Gothic Literature

The Dictation of Genre: Respective Failures and Successes of Communication in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Both Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” involve women artists as their main characters—The Lady of Shalott weaves artful, colorful webs and the narrator in “The Bloody Chamber” is a talented pianist—making them prime candidates for comparison. In Tennyson’s poem, communication breaks down between reality and art, as manifested in the mediation of the Lady’s mirror. In Carter’s story, there seems to be a more exclusive relationship between reality and art, as manifested in the blind piano-tuner who eventually becomes the narrator’s savior. The shift in art’s relationship with reality, in communication breakdown to the success of communication, in these two pieces reflects the differing attitudes of Victorian and Postmodernist writers to language and communication.

In Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” the Lady knows that she is cursed and must not “look down to Camelot” (41), but “she knows not what the curse may be” (42). That is, the Lady is not sure of what, exactly, the curse entails and therefore witnesses the city’s events through a mediated source—a mirror—and is never fully able to witness reality. The Lady abides by the curses vague bylaws, avoids looking directly at the scene below her window, and weaves her webs by watching scenes unfold through the mirror. Communication breaks down here between the Lady of Shalott and reality; her work only represents “shadows” of reality (48). The mirror through which the Lady glimpses life and reality robs the events and people she sees of their authenticity and tangibility, leaving the Lady with mere silhouettes, fabrications of the real world.

This form of pseudo-reality leaves the Lady disgruntled and unsatisfied, to the point where she says: “‘I am half-sick of shadows’” (71). The Lady of Shalott realizes this breakdown in communication and grows tired of her false reality, yearning for the actual picture of life that is opened outside her window. The Lady is the ultimate Victorian figure, sequestered to her lonely tower, completely unattainable and tragically curse to never fully glimpse the life that thrive around her. She is the epitome of the Victorian woman, and her artwork, which necessitates communication breakdown, is the epitome of Victorian art.

If the Lady is supposed to represent the artist, we see how mediated reality affects works of art. The “web” that the Lady “weaves” (64-5-65) is the result of her labors, but is not the whole of her art. The mirror plays an especially important role in the relay of object to subject, of reality to art. That is, the mirror—the inherent source of communication breakdown—is an integral part of an artist’s work. In terms of the Victorian artist, this communication breakdown is necessary in order to allow for the presence of the audience or viewer. The very nature of art is the mediation of reality; that is, art is art because it is not reality, but rather a representation of it. Art is the subject, not the object. There is room for and even a requirement of interpretation. The audience becomes the most important aspect of an art piece because it reconciles this break down of communication. When one examines a piece of art, something is mended—the artwork is granted its essence because a viewer projects meaning or significance. To say that artwork is inherently meaningful negates the position of the viewer. That is, art necessitates the viewer to reconcile the communication breakdown that occurs between reality and representation because it cannot do that in and of itself. Victorian art begs the question, If a tree falls in the middle of the woods with nobody around, will it make a sound? According to the Lady’s artwork and the communication breakdown that occurs which, in turn, necessitates a viewer, the answer to the above question would be, No.

This relationship between art and its audience then leads one to reconsider the relationship of the Lady of Shalott to her own artwork—her webs—and what role communication breakdown plays in her, as well as the Victorian artist’s, fate. The Lady is her only audience, making the cycle of reality, mediation, art, and audience internal and self-sufficient. There is no room for interpretation because the only audience to the artwork is its very creator. In this sense, the Lady of Shalott’s artwork fails because it does not successfully mediate the necessary communication breakdown on which art relies; that is, the audience has no agency because the artwork’s only audience, in this case, is the artist, herself.

Once the Lady of Shalott breaks the rule of mediation, however, the curse of mortality falls upon her and she eventually dies, though it is only then that her artwork leaves the unyielding loom behind, freed from predetermination and eligible to be interpreted fully through the formerly-absent communication breakdown. As the Lady of Shalott spies Lancelot moving through her mirror, she leaves the web and the loom behind to look out the window and glimpse reality. In doing so, the Lady upsets her loom and artwork: “out flew the web and floated wide; / the mirror cracked from side to side” (114-115). In disobeying the mandates of her curse, the constraints of her artwork, the Lady unconsciously frees her art, letting it “fly” and “float wide.” Furthermore, the mirror—the source of mediation—cracks and is destroyed because there is no longer a need for such mediation. The Lady is no longer bound to her art and her webs are free for interpretation; they are no longer objects but subjects and have transformed into true art because, finally, they allow for the communication breakdown to facilitate subjectivity and interpretation. Not until the webs were freed from their creator—until they became subjects to a breakdown of communication—could they fully realize their actual potential as art.

The utility and status of communication in “The Bloody Chamber” is very different from the communication breakdown that occurs in “The Lady of Shalott,” though it maintains the same sort of strident adherence to its genre’s—the postmodern—bylaws. In Carter’s short story, the art of the narrator, a talented pianist, communicates clearly and efficiently to her future lover, a blind piano tuner. While the piano tuner’s disability should limit the power and agency of art, making communication near impossible and, therefore, incurring a communication breakdown, the power of the narrator’s art makes communication possible, even unstoppable.

In the house of her new husband, the young, na?ve narrator of “The Bloody Chamber” sits down to play at her very own piano to find that “only a series of subtle discords flowed from beneath [her] fingers” (16). The narrator continues, asserting that the piano is “only a little out of tune,” but that she had “been blessed with a perfect ear and could not bear to play anymore” (16). Whereas the Lady of Shalott toils away in her tower, limited by and obedient to the curse that constricts both her and her art and, consequently, tailoring her art to reality, Carter’s narrator tailors reality to her art, making successful communication possible.

By insisting on hiring a piano tuner, though “sea breezes are bad for pianos” (16), the narrator tailors reality to her art and, consequently, encounters her future lover, the piano tuner, who eventually serves as an example of how successful communication through art can be. After hearing the narrator play, Jean-Yves, the blind piano tuner, falls in love with her art and with her. We know that Carter’s narrator is a young, na?ve virgin and that her heart is playful, but pure. Her art successfully communicates her virtue to the piano tuner, and there is not a communication breakdown that occurs, but rather a direct transfer of meaning from the artist to the audience. The communication breakdown in “The Lady of Shalott” was necessary because of the artistic medium—webs or weavings—and the ideals of Victorian literature: unobtainable objectives and external inspirations. The success of communication in “The Bloody Chamber” is partially contributed to the art form—music—but also to the ideals of postmodernist literature: that, when taken at face value, art is perhaps the only true form of communication because it defies all laws of traditional values.

After Carter’s narrator has witnessed the brutality of her new husband, she returns to her place of solace—her piano room—where Jean-Yves eavesdrops on her playing. He tells the narrator of his love for her art, flattering her: “When I heard you play this afternoon, I thought I’d never heard such a touch. Such technique. A treat for me, to hear a virtuoso!” (32). He knows that she is distraught after finding the bloody chamber and “some intuition [tells him that the narrator] could not sleep and might, perhaps, pass the insomniac hours at [her] piano” (31). In a time of confusion and unrest, Jean-Yves assumes that the narrator will resort to the clarity and efficiency of her art because the certainty and security it provides is enticing. The narrator’s art communicates clearly and fluently the intentions and attitudes of the artist. It is not a mere reflection of reality, as it is in the webs of “The Lady of Shalott,” but rather the creation of reality. Art has far more agency and effectiveness in communication in postmodernist literature, as seen in “The Bloody Chamber,” than it does in Victorian literature.

In both texts, however, the art and resulting forms of communication, or lack thereof, are not intended for a specific audience. Both the Lady of Shalott and Carter’s narrator perform their artistic tasks for themselves, yet the artwork Carter’s narrator manages to communication successfully, albeit unintentionally, to her audience—her true love. As her murderous husband prepares to decapitate her, Jean-Yves stands by the narrator, knowing he can do nothing to save her, but willing to risk his life for her. Their link is the earnest, successful communication that developed from the narrator’s artwork.

The successfulness of communication is plainly manifested in the fates of the two women. The Lady of Shalott, her artwork suffering from a cycle of disrupted and incomplete communication breakdown, dies in a boat that is slowly floating toward the man she loves. The narrator of “The Bloody Chamber,” however, survives her murderous husband by means of the successful nature of her communication. She unknowingly but effectively uses her artwork—her music—to connect with Jean-Yves, who ends of being her lifelong lover and husband. The fates of these two women are undeniably tied to their art and the effectiveness of the communication that stems from such artwork.

Communication’s shift from breakdown to success is paramount in elucidating the shift in the perception of artwork from Victorian views to postmodern views. That is, “The Lady of Shalott” showcases the communication breakdown between reality and art because Victorian artwork is based in subjectivity, thus necessitating a communication breakdown, where the audience is in a position of power and utility. In “The Bloody Chamber,” a postmodern text, art clearly communicates emotion and circumstance, making the communication between reality and art far more immediate and successful. While Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” involve two different representations of communication via artwork, they are both representative of their respective literary genres—Victorianism and postmodernism—and serve as effective examples of the evolution of communicative methods and tendencies throughout literature.

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Sexual Preferences and the Liberation of Oneself in the Company of Wolves

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves is a different adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood where, instead of the little girl becoming the victim to a villainous wolf, she embraces the wolf as an experience beyond anything she has known or been taught. Red Riding Hood is coming into herself as a young woman; she is going through puberty which often signifies changes in sexual interest and curiosity. Her family took the time to preach to the little girl that there are beasts outside of her protected bubble that are dangerous and not suitable to interact with at such a tender age. Since she is the youngest and the prettiest child, her mother and grandmother put forth mass efforts to ensure she remains as innocent as possible. However, when the little girl makes her way into the woods, she finds that she is not interested in being innocent. She discovers that she wants to explore her sexual desires which are not civilized. Sexual desire is something wild and natural, something that civilized and cultured girls should never want to explore. Women are often discouraged from exploring their sexual desires because it is a behavior that is not normally characterized as feminine. The heroine of The Company of Wolves rejects her civilized lifestyle in order to experience animalistic sexual desire.

