"As Kinsmen, Met a Night": Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne as American Gothic Romancers.
In February 1810, Nathaniel Hawthorne was five years old and living in Salem when Charles Brockden Brown died in Philadelphia at age thirty-nine. Brown's friend William Dunlap, writing early in his 1815 Life of Charles Brockden Brown, attempted to describe what the work of Brown and his contemporaries meant for future American authors like Hawthorne. Brown, Dunlap writes, was among "[t]hose who first saw the propriety of men in a new and better political state" and began to "[throw] off the shackles of an absurd prejudice in favour of European opinions and writings"; while "they acknowledged the inestimable value of English, French and German literature," they also understood "the necessity of establishing a literature for their own country" and "the advantage of publications suited to a new state of manners and political economy" (1:10). Friend and admirer of Brown though he was, however, Dunlap had no particular love for--or understanding of--Brown's fiction. Brown and his ilk represented significant promise, Dunlap suggests, for the future potential of American literature, but they were themselves unable to reach the heights of art; still, "however inefficient their efforts may have been," he concludes, they "are entitled to the thanks of their countrymen, and will hereafter be esteemed not merely in proportion to that which they performed, but by the effects of their efforts upon those who follow in the path they opened" (1:10).
Edgar Allan Poe, Margaret Fuller, George Lippard, and many others followed Brown and are connected to him in their own ways, but it was Hawthorne who substantiated Dunlap's conjecture regarding continuity by forging a vivid link between Brown and himself in a single sentence of his fanciful sketch "The Hall of Fantasy." As the narrator explores the hall with his friendly guide, he sees around him, "[i]n niches and on pedestals, ... the statues or busts of men, who, in every age, have been rulers and demi-gods in the realms of imagination, and its kindred regions" (173). These include Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, and others, and along with the more recent visages of "Fielding, Richardson, and Scott," they occupy "conspicuous pedestals" in the hall. The only American writer celebrated among '"these indestructible memorials of real genius'" is Charles Brockden Brown, although he is not mentioned by name: "In an obscure and shadowy niche was reposited the bust of our countryman, the author of 'Arthur Mervyn'" (174).
In the middle years of the nineteenth century, Brown was remembered and considered in kinship with the best authors of the day, and had he written in the same time period as they, he might have achieved greater artistic heights. A critic for the Philadelphia Monthly Magazine wrote in July 1829, "The fate of Brown fairly illustrates ... that we occasionally meet with men who live half a century before their time, and who, being neglected by their contemporaries, trust to succeeding ages for justice" (R. P. S. 603). Echoing this sentiment, Henry T. Tuckerman wrote of Brown in 1831, "He was as capable of giving to his theme, the unity and finish of 'The Sketch-Book,' the 'Idle Man,' or the 'Scarlet Letter,' as their authors; but he lived and wrote at a time and under influences in which such genial care received little praise; and we must look to the elements and not the form of his genius in order to do justice to his memory" (428). James Herbert Morse, a critic writing for the Century Magazine in 1883, attempted to identify and define one of the "elements" Tuckerman mentioned and wrote that Brown's "peculiar gift" was
to paint the night side of human experience.... The power possessed by this rare genius, of throwing gloomy characteristics into his theme, was equaled by no other American writer. In the matter of morbid analysis, Poe, in comparison with Brown, was superficial, Hawthorne was cheerful, and the modern French school of writers was feeble. With Poe, we can see that the gloom came by an effort of a spurred imagination; with Hawthorne, that it was the work of an artistic sense; with Brown, it seems to have been constitutional--the gift at once of temperament and circumstances. He was possessed by it: his early solitariness, his later experience in the two plague-stricken cities, combined with a most brooding and vivid imagination, had worked into the blood, so that we may reasonably believe that, substantially, Henry and Clara Wieland, Arthur Mervyn, Edgar Hundy, and even Jane Talbot, were but the incorporation of the author's own mental experiences. (289)
Brown's biography indeed supports Morses notion that Brown was "possessed by" a kind of "constitutional" darkness and melancholy. From childhood, Brown's physical constitution was compromised. Unable to join the rambunctious play in which his peers engaged, he spent much time alone, reading or taking extensive solitary rambles in the forests surrounding Philadelphia. He witnessed his native city's yellow fever plague in 1793 and New York's in 1798. He contracted that deadly contagion during the New York epidemic and nearly died but was nursed back to health by his closest friend and literary supporter, Dr. Elihu Hubbard Smith; Brown, while still recovering, then had to witness Smith's death from the fever. By contrast, the drama in Hawthorne's biography might be described as more subtle, which perhaps allowed him to be in greater possession of his muse than Brown was and to control it so that, as the Century Magazine critic suggests, his "gloom" develops under the control of his "artistic sense."
