Monday, February 20, 2006

Wieland; or the Transformation: An American Tale - Charles Brockden Brown

Wieland, his first novel, tells the story of a religious fanatic who builds a temple in the seclusion of his own farm, but then is struck dead, apparently by spontaneous combustion. Several years later, his children, in turn, begin to hear voices around the family property, voices which alternately seem to be commanding good or evil and which at times imitate denizens of the farm. Are the voices somehow connected to a mysterious visitor who has begun hanging around? Are they commands from God? From demons? Suffice it to say things get pretty dicey before we find out the truth.
This is a terrific creepy story which obviously influenced the course of American fiction. Brown develops an interesting serious theme of the role that reason can play in combating superstition and religious mania, but keeps the action cranking and the mood deliciously gloomy. The language is certainly not modern but it is accessible and generally understandable. It's a novel that should be better known and more widely read, if not for historical reasons then just because it's great fun.

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