The Company of Wolves starts out with an old wives’ tale and a warning. A little girl is told stories of beasts that make “you” quiver in fear and are untrustworthy She is told these stories by her grandmother to ensure the little girl would remain innocent and pure. However, Red Riding Hood is told these old wives’ tales about these wolves and how they preyed on innocent townspeople; she took this and, instead of cowering to him like prey, she asserted her dominance when in front of the wolf. The old wives’ tales are meant to scare her into obedience; in order for her to remain a little girl, her mother and grandmother make an effort to kill any inkling of curiosity. They tell her to “Fear and flee the wolf; for, worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems” (Carter 111). This resonates closely with the implication that boys will be boys; they do not know how to control themselves. Women take it upon themselves to teach their daughters stereotypical behaviors of men and that good women are not supposed to engage in such behaviors. The women in this story, with the exception to the heroine, could almost be characterized as the antagonists. They discourage her from exploring her sexuality and sexual desires by using scare tactics in hopes that their youngest and prettiest child will remain civilized and innocent. However, by doing this, there is a disconnect in their care for her; the heroine does not seem to care that her grandmother has been eaten by this wolf. She is actively rejecting her teacher of how good girls should act. Without her grandmother, there is no one to force her to conform to the rules of their society but even in the death of her grandmother, the rattling of her bones is meant to act as a warning against the wolf.

The red shawl not only symbolizes her coming into her womanhood but it is also physically shielding her body from the wolves. As a developing young woman, “her breasts have just begun to swell” and she has started her period; her grandmother makes the cape to shelter her granddaughter from being preyed upon (Carter 113). She burns her cape to show how she is unafraid of the wolf. She burns her clothes to reject her civilized lifestyle and to be accepted into an animalistic lifestyle. Carter says, “She bundled her shawl and threw it on the blaze, which instantly consumed it” (Carter 117). Once she throws the shawl into the fire, she has immediately relieved herself of the pressures of being in a civilized society. She does not want that life for herself; instead, she is allowing for the wolf to introduce her to the world of sexual desire and acting on natural instincts rather than learned behaviors. The shawl is the first thing she burns because it is the antithesis of what she wants to be and what the wolf can teach her. After the shawl burns, she begins to undress herself to embrace her natural body. “The thin muslin went flaring up the chimney like a magic bird and now off came her skirt, her woolen stockings, her shoes, and on to the fire they went, too, and were gone for good” (Carter 118). She undresses herself to slowly show she is willing to shed herself of everything she has been taught. Then she undresses the wolf to put them on a level playing field. Neither has an advantage and she is not in immediate danger because they are the same kind of exposed in front of each other. This story is not about love; it is purely about lust and a biological hunger for sex. The description of the heroine makes it clear she has no intention of loving the wolf. Rather, she is looking forward to exploring the sexual desire in herself. Their roles have reversed; she is supposed to be afraid of the wolf because his intention is to eat her. In the end, the act of having sex and consuming another being are closely aligned. She “burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat” when the wolf said he was going to eat her (Carter 118). It ended up being about two hungry beings consuming each other instead of being a predator devouring its prey.

Often, nature has acted as the place to find one’s truth. Carter placed Red Riding Hood in the woods because she is meant to begin to seek her sexual truth. While the wolf is interested in pursuing her in a sexual manner, it would have been a different story if the wolf purposely sought her out in the comfort of her nurturing community. Red Riding Hood finds herself in the woods without the protection of her mother or grandmother; she finds herself wanting to explore sexual desires and is in a perfect position to do it. Instead of following what people have told her to do when she goes into the woods, she acts on her animalistic instincts and sexual desires. The wolf is dirty and untrustworthy while she is pure and clean by continuous grooming and sheltering from her family. She loses her virginity to the wolf; she sheds her blood and immediately loses the innocence her family had been protecting her from. Her instincts told her she needed to experience her sexual awakening because she did not have any other opportunity to do so. Since losing one’s virginity is often paired with marriage in a civilized society, Red Riding Hood found herself making some kind of commitment to the wolf by having sex with him. “She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony” (Carter 118). Lice is the quintessential telling that someone is not clean; Red Riding Hood says she would perhaps put the lice in her mouth in order to show she is willingly becoming unclean. She did not catch lice from the wolf while they were engaging in sex; she takes them inside herself enthusiastically as part of her new life.

The Company of Wolves was a story about embracing sexual liberation and rejecting social norms and expectations. Red Riding Hood aggressively goes against everything she is taught by her civilized family to explore her natural desires as she is coming into her womanhood. The wolf, a wild animal, seeks to murder the heroine’s grandmother in order to silence her voice of reason and conformity. Anticipating a girl that would be afraid of the wolf’s predatory antics, the wolf asserted his dominance only to be met with equal power from Red Riding Hood. Instead of listening to the antagonistic voices of her mother and grandmother to fear the wolf, Red Riding Hood embraced him and his animal behaviors; she engaged in those same behaviors in order to shed her clothes from a forced, civilized life. By going into the woods, she entered a natural environment where she would not be pressured to conform to women’s ideals regarding femininity and what behaviors are acceptable for a girl to be involved in.

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When the Romantic and Gothic Traditions Meet

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

From the late-eighteenth to the early-nineteenth century, known as the Romantic period, there existed a shift in some cultural and artistic elements that leaned towards a revival of the Gothic. As well as a revival of the Gothic through architectural adaptations in England, writers in particular began to enjoy incorporating elements of the Gothic aesthetic into their works, thus beginning a mergence of the two styles. The imagery associated with the Gothic was seen to be so distinct and carried a certain essence that its use, whether inspired politically, socially, architecturally, culturally, or spiritually, made for an interesting and unique collection of literary works.

In order to better understand the correlation between the Romantic and the Gothic, it is first necessary to understand the basics and the complexes of defining both of these terms. In the simplest of terms, the Oxford Companion to English Literature defines Romanticism as “the triumph of the values of spontaneity, visionary originality, wonder, and emotional self-expression over the classical standards of balance, order, restraint, proportion, and objectivity…[it] derives from ‘romance’, the literary form in which desires and dreams prevail over everyday realities” (Oxford Companion to English Literature). Such prominent authors of the Romantic period include William Wordsworth, William Blake, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

To attempt to define the Gothic aesthetic, one must first define what is actually Gothic. The Oxford Companion to English Literature defines the Gothic literary tradition as “a distinct modern development in which the characteristic theme is the stranglehold of the past upon the present, or the encroachment of the ‘dark’ ages of oppression upon the ‘enlightened’ modern era…embodied typically in enclosed and haunted settings such as castle, crypts, convents, or gloomy mansions, in images of ruin and decay, and in episodes of imprisonment, cruelty, and persecution” (Oxford Companion to English Literature). It defines the term Gothic itself to mean ‘medieval, and by implication barbaric” (The Oxford Companion to English Literature). The Gothic revival includes that which reminisces or reminds of the past, socially, culturally, architecturally, and spiritually. It simultaneously allowed for a clashing of the old with the new in the creation of contemporary works, combining the historic with the modern, for a new ‘vintage’. Concepts, ideas, fears, emotions, opinions and morals that existed in the more medieval Gothic ages still existed in the Romantic period, so writers of the new gothic could take these traditional topics and find a new way to retell them to the readers. Ideals commonly associated with the Gothic revival are medeivalism, barbarism, and supernaturalism. Instituted largely with the use of the supernatural, or that which seemed supernatural but would later be found to me natural, people were reminded of their God-fearing and superstitious feelings, and of the presence of the ‘other’. As David Hume puts it, the Gothic novel “can be seen as one symptom of a widespread shift away from neoclassical ideals of order and reason, toward romantic belief in emotion and imagination” (Hume 282). Some Gothic works, which are to be discussed further, include Samuel Colderidge’s “Christabel”, John Keats’ “The Eve of St Agnes”, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, is considered to be the first Gothic novel, pioneering the way for other modern additions to the Romantic genre. Walpole himself, a staunch enthusiast of the Gothic revival, even had his own medieval-style castle constructed, following the inspiration of the Gothic architecture.

The relationship between the Romantic period and the Gothic revival can be discussed through the ways in which one inspired or interacted with the other. However, much difficulty arises in attempting to distinctly distinguish the connections between the Gothic influence on the Romantic and as Michael Gamer explains “what we have, then, are borrowings that cannot be explained exclusively in terms of influence, whether passive or active, individual or cultural…the relation of Gothic to Romantic ideology is itself a Gothic one, since Gothic’s presence in Romantic writing is characterized by ‘multiple interpretations…[of] multiple modes of consumption and production, [of] dangerous consumptions and excessive productivity, and [of] economies of meaning” (Gamer 28). Everything is subject to interpretation. Though it is difficult to distinguish where exactly the influence is, it is still possible to see the connections and assess the relationship that way. The presence of the Gothic, whether architectural, spiritual, cultural, social, or political is unmistakable within some romantic works, so it is an explorable subject.

The Romantic writers wanted to recognize growth and life and beauty, strike up emotions with readers, make them feel something new or something old. It didn’t necessarily matter as long as they were stimulated to feel or to react or to respond. David Hume discusses their relationship by suggesting that “gothic and romantic writing spring alike from a recognition of the insufficiency of reason or religious faith to explain and make comprehensible the complexities of life” (Hume 290). People are always looking for reasons and explanations to life’s questions and problems, and that which is inexplicable arouses feelings of resentment and anger. In having the Gothic influence their Romantic writing, authors were able to provide readers with the possibility of relief from these feelings. Hume further notes that while “Romantic writing reconciles the discordant elements it faces, resolving their apparent contradictions imaginatively in the creation of a higher order…Gothic writing, the product of serious fancy, has no such answers and can only leave the ‘opposites’ contradictory and paradoxical. In its highest forms romantic writing claims the existence of higher answers where Gothic can find only unresolvable moral and emotional ambiguity” (Hume 290). What better way to evoke religious presence in a reader than with a supernatural entity, hauntingly invisible yet so fearfully real. Just as with religion, one cannot visibly see it, but its presence is felt indefinitely.