In 1902, almost one hundred years after Brown's death and almost forty after Hawthorne's, the two authors were linked yet again, this time via Richard Garnett's critical and poetic sensibilities:
Hawthorne is the greatest imaginative genius that America has yet produced, perhaps the only American who, when such demigods as Homer and Shakespeare have been eliminated, stands in the foremost files. Yet, like most great men, he had a precursor.... In Brown's finished writings the future Hawthorne exists like the genie in the vase, faint airy cloud, confined to narrow limits, not yet a colossal figure with one foot on the Old World and the other on the New. But if Brown, though a writer of true genius, does not possess the superb genius of Hawthorne, he is psychologically no less interesting a figure. (495)
This identification of Brown as "precursor" of Hawthorne set the stage for more recent American literary studies, which often acknowledge Brown and Hawthorne as kindred spirits. Most of these, however, tend to treat the two authors separately in regards to some overarching analytical construct. Relatively few have delved into particular connections between them. (1) Some of these connections indeed seem specific, such as Arthur Mervyn and Robin Molineux or the plague in Ormond and Arthur Mervyn and that in "Lady Eleanore's Mantle," even the hereditary Pyncheon family malady in The House of the Seven Gables. Other less specific connections could be explored as well. Echoes of Brown's Edgar Huntly surround Reuben Bourne in "Roger Malvin's Burial"; the fanatical Ormond and the secretive Carwin seem to find similar expression in Aylmer, Roger Chillingworth, and Wakefield. At the same time that a certain kinship exists between their best performances, however, their individual approaches to Gothic romance have their distinctions.
2. Two Gothic Romancers
Not all romancers writing in antebellum America were gothicists, but all gothicists tended to be romancers--and tended to self-identify as such. Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne followed suit, identifying themselves, indirectly or directly, as romancers, writing according to similar theories of romance and thus creating fictions in which their imaginations could roam free from reader expectations that their works would reflect the everyday experiences of American life. Brown classifies himself as a "moral painter" in Wieland (1798) and Edgar Huntly (1799) or as a "moral observer" in Arthur Mervyn (1799, 1800). In Wielands "Advertisement," he claims, "... it is the business of moral painters to exhibit their subject in its most instructive and memorable forms" (3). Likewise in Edgar Huntly's "To the Public," he writes, "America has opened new views to the naturalist and politician, but has seldome furnished themes to the moral painter" (3). Brown changes the phrase to "moral observer" in Arthur Mervyn's Preface, but the author's responsibility remains the same: to capture and portray America's "new displays of the influence of human passions and motives" (3).
Be the author "painter" or "observer," Brown's moralist is clearly, according to his own definition, a romancer as well. In critical writings appearing in The Monthly Magazine, and American Review, (2) particularly in "Walstein's School of History" and "The Difference Between History and Romance," Brown suggests that history can be "[m]ere reasoning" and, as such, often "cold and unattractive" ("Walstein's" 408). Brown's neoclassical culture stressed that readers must find literature useful and instructive, but he understood that for many readers "cold and unattractive" writing resulted in their finding it neither. Imaginative writing, then, could often fulfill the purpose of literature better than the dry detailing of history:
Human affairs are infinitely complicated. The condition of no two beings is alike. No model can be conceived, to which our situation enables us exactly to conform. No situation can be imagined perfectly similar to that of an actual being. This exact similitude is not required to render an imaginary portrait useful to those who survey it. The usefulness, undoubtedly, consists in suggesting a mode of reasoning and acting somewhat similar to that which is ascribed to a feigned person; and, for this end, some similitude is requisite between the real and imaginary situation; but that similitude is not hard to produce. (409-10)
A few monthly issues later, Brown followed "Walstein's" with "The Difference Between History and Romance," and in this latter essay he begins more specifically to define romance. The romancer differs from the historian not only in degrees of verisimilitude but also in the presentation and interpretation of conditions and motives:
The observer or experimentalist, ... who carefully watches, and faithfully enumerates the appearances which occur, may claim the appellation of historian. He who adorns these appearances with cause and effect, and traces resemblances between the past, distant, and future, with the present, performs a different part. He is a dealer, not in certainties, but probabilities, and is therefore a romancer. (251)
When Brown writes in the Preface of Arthur Mervyn, for example, that, while the "evils of pestilence ... have already supplied new and copious materials for reflection to the physician and the political economist," they have also been "fertile of instruction to the moral observer, to whom they have furnished new displays of the influence of human passions and motives" (3), he is identifying Arthur's story as a romance. (3) And yet Brown as romancer does not have absolute free rein with the building blocks of his narratives. Even though his imagination might be described as proto-romantic, it remained tethered to his culture's neoclassical requirement that literature be useful and instructive.
