Readers often begin a story with complete trust in the narrator until the narrator proves this trust unwarranted. Such is the case with Edgar: though he does not seem to have malicious intentions, he often perceives things to be true that are not. However, what he deems as truth is often his own jumping to conclusions, which inspires him to some action, generally resulting in terrible consequences for both himself and others. When Edgar finds his gun among the Native Americans, he assumes that his entire family must be dead, and that the Indians have stolen the gun from his manor before they destroyed it.
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The truth is that Brown deserves that credit as well in his finest Gothic novel, Edgar Huntly, or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, published in I had read Ormond years ago and found it very dull, but being a fan of the Gothic and literary history, I went on to read Arthur Mervyn, which had some fabulously suspenseful scenes, and Wieland, which is known for its use of ventriloquism, though I found it a bit slow.
But I think Brown truly wrote his masterpiece in Edgar Huntly for several reasons, most importantly, that it maintains the level of suspense throughout. Charles Brockden Brown wrote all seven of his novels in the short period of The novel begins with the title character grieving the death of his friend Waldegrave, who was murdered, but the murderer remains unknown. Finally, Huntly confronts Clithero and from him hears his full story of despair and guilt and crime and how he fled Ireland to come to America.
What Clithero is, however, is a Gothic Wanderer figure, one who believes he has also killed his mistress, and who feels incredible guilt and is in exile for it. This desire to redeem the Gothic wanderer is rare in early Gothic works and more of a Victorian theme.
After telling Huntly his story, Clithero flees into the woods in despair. Huntly searches for him and finds him perched high up on a rock but Huntly cannot reach the summit and returns home. Soon after, Huntly finds himself in a strange cave and believes himself to have been abducted.
The book is not perfect, but it is probably the best Gothic work before Poe and Hawthorne. Brown writes more realistic Gothic fiction, not using the supernatural, but all the other elements are present in his work. The other fault that makes Brown tiresome at times is the sheer wordiness of his writing.
He continually repeats himself and lets Huntly think through the same matters multiple times. The light was produced. Despite these faults, there is suspense up to the last moment, even when the wordiness gets in the way.
Anyone who loves Gothic fiction and loves Poe and Hawthorne would find Edgar Huntly the best novel to read as an introduction to Charles Brockden Brown. The American Gothic tradition owes a huge debt to him. You can visit Tyler at www.
What is Real: Edgar Huntly in Charles Brockden’s Novel