Charles Brockden Brown
When we think of gothic fiction in American most people minds turn towards Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving or even Nathaniel Hawthorne. Truth is the person most responsible for creating not only the gothic presence in the New World that inspired the authors above, but also developing a new type of gothic literature is a man by the name of Charles Brockden Brown.
Brown was born in Philadelphia in 1771 to a merchant Quaker family. His great-uncle, Charles Brogden, was the first Registrar of Philadelphia and a man whom worked with Benjamin Franklin. Interesting fact, the Brown family was criticized for not openly supporting the American Revolution. His father was accosted and accused of being a Tory all because of his Quaker pacifism. During the war Brown’s father was charged with Tory sympathies and sent to Virginia in exile. The family business was ruined and the young Brown was tragically separated from his father. This series of events would play a huge role in steering Brown to a life of writing.
Charles began his academic career at the Robert Proud’s School moving his profession into Law, but that would not last. He eventually switched to writing when he felt that there was always a bit of the unjust in justice. This move also came with the influence of the a group called the Friendly Club, which was a collection of “artists, lawyers, and physicians who encouraged his literary efforts and shared with him their interests in in both physical and mental abnormalities” – Norma S. Grabo University of Tulsa
I mention this last point about the physical and mental abnormalities because it is important when trying to understand the nature of Brown’s writing as a gothic genre. In each of his two famous gothic novels, Edgar Huntly or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker and Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, we find elements of science and the understanding of the human mentality to be central to the creation of the story. As Jay Fligelman writes, “Brown, views the psychology of human behavior as the real realm of ultimate mysteries. If the Faustian agenda of enlightenment science sought to demystify the world, Brown sought to remystify it.” What this means is if the emergence of science took away much of the mystery of our world and the stars, Brown wanted to find the mystery in science.
This idea is shown in Wieland where we find the antagonist is a man named Carwin whom has many talents. He is a professional Biloquist, which is a fancy archaic version of the word, ventriloquist. In the story, Carwin is able to throw his voice so that it appears to becoming from outside of his body. His disembodied voices can also sound like other people. He uses his talent to break up a marriage by creating a seen where a woman’s husband thinks he hears her and another man having an affair. With out a doubt his greatest trick is convincing the protagonist that he is hearing the voice of God. I shall not give away anymore.
In Edgar Huntly, we find a similar story, but this time the twist in science is sleep-walking. I know that sounds a bit silly, but it is a fantastic story filled with imagination and dark mysteries. Brown is a talented writer and great story teller. But, why are they gothic?
These stories are taken out of the traditional gothic setting of European castles and cathedrals and inserted into the American wilderness when it was still a dangerous wilderness that had not been developed and explored to what we know and see today. Gone are the days of the dark corridors and things that go bump in the night of the ancient castle. Here we find deep forests filled with the unknown that attacks our imagination with the wind through the trees and echo of sounds from wild animals that can sometime sound like the screams of a child.
In the publishing of his first book, Wieland (1798), Brown became the first native born American author to become a professional writer. He made a living off of his writing, which was not very common his that day and age. Today, Brown was is the beginning of American novels and the american gothic genre. His works are taught in many American universities. Google his name and you will see.
Brown wrote a lot in his short life. He died at the age of 39 in 1810 from Tuberculosis.
For more about Brown visit here.