A generation later, Nathaniel Hawthorne claimed a greater measure of freedom as a romancer in his well known Preface to The House of the Seven Gables. For Brown, to write romance was to extend history and interpret motives, to ascribe cause and effect to its actors and actions, aiming, he writes as he introduces Wieland, "at the illustration of some important branches of the moral constitution of man" (3). For Hawthorne, to write romance was "to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel" (2:1). In each writer's approach to romance, some degree of variation from history or reality characterizes the genre. (4) As a romancer, Brown strays into areas--motives, cause and effect, etc.--that history cannot always, if ever, relate with certainty; as a romancer, Hawthorne claims the further right, in the same remarks prefatory to Seven Gables, to stray from the novel's attempt to portray reality by adhering with "minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience" (2:1). Although he was not likely to have read either Brown's "Walstein's School of History" or "The Difference Between History and Romance," Hawthorne, by cultural osmosis perhaps, or to some extent by reading Brown, (5) claims ideas similar to Brown's in regards to romance. Brown writes in "Walstein's" that in creating romances illustrative of "[h]uman affairs," "some similitude is requisite between the real and imaginary situation" (409, 410); Hawthorne suggests in Seven Gables that the romancer, so long as he does not "swerve aside from the truth of the human heart," "may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture" but "will be wise ... to make a very moderate use of the privileges here stated" (2:1). Hawthorne thus follows Brown in acknowledging that the romance requires some level of verisimilitude in order to communicate effectively, but he reveals here that his understanding of prose romance and how an author can "manage" the "medium" is more sophisticated than Brown's. Again, Brown writes in "The Difference Between History and Romance" that the romancer "traces resemblances between the past, distant, and future, with the present" (251); likewise, Hawthorne asserts, again in Seven Gables, that the reason his "Tale comes under the Romantic definition, lies in the attempt to connect a by-gone time with the very Present that is flitting away from us" (2). He further provides the Pyncheon family narrative with "some definite moral purpose," harkening back to Brown's compulsion to create work useful and instructive to readers. While Hawthorne's imagination is on a much longer tether than Brown's, the connection between their ideas regarding the romance is clear.
Brown and Hawthorne were, more specifically, Gothic romancers. Each created significant works of romance with kindred dark atmospheric qualities. Leslie Fiedler has written that the Gothic is the strongest character trait in American literature, which is "nonrealistic and negative, sadist and melodramatic--a literature of darkness and the grotesque in a land of light and affirmation" (29). Certainly literal darkness exists in Old World Gothic works, but it tends to be the constructed, somewhat domesticated interior darkness of castle halls, secret passageways, catacombs and crypts, a darkness that can be chased to the corners if a character can only strike a light. The darkness of the American wilderness, however, unconfined and seemingly endless, is not so easily dispelled, and it is in this frontier darkness just beyond the edge of town where so much of what is Gothic to Brown and Hawthorne lurks. As David Mogen, Scott Sanders, and Joanne Karpinski write,
Gothicism must abide on a frontier--whether physical or psychical.... Gothicism may define the experience of any culture when the stories it tells itself do not ring true to the experience to be had by simply walking about in the landscape. American frontier gothic literature derives from this conflict between the inscripted history of civilization and the history of the other, somehow immanent in the landscape of the frontier. (17)
Hiding few ghosts or rattling bones of ancient skeletons, the darkness of the American frontier is haunted by wild animals and the wild other. But these, ultimately, might not be as frightening as the internal, psychological threats that a confrontation with this vast wilderness can potentially unleash.
Teresa Goddu suggests that, "given the critical preference for the term romance, few authors were designated as gothicists" (3).This certainly applies to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who rarely uses "gothic" or its variants in his public or private writing. Morse's 1883 Century Magazine article seems on point in claiming that Hawthorne's gothicism "was the work of an artistic sense" (289), part of his aesthetic makeup. His well-known description in "The Custom-House" of a room lit with moonlight and a small fire offers a rich example of how he uses the literary Gothic to remove us from our everyday experience. In the moonlight, the familiar becomes "spiritualized by the unusual light" (1:35): "A child's shoe; the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage; the hobby-horse;--whatever, in a word, has been used or played with, during the day, is now invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness.... Ghosts might enter here, without affrighting us" (1:35-36). Hawthorne then adds the "dim coal-fire" to the scene, a "warmer light [that] mingles itself with the cold spirituality of the moonbeams, and communicates ... a heart and sensibilities of human tenderness to the forms which fancy summons up" (1:36). "Then, at such an hour, and with this scene before him," he concludes, "if a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances."
A few examples from Hawthorne's private writing suggest that his mind often tended toward the Gothic mode when creating and exploring ideas for tales. He imagines unsettling incidents, characters, and settings, as well as situations and occurrences both magical and supernatural. Consider the following examples from The American Notebooks: "And old volume in a large library,--every one to be afraid to unclasp and open it, because it was said to be a book of magic" (8:14); "A ghost seen by moonlight; when the moon was out, it would shine and melt through the airy substance of the ghost, as through a cloud" (8:14); "An article on fire, on smoke. Diseases of the mind and soul,--even more common than bodily diseases" (8:30); "The emerging from their lurking-places of evil-characters, on some occasion suited to their action--they having been quite unknown to the world hitherto. For instance, the French Revolution brought out such wretches" (8:240); "A spring in Kentucky--the water certain death to the drinkers" (8:314).These are indeed Gothic in nature, yet Hawthorne seems never to refer directly to Gothicism in the literary past or abroad in his contemporary culture.
