Development of Mystery in Wieland

March 28, 2019 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.BIBLIOGRAPHYBrown, 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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