Wieland, The Transformation

Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland, The Transformation - e-book

Read from July 24th to 31st 2013

Rating: 2 of 5 stars


Not bad for a 18th century thriller. If we take into consideration also the fact that Charles Brockden Brown is considered the father of the American Gothic (this novel is said to have inspired Mary Shelley for her Frankenstein) the reading becomes quite interesting. 

Of course, there are some minus points, easily spotted, which can annoy the modern reader. Firstly, the abuse of rhetorical questions (“O why came I hither! Why did you drag me hither?”) that gives a tiresome melodramatic accent to the story. I thought at first it was because the narrator is a woman, but all the characters tend to endlessly ask questions whereas they are prey to emotions. 

Secondly, sometimes the narrative lacks common logic like in the following sentence, which I read many times without finding which one of the epithets that characterize the hero can be “by no means certain” Rigolant:

“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.”

Finally, the bad habit of those times to identify the morality of the tale is unfortunately present:

“That virtue should become the victim of treachery is, no doubt, a mournful consideration; but it will not escape your notice, that the evils of which Carwin and Maxwell were the authors, owed their existence to the errors of the sufferers.”

But there are also some very inspired portraits:

“The impression that it made was vivid and indelible. His cheeks were pallid and lank, his eyes sunken, his forehead overshadowed by coarse straggling hairs, his teeth large and irregular, though sound and brilliantly white, and his chin discoloured by a tetter. His skin was of coarse grain, and sallow hue. Every feature was wide of beauty, and the outline of his face reminded you of an inverted cone.”

And some very modern ideas, like the cathartic role of Art (“Having finished my tale, it seemed as if the scene were closing”) or the mystery concerning the perpetrator of the tragedies: is he or is he not Carwin? 

I wouldn’t go as far as Daniel O’Leary and see in this novel “the secret and hidden consequences of the new American political system.” I’d rather appreciate it, together with Xan Brooks, as an interesting document of a new culture, the American one, in progress: “ Two centuries on, Wieland stands as a bravura act of literary channelling, a fierce blur of primal and societal anxieties. Behind its grinding gears and lurid conceits, we hear the sound of a culture settling in for the long haul, guided by voices and staking its claim.”

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