Brown, by contrast, confronts and engages with his contemporary Gothicism. Although his Gothic romances are often identified as Radcliffean in character, (6) he strove as a magazine editor to question the sensationalism that drove the plots of most Gothic publications--whether of foreign or domestic origin--that came across his desk. In the June 1807 issue of his Literary Magazine, and American Register, he selected for reprinting an article entitled "On the Cause of the Popularity of Novels." (7) This piece acknowledges that "no species of writing ... has been more popular among young readers since its first appearance, than the novel or romance" (410), and to these works consumers in the literary marketplace "fly for relief from the sameness of real life" (411). The author discusses the progression of this "species of writing" as the romances increasingly became adventure stories until they "were actually becoming as insipid as the progress of real life" (412). At this moment in the marketplace, "a bold and successful attempt was ... made to enliven these narratives by a certain proportion of murders, ghosts, clanking chains, dead bodies, skeletons, old castles, and damp dungeons" (412). Thus the author of the article, writing originally in the late 1790s and most probably a follower of the Scottish Common Sense philosophers, introduces the popular Gothic products of the British and European marketplaces:
And surely it is no wonder if our timid females are pushed from their stools in reading the "horrid, barbarous, and bloody murders" that are now served up for their amusement. Amusement! did I say?--Yes, certainly, for their amusement. This is the most favourable conjecture, for surely it never could have entered into the brain of any writer of this description that our lovely females wanted instruction how to commit or avoid murders. (412)
The danger of the Gothic novel, this article suggests, is that readers--particularly those unsophisticated readers who had not yet learned to discern the difference between amusement and instruction--are more likely to leave the story impressed only by its surface thrills and fears. Sensationalized and exaggerated incidents and characters tended to overwhelm the instructional ideas behind the Gothic novel, if indeed the author had any ideas of the kind. That Brown included this piece in the Literary Magazine suggests that he, as editor, approved of such expressions questioning the excesses of popular Gothic literature. Given the melancholy tendency of his own writing, however, he certainly could not dismiss the genre outright. In his often-cited prefatory remarks to 1799's Edgar Huntly, Brown begins formalizing his thinking about the American Gothic: "That new springs of action, and new motives to curiosity should operate; that the field of investigation, opened to us by our own country, should differ essentially from those which exist in Europe, may be readily conceived" (3). Having thus established the idea of "our own country" as a viable source "of amusement to the fancy and instruction to the heart ... peculiar to ourselves," Brown turns directly to the Gothic:
One merit the writer may at least claim; that of calling forth the passions and engaging the sympathy of the reader, by means hitherto unemployed by preceding authors. Puerile superstitions and exploded manners; Gothic castles and chimeras, are the materials usually employed for this end. The incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of the western wilderness, are far more suitable; and, for a native of America to overlook these, would admit of no apology. These, therefore, are, in part, the ingredients of this tale, and these he has been ambitious of depicting in vivid and faithful colors. (3)
Although Brown voices these particular ideas in Edgar Huntly, he had already put them into practice in Wieland and other works. The Wielands live in that liminal space between Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania wilderness, a Gothic frontier that Brown identifies as distinctly American, and that frontier's wild isolation intensifies the frightening experiences of Clara Wieland's tale. In the remoteness of her Mettingen, she encounters the other in the mysterious Carwin and in the madness of her brother Henry. Likewise, Althorpe, narrator of Brown's work of short fiction "Somnambulism," lives with his uncle near a wilderness known as Norwood, where he becomes a somnambulist, transforming him into an unknowable and uncontrollable other. Edgar Huntly lives in the vicinity of the similar Norwalk, an uncontrolled setting that provides a habitation for the physical and psychological other suggested in Brown's nod to the "incidents of Indian hostility" in the preface to Huntly's adventures. In addition to sharing some of Althorpe's sleepwalking experiences, Huntly wrestles with a Norwalk panther and collides with a party of Delaware on the warpath. Such conditions and encounters, Brown suggests, are terrifying and violent at the same time that they are instructional to him as "moral painter" and, he hopes, to his readers.
Among the best Gothic romances of both Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne are, I suggest, those set in liminal spaces: the frontier between hearth and hinterland, the threshold between psychological coherence and chaos. Brown's "Somnambulism" and Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" serve as microcosms through which to explore the continuities and diversions found in their authors' Gothic practices. Each features a journey into the dark wilderness, suggests the perils of misperception and reveals an anxiety arising from the troubled psyche on a frontier that is "unsettled and unsettling" (Levine 12). Rejecting European Gothic models in which terror comes from external sources at work within dark interior spaces, "Somnambulism" and "Young Goodman Brown" explore the source of terror as internal--psychological and spiritual--and reflect this internality in the landscape of the frontier.
3. Brown's "Somnambulism. A Fragment."
Charles Brockden Brown published "Somnambulism" in the May 1805 issue of The Literary Magazine. Brown scholars believe, however, that this piece of short fiction was probably written sometime between 1797 and 1799; it is understood to be part of a creative stew that includes Brown's first novel Sky-Walk; or The Man Unknown to Himself--published, now lost--and Edgar Huntly. It has strong connections to both. (8) Beginning and ending with long dashes that suggest its nature as a fragment, a characteristic form for short fiction written in the early American literary marketplace, "Somnambulism" focuses on a young man named Althorpe, who lives in rural Pennsylvania with his uncle, on an estate in the vicinity of Norwood, "a region, rude, sterile, and lonely, bestrewn with rocks, and embarrassed with bushes" (343). Althorpe falls in love with Constantia Davis, who has accompanied her father on his visit to Althorpe's uncle. Miss Davis, however, is already engaged to be married, and when an urgent message arrives late one evening recalling the Davises to their own home, their decision to set out immediately on a night journey causes Althorpe to fear that he will lose his opportunity to change Miss Davis's mind and heart in his favor. In spite of all his arguments for the Davises to wait until the morning or to allow him to accompany them, father and daughter depart, leaving Althorpe to spend "a drooping and melancholy evening" before falling asleep in a chair (339). Sometime before noon the next day, however, word arrives that Miss Davis was shot while traveling during the night, and she dies at the home of a local physician soon after the attack.
