Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland or, fiction as an instrument of salvation in post-revolutionary America

Carme Manuel Cuenca

Abstract

When in 1798 Brown finished writing Wieland or, the Transformation, an American Tale, he sent a copy of the book to Thomas Jefferson, who was then Vice President of the United States. The fact that Brown intended his text to be read for the first time by such an outstanding figure of the nation shows that he had written the novel with a clear aim in mind. Retaking Jane Tompkins's reading of the novel as a work useful in the area of national politics, I will discuss that this text is firmly rooted in the historical background of post-Revolutionary America and that as such, it is a desperate warning note on the dangers lurking within the optimistic dream of a new society. From this point of view, I read Wieland neither as an expression of Brown's preoccupation with art and artifice, nor as a symbolic representation of the universal dark side of human consciousness, nor as a battle between Calvinist pessimism and the merits of Enlightenment idealism. Neither do I read it as a political tract, but as a post-revolutionary jeremiad which encapsulates a passionate analysis on some aspects of eighteenth-century American thought and culture. Consequently, the two different sets of components —Gothic elements and explorations of social, political and philosophical questions— are made to serve one main objective: the dissection of the American mission and of the happy assurances of national self-fulfillment endorsed by the Republican ideology.

Keywords

Literatura norteamericana; Novela; Contexto histórico; Contexto político; Brown, Charles Brockden; Wieland



DOI: https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.1999.12.07