Wieland Summary

Charles Brockden Brown

Wieland

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Wieland Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown.

Hailed as one of America’s first major novelists, Charles Brockden Brown first established himself as a prominent author with the publication of his first novel, Wieland; or the Transformation(1798). It Is considered to be the first American gothic novel. It takes the form of a letter written by Clara Wieland to a friend, describing the fall of her family. Its themes include madness, fate, and the omnipresence of evil.

Clara begins her story by entreating the reader to learn from her family’s mistakes and to be disciplined in whom they chose to listen to. The story takes place around the 1760s. Clara’sGerman father was a zealous man who established his own religious denomination. He intended to spread his word to Native Americans, but after they reject his religion, he becomes depressed, feeling that he has failed his God. He starts acting paranoid, believing that some terrible punishment awaits him. One day, while in the temple he built himself, his clothes burst into flames while his wife watches from a distance in horror. He dies a few days later from severe burns.

A few months pass, and Clara’s mother also dies.This leaves Clara and her moody brother, Theodore Wieland, parentless. Fortunately, they do have an aunt to raise them and a sizeable inheritance. They are able to spend their childhood in comfort and receive a solid education.

As a young man, Theodore, falls hopelessly in love with the ever-cheerful Catharine Pleyel, a wealthy, gorgeous neighbor with whom the Wieland children. They two are married soon as Catharine can legally wed.

Clara and Theodore split the family fortune between them. Clara moves to much smaller house and gives the family home to the newlyweds. She doesn’t mind this, as the three of them are very close and frequently spend time together. Clara likes that her house is in walking distance to Theodore and Catherine.Catherine’s brother, Henry, returns from Europe. She’s very close to him, and his positive disposition balances out Theodore’s generally gloomy temperament and frequent discourses on death. Clara falls in love with Henry. She plans to tell him but can’t find the right moment.

Though Henry and Theodore admire each other, they have distinctly different values. Theodore is a deeply religious man; he cannot understand how any life can be led without sincere submission to God. Henry, on the hand, believes in freedom of thought. A student of the Enlightenment, he believes that knowledge is power and that an unexamined life isn’t worth living. He is representative of the type of spirit that bolstered the French Revolution, an event that occurred the year after the publication of Wieland.

Six years pass, during which time the family grows by five children: four from Theodore and Catharine, and one adopted child, Louisa Conway.One day, Theodore visits his father’s temple. But before he reaches the holy site, he hears Catharine’s voice telling him to turn back. Theodore rushes home. Clara and Henry back her up when Catharine says she hasn’t left the house at all. While the others forget the incident, Theodore becomes obsessed by it.

Soon after this strange incident, Henry tells Theodore that he should travel to Europe to claim the sizeable estates he inherited after his parents’ death. He is willing to join Theodore on the transatlantic journey, first because he’s a friend, and second because a baroness he loves was recently widowed.Through their correspondence, she has indicated that she would say yes to Henry’s romantic advances.

On a walk, Henry tries to convince Theodore to go to Europe. Theodore suddenly hears Catharine’s voice declare that the Baroness has died. This time, Henry hears them too. Finally, Clara also hears the voice.They meet Carwin, a roving man who might be mad, who tells them that the voice is a supernatural voice that only mimics Catharine.

At home, Clara finds Carwin waiting in her closet. She questions him, and he confesses that he intended to rape Clara, but after some thought, she clearly has some mystical force over her, and he thought it best to leave her alone. The next day, Henry declares that Clara is having a romance with Carwin. He leaves before Clara can protest. Later, Clara finds Henry, but he won’t listen to her pleas of innocence.

Clara goes to Theodore’s house. Everyone is asleep, so she returns to her house. Waiting for her is Carwin. She marches to her room and tells him to leave. But in her bed, she finds a peculiar letter written by Carwin and, to her horror, the dead body of Catharine.

Clara sits in her room, shell-shocked. Eventually, Theodore appears to check on her. Understandably, he is overcome by the sight of Catharine’s body and blames Clara for his wife’s death. A mysterious voice appears outside of the house, upon which Theodore leaves to investigate. Clara soon learns that all of Theodore’s children and Louisa have been murdered.

At this news, Clara becomes ill. Later, she reads the murder’s confession, and the killer is none other than Theodore. He seems to have been manipulated by Carwin into madness.

She confronts Carwin. He tells her he is a biloquist (one who can speak in multiple voices) and while he was behind most of the voices, he didn’t tell Theodore to murder his wife.

One night, Theodore escapes the prison where he is being held and tries to kill Clara. Carwin, surprisingly, uses his biloquism power to tell Theodore to stop. He also tells Theodore to stop listening to the voice. Suddenly, Theodore returns to his old self and realizes all that he has done. Unable to live with himself, he completes suicide. In mourning and fright, Clara does not leave her house until, one day, it catches fire. She moves to Europe and marries Henry. Carwin finds work as a country farmer. Clara writes that only now, years and years later, can she bring herself to write about the tragedy.