"Somnambulism" is composed in three parts. The first part is supposed to be an extract from a newspaper in which a story is told of a "young lady, travelling with her father by night, [who] was shot dead upon the road, by some person unknown" (335). (9) Investigation of the matter leads the authorities to a young man in love with the victim and the discovery that "the deed was perpetuated by the youth while asleep, and was entirely unknown to himself. The young woman was the object of his affection, and the journey in which she had engaged had given him the utmost anxiety for her safety" (333). The second and third parts of "Somnambulism" attempt, as Brown's theoretical writings on romance suggest, to interpret the conditions identified in the supposed historical account. In the second part, Althorpe describes the situation leading up to the nighttime departure and his state of mind, revealing his feelings for Miss Davis. The third part follows the Davises after their departure from the estate of Althorpe's uncle and details their fatal encounter with an unknown assailant. Although darkness shrouds this individual, who first haunts the Davises by pacing them along a road that skirts the wilds of Norwood and then kills Miss Davis in the darkness beneath a giant oak tree that stands in the middle of the road, the headnote points to a sleepwalking Althorpe as the murderer.
"Somnambulism" is, again, a microcosm of much of Brown's best work in fiction and features elements important to his Gothic mode. Rather than call on a decayed nobility or corrupt church to prey on innocence and virtue, Brown creates a tense clash between generations and American cultural elements of the time. During the second part of "Somnambulism," Althorpe's anxiety intensifies in the face of the social controls of republicanism. Althorpe--like his story--exists on the cusp between an eighteenth-century mindset that is rational and neoclassical and a nineteenth-century mindset that is imaginative, emotional, and romantic. In his waking hours, his actions are under the control of the community. The Davises and his uncle counter his arguments about the safety of the dark road with a rational conviction that nothing is to be feared as long as proper precautions are taken. When Althorpe oversteps the boundaries decorum assigns to him as a young man living in his uncle's household, demanding to know "the motives that should induce them to expose themselves to the least hazard" (337), he is chided for his outbursts and then reasoned into agreement with the community. Likewise, when the community disbands--the Davises leave and his uncle retires to bed--Althorpe's ego maintains tenuous control over his actions:
As long as their representations rung in my ears, I allowed myself to be ashamed of my weakness, and conjured up a temporary persuasion that my attendance was, indeed, superfluous, and that I should show most wisdom in suffering them to depart alone. But this persuasion was transient. They had no sooner placed themselves in their carriage, and exchanged parting adieus, but my apprehensions returned upon me as forcibly as ever.... Was I never to attend the lessons of sobriety and truth? How ignominious to be thus the slave of a fortuitous and inexplicable impulse! To be the victim of terrors more chimerical than those which haunt the dreams of idiots and children! They can describe clearly, and attribute a real existence to the object of their terrors. Not so can I. Influenced by these considerations, I shut the gate at which I had been standing, and turned towards the house. (338-39)
Once asleep, however, Althorpe is no longer governed by either republican decorum or his ego. He is a dreamer and a sleepwalker, and his dangerous passions are released to create chaos.
Although the transitional moment between the second and third sections of the story takes place in the light of day, all besides happens at night, either in the lighted interior of the home of Althorpe's uncle or in the almost incapacitating darkness along the road. The Davises are Enlightenment rationalists, and in their certainty that nothing is to be feared from a journey at night, they represent the confidence inherent in Fiedler's "land of light and affirmation": "I am not so much a girl as to be scared merely because it is dark," Miss Davis declares in support of her father's decision to take leave of their friends (338). Later, when Mr. Davis's confidence falters under the influence of the mysterious figure pacing their progress along the road, Miss Davis responds with the same confidence: "Nay, my father, ... be not disturbed. What danger can be dreaded by two persons from one?" (342). This is a reasonable but short-sighted response to her father's anxiety. As for two having nothing to fear from one, it is the rational assumption of the greater number having the greater strength but it does not consider that the one might have significant strength and skill or might be--as turns out to be the case--armed. Also, the assumption that the dark figure is the harmless local trickster Nick Handyside, whom a farmer performing night chores describes to them, restores Mr. Davis's confidence to the extent that the Davises' sense of controlling the situation between this point and the catastrophe beneath the oak seems reasonably justified. But in darkness, the somnambulistic Althorpe has become the unknown, the other, that caused him to fear for Miss Davis's safety. Had the Davises been able to see Althorpe in the light of a torch, he would have appeared to be a known quantity and would likely have been welcomed after they chided him for startling them, but as a sleepwalker, he would only appear--externally--to be what they know. In his somnambulistic nightmare, however, he is all id released from the internal control of his ego and the external control of social restraints. The tense anxiety that plays out in the second part of the story thus explodes with horrific effect in the third part.
