Biblical, prophetic, and violent, Wieland is also about language, authorship, revolutionary and postrevolutionary America, and an American literature coming into existence. Charles Brockden Brown makes the disruption of a single family a model from which to sketch the conditions of a nation. As narrator Clara exclaims, “My ideas are vivid, but my language is faint; now know I what it is to entertain incommunicable sentiments.” She is cheerful, sensitive, reasonable, and thoughtful, mixing many temperaments and moods, and thus is symbolic of the American character. In contrast, Theodore delves into religious doctrines and contemplates them. Clara says, “Moral necessity and Calvinistic inspiration were the props on which my brother thought proper to repose.”

Henry, a rationalist, is the champion of intellectual liberty. A disciple of William Godwin, he rejects all guidance but that of his reason. Duplicitous and canny, Carwin suggests the advent of the new American literature. Clara notes, “The voice was not only mellifluent and clear, but the emphasis was so just, and the modulation so impassioned, that it seemed as if an heart of stone could not fail of being moved by it.” Carwin, being both muse and devil, disrupts the religious, social, and even literary order, and his progression moves from regrettable action to equal part horror and contempt. Clara later recognizes his deceptions as the root cause of the family’s problems.


(The entire section is 538 words.)