some of the conventions of that time period. But that wasn't it. Even excusing the writing style, I didn't like this book.

I didn't like the characters at all. Clara Wieland and her family all struck me as bored young men and women with nothing better to do than sit around gossiping. The "villian" of the piece, Carwin, reminded me of many of the villians in real life today who claim "It's not my fault. I couldn't help myself". He spent three chapters explaining how he just couldn't keep from using his "evil power" and came off sounding like a whiny adolescent.

But, worst of all, this is a book where NOTHING happens. The reader isn't shown anything; we're told the whole story. And, there's no indication of the "invisible power and nameless fear" mentioned on the back cover. There's just nothing spooky or suspenseful about this story.

I found the biography of the author from the 1856 Cyclopedia of American Literature, included in this volume, much more interesting than the novel. It seems Brown was quite prolific; as Wieland was his first published novel, it would be interesting to see if his later works improved. ( )
  dulcibelle | Oct 8, 2008 |
Our ancestors sought different pleasures in their reading than we do. Realism? That's what daily life is for. Authentic dialogue? Contrived eloquence is more pleasing. Plausibility? Thrills and towering passions are better. One should not merely "read" this book; one should "earnestly betake oneself to perusal" of it. There's one thing it has in common with modern-day thrillers: The protagonists are all superbly gifted, resourceful, and good-looking. Make that two things: The author seeks to spice up the tale with borrowings from the latest science. The book appeared in 1798, so that means the latest dope on spontaneous combustion, mania, and the obscure but powerful art of "ventrilocution." (N.B. The title character is a fictional cousin of a real German Romantic author — often forgotten today — named Christoph Martin Wieland. You might look him up.)
5 vote Muscogulus | Oct 2, 2008 |
This is very firmly a late-18th/early-19th century novel, but shouldn’t be shied away from as boring or staid. Yes, there is a perfect and pure heroine who faints away from time to time, but really the narrative is almost entirely plot-driven and a real page-turner. Setting a gothic romance among American Quakers proves to be an interesting conceit, as is allowing the swooning heroine to narrate the whole thing herself. The tale also has many elements of the mystery, and Carwin’s long soliloquy presages in many ways the final scene of a detective novel, where the investigator reveals everything and all becomes so suddenly obvious. (That explanation, in this case, may seem to us a bit silly but I understand it was much more exciting in 1798.) Those who follow the 50-page rule (of which I seriously disapprove) may not make it out of the initial exposition and into the real story, which would be a shame, because soon enough the plot takes a much more exciting and breathless turn.

This was not just an enjoyable and unusual execution of the gothic novel, but simply a good read, and a fascinating precursor to other American writers like Edgar Allen Poe.
(More at http://www.bibliographing.com/2008/09/15/wieland-or-the-transformation-an-americ... ) ( )
3 vote nperrin | Sep 15, 2008 |
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From Virtue's blissful paths away
The double-tongued are sure to stray;
Good is a forth-right journey still,
And mazy paths but lead to ill.
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Advertisement: The following Work is delivered to the world as the first of a series of performances, which the favorable reception of this will induce the Writer to publish.
Wieland, Chapter 1:
I feel little reluctance in complying with your request.
Memoirs of Carwin:
I was the second son of a farmer, whose place of residence was a western district of Pennsylvania.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385031009, Paperback)

An American Tale

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:45 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

This first volume in Kent State University's Bicentennial Edition of the Novels and Related Works of Charles Brockden Brown presents critical texts of Brown's first published novel, Wieland, and of the fragment, Carwin, which he began in 1798 as a companion-piece to his novel. The texts are based on the first printings: the book edition of Wieland printed by T. and J. Swords in New York and published there by Hocquet Caritat in 1798, and the installments of Carwin that appeared in the Literary Magazine in Philadelphia in 1803, 1804, and 1805. The Historical Essay by Alexander Cowie, which follows the texts, discusses the facts surrounding the composition, publication, and reception of both works and their place in America's literary history, and the Textual Essay by S.W. Reid discusses the copy-texts for the present edition, the transmission of the texts, and the editorial decisions that have been based on these considerations. Also appended are photographs of the notebook pages containing Brown's Outline of Wieland, along with our transcription of it. Moreover, as the first in a series of volumes, this volume offers, as well, a note on the principles and procedures guiding the editing of all works in the Bicentennial Edition.… (more)

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