Brown uses this Gothic romance to reveal two truths: first, that radical democracy--the complete freedom of the individual as exemplified by the sleepwalker--is dangerous, even deadly; second, that republican decorum and Enlightenment rationalism are, in the end, not failsafe protection of the individual or of society against the threats of radical democracy or liberal individualism.
4. Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"
Goodman Brown sets off on his own night journey with a confidence in some ways similar to that of the Davises, yet his is not founded in Enlightenment rationalism but is, first, an illusion bolstered by the unreasoned bravado of the young and, second, a delusion based on his misunderstanding of the religious faith passed down from his father, grandfather, and the broader culture of Puritan America in the late 1600s (as Hawthorne portrays it)--a culture on the verge of collapse under the burden of the Salem witch trials. Goodman Brown enters the forest as an act of premeditated transgression, believing that he is the only one of his community ever to set out on so reckless an adventure. Whatever his "present evil purpose" (10:75), he is unaware that he is unprepared for what he will experience that night. He leaves his community with the faith that when his '"journey ... forth and back again'" is accomplished all will return to normal and he will live out his life safely in communion with his wife, Salem village, and their church (10:74).
Almost immediately, however, he is infected by fear of the unseen other--'"There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree'"--as he makes his way beneath "all the gloomiest trees of the forest" to keep an appointment with a satanic figure who looks a great deal like himself (10:75). While his walk in the dark woods is tantamount to an act of rebellion against the constraints of the religious social structure within which he has lived, he has no intention of remaining outside the control of those constraints after his journey is complete. Again, he undertakes his self-appointed mission with the same confidence of the Davises, but a confidence likewise unfounded; what follows--his conversation with and observation of the devil figure he meets, his near encounters with Goody Cloyse, the minister, and Deacon Gookin, his belief that he has lost "Faith"--transforms him into the psychological equivalent of Althorpe the somnambulist, an individual stripped of all constraints and "the chief horror of the scene" (10:83): "In truth," the narrator claims, "all through the forest, there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown.... The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man" (10:83-84). Goodman Brown has by this point in the story transformed from having the unfounded confidence of the Davises to reflecting the devastating release from control that Althorpe undergoes.
To take a step backwards in the story, Goodman Brown's traveling companion holds a brief conversation in the forest path with Goody Cloyse, which leads, perhaps, to the most telling moment for the reader's anxious attempt to understand the young man's transforming trauma. When Goody Cloyse disappears, Goodman Brown exclaims, "'That old woman taught me my catechism!"'; the narrator immediately adds that "there was a world of meaning in this simple comment" (10:80). Benjamin Franklin V has ably shown, however, that the young Puritan did not learn his catechism, as his thoughts and behavior from the beginning to the end of the story clearly demonstrate:
Brown incriminates himself as one who has been unable to assimilate into his view of humanity the fundamental beliefs of his faith and of his society.... Before leaving home, Brown thinks mortals close to perfection; an understanding of the catechism would have disabused him of this assumption. But after returning home from his night in the woods, he considers irredeemable these people he has revered. This judgment, too, is flawed. Since Brown never masters the lessons Goody Cloyse tried to teach him, he cannot fit spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically into his own society. (82) (10)
Goodman Brown's experiences in the external darkness surrounding Salem village reveal that he, internally, is in spiritual darkness, and his externally perceived religious social structure collapses due to his ignorance, as first one and then another of those upon whom his stability has depended is undermined when their sinful nature is exposed but the promise of and means to their salvation remains unrecognized.
That Nathaniel Hawthorne manages greater artistic range than Charles Brockden Brown in the genre of Gothic romance is apparent in his rich depiction of the evil communion that takes place in the forest. Goodman Brown, dreaming somnambulist or not, finds himself in company with the imagined monsters of his quotidian world come to life. Certainly he had heard of the Black Man in the forest and of witches (and believed in both), but Hawthorne has Brown meet them. In spite of the beautifully rendered otherworldliness of this climactic scene, however, Goodman Brown's story remains tethered to "the truth of the human heart," as realistic, in a way, as Althorpe's sleepwalking actions brought on by his personal and cultural anxieties. When the "sable form" welcomes the throng of Salem village communicants, he points out examples of sinful "secret deeds," from the "hoary-bearded elders of the church [who] have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households" to "fair damsels ... [who] have dug little graves in the garden" for "an infant's funeral" (10:87). Thus, the fantastic event in the night woods is grounded in an approximate realism by the identification of a range of secret sins that, given the consistency of human nature, probably took place in the setting of the 1690s and in the 1830s, when Hawthorne wrote the tale.
5. "As Kinsmen, met a Night"
Social constraints in British and European Gothic works of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are most often found in the cultural, physical and psychological spaces inhabited by the Old World aristocracy. The fictional haunted houses and surrounding ruins and landscapes are owned by aristocrats (or sometimes by the hierarchical church); the often rigid adherence to aristocratic traditions and systems inspires ghosts, creates villains and fuels madness. By contrast, in an America supposedly lacking such static and hierarchical social structures, Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne substituted republican decorum and Puritanism as sites of Gothic anxiety. Their attempts to portray characters rebelling against these social and cultural restraints often led them to inject passionate characters such as Althorpe and Goodman Brown into contested and bewildering landscapes where they are freed from the social restraints that generally govern their lives in community. The inherent threat of these wild landscapes is mirrored in the characters' uncontrolled psyches.