In regards to the reception of the Gothic aesthetic within the Romantic period, attitudes towards the style varied. Some thought it to be too into the past, reminiscent of the barbaric and dark times of history. It represented decay and destruction, ignorance, cruelty and persecution. Some believed looking back didn’t allow forward movement. For others, the Gothic was “a vehicle for the transmission of a forward-looking mentality through the unenlightened middle ages” (Dugget 59). Some accepted these images of decay and destruction and used them towards seeing a new and brighter future; it was map of how far society had come. In moving forward, one must remember where they came from to know how far they’ve come. Either way it was a reminder of the medieval and more archaic times in English history, but whether that reminder provided one with a positive outlook for the future, or with profoundly negative memories of the past depended upon the individual. Michael Gamer acknowledges that “it is gothic’s ease of dispersal and ability not to stay within the confines of prose romance- its habit of collapsing disciplinary and social categories, however gendered or polarized- that constituted one of the primary threats to the reviewers who condemned it” (Gamer 4). In regards to Walpole’s reception in particular, E.J. Clery notes that Walpole’s “contemporaries [viewed] the Gothic age [as] a long period of barbarism, superstition, and anarchy [that] dimly stretched from the fifth century AD…to the Renaissance and the revival of classical learning…[and that] ‘Gothic’ also signified anything obsolete, old-fashioned, or outlandish” (Clery 21). People wanted to read new material and the idea that Walpole had written a Gothic story begged the question of its modernity. People have always had an obsession with ‘newness’ and originality, and the assumptions and associations that accompanied the term “Gothic”, especially when used in his title The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, generated a feeling of aversion towards the idea of Gothic literature. If one can assume that “only if a fiction is true to life can it become the vehicle of useful instruction or moral improvement”, than some wondered at what would be the benefit in reading a story where the moral is learned with the use of supernatural interference from some unknown entity (Clery 22).

Since the medieval Gothic is associated with a period of anarchy, its revival caused political concern and disapproval because of the fear of some form of political dissent. Coupled with the then-current political issues in England, “Gothic fiction and drama were perceived as threats to political and social order” (Gamer 31). Nonetheless, though this discouraged some from accepting it, its cultural, architectural, and spiritual influences were easier to receive.

Samuel T. Coleridge’s “Christabel” was written in two parts, written in 1797 and 1800, respectively. The poem is an exemplar of the Gothic’s influence of the Romantic. In the poem, Christabel is a maiden wandering through the woods in the middle of the night when she comes upon Geraldine laying tied up on the ground, claiming to have been a victim of kidnapping. Christabel brings Geraldine to her father Sir Leoline’s castle to give her sanctuary,whereupon they discover Geraldine to be the daughter of Leoline’s old enemy Roland. When Christabel begins to suspect Geraldine of trickery and deceit, before she is able to alert her father, she finds herself under a spell of Geraldine’s that won’t allow her to inform her father. Eventually Christabel breaks free of the spell, but upon informing her father, finds he refuses to believe her, accepting Geraldine and shutting out Christabel.

The poem employs traditional Gothic elements, from setting to psychology. The speaker notes that “Tis middle of night by the castle clock” and that “The night is chilly, but not dark/ The thin gray cloud is spread on high,/ it covers but not hides the sky./ The moon is behind, and at the full” (Colerdige 1,14-18). The very beginning of the poem occurs in the dark woods, setting up an eerily haunting setting where the reader can predict some forthcoming event. It creates an atmosphere of apprehension as Christabel is depicted wandering through foggy mists and shadowy moonlight. The tension builds as the reader waits in anticipation, expecting something as the narrator asks “Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?/There is not wind enough in the air…Hush beating heart of Christabel!/ Jesu, Maria, shield her well!” (Coleridge 45-57). This seemingly unearthly presence invokes the fear of the supernatural, questioning what type of existence is near. Upon the initial discovery of Geraldine by the tree, it appears the source was a victimized maiden, but as the poem advances Geraldine’s own corporeal reality is questioned and she becomes the source of the seemingly supernatural activity.

The reader becomes further suspect of Geraldine as she begs Christabel to “Have pity on my sore distress/ I scarce can speak for weariness:/Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!” (Coleridge 73-76). As Geraldine recounts the strange details of her kidnapping to Christabel something comes off awry, though what exactly that is, is difficult to tell. Geraldine seems suspicious and contradictory in her stories, and though it seems it could be a result of her distress, it instills a feeling of distrust in the reader. Something is off about the woman and her story. The supernatural is again suggested when the two women go to sleep together and Geraldine almost gives off the appearance of being a seductress of sorts as she settles in to lay beside Christabel and tells her “In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,/ Which is lord of they utterance, Christabel!/ Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow,/ This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow” (Coleridge 257-260). There already seemed some sort of sorcery surrounding Geraldine, so hearing her mention it to Christabel arouses more fear in her intentions with the innocent maiden. The supernatural element is constantly mentioned or suggested, but never flat out revealed. When Christabel awakes and “Gathers herself from out her trance”, and later becomes aware of Geraldine’s serpentine traits as “A snake’s small eye blinks dull and shy/ And the lady’s eyes they shrunk in her head/ Each shrunk up to a serpent’s eye/ And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread/ At Christabel she looked askance!” (Coleridge 573-577). Even the way the Leoline seems so readily enraptured by Geraldine suggests her to be of the supernatural, a siren of some sort. The notion that she could be supernatural, but the fact that it is never stated in the poem is even more frightening. It would be less frightening to know for sure if she is an evil unearthly entity, or just appears as such. Such a haunted setting, the supernatural Geraldine with her deceit, Christabel’s imprisonment under the spell, and the castle are all typical characteristics of the Gothic aesthetic.

Using similar characteristics of the Gothic aesthetic as “Christabel”, John Keats’ “The Eve of St Agnes” is a romance story of two young lovers. The poem uses strong Gothic imagery to create an atmosphere for the poem. Madeline is a young maiden who is in love with Porphyro, the son of her family’s enemy. Before retiring to bed one night, Madeline decides try a ritual on St Agnes’ Eve whereby a young virgin’s lover will come to her while she is sleeping. That same night, Porphyro, with the reluctant help of Angela (at her own perilous cost), sneaks into Madeline’s room in order to watch her beauty as she sleeps. When Porphyro awakes Madeline from her dream, she become confused at the sudden change in Porphyro between Madeline’s dream version of him and him in reality. He then convinces her to run away with him, and they never see her family again.

Again there is the presence of superstition and of the appearance of the supernatural with the St Agnes’ Eve tradition and the knights visiting in dreams. With high hopes of receiving a visit from their lover, a virgin will go to bed without supper, be naked, and lie face up towards heaven. Madeline, as well as the other girls readily follow this superstition since they are so eager and desperate for interaction with their lovers. The atmosphere is also set up for the Gothic aesthetic as the narrator describes “The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,/ Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:/…To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails” (Keats 14-18). Gloom, ruin, and decay are represented by the worn down statues, frozen in time and place, blackened and cursed. This draws upon the gothic as an image the medieval. As with before, the presence of the supernatural is questionable, not absolute but enough to ponder it’s existence. Madeline does end up dreaming of Porphyro, so it is really superstition or was there really some intervention on behalf of St Agnes? It is even questionable with Angela, who reluctantly allows Porphyro into Madeline’s chambers, against her better judgements and wishes. She regrets having allowed him in, and in the end of the poem she ends up dead. Is this possibly some supernatural intervention punishing her for allowing a male into a naked virgin’s room whilst she dreams? It is enough to beg the question of the possibility of the supernatural. The narrator even suggests a supernatural element to Madeline and Porphyro themselves as “They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;/ Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide” where the repeated use of ‘phantoms’ suggests they really have passed into the supernatural, leaving the natural world entirely (Keats 361-362). One could even argue that they have actually become phantoms, unearthly creatures, suggesting some psychological repercussions of their pre-marital encounter. Perhaps Madeline has run off in her mind with the dream version of Porphyro, or perhaps Porphyro and she have passed into an otherworldly existence. Such psychological features, questioning sanity are also part of the Gothic’s aesthetic.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, more commonly associated with being a feminist text because of its timing and influence in that area, has a storyline which revolves around the possibility of the existence of the supernatural. When Jane Eyre is hired as the new governess for Edward Rochester’s ward she begins falling in love with him, and strange happenings occur in the house. Since the story is told from Jane’s point of view, the reader is only aware of what she knows. A few times in the night Jane awakes to the feeling that someone is in her room, watching her; she even catches a glimpse at one point but is unsure of who or what she witnessed. In certain parts of the castle, Jane hears “the last sound I expected to hear in so still a region, a laugh, struck my ear. It was a curious laugh; distinct, formal, mirthless. I stopped: the sound ceased, only for an instant; it began again, louder: for at first, though distinct, it was very low. It passed off in a clamorous peal that seemed to wake an echo in every lonely chamber” (Bronte 158). The eerie laugh follows Jane throughout the house, occasionally appearing at moments when it seems wrong and suspicious. The reader becomes aware of some unsettling feeling associated with its presence. Jane eventually believes this to be the the laughter of Grace Poole, a women she believes “possessed with a devil” (Bronte 221). As soon as Jane thinks it, the reader wonders at it too. Is she possessed by some unearthly monster? The story continues with feelings of apprehension and fear every time Jane enters certain parts of the house. Things become even more frightening when Rochester’s room is lit on fire, and Jane believes it to be the work of Grace. The ‘demon’ now has proven to be some sort of evil, and the rest of the novel leaves the reader in fear over what demonic crime will be next. The reader shares Jane’s fear and apprehension, not knowing for certain who or what is the cause of the violence. Even more so at the possibility that a worse attack is in the near future.

Further in the novel, a visitor is attacked in the night, stabbed and near death. Jane obediently helps as Rochester requests, and it becomes evident that Rochester doesn’t find such violent occurrences suspicious, suggesting he has something to hide. Suspicion of him grows until it turns out the culprit is not Grace Poole, but Rochester’s own demented wife, a hidden secret from the world. Having gone mad years earlier, Rochester chose to hide her from the world, and hired Grace Poole to look after her within the castle. The illusion of a supernatural element is shattered, but the fear remains with this individual who is so dangerous and violent. Thus, this is one of the moments where the seemingly supernatural turns out to be the natural.

