It is structured as a first person narrative in the form of two letters by Clara Wieland. In the first letter, Clara begins her narrative by informing her readers that her tale concerns the horrors that befell her family and she hopes that its telling will impart a moral lesson. Her father was an extremely religious man whose Calvinist beliefs were filtered through the lens of an apocalyptic French Protestant sect, the Camissards. His character was inclined to sobriety, melancholy, and religious ecstasy. Believing he had a missionary calling, he moved to the rural outskirts of Philadelphia from Saxony to proselytize the Indians; he soon married and had two children, Clara and Theodore referred to later in the novel as Wieland. One evening when his children were young, he suffered an inexplicable death at the temple overlooking the river that he had built to worship his God.
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Main characters[ edit ] Clara Wieland is the narrator of the story, and the sister of Theodore Wieland. She is an intellectual, and has strong character.
She is secretly in love with Henry Pleyel. Theodore Wieland hears disembodied voices, and believes these voices tell him to kill his family. He is not as strong as his sister, Clara, which makes him fall prey to the voices and go insane.
He is extremely practical and continually attempts to understand the mysterious voices empirically. He is a biloquist — able to speak in two different voices — and the source of many of the disembodied voices heard by Theodore. When he fails at this task, he believes he has also failed his deity. One night, as he worships in his bare, secluded temple, he seems to spontaneously combust , after which his health rapidly deteriorates and he dies.
His children inherit his property, which is divided equally between them. Theodore marries their childhood friend, Catharine Pleyel, and they have four children. Though at first doubtful of the voices that the men claim to hear, Clara also begins to hear a strange voice. The mysterious Carwin appears on the scene, and suggests that the voices may be caused by human mimicry.
Clara is secretly in love with Pleyel, and makes a plan to tell him so; however, her chance is ruined. When she returns home, she finds Carwin hiding in her closet. He admits he had been planning to rape Clara, but believing her to be under the protection of a supernatural force, leaves her.
The next morning, Pleyel accuses Clara of having an affair with Carwin. He leaves quickly, without giving Clara enough time to defend herself. She decides to go to see Pleyel, to tell him he is mistaken rhetoric, but he does not seem to believe her. On her way home, Clara stops to visit her friend Mrs. Baynton, where Clara finds waiting for her a letter from Carwin, asking to see her. In her room, she finds a strange letter from Carwin, and Catharine in her bed — dead.
Shocked, she sits in her room until Theodore arrives and threatens Clara. When he hears voices outside, he leaves Clara unharmed. The killer is her brother, Theodore. He claims to have been acting under divine orders.
Carwin reveals to Clara that he is a biloquist. He was the cause of most of the voices, but he claims that he did not tell Theodore to commit the murders. Carwin uses his ability to tell Theodore to stop. He says that Theodore should not have listened to the voices, and Theodore suddenly comes to his senses. He kills himself, full of remorse for what he has done. She then goes to Europe with her uncle, and eventually marries Pleyel. Clara feels she has finally recovered from the tragic events, enough to write them down.
As for Carwin, he has become a farmer in the countryside. Mirroring the incidents of the later novel, one James Yates, under the influence of a religious delusion, killed his wife and four children, then attempted to kill his sister, and expressed no remorse for his conduct in court later.
Brown gave his tragic hero a pedigree related to that of the actual German author Christoph Martin Wieland , who is mentioned obliquely in the text: My ancestor may be considered as the founder of the German Theatre. The modern poet of the same name is sprung from the same family, and, perhaps, surpasses but little, in the fruitfulness of his invention, or the soundness of his taste, the elder Wieland. Religious fanaticism[ edit ] The obvious theme of Wieland is the criticism of religious fanaticism.
The religious fanaticism of both Theodore and his father demonstrates the subjectivity of the human experience. Even more, it suggests that "godliness can corrupt, and absolute godliness can corrupt absolutely. Indeed, it is often suggested that Wieland is an attack on Puritanism though it is also often thought of as a historical allegory, or even one that explores the writing process itself.
The plot is based on the psychological ideology of the time, which was solely based on sensory inputs. While the action is based on this kind of psychology, Brown did not necessarily accept the doctrine without criticism. When Carwin says, "I exerted all my powers to imitate your voice, your general sentiments, and your language" Wieland, , it can be read that Brown himself has been attempting as an author to speak using a female voice.
Seeing ventriloquism as a metaphor in Wieland reaches a deeper truth: that things may not be as they appear, and genuine truth must be actively searched for. The use of spontaneous combustion especially has been pointed at as a contrived element.
You know not fully the cause of my sorrows. You are a stranger to the depth of my distresses. Hence your efforts at consolation must necessarily fail. Yet the tale that I am going to tell is not intended as a claim upon your sympathy. In the midst of my despair, I do not disdain to contribute what little I can to the benefit of mankind. I acknowledge your right to be informed of the events that have lately happened in my family. Make what use of the tale you shall think proper.
Wieland Study Guide
Early life[ edit ] Brown was born on January 17, ,  the fourth of five brothers and six surviving siblings total in a Philadelphia Quaker merchant family. His father Elijah Brown, originally from Chester County, Pennsylvania , just southwest of Philadelphia, had a variable career primarily as a land-conveyancer or agent in real estate transactions. The two oldest brothers, Joseph and James, and youngest brother Elijah, Jr. After six years in Philadelphia at the law office of Alexander Wilcocks , he ended his law studies in The New York group included a number of young male professionals who called themselves the Friendly Club including Dr. During most of the s, Brown developed his literary ambitions in projects that often remained incomplete for example the so-called "Henrietta Letters," transcribed in the Clark biography and frequently used his correspondence with friends as a laboratory for narrative experiments.