The chief literary materials Charles Brockden Brown used to construct his Gothic romances were the manic, unwieldy intensity of his style and the forbidding atmosphere of the stories he told, most of which were set locally and in a time more or less his own. He adhered to a realism that he infused with terror by means of the precarious predicaments in which he placed his characters, threatening them with darkness, murder, madness, unrestrained obsession, poverty, plague, wild animals, and wild people. Brown based his stories on explainable or recognized phenomena (spontaneous combustion, ventriloquism, somnambulism) or real events, such as "an authentic case" of familicide, "remarkably similar to that of Wieland" (Wieland 3)" and the Philadelphia yellow fever plague of 1793. He recognized the unsettling presence of the other inhabiting a variety of frontier spaces: Native Americans and the stranger (Carwin and Nick Handyside, for example) on the physical frontier between civilization and wilderness, the dangers of conservatism and the limits of liberalism on the political and cultural frontier between the New World and the Old, the restrained and the unrestrained on the psychological frontier between waking and sleeping, control and chaos.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's Gothic romances, on the other hand, are carefully and artistically rendered through the richness of his authorial voice and the depth of patient thought apparent throughout his best work. When Brown acknowledges in the preface to Edgar Huntly that the American Gothic is, in part, characterized by Native American violence filling the dangerous and seemingly endless wilderness, the Delaware show up in force and the benighted forest shuts out almost all glimmers of light from civilization. But Hawthorne is subtler. Both Native Americans and true wilderness had disappeared to a large extent in the New England in which he lived. And yet these elements of the American Gothic continued to haunt the fringes of life there, along with the nightmares of America's past, particularly as portrayed in Hawthorne's historical romances. Roger Malvin is alone in the wilderness like Edgar Huntly and Clithero Edny: "it was a ghastly fate," Hawthorne's narrator tells us in "Roger Malvin's Burial," "to be left expiring in the wilderness" (10:343), possibly to die helplessly at the hands of the dark forest's indigenous other. In "Young Goodman Brown," the eponymous youth initially fears that he could be surrounded by "devilish Indians" hiding in the surrounding wilderness, and in the final scenes of the tale finds among the familiar participants in the witch meeting "Indian priests, or powwows, who had often scared their native forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English witchcraft" (10:85). Just as Hawthorne follows Charles Brockden Brown chronologically, he is also guided by what Brown considered Gothic in America, but Hawthorne renders the similar frontiers and the others that inhabit them with greater artistry, as well as greater psychological and historic richness.
I find it useful to imagine Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne as the living dead in Emily Dickinson's "I Died for Beauty":
I died for Beauty--but was scarce Adjusted in the Tomb When One who died for Truth, was lain In an adjoining Room-- He questioned softly "Why I failed"? "For Beauty", I replied "And I--for Truth--Themself are One-- We Bretheren are", He said-- And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night-- We talked between the Rooms-- Until the Moss had reached our lips-- And covered up--Our names-- (207)
I imagine Brown and Hawthorne conferring with each other between their "adjoining" rooms in whispered voices, dark and echoing. Their texts provide the tone and substance of their conference, a conversation that is, I argue, still in progress. Out of the unsettling atmosphere of the Gothic romance, each author created much of his most effective work, using the genre as a means of questioning the reliability of perceptions and the accepted epistemologies of an infant nation, in Brown's case, and, in Hawthorne's, an adolescent nation haunted, like Goodman Brown, by its religious upbringing. Given the literary cultures out of which the two authors arose, Charles Brockden Brown, writing in a time in which literature was, first and foremost, to be instructive, might more appropriately be aligned with "Truth," and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the greater artist writing in a time when such artistry was somewhat more appreciated, with "Beauty" (reversing the sequence of the deaths in Dickinson's poem). But as Dickinson suggests, echoing Keats, in regards to Beauty and Truth, '"Themself are One.'"
East Tennessee State University
Barnard, Philip, and Stephen Shapiro, eds. Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793, with Related Texts. By Charles Brockden Brown. Introd. and notes by Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008. Print.
Bell, Michael Davitt. The Development of American Romance: The Sacrifice of Relation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980. Print.
(1) Examples of the first kind of study are many and include such works as Bell's The Development of American Romance and Levine's Conspiracy and Romance. Among the few examples of the second kind is "My Kinsman, Brockden Brown: Robin Molineux and Arthur Mervyn," by Richard VanDerBeets and Paul Witherington.
(2) The Monthly Magazine, and American Review (1799-1800) was the first of three magazines Brown edited in the last decade of his life.
(3) See Barnard and Shapiro, eds., Arthur Mervyn, 340.
(4) In The Development of American Romance, Michael Davitt Bell suggests that "the general run of nineteenth-century comments on romance distinguish it not from realism but from reality" (10).