Having been the first true Gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto encompasses a great deal of what is considered to be the Gothic’s aesthetic, from the imagery, to the architecture, to the psychological, to the supernatural, to the terror. As a Gothic novel it “is part of the new ‘literature of process’ which reflects its creator’s mind” and it “attempts to rouse the reader’s imaginative sympathies” (Hume 282). Manfred is owner of the castle and the master of the land and his son is killed on his wedding day when a gigantic helmet falls on him from the sky. In an attempt to maintain control over his land Manfred tries to divorce his faithful wife Hippolita for his late son’s fiancée Isabella. Isabella flees to a church for safety from the abominable idea of marrying her dead fiancé’s married father, and receives the aide of a prisoner named Theodore. The Castle of Otranto begins with the ominous prophecy “That the castle and lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it” (Walpole 17). Straight off from the beginning the novel seems prepared to proceed in a predetermined state of events, though they are yet unknown. The reader is hinted at the direction the novel will take. The curiosity surrounding the bizarre prophecy brings an element of mystery to the novel. What does the prophecy mean? Where did it come from? Will it come true? Does it come from divine or supernatural intervention? Mystery and uncertainty produce feelings of apprehension and fear, all of which aid to the construction of the Gothic aesthetic. That which is unknown prompts wonder and begs for answers. These questions have the reader wondering throughout the course of the novel.

The atmosphere and setting for the novel also encompass elements that form a Gothic aesthetic. The Gothic is “embodied typically in enclosed and haunted settings such as castle, crypts, [and] convents” (Oxford Companion to English Literature). Titled after the location, the Castle of Otranto is the most blatant use of the Gothic for the presence of the castle. When the townspeople are attempting to figure out what happened to Manfred’s son, they establish Theodore “has stolen the helmet from good Alfonso’s tomb, and dashed the brains of our young prince with it” thus bringing in the crypt. The place of sanctuary for the characters on the run, naturally, becomes the church; Isabella and Theodore both use it to escape the wrath of Manfred. All three structural elements that represent the Gothic aesthetic are used by Walpole in Otranto. Since his was the pioneering work for the genre, it is evident that his examples of these three are what later writers drew inspiration from.

Manfred himself encompasses the archaic notions of the Gothic since he ruled the land with the hand of tyranny, controlling everything, retaining power for himself and for his legacy. Alfred Longuiel’s definition applies perfectly to Manfred in that “the adjective ‘Gothic’ is employed as a definite and recognized synonym for barbarous. Most often this usage is in connection with ignorance, cruelty, or savageness, qualities associated with the inherited Renaissance view of the middle ages” (455). Manfred is a cruel and selfish ruler, concerned only with preserving his family’s name upon the throne. He cares not what the cost of power is or the consequences of his actions for others. He is the embodiment of barbaric rule. It is because of his tyrannic ways that the story unfolds as it does, as the consequences of all his actions finally catching up. Manfred had even imprinted Isabella’s “mind with terror, from his causeless rigor to such amiable princesses as Hippolita and Matilda” (Walpole 19). Terror is a common element of the Gothic aesthetic, used as an attempt to invoke morals. Manfred wrongfully imprison’s Theodore and sentences him to death, blaming him for the crushing death of his son. Such imprisonment is another common element of the Gothic. Such “terror dependent on suspense or dread is the modus operandi of the novels of Walpole…[it] holds the reader’s attention through dread of a series of terrible possibilities” (Hume 285).

The Gothic images of ruin and decay are portrayed through the collapse of Manfred’s power. His years of greed and tyrannical rule have returned for justice. The image of decay would not be complete however if it was only Manfred himself who suffers. After the loss of his only male heir, Manfred goes on to accidentally kill his own daughter, mistaking her for Isabella and stabbing her in a fit of jealous rage. This is the final piece of the collapse and after Manfred has lost everything, power is restored to the rightful person, Theodore. The prophecy had stated that when “the real owner should be grown to large” for the lordship, the new ruler would gain possession. The irony lies in that it is when Manfred has nothing left and lost his children that he has grown “too large” (Walpole 17).

Walpole’s Otranto “aimed at a medieval atmosphere by means of medieval background, -lonely castles, haunted towers, subterranean passages, knights in armor, magic. But to the reading public the outstanding feature of these stories appears to have been, not their gothic setting, but their supernatural incident” (Longeil 458). Walpole’s use of the supernatural is principally in the form of the frequently reappearing large parts of armor. His son is crushed by a giant helmet. One of the servants claims he witnessed a giant foot in the gallery chamber, while another, Bianca, sees a giant hand appear in another part of the castle. These gigantic pieces of body and armor have caused fear and unrest among the castle’s household. Multiple occupants have seen it, but no one can identify it. The mystery of it remains one of the main mysteries of the novel.

Other moments also suggest the supernatural; earlier Bianca claims to hear voices in the hallways and determines the castle to be haunted. At one point the “plumes on the enchanted helmet, which still remained at the other end of the court, were tempestuously agitated, and nodded thrice, as if bowed by some invisible wearer” (Walpole 53). Manfred’s fear of Theodore arises out of his uncanny similarities to the hanging portrait of Alfonso in the gallery, and Manfred himself even initially took Theodore for a specter. Even though it is discovered later that he is in fact a descendant of Alfonso, there is still an element of the supernatural carried within Theodore for the entirety of the novel. One wonder’s how it happened to be that even though he hadn’t a clue as to who his relations are, by some work of fate he manages to make his way to his rightful throne. The supernatural works with destiny in placing him there.

David Hume notes that the “prime feature of the Gothic novel…is its attempt to involve the reader in special circumstances” (Hume 286). It manages a striking new literary form, taking the Romantic period ideals and themes and incorporating the Gothic aesthetic for a profoundly unique style of literature. The gothic revival explored old elements in a new way. Revolving primarily around the creation of a brooding, dark, supernatural, and medieval atmosphere, the Gothic aesthetic worked its way into the Romantic period. Its classical yet somewhat archaic elements proved to be challenging in its overall reception. What did it really make people feel? Was the medieval a concept to be left behind, with the barbaric and tyrannical notions associated with it, or was it a concept to be remembered and drawn from, a reminder of forward steps. With distinct associations socially, politically, culturally, architecturally, and spiritually, the mere idea of the Gothic aesthetic worked towards what the Gothic aesthetic itself did: it got people to react, to feel, to respond. Prior to Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, there didn’t even exist the concept of a Gothic novel. His accomplishments with that novel paved the way for other Romantic writer’s to draw inspiration for new stories from the medieval ages, allowing for a reminder of what the medieval times were like, and how far England has come as a nation of growth.

Works Cited

  1. Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Service & Paton, 1897. Print.
  2. Clery, E.J. “The genesis of ‘Gothic’ fiction.” Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 21-39. Print.
  3. Colerdige, Samuel Taylor. “Christabel.” The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. 376-393. Print.
  4. Duggett, Tom. Gothic Romanticism: Architecture, Politics, and Literary Form. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
  5. Gamer, Michael. Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
  6. “Gothic Fiction.” The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 2007. eBook.
  7. Hume, Robert D. “Gothic Versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel.” PMLA 84.2 (1969): 282-290. JSTOR. Web. 21 Dec 2011.
  8. Keats, John. “The Eve of St Agnes.” The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. Ed. Jerome J. McGann. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. 376-393. Print.
  9. Longueil, Alfred E. “The Word ‘Gothic’ in Eighteenth Century Criticism.” Modern Language Notes 38.8 (1923): 453-460. JSTOR. Web. 3 Jan 2012.
  10. “Romanticism.” The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 2007. eBook.
  11. Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. London: Penguin Books, 2001. Print.
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Gothic Conventions in ‘The Woman in Black’

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill is often described as a ‘ghost story’ and it’s eerie and considerably terrifying narrative falls well within gothic tradition. In this essay I will explore the gothic conventions used and the effectiveness with which they are portrayed through the employment of language, form and structure.

In this passage, Hill explores the complexity of human fear, in particular, that apparent in the protagonist, which is subsequent to the overwhelming sense of ambiguity that Hill creates and sustains throughout. From the beginning of the extract, Arthur excessively questions his surroundings, second-guessing himself with questions such as ‘How could there be?’ The repetition of rhetorical questions such as this one immediately establishes an uncertain tone and distinct tension, both of which are extremely prevalent conventions within the gothic genre. In doing this, Hill effectively evokes a response of panic from the reader, mirroring that of the protagonist, as Hill exploits the instinctive human fear that stems from any degree of ambiguity in a situation. Here, the use of first person narrative is significant in that it enables the reader to be empathetic of Arthur, heightening the emotional response. The atmosphere of unease prevails later in the passage as Arthur describes he ‘had simply the absolutely certain sense of someone just having passed’, which is disorientating for the reader as this declarative is preceded by several, equally emphatic imperatives of the opposite conclusion, as Arthur insists there had been ‘no movement’, ‘no brush of a sleeve’ and ‘no disturbance of air’. This style of juxtaposing narrative is often seen in gothic writing and is extremely effective in creating a false sense of security, which is later, or in this case, immediately, broken down. Because Arthur is unable to reach a definitive conclusion about the nature of the presence, the reader seeks reassurance that it is not sinister and through the uncertain tone, Hill subtly implies that Arthur’s fear could be an amplification of paranoia – a result of being isolated for so long – as the basis for his fear is tenuous. However, the juxtaposition employed here is considerably successful in ensuring the reader is suitably terrified, indeed one of the foremost aims of the gothic genre, as the inexplicability of the circumstance becomes overwhelming.

Additionally, more often than not in gothic literature, intrinsic human qualities inevitably lead to a protagonist’s downfall. This is seen famously in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, where the doctor’s curiosity and thirst to create life leads to the invention of the monster. Here, in ‘The Woman in Black’, Hill subtly makes the reader aware of Arthur’s innate paternal instinct as he is so receptive to the ‘familiar cry of desperation and anguish…from a child’ that he hears repeatedly from the marsh. Hill’s use of the considerably emotive adjectives here is significant as it they make it explicit to the reader that a protective instinct has been triggered within Arthur that has the potential to be exploited by whatever evil is present in Eel Marsh House. This is emphasised by the knowledge that the child is not real, but Arthur feels the need to help it nevertheless. Children carry strong connotations of innocence within gothic tradition and here it is no different since the child’s cry prompts a response of sadness in both the reader and the protagonist, as it is assumed that the ‘child’ is in some sort of danger that is underserved and tragic as a result of its innocence. Interestingly, later on in the extract, Hill again uses children as a motif for innocence, but does so when describing Arthur as he ‘was as near to weeping tears of despair and fear, frustration and tension as [he] had been since [his] childhood’. Here the reference to childhood is indicative of Arthur’s innocence and it was Hill’s intention to provoke a response of sympathy and fear for Arthur from the reader by emphasising Arthur’s naivety, even as an adult. Furthermore, this comparison to childhood, paired with the emotive adjectives, similar to those used in description of the child’s cry, implies that, subsequent to Arthur’s distressing circumstance, his reaction demonstrates that his ability to rationalise has regressed to that of a child. Again, this ensures the reader is considerably sympathetic towards Arthur as in this moment the tension reaches its pinnacle and Hill emphasises the shear horror of Arthur’s predicament.

