Charles Brockden Brown
Spontaneous human combustion, ventriloquism, sleepwalking, secret societies, plague, doppelgängers, disguises, corpses, night burials, locked doors, and mysterious manuscripts—these are only a few of the Gothic devices that appear in the writings of late eighteenth-century American author, Charles Brockden Brown. Brown’s work presents us with the dark underside to Enlightenment optimism as he questions the extent to which human beings can draw accurate inferences from sensory data and foresee the outcome of their actions. In advance of Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Ambrose Bierce, he depicts the American frontier as a liminal zone fraught with danger. Looking forward to Charles Dickens, George Lippard, and even twentieth-century film noir, Brown establishes the city as itself a sort of labyrinthine wildness populated by insidious confidence men. Setting the stage for Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction and latter Sigmund Freud’s psychology, Brown powerfully represents the mind as inherently haunted as the unconscious, the stranger within, compels irrational and ‘perverse’ behavior. And well before Harriet Prescott Spofford, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and contemporary authors such as Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter, Brown in his Female Gothic narratives vividly demonstrates the forms of violence and victimization to which women are exposed in patriarchal culture. Brown therefore was instrumental in developing and defining the Frontier Gothic, the Urban Gothic, the Psychological Gothic, and the Female Gothic. In this polemical introduction to Brown’s work, Weinstock boldly asserts that Brown deserves renewed attention both for his historical significance and for the narrative force and intellectual depth of his writings.
All ex GB, US, CA