(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In a long letter to a friend, Clara Wieland tells the story of the tragedy of her family. Her father was something of a religious fanatic, a strange man who feared some dreadful punishment because he did not answer a call to the mission field. He became more and more depressed and withdrawn until his life ended in a horrible fashion. One night, he visited a temple he built for solitary meditation. His wife, fearing the appearance and manner of her husband, followed him and saw his clothing suddenly go up in flames. She found him insensible, muttering incoherently about having been struck down by an unseen hand. Soon afterward, he died. Within a few months, the mother followed her husband to the grave, leaving Clara and her brother orphaned but wealthy. They were happily reared by an aunt who gave them love and comfort and a good education.

One of their companions was Catharine Pleyel, a rich and beautiful girl with whom Theodore Wieland fell in love when he reached young manhood. Catharine returned his love, and when Wieland came of age they were married. Wieland took possession of the family house and half of the fortune, Clara the other half of their inheritance. Since she and Catharine and Wieland were beloved friends as well as relatives, Clara took a house only a short distance from her brother and sister-in-law. The three spent much time together. Clara and Catharine were frank and cheerful, but Wieland was more somber and thoughtful in disposition. He was, however, always considerate of their happiness and nobly devoted his life to it. His melancholy was not morbid, only sober. The temple in which their father met his strange fate was used by the three as a setting for long and delightful conversations, although Wieland’s talk dwelt too often on death to suit Clara and Catharine. Their circle was soon augmented by the addition of Catharine’s beloved brother Henry, who was for some time in Europe. His boisterous mirth enlivened the little group. Henry and Wieland found one great difference in their beliefs: Wieland built his life on religious necessity, Henry, on intellectual liberty. Their fondness for each other, however, allowed them to differ without altering their mutual affection.

Wieland’s family was enlarged during the next six years by four natural children and a foster child whose mother died. About that time, another strange occurrence took place in the Wieland family. One day, Wieland went to the temple to pick up a letter that would settle a minor dispute. Before he reached the temple, he was stopped by his wife’s voice, telling him that danger lay in his path. Returning quickly to the house, he found his wife there. Clara and Henry verified her statement that she did not leave the room. Although the others soon dismissed the incident from their minds, it preyed on the already melancholy Wieland to the exclusion of everything else.

Not long after that incident, Henry learned that Wieland inherited some large estates in Europe, and he wanted Wieland to go abroad to claim them. Henry would accompany his friend because he had left his heart with a baroness, now widowed and willing to accept his suit. When Wieland seemed reluctant to make the journey, Henry, in an effort to persuade him, asked him one night to go for a walk. Their walk was interrupted by a voice telling them that the baroness was dead. Again, the voice was Catharine’s, but again...

(The entire section is 1392 words.)