Moreover, in keeping with gothic tradition, in this passage Hill challenges the boundaries of reality and mortality by hinting at the presence of a supernatural being in Eel Marsh House. Hill describes Arthur’s ‘wild, incoherent fantasies’ as he speculates an explanation for the illusive being that seemingly occupies the nursery. The use of the telling lexis ‘incoherent’, again implies Arthur is incapable of rational thought and therefore creates a sense of desperation, which is distressing for the reader – the first person narrative, once again, evoking an empathetic response. Hill effectively unnerves the reader at this point by exploiting the fact that humans actively seek an explanation for the unknown; by not providing an explanation for the woman in black that falls within the typical boundaries of reality, Hill encourages the reader to think beyond that. Indeed, this is something that scares the reader considerably, particularly since it is believed the novel is set during the early 20th Century, a time when superstition of the supernatural was far less widespread than it had been in the past, and thus the notion of a supernatural being would seem increasingly inconceivable. This notion is emphasised as Arthur begins to ‘doubt [his] own reality’. Here, the use of a possessive pronoun isolates Arthur and his setting as though they are separate from reality, as Hill implies that within the confines of the marsh, anything is possible. This is an extremely significant moment within the novel as it foreshadows the discovery of the woman in black and that she is indeed a ghost, an entity that transgresses the boundaries of reality and mortality.

To conclude, it is through the effective use of rhetorical devices, as well as the careful consideration of structural and contextual elements that Hill is so successful in employing gothic conventions, encouraging the reader to think beyond stereotypical notions and creating an overwhelming sense of the unknown, which in turn provokes both a physical and psychological response of fear.

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Development of Mystery in Wieland

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Lonely mansions, ghostly apparitions, and magic are some of the elements that create the atmosphere in Gothic stories. In his novel Wieland, Charles Brockden Brown uses most of these to create an aura of mystery and suspense. Brown once said that the Gothic novel was a literary form that could “engage, and transport, and chain down the attention, and sway the passions of the spectator or reader” (qtd. In Voloshin 344). In Wieland, Brown accomplishes this feat by using mystery as a literary technique to thrill the reader and develop the plot of the novel. Brown sets up mystery as an omnipresent force through the use of characterization, supernaturalism, narration, and structure.

Brown establishes Clara Wieland as the first-person narrator of the novel, thus her knowledge of the action and the thoughts of other characters is limited to her own experience. Brown focuses consistently on the sensation of Clara, emphasizing her perceptions and feelings (Voloshin 344). It is through her senses and thoughts that the audience is submerged into the novel and storyline. If Brown had chosen an omnipresent narrator the sense of mystery would be lost, since in this type of narration the narrator is usually aware of more information. By Brown choosing Clara as the narrator he purposely limits the audience’s viewpoint and knowledge. Just as Clara is unaware of how the story will develop until something happens, so is the audience held in suspense. Brown did not randomly select the narration style and the novel’s structure, he selected these characteristics with the purpose of developing the element of mystery.

Brown wrote the novel in the form of epistolarity, a literary form that involves using letters. In Wieland the end of every letter represents the end of a chapter. The author takes advantage of this literary form by putting important details he wants to emphasize at the end of certain letters. Be doing this Brown is able to foreshadow and point out certain details to the reader. Furthermore, Brown creates a sense of suspense by leaving some questions unanswered until the beginning of the next letter. Such is the case at the end of chapter 15, when Clara finds Wieland’s home empty; here Brown leaves the audience wondering what happened to the family. Brown further creates a sense of mystery and suspense at the end of this chapter, by creating anticipation about the mysterious meeting that is to take place between Clara and Carwin. The end of this chapter/letter is just an example of the numerous times Brown leaves the audience in wonder and wanting to keep on reading.

Clara is not only important to the novel as the narrator, but Brown also selects her to be the heroine of the story. Brown creates the characters of Clara and Carwin to further develop the sense of mystery through characterization. Even though Clara is one of the main characters, the readers do not learn her name until several pages into the novel. Likewise Brown limits the audience’s personal knowledge of Clara until about the third chapter. Previous to this point the main focus is on Clara’s father and his death, limiting the reader’s personal knowledge of Clara and her current life.

The novel reaches its zenith of mystery through the characterization of Carwin. From the moment he is introduced there is an eerie atmosphere surrounding him. When Clara begins the chapter that will introduce the reader’s to Carwin, she states that she has “now come to the mention of a person with whose name the most turbulent sensations are connected” (Brown 45). Yet the readers are unaware of why these “sensation” are connected with Carwin until almost the end of the novel. When Carwin is introduced to the readers he is described as a “clown” in rags with an awkward walk, whom Clara happens to see strolling by her house. Just as Carwin mysteriously appears he suddenly and mysteriously disappears, until the chapter where he is reintroduced by Pleyel as an acquaintance he met in Europe. Rather than clear up the confusion, Pleyel’s description of Carwin adds to the sense of mystery surrounding this particular character. The scarce knowledge available concerning him is not helpful, but rather deceiving. The main source of Carwin’s mystery arises from the fact that he vehemently refuses to talk about his past: “of his own history, previous to his transformation into a Spaniard, he was invariably silent” (Brown 63). From his observations Pleyel mistakes him for an Englishmen, but that is all the characters and readers learn about Carwin.

Carwin might be a mystery, but he is an influential force when it comes to plot development and the intensifying sense of mystery. At the end of the novel Carwin will be revealed as the source of the mysterious voices that make the characters question their senses. The “disembodied voices” that the characters hear do not fit into the order of nature of the novel, therefore they must be explained at some point (Voloshin 345). Towards the end of the novel, the voices are explained as Carwin’s use of his talent as a ventriloquist, but for the majority of the story the “voices” are the foremost source of mystery and supernatural activity. Nevertheless it is important to note that the “voices” are not the first or only supernatural incident to occur in the novel. Within the first few chapters of the novel Wieland and Clara’s father suffers from an unexplainable accident – his clothes suddenly catch on fire without any reason for combustion. Through the history of the Wieland family Brown introduces a series of supernatural incidents.

In regard to the voices the blurring of reality and the confusion of the senses create the sense of mystery within the novel. The voices influence the actions of two important characters, Pleyel and Wieland. By far the worst effects are those experienced by Wieland, whose belief in the voices alter his perception to the point of destruction. Through the character of Wieland, Brown uses Gothic conventions to explore psychological themes (Rosenthal). When Wieland first hears the mysterious voices, different characters have different explanations for what he heard. The mystery is in the rise as Clara wonders whether the voices are an element of the supernatural or if Wieland is the victim of delusions of the senses (Voloshin 346). Just as she is unsure, so are the readers perplexed by this new mystery. The mystery grows when Clara also hears voices plotting to kill her. The voices turn her house, in particularly her closet, into a place of mystery and dread. Who are the voices in Clara’s closets and why do they want to kill her? For a long time this question agonizes not only Clara, but also the readers. Them the voices are heard by a third character, Pleyel. He hears Carwin faking a romantic meeting between him and Clara during which Clara supposedly declares her love for him. This deeply affects Pleyel to the point where he wants nothing to do with Clara, viewing her as a disgraceful individual.

The voices that Carwin fakes create all the mystery and conflicts between the characters of the novel. However, for the majority of the novel both the readers and Clara are unaware of his responsibility as the source of trouble. The mystery does not end once we learn that Carwin is accountable for the voices. On the contrary more questions are raised as the reason for Carwin’s behavior are not explained. Is he in love with Clara? Why does is he want to destroy the Wieland family? Where does he really come from and why is he in their town? Most of these questions are eventually answered as Carwin confesses his intents and guilt to Clara. Yet, just as some of these mysteries are solved a new one is created, the murder of Catherine and her children. To Clara’s dismay, she soon learns that Wieland was the murderer, but that does not answer the question of why he did it. Did he really hear the voice of God or has he gone mad? In the end the answer seems to be a combination of both, for once Wieland is convinced he can hear voices his psychological state becomes unstable. Even by the end of the novel, Wieland’s actions and thoughts remain a major mystery to Clara since she never fully understands what occurred to her brother.

In Wieland, the atmosphere of mystery is a by-product of the confusion between reality and the supernatural elements that fill the pages of this novel. All events that appeared to be supernatural or irrational are at the end of the text explained rationally, but the read has nonetheless enjoyed a novel full of skillfully rendered mystery.


Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland, or the Transformation. Oxford University Press. Oxford, England. 1994.

Longueil, Alfred. The Word “Gothic” in Eighteenth Century Criticism. Modern Language Notes, Vol. 38, No. 8. (Dec., 1923), pp. 453-460.

Rosenthal, Bernard. Charles Brockden Brown. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 37: American Writers of the Early Republic. The Gale Group, 1985. Pp. 69-81.

Voloshin, Beverly. Wieland: “Accounting for Appearances.” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 3. September 1986. Pgs. 341-357

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Charles Brockden Brown’s Clara, an Archetype of the Classic Eighteenth-Century Woman

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Although Leslie A. Fiedler calls Charles Brockden Brown the “inventor of the American writer,” and sees the revolt of the European middle classes translating in America to “feminism and anti-intellectualism,” Brockden Brown seems to have a problem imbuing Clara, his narrator in Wieland, with these same qualities (145). From the one-line reference [in the Advertisement] to the book’s narration by “the lady whose story it contains,” to the final explanation of that narrator’s marriage to a man who placed her in an untenable (and life threatening) situation with his erroneous and unspeakable accusations, Charles Brockden Brown has created, in the character of Clara, an accurate representation of the predicament of the typical eighteenth-century American woman.

Despite the fact that Clara is allowed (by her brother) to live alone in her own cottage, called Mettingen, because of her desire to “administer a fund and regulate a household” of her own, it is a superficial independence at best. She is independently wealthy, through the inheritance left by her father, who gained his riches from the toil of slaves. Her residence is a scant three-quarters of a mile from her brother’s home and “the short distance allowed us to exchange visits as often as we pleased,” meaning her brother’s assistance lay a short distance from her front door (Brown 20). Clara does have male company come and go in her residence, but the visitor is chiefly Pleyel, her brother’s brother-in-law, and the man with whom she is secretly in love, (a woman of this era would never be the first to declare her feelings openly before receiving a similar declaration from the object of her affections!).

