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Title: Wieland: or, The Transformation: An American Tale
Author: Charles Brockden Brown
Year I read it: 2009, 2011
One sentence summary: An epistolary, gothic, Colonial-American novel, this is the tragic story penned by Clara Wieland, detailing her father and, later, brother's descent into religious fanaticism and of the voices they hear - voices from the divine, from madness, or from the strange, visiting Carwin?
Interesting fact: Considered by many to be the first significant novel to be written and published in America. Brown was the most successful American author until James Fenimore Cooper.
Three reasons to read it:
- If you like mysteries or the gothic, you'd find this really interesting. Unlike many late 18th English or American novels, this novel leaves several plot points open-ended. [If you read it, or have read it, DO leave your spoilerific theories in the comments below]
- Originally, Wieland was written more as a philosophical novel - to explore psychology, community-formation, and even as a commentary of the (then) newly constitutionalized America. When I first came to it, it really surprised me that one of the original American novels was a philosophical "horror," but the more we studied it, the more it made sense.
- I am not much one for epistolary novels (unfortunately, a majority of 18th C novels are epistolary), but the way Brown handled it, I wasn't so bothered by the epistolary form. I actually found Clara Wieland to be a very strong, if unreliable, narrator.
- I will admit to this being a bizarre story. If you are familiar with the gothic, it makes a bit more sense, but, I mean, a character dies from spontaneous combustion [to be fair - Dickens used this to explain a character's death over 50 years later]. It is a strange plot, but having read it now twice, I appreciate it's eccentricities.
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?
Presently, I considered, that whether Wieland was a maniac, a faithful servant of his God, the victim of hellish illusions, or the dupe of human imposture, was by no means certain.