09 August 2011

Reader's report: Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown

Looking forward to the spring 2012 semester, I have set a task to revisit or acquaint myself with some early American literature. So I read Wieland, a text I'd only glanced through before as part of my graduate work.

Brown was a pioneer of the novel set in the New World, where such fanciful pursuits as fiction were deemed less than honorable. The tale would be well paired with Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, both texts dealing with unreal circumstances and dreadful crimes.

Wieland leaves a major event unresolved, and that is the mysterious death/disappearance of the elder Wieland, whose maniacal religious devotion seems in the end to descend upon his son.

The text is a tremendous study in the power of superstition over even those who feel themselves educated, rational beings. It's also, I think, in the tenor of our age, a useful meditation on religious certainty and willingness to commit horrendous acts in service of one deity or another.

I finished the text this morning, after plowing through the bulk of it with the sound of waves hitting the sand. I am now starting a very different novel, Rudolf Fisher's The Conjure Man Dies.

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