Despite Clara’s outward appearance as an intellectual woman with an interest in art, music and literature, she is nevertheless a sheltered, inexperienced woman, immured in a small corner of the world, surrounded by her brother, Theodore Wieland, his wife, Catherine, and Henry Pleyel. Other than the rare visit by an outsider that occasioned much excitement in the neighborhood, and an occasional visit by family acquaintances, Clara is isolated from the world-at large. This, then, makes the disaffection of Pleyel a much more earth-shattering experience when it occurs.

Although readers of Wieland know about the deception that leads to Pleyel’s antipathy toward Clara, she does not, and her reactions are that of a typically helpless eighteenth-century woman. She has no weapons to fight back with when Pleyel accuses her. “The matter–O Wretch!–thus exquisitely fashioned–on whom nature seemed to have exhausted all her graces; with charms so awful and so pure! How art thou fallen! From what height fallen! A ruin so complete–so unheard of” (Brown 95). After his hideous and shocking accusations, Pleyel leaves Clara standing in her home, confused and hurt by his perfidy. Where does she turn for comfort and assistance? She goes to her brother, Wieland, who assures her he believes in her integrity because she is his sister (Brown 101). When Wieland lets Clara know Pleyel had some sort of proof of her assignation with the enigmatic stranger, Carwin, she is distraught, because she has no way to prove her innocence. “What but my own assertion had I to throw in the balance against it? Would this be permitted to outweigh the testimony of his senses? I had no witnesses to prove my existence in another place”(Brown 102). Clara steps out of the role of the typical eighteenth-century woman when she determines to accost Pleyel in his own rooms to demand an explanation. A woman going to the room of a single man, unescorted, was a way to earn the reputation Pleyel had already attributed to her. But, alas, when she arrives and tries to reason an answer to the baffling question of what had so changed Pleyel’s attitude toward her, she is at a loss for an explanation when Pleyel, ever the one to resist any explanation that included the supernatural, or defied his senses, cannot be swayed . He accuses her anew, packs his belongings and leaves her standing there. And like any other well-mannered eighteenth-century female–she faints.(Brown 109-110).

Clara’s relationship with Pleyel is not the only one that demonstrates the weakness of her position. The desperate situation with her brother, the murderer of his own family, and the would-be murderer of Clara, is also beyond her control. She has no power to change his convictions that the voice of God instructed him to carry out his deadly misdeeds. And when Wieland finally comes for Clara, just after Carwin has given his limited explanation of what happened and his role in bringing it about, she is unable to take up the knife to defend herself against the male authority figure in her life2E She is shattered when he uses her knife to accomplish the deed she had considered and rejected (Brown 111-112).

Through much of the desperate time after her brother kills his family, Clara’s uncle shoulders the role of authority figure, assuming Clara is too weak to withstand the truth, and urging her to move to Europe with him. Certain that her life is nearly at an end, Clara gives her consent “merely because he was entitled to my gratitude, and because my refusal gave him pain” (Brown 169). She does finally go to Europe, following the death of her brother, and her own failure to die from the oppressive burdens she carried. It is while she is in Europe that she reunites with Pleyel. But no, it is not Clara who convinces him of her integrity. It is Carwin, the mysterious perpetrator of their sorrows, who seeks out Pleyel and confesses his part in the deception. Faced with a realistic rather supernatural explanation, Pleyel accepts the veracity of Clara’s innocence (Brown 218). This last chapter is a prime example of how women of this era held no power. Clara’s word, even though Pleyel claims to love her, is not good enough to convince him of her innocence. Her reputation must be restored by another man. Then, as though Pleyel had not nearly caused her death from the mental breakdown she suffered, Clara marries him. In the last chapter, even though she condemns her brother for not framing “juster notions of moral duty,” she allows Carwin to go free, and Pleyel to remain uncensured for his treatment of her–typical of her new position as a married woman. She cannot publicly castigate the man she is married to (Brown 223-224).

Charles Brockden Brown includes many elements of Romantic literature, the emphasis on the imagination, a predilection for the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the diseased, and even the Satanic, in the dark image of Carwin. He allows Clara, through his selected mode of storytelling, (epistolary) to examine the human personality, in search of spiritual and rational truths. Brown knew that “Romantic critics such as Schleiermacher called for readers’ sympathetic identification with the author” (Leitch 12). He understood that “writing books that sold required entertaining as well as edifying their readers” (Lauter 1233). Brown was astute enough to realize that the developing changes in the country after the American Revolution, with the advent of factories to manufacture the goods formerly produced by women in the home, created an audience of educated, idle women (Lauter 1243). With the restrictions society placed on eighteenth-century women preventing them from seeking employment outside the home, owning property, or participating in the political decisions of the country, Brown realized the majority of novel readers in that era were female, and he would need a strong, identifiable female narrator. However, in trying to write a popular novel which would appeal to female readers, he had to put himself in a woman’s shoes and try to bring out a more feminist perspective. Instead, Clara begins to sound like a woman writing like a man. In which case we have a “man, writing like a woman, writing like a man” (Aaij ).

Even though Brown does imbrue his Gothic tale with the darker elements of evil, and manages to “connect a bygone time with the very present,” and has “provided himself with a moral–the truth, namely, that the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones,” as Hawthorne believed a good Romance must do (7-8), he doesn’t succeed in connecting it to his supposed main character, Clara. Instead, the tortured past religious frenzy of her father and his strange death by spontaneous combustion is linked to the madness that envelops her brother Wieland. Throughout Wieland, readers are left asking just who is the main character? Is it the narrator, Clara, from whose viewpoint the story is told? Or is it Theodore Wieland, the title character to whom the subtitle The Transformation refers? Or is it Carwin, the evil persona who sets the entire sequence of evil events in motion with his strange vocal ability (Aaij )?

Charles Brockden Brown’s novel, Wieland, succeeds on the Gothic level, bursting with evil doings, mystical occurrences, tormented maidens, and the eventual triumph of love in the end. However, where he falls short of exemplifying the Romantic ideal is in the individualism, an important characteristic of Romantic fiction. Brown’s characters are “passive matter in his hands. He troubles himself little if any to individualize” (Duyckinck 8). His failure to actually create a strong, identifiable female character in Clara is most likely the reason he was not a financial success. And to follow Wieland with Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist is just another way of putting Clara back in her eighteenth-century place.

If Clara’s narrative is hemmed in by a title page on which she has no place, and an Advertisement in which she is only a point of view, she is also enclosed on the other side, for Brown’s intent is that she never have the last word; the end of the story is Carwin’s, whose autobiographical account gives him the last word–if Brown’s audience gives a favorable reception to Wieland (Aaij ).

Perhaps Brown himself made a distinction between Romanticism, which “designates a literary and philosophical theory that tends to see the individual at the center of all life” (Holman 416), and the romantic novel, which is “marked by strong interest in action, with episodes often based on love, [Clara and Wieland, Clara and Pleyel, Wieland and Catherine, Carwin and Clara] adventure, [Clara’s midnight rendezvous, her return to her home following the murders] and combat [Clara and Carwin’s confrontations, Wieland’s murders, his attempted murder of Clara, Clara and Pleyel’s arguments, Clara and her uncle’s disagreements]. . .a novel more concerned with action than with character” (Holman 416). If this is the case, then Charles Brockden Brown must be labeled a successful Romantic writer, albeit a less than technically skillful writer who fails to tie up loose ends [Louisa Conway]satisfactorily, and who fails at trying to speak from the heart and mind of a woman.


Aaij, Michael. “Charles Brockden Brown and Wieland’s Clara: A Man Writing Like a Woman

Writing Like a Man.” 33rd Annual Comparative Literature Symposium “Women in the Eighteenth Century.” Philadelphia. 27 Jan. 2000.

Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Duyckinck, Evert A. “Charles Brockden Brown.” Cyclopaedia of American Literature. New

York: C. Scribner, 1856.

Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 1997.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. House of Seven Gables. 1851.

Holman, C. Hugh, and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. 6th ed. New York:

Macmillan, 1992.

Lauter, Paul. “Early Nineteenth Century.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed.

Paul Lauter. Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Co., 1994. 1228-1262.

Leitch, Vincent B. “Introduction to Theory and Criticism.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and

Criticism. General Ed. Vincent Leitch. New York: W.W.Norton, 2001. 1-28.

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Clara: The Unreliable Narrator

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a narrator is: “one who tells a story. In a work of fiction the narrator determines the story’s point of view.” If the narrator is the person that determines the story’s point of view, then what happens when the narrator is unreliable? Ariell Cacciola explains the following: “Untrustworthy narrators twist and turn throughout literature. There are myriad reasons for their lack of reliability. Some are inherently withholding, while others carry on with their lives as we follow them blindly on their wobbly journeys. And it is not necessarily the strict narration that can be ultimately untrustworthy but the narrative structure itself. The stories can be opaque and out of order, with reveals being delayed.” (Cacciola 8)Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist by Charles Brocken Brown is narrated by Clara Wieland, a girl that both witnesses and experiences traumatic experiences throughout the work. The reader depends on her understanding and perception of these experiences to comprehend what is happening to the characters in the novel, but Clara demonstrates unreliability in her narration numerous times. She shows unnatural changing in emotions, sexual attraction to disgusting characters, distress over the events, and she openly admits that the details she shares may be faulty. Clara Wieland is clearly an unreliable narrator.