(5) Hawthorne, of course, mentions Arthur Mervyn in "The Hall of Fantasy." Kesselring's "Hawthorne's Reading, 1828-1850" lists Brown's novels, Wieland in particular, as among the books borrowed from the Salem Athenaeum by Hawthorne and his aunt Mary Manning (137, 175). In the postscript to the curious "P.'s Correspondence," Hawthorne's P. makes mention of "a complete edition of [Brown's] works" (380), demonstrating that Hawthorne was familiar with the works--beyond Wieland and Arthur Mervyn--that would make up a "complete edition."
(6) Devendra Varma writes in The Gothic Flame, "Charles Brockden Brown, the first Gothic novelist of America, penned stories of sleep-walkers and ventriloquists, and shows an unmistakable resemblance to Mrs. Radcliffe and her technique" (203). According to Allan Lloyd-Smith, "Brown's novels exploited Ann Radcliffe's vein of 'explained supernaturalism,' using ventriloquism, somnambulism, or charnel-house scenes of plague to create ... Gothic effects" (29).
(7) This essay seems originally to have been published in the January 1799 issue of The Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany.
(8) See Barnard and Shapiro, eds., Edgar Huntly, 215-22 and 244-45.
(9) This introduction to the story identifies the source as the Vienna Gazette for "June 14, 1784." The date falls within a time period during which, according to Barnard and Shapiro, "[t]here actually was a Gazette de Vienne, a French-language periodical published in Vienna.... Frustratingly for scholars, however, no archive in either Europe or North America has a copy of the cited issue of the Gazette de Vienne, and thus the question of the authenticity of the headnote's medical quotation remains unresolved" (Edgar245).
(10) Franklin identifies the tenets of Brown's "fundamental faith" as having been codified in John Cotton's catechism Milk for Babes, the text most likely to have been used in Salem during the time in which Goodman Brown would have lived.
(11) In "Hawthorne's Literary Borrowings," Arlin Turner claims that "Charles Brockden Brown undoubtedly influenced Hawthorne's use of the supernatural and the Gothic machinery" (556n). While I agree with the latter regarding "the Gothic machinery," I question the former--"Hawthorne's use of the supernatural"--due to the fact that Brown rarely uses the truly supernatural, preferring explainable phenomena instead.
--. eds. Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker, with Related Texts. By Charles Brockden Brown. Intro, and notes by Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006. Print.
Brown, Charles Brockden. Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793, First and Second Parts. Bicentennial Ed. Vol. 3. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1980. Print.
--. "The Difference Between History and Romance." The Monthly Magazine, and American Review 2A (1800): 251-53. PDF file.
--. Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. Bicentennial Ed. Vol. 4. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1984. Print.
--. "Somnambulism. A Fragment." The Literary Magazine, ayid American Register 3.20 (May 1805): 335-47. PDF file.
--. "Walstein's School of History. From the German of Krants of Gotha." The Monthly Magazine, and American Review 1.5 (1799): 335-38; 1.6 (1799): 407-11. PDF file.
--. Wieland; or, The Transformation, an American Tale [with] Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist. 1977. Ed. Sydney J. Krause and S. W. Reid. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1993. Print.
Cody, Michael. Charles Brockden Brown and the Literary Magazine: Cultural Journalism in the Early American Republic. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004. Print.
Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition. Ed. R. W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Belknap P, 1999. Print.
Dunlap, William. The Life of Charles Brockden Brown: Together with Selections from the Rarest of His Printed Works, from His Original Letters, and from His Manuscripts Before Unpublished. 2 vols. Philadelphia: James P. Parke, 1815. PDF file.
Fiedler, Feslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Rev. ed. New York: Dell, 1966. Print.
Franklin, Benjamin V. "Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism." ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance ADA (1994): 66-88. Print.
Garnett, Richard. "Aims for Oblivion. III. The Minor Writings of Charles Brockden Brown." The Cornhill Magazine ns 13 (Oct. 1902): 494-506. PDF file.
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Mogen, David, Scott P. Sanders, and Joanne B. Karpinski, eds. "Introduction." Frontier Gothic: Terror and Wonder at the Frontier in American Literature. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1993. Print.
Morse, James Herbert. "The Native Element in American Fiction. Before the War." The Century Magazine 26.2 (June 1883): 288-98. PDF file.
"On the Cause of the Popularity of Novels." The Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany  (January 1799): 33-36. Rpt. in The Literary Magazine, and American Register 7 (June 1807): 410-12. PDF file.
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Tuckerman, Henry T. "Charles Brockden Brown." Grahams Magazine 38 (1851): 425-28. Google Books.
Turner, Arlin. "Hawthorne's Literary Borrowings." PMLA 51.2 (1936): 543-62. PDF file.
VanDerBeets, Richard, and Paul Witherington. "My Kinsman, Brockden Brown: Robin Molineux and Arthur Mervyn." American Transcendental Quarterly 1.1 (1969): 13-15. PDF file.
Varma, Devendra P. The Gothic Flame, Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England: Its Origins, Efflorescence, Disintegration, and Residuary Influences. New York: Russell, 1966. Print.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum, 1989. Print.
Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew. Charles Brockden Brown. Cardiff: U of Wales P, 2011. Print.
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|Publication:||Nathaniel Hawthorne Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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