Charles Brockden Brown's Creation Of American Gothic Literature

Submitted By WrestlerNate21
Words: 1195
Pages: 5

“Charles Brockden Brown’s Creation of American Gothic Literature” The first European Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto,” was published in 1764 and was originally claimed to be a recently discovered 16th century Italian manuscript. It was later revealed, in the preface of subsequent versions of the book, that Walpole had written the story about a dream he had. After Walpole, authors like Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis and William Beckford created unnerving themes for European Gothicism that included abandoned castles and sliding bookshelves to create a spooky setting along with other peculiar trends. Commonly known as the father of American Gothic fiction, Charles Brockden Brown had the curious privilege of recreating these eerie themes but to reflect a new American style of Gothicism. His four best-known gothic novels, Wieland, Ormund, Arthur Merwyn and Edgar Huntly, were written within 18 months and published between 1798 and 1800 making them the first in the American Gothic literary cannon. Brown tweaked major European themes to produce a comparable but also noticeably American form of gothic literature in three ways. Using Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Wieland or The Transformation this essay will show how Brown adapted three European themes from original gothic writing in order to create a new American subgenre. The three ways Brown changed original gothic themes to reflect American influence were creating a new eerie ‘land of the unknown’ in America’s untamed nature, questioning and certain break down of gender roles and also an in depth look at man’s fallibility. Brown’s easiest task was converting the conventional creepy European settings of old castles and secret trap doors with the supernatural unknown of the American frontier. The setting for Wieland is in a small rural town named Mettingen, Pennsylvania presumably in the late 1790s. Clara’s narration leads the reader to believe that before strange occurrences begin to plague each character they enjoyed their tranquil country lives. Nature is where every character except Clara is first contacted by the ‘supernatural’ voice but the first odd event that involves nature is the mysterious death of Clara and Wieland’s father. Their uncle explains their father’s death by spontaneous combustion in detail to the kids and both just accept it and move on, which becomes a trend in the novel. The first time a main character encounters any supernatural event is when Wieland is walking outside and hears his wife, Catherine’s, voice but no one is around so Wieland tries to forget it. Then Wieland and Pleyel hear his sister’s voice in the woods and after some convincing by Pleyel, Wieland brushes it aside as his senses failing him. Clara is next to have an encounter with the ‘supernatural’ when she hears a voice of a man inside her room. Upon investigation the voices were in Clara’s closet and speaking about whether they should murder or rape her. When Clara enters all she sees is Carwin and he admits to being the voices she was hearing. Why she doesn’t tell Catherine, Pleyel or Wieland about Carwin’s unique ability to mimic voices goes completely unexplained.
The most obvious break down of gender rolls in Brockden Brown’s Wieland is the narrator is a female but not just any female. Clara basically lives the life of a man of the time period. She is initially described as a rational thinker, economically independent and chooses to live “regulating a household of my own” (Brown, 20) Not only does she live like a man but Clara was additionally “enriched by science and embellished with literature”(Brown, 22) meaning she was educated as a male of the time period would. Even with breaking of some gender boundaries Brown leaves Clara susceptible to wild highs and lows of emotion, which was a female stereotype of the time period. For instance, when she hears voices in her closet after having found Carwin in it last time she is so stunned by the “violence of my