One of the first moments that Clara demonstrates faulty narration is on page 22 when she explains the death of her mother. She says: “The shock which this disastrous occurrence occasioned to my mother, was the foundation of a disease which carried her, in a few months, to the grave. My brother and myself were children at this time, and were now reduced to the condition of orphans. The property which our parents left was by no means inconsiderable.” (Brown 22) Clara’s nonchalant way of speaking about the death of her loved one is rather shocking and unsettling. After telling the reader that she was but a child when her mother died, left as an orphan, she explained that the property left to her was of good worth. Rather than focusing on the pain of losing her mother, Clara focuses on the materialistic gain of the deaths of her parents. She provides details and fact rather than human emotion. The reason for this could be explained by P. Aries: “The cause of [death and grief denial] is at once apparent: the need for happiness- the moral duty and the social obligation to contribute to the collective happiness by avoiding any cause for sadness or boredom, by appearing to be always happy, even if in the depths of despair. By showing the least sign of sadness, one sins against happiness, threatens it, and society then resists losing its raison d’etre.” (Aries 94) Aries explains that to show sadness is to sin against happiness: to mourn is to limit progression. In this situation, Clara’s progression is the fact that she now owns property which is very uncommon for a girl during her time. This idea of the need for constant progression in America is supported by K. J. Gergen in The Social Constructionist Movement in Modern Psychology: “These cultural messages about grief originated because of several interlocking discursive movements in the last 150 years. The first contextual factor had to do with the shift toward a modernist society in which the emphasis is on productivity, efficiency, science, logic, and most importantly individualism”. Clara’s demonstrated need for progression also demonstrates a lack of ability to focus on the emotional side of issues rather than always maintaining efficiency. The absence of emotion concerning the death of her mother and father illuminates the fact that she has not learned the tools to cope with the events in her life, therefore there is a sense of instability in her character. Clara further exhibits this instability on page 98 after she hears a strange voice: “I cannot describe the state of my thoughts at that moment. Surprise had mastered my faculties. My frame shook, and the vital current was congealed. I was conscious only to the vehemence of my sensations. This condition could not be lasting. Like a tide, which suddenly mounts to an overwhelming height, and then gradually subsides, my confusion slowly gave place to order, and my tumults to a calm.” (Brown 98) Clara’s emotions escalate and deescalate quickly and without logical reason: it appears as though she is not in control of her emotional state. The unnatural lack of emotion spent on the death of her mother is contrasted by this passage about a sudden surge of emotional stability. The issue with this reality is that it shows the reader that the events that she shares are told by emotion, not logic. The only perspective of the story that the readers are privy to is from the perspective of an illogical narrator.

Clara’s sexual attraction to Carwin is another reason for her unreliability as narrator. This is her reaction to seeing him for the first time: “I had snatched a view of the stranger’s countenance. The impression that it made was vivid and delible. His cheeks were pallid and lank, his eyes sunken, his forehead overshadowed by coarse straggling hairs, his teeth large and irregular” (60). She then finishes her description by saying: “Every feature was wide of beauty, and the outline of his face reminded you of an inverted cone.” (61) By this description alone is it clear that Carwin is in no way attractive nor appealing. The description creates a sense of repulsion and disgust towards Carwin, and it also creates a sense of distrust of his character. However, Clara proves her unreliability as narrator when she allows her own personal feelings to alter the readers’ view of Carwin. She allows her repressed sexual desire to determine how Carwin will be portrayed. She says: “And yet his forehead, so far as shaggy locks would allow it to be seen, his eyes lustrously black, and possessing, in the midst of haggardness, a radiance inexpressibly serene and potent, and something in the rest of his features, which it would be vain to describe, but which served to betoken a mind of the highest order, were essential ingredients in the portrait. This, in the effects which immediately flowed from it, I count among the most extraordinary incidences of my life.” (61) Despite considering his face as being comparable to an inverted cone, Clara now feels a sense of attachment and attraction to Carwin. How can the readers trust a narrator that changes her mind about a character based solely on sexual attraction? Attraction is fleeting and not based on fact, therefore the perception of a character cannot be consistent with fact. By allowing her emotions and sense of attraction to characters mold her description of them, Clara is demonstrating that her view of the happenings around her are inconsistent and unreliable. Clara is an unreliable narrator because she is no longer strictly an observer: she is now focused on her own phantoms. She explains this on page 95: “Thus was I distressed by opposite conjectures: thus was I tormented by phantoms of my own creation. It was not always thus. I can ascertain the date when my mind became the victim of this imbecility; perhaps it was coeval with the inroad of a fatal passion; a passion that will never rank me in the number of its eulogists; it was alone sufficient to the extermination of my peace” (95). Clara can no longer provide a thorough explanation of what goes on around her because she now struggles with her own personal trials. On page 267 she explains a lack of interest in her life: “Surely I had reason to be weary of existence, to be impatient of every tie which held me from the grave. I experienced this impatience in its fullest extent. I was not only enamoured of death, but conceived, from the condition of my frame, that to shun it was impossible” (267). Her focus is not on the activities around her, but rather the issues she faces in her head. These issues can also affect her view of the events that are happening because she views them with a bias. This idea is proved when she speaks about her changing beliefs on page 104: “I used to suppose that certain evils could never befall a being in possession of a sound mind; that true virtue supplies us with energy which vice can never resist; that it was always in our power to obstruct, by his own death, the designs of an enemy who aim at less than our life. How was it that a sentiment like despair had now invaded me, and that I trusted to the protection of chance, or to the pity of my persecutor?” The events that are happening in Clara’s life are changing her views and beliefs: this demonstrates that she is not narrating the story with an unbiased mind. The novel is limited to her personal beliefs and understanding. Clara’s understanding of life has limitations: her life experience, her interests, and her ability to comprehend events. In her description of Carwin she showed her lacking ability to understand situations beyond her comprehension limitations: her perception of him was based solely on her attraction to him, and not on the facts that were obvious to those around her. This alone creates unreliability, but the added reality that she is affected by the mystery to the point that she changes her beliefs means that there is no consistency for the readers to follow.

Clara herself admits that her narrative will be faulty. On page 167 she explains the following: “My narrative may be invaded by inaccuracy and confusion; but if I live no longer, I will, at least, live to complete it. What but ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions, can be expected from the historian who is, at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters?” (167) First, Clara admits that she may share inaccurate details that were affected by confusion: this begs the question of how much will be inaccurate? To what extent is it even believable? Then, Clara supports the previous argument made by explaining that her explanation of events are completely biased because she was a sufferer in these events. All of the facts and details are from her memory: some facts are too painful to share, and some are completely subjective based solely on her understanding and feelings about what happened. There are some facts that she was not even privy to: for example, in a conversation with Wieland she said the following: “After a silence and a conflict which I could not interpret, he lifted his eyes to heaven” (174). Clara can only share her thoughts and the words of others: she cannot share the thoughts of those around her. The words of the other characters that she shares are still filtered by her understanding or her interpretation of what they are saying. Another example of this comes from when Wieland was explaining one of his supernatural experiences: “I opened my eyes and found all about my luminous and glowing. It was the element of heaven that flowed around. Nothing but a fiery stream was at first visible; but, anon, a shrill voice from behind called upon me to attend. I turned: it is forbidden to describe what I saw” (190). Clara is only privy to certain details of the story, but not to the ones most important. How can she be a reliable narrator if she only has certain parts of the story but not others?

Finally, she admits that her human nature causes her to not be a reliable narrator: “Such is man. Time will obliterate the deepest impressions.” (267) This entire story is written from her memory: every detail and circumstance comes from her remembrance, and can only be as accurate as her memory is accurate. She has admitted that her details may be inaccurate and that they are based on her perception and memory: Clara is not a reliable narrator.

Clara demonstrates several times throughout this work that she is an unreliable narrator. Her narrative is dictated by her ever changing emotions which forces inconsistency into her explanations of the story. Her attraction to Carwin forces the reader to view this gaunt, dark, and sickly man as appealing and attractive. She proves multiple times that she is not an unbiased observer, but that she is overcome with the phantoms in her own head. Lastly, Clara admits herself as having an inaccurate and confused narrative. The facts all demonstrate that Clara Wieland is an unreliable narrator.

Works Cited

Aries, P. (1974). Western attitudes towards death: From the middle ages to the present. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. New York: Penguin, 1991. Print. Cacciola, Ariell. “Untrustworthy Narrators.” World Literature Today, vol. 90, no. 1, 2016, p. 8 Gergen, K. J. (1992). The social constructionist movement in modern psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association “Narrator.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed 2016-11-19.

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Consider the Source

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

As the narrator of Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, Clara is unreliable. The fantastic events she recounts are unbelievable and unexplained, leading readers to question the validity of her tale. For example, she introduces the theory of empiricism, which claims that all humans are born with a blank slate, completely dependent upon their senses for the knowledge they attain. However, Clara reveals the altered state of her own senses, leading readers to doubt her credibility as a narrator. Through this theory, Clara is exposed as an untrustworthy source for the novel, indicating that the events that she narrates are false.

Clara introduces the theory of empiricism early in the story. She states, “the will is the tool of the understanding, which must fashion its conclusions on the notices of sense” (39). Thus, human beings are born with a blank slate, and all knowledge attained since birth is gained through their senses. However, she admits that “if the senses be depraved, it is impossible to calculate the evils that may flow from the consequent deductions of the understanding” (39). Through this theory we can infer that, if Clara’s senses have been impaired through her emotional trauma, then her understanding of her surroundings have been impaired as a result. However, what if one’s senses have been depraved by madness? Clara’s own senses have been altered due to her emotional trauma, impairing her mental status. Therefore, her ability to understand the events occurring around her have been impaired, and she, as a narrator, is proven unreliable.

Clara’s state of mind has been impaired by her emotional trauma and condition, making her an unreliable witness to the events she describes. She admits that nothing “but ambiguities, abruptnesses, and dark transitions can be expected from the historian who is, at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters” (167). Clara acknowledges that in her present state of mind, she is not to be fully trusted, and her account of the past events is prone to mistakes and uncertainty. She claims that, as one who has endured and suffered through tragic events, her ability to relate all of these tragic events may not be completely accurate. Meanwhile, she is struggling to complete her letter of the events that had transpired, but declares that she “will persist to the end”, at least living long enough to finish telling her story (167). However, as she rushes to complete recounting her narrative, she says that, in her hurried state, the history she has recorded may be at risk of mistakes. Her tone in this passage is frantic and harried-the voice of desperation. She fears that she may be killed at any moment. This desperation exposes her present mental status, belying her credibility as a narrator, as she herself admits to the “inaccuracy and confusion” that litter her entire narrative (167).

