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Wieland by Charles Brown - Book Review

Updated on May 12, 2011

Charles Brown’s Wieland was one of America’s first fictional attacks on religious fanaticism and a look at the doltish behavior of obligatory religious obedience. The basic premise of the tale involves the recollection of Clara speaking about the first hand account of her brother Wieland. Upon hearing a “divine voice” Wieland kills his wife and children and expresses no remorse in court concerning his rash decision. Clara believes this to be the work of a traveling ventriloquist Carwin, she states: “Mixed up with notions of supernatural agency, were the vehement suspicions which I entertained, that Carwin was the enemy whose machinations had destroyed us.” Upon addressing Carwin he responds to her accusations with, “I am not this villain, I have slain no one; I have prompted none to slay; I have handled a tool of wonderful efficacy without malignant intentions, but without caution; ample will be the punishment of my temerity, if my conduct has contributed to this evil.” He then goes on to explain that Wieland is insane. Wieland escapes from his prison and then tries to kill his sister and uncle, but is stopped short by Carwin. Carwin uses his ventriloquism to speak to Wieland, and when Wieland realizes that his “obedience to God” was actually his own madness he commits suicide. 

Desultorily, the novel was an approach and an innovation within the Gothic genre. Authors like Edgar Allen Poe, and Mary Shelley were primary influences on his work as well as more recent authors like the homage to this very novel in Steven King’s The Shining. Within a more lucid approach at the understanding of the novel. Charles Brown was attacking the religious ignorance present within a newly found democratic society. This was written during the second Great Awakening of anglo-american religion and primary examples of government decision were made from a religious perspective. In a subtle sense, Brown is attacking this religious blind obedience with a rebuttal of madness and incoherent ignorance. The main example being the character of Wieland himself, who upon hearing a divine thought of the murder of his children, kills them both without reason or reflection. The extreme example of obedience shows just what the growing religious powers of time are capable of doing. What’s to stop a religious overtaking of the newly found democratic America based largely on Christian principle? This occurred in Europe with the Roman Catholic order, I believe Brown was sending an underlying message of what could happen. Upon the overtaking of our country from a religious tyranny, symbolically, Wieland’s fate would be our own. You find this revelation in Wieland’s final adieu: “What can I wish for thee? Thou who hast vied with the great preacher of thy faith in sanctity of motives, and in elevation above sensual and selfish! Thou whom thy fate has changed into parricide and savage! Can I wish for the continuance of thy being? No.” and takes thus, his own life. Upon the realization of his fault and madness, his commits suicide. Likewise in a sense, Wieland’s demise will be the demise of the Country, if it continues down the same route.

In reverence to a divine voice in his life, he acts upon the power of influence and ultimately takes his family’s life, signifying the lack of control Wieland had within the divine relationship he shared. Brown alludes to the impending  influence the religious community, primarily Christianity and Evangelism, has on the country and preludes to an untimely and detrimental effect it will have on the United States of America. One of the first openly written practices of free speech as well. 

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