Due to the mental trauma and emotional turmoil that has impaired Clara’s rationality, her narrative is filled with numerous faults, leading readers to doubt the legitimacy of the rest of her account. When giving the “imperfect account” of her father’s death, she concludes it as “the sum of the information which [he] chose to give”, implying that there is yet information concerning his death that is unspoken or unknown (20). When reflecting upon the same incident, she offers two explanations as to the cause of her father’s demise-divine interference or a medical irregularity of the heart (21). However, she leaves the conclusion open-ended, indicating that she is unsure of the cause as well. Upon her account of Carwin’s introduction, she states that her “fancy had conjured up a very different image” from his true appearance (60). When only hearing his voice, Clara imagines a far different vision of Carwin, expecting someone “worthy to accompany such elocution” (60). The vast difference in the image she had drawn from her expectation and the truth suggests that the rest of her narrative may be subject to her “fancy” as well. She later comments that “ideas exist in our minds that can be accounted for by no established laws” (100), signifying that her “ideas” and “fancies” are not subject to rationality or reason, but rather to her senses and mental status. Those being impaired further establishes that her narrative is untrue.

Clara’s emotional and mental state is erratic and confirms her as an untrustworthy source for the events that occurred in Wieland. Due to the trauma she has suffered as well as her emotional state when writing this piece, her understanding of reality at the time was tenuous, at best, and so her narrative is not to be fully trusted. She declares that the senses control one’s perception and understanding. Yet in her admittance of not being of sound mind and sense, Clara invalidates her ability to perceive the events around her, making her an unreliable source as narrator. Of course, if her account is not to be trusted, one can doubt the validity of the entire narrative.

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The Role of Family in Wieland and The Last of the Mohicans

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Roles of Family in Wieland and The Last of the Mohicans

“There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

To be a master of the art of fiction is to be a master of the art of manipulation. I am referring not only to the manipulation of the mind of the reader, but also to the manipulation of characters, setting, plot, and perhaps most important, the manipulation of language. In order to successfully engage his or her audience, an author must establish an air of familiarity. When a reader is confronted with characters, situations, or places that they understand on a personal level, the purpose of the author’s words becomes increasingly more evident. One of the most effective manifestations of this idea of “familiarity” between the novelist and the reader is the element of family.

First, it must be stated that the two novels addressed in this essay are remarkably dissimilar. Though both novels are set in the mid-to-late 18th-century Northeastern United States, they differ drastically in style and form. Charles Brockden Brown is often described as the grandfather of American Gothic literature, and is credited with influencing the likes of Mary Shelley and Truman Capote. The works of James Fenimore Cooper, however (and specifically the five installments of his “Leatherstocking Tales”), are widely thought of as the foundations for later “frontier novels” and modern-day Western films. Though radically different in almost every other way, both authors utilize the effects of family in a similar fashion.

In the opening of Wieland, we receive a brief summary of the life and death of the father of Theodore and Clara Wieland (the novel’s narrator). While it may seem that this summary might serve as a tool to better the reader’s understanding of the Wielands, it in fact reveals very little about our characters. What is revealed in the summary, however, is a deep sense of isolation in the lives of Clara and Theodore Wieland resulting from the early loss of their parents. It soon becomes evident that the isolation experienced by the orphans gave birth to an ignorance that would plague their thinking for the rest of their lives. This is especially evident in the language used by Clara as she describes the years following the death of her parents:

The years that succeeded were tranquil and happy. Our lives were molested by few of those cares that are incident to childhood. By accident more than design, the indulgence and yielding temper of our aunt was mingled with resolution and steadfastness. She seldom deviated into either extreme of rigor or lenity. Our social pleasures were subject to no unreasonable restraints. We were instructed in most branches of useful knowledge, and were saved from the corruption and tyranny of colleges and boarding schools. (22)

The second biological family that we are introduced to in Wieland is the Pleyels, Catharine and Henry. The family dynamic of the novel is made all the more intricate by the fact that Theodore Wieland weds Catharine Pleyel. This detail combines both of these families into a small, isolated group of friends. Interestingly, with the introduction of Henry Pleyel on page 27, Clara begins referring to their group as a “society”. One would hardly consider a group of four individuals a society, yet Clara, ignorant of the depth of friendships in the outside world, considers “society” to be an apt title for the relationship between them.

It is with the appearance of Carwin, or rather the appearance of Carwin’s voice, that Clara’s “society” begins to fall apart. When Theodore swears that his wife’s voice resonates where she is not present, the four friends begin to lose trust in each other. Soon, Theodore begins to slowly but visibly lose his mind in a fashion that mirrors the prophetic fate of his father. Soon, Catharine is found dead and the friends are torn further apart. All of these events cause extreme emotions to arise in the heart of the reader.

This point recalls both the opening quote of this paper, and the aforementioned idea of “familiarity” in literature. If it were not for the extreme detail with which the characters are profiled, the identification of these characters as members of families, and the fact that the characters are painted in such a way that affects the reader to view them as “someone”, there would be little or no emotion created by the circumstances surrounding the characters’ fates. In other words, once the reader acknowledges a character as someone who is loved, someone with emotions, or someone who is a member of a family, the plight of said character evokes feelings that are comparable to the sentiment that would arise if the same fate was beset upon a living person.

This effect, which I will call “compassionate catharsis”, occurs multiple times in The Last of the Mohicans, even though the structure of family differs wildly from that of Wieland. This statement should not be deemed contradictory to my previous assertion that both Brown and Cooper utilize the effects of family in similar ways. We have seen that in Wieland, there are two biological families that create a small, isolated community. The irony of these two families is that they seem to have very little idea of what family really means. In The Last of the Mohicans, however, the two main families (the Munros and the Mohicans) are extremely close-knit. Not only do they know the meaning of the word “family”, but they also go to great lengths to keep their families intact. Regardless of the differences in the structure and idea of family from novel to novel, the same compassionate catharsis is achieved when a member of a family meets their doom. However, I believe that the numerous occurrences of compassionate catharsis in The Last of the Mohicans are intensified by the tremendous love that the characters show for each other throughout the novel.

The most powerful example of compassionate catharsis comes in the 32nd chapter of The Last of the Mohicans, with the murder of Cora Munro. When Uncas jumps down from the trees to rescue his lover, he frightens her captor (one of Magua’s men) and causes him to plunge his knife into Cora’s chest. Magua then stabs Uncas in the back; Uncas, however, recovers from the attack and succeeds in avenging Cora’s death just before he is stabbed three more times by the blade of Magua, who is then killed by Hawkeye. The following day, Cora and Uncas are buried side-by-side in a scene that remains one of the most beautiful ever put to paper.

In these two novels, the family serves as an emotional tie between reader and character. How these feelings manifest themselves depends on the psyche of the reader, but there is one thing that we can be sure of: a great novel holds remarkable power over humanity, allowing humans to feel emotions that transcend the reality of their present situation.

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Democracy’s Threat to Colonial Establishment

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

The advent of democracy in America brought with it a slue of worries and concerns held by the newly independent colonists. Some felt like the lost, orphaned children of Great Britain while others pondered the uncertain future of the new nation. One of the gravest concerns was the novel threat democracy brought to civic order. Charles Brockden Brown, who authored Wieland, and Susanna Rowson, who penned Charlotte Temple, were both gravely distressed by rhetoric and persuasion, and how they might ultimately lead to deception. Brown employed a Gothic approach to explore how irrational forces could lead to fraud, while Rawson used sentimentality to explore how human feeling could create this same problem. They both used a female protagonist to embellish this weakness, as women were perceived to be the societal “weak link” of the new republic.

The 1790s was an age of passion. As more and more Americans became aware of their own inability to live up to the high expectations of the 1770s and 1780s, there evolved a distinct desire to rebuild and buttress the fragile social order. In Brown’s,Wieland, the fragility of the family — as well as its vulnerability to deception — was brought to life by the story of an agrarian family whose ultimate destruction is caused by the deception of a biloquist named Carwin. The rural family structure is disturbed by Carwin, who is a mysterious outsider from the city. The central thread of the book’s plot mirrors the vulnerability of democracy to deceptive rhetoric. The new republic was innately open and welcomed the fluidity of society and mixing of peoples caused by commerce and immigration. Although the new form of government was perceivably virtuous and noble, it allowed room for the deceptions of cosmopolitanism.

Some Americans at the time might have viewed cities with a cautious eye and worried if such metropolises could threaten the ideal of a yeomen republic. The agrarian lifestyle was seen to demonstrate the purest of virtue, while the urban environment was believed to foster the most sinful of vices. Brockden Brown employed Carwin, a city dweller, to represent the threat metropolitan areas had on the rural.

The book’s gothic nature also warns of irrational forces as a means of deception and misguidance. Wieland and Clara’s father instilled in them an enthusiastic religious background — one which later drove Wieland to kill own his wife and children. Brown used this element of the novel to show the danger of such religious devotions as well as the danger in relying solely on faith without consulting human reason.

Rowson’s Charlotte Temple is another piece of literature from the new public that expresses the concern some Americans had regarding the new democratic government. In the novel, a young girl falls victim to the rhetoric and charm of a man named Montraville. She abruptly departs from her family in England and follows the British army officer to New York, where he cruelly abandons her. The tragic tale ends with Charlotte’s death at the age of nineteen.

The novel sets out with a clear and intended purpose — to instill and teach the concept of virtue to young women and admonish them against the guises of clever men who might deceive them out of such values. Rowson made Charlotte the protagonist because her youth and innocence mirror that of the new nation. America was a land of naiveté and inexperience, and many 18th century Americans feared the government’s immaturity could lead to a deception and downfall similar to that of the novel’s protagonist.

The book also explores the notion of human emotion, and furthermore, how it operated within the culture of the new republic. On one hand, sentimentality served as an argumentative tactic. Rowson thought if she could get her readers to feel a certain way, she could inspire concordant actions. A similar rhetorical devise would later be used in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s groundbreaking novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” However, the use of emotion to conjure certain behavior was also a weak spot in the new republic. Women were seen as emotional beings who could be easily swayed by passion and sentiments, whereas men were thought to rely more on reason and rationale.

Though Wieland and Charlotte Temple differ in tone, plot, rhetorical method and intended audience, they share a common message. The fact that concerns about the vulnerability of the new republic manifested themselves in works of literature, as well as other cultural outlets, proves the centrality and gravity such issue had in 18th century America — and these concerns live on. The United States has long grappled with immigration and the entrance of strangers because its citizens are fearful of the threat of the “other.” The Anglo-Saxon movement of the 19th century, tightened immigration laws during the 20th century and a general concern over the loss of “American” identity with the influx of thousands of immigrants each year clearly indicate the concern confronted by the two novels is not unique to the era of the new republic. Instead, vestigial worries about deception remains a constant staple in American society to this day.

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