The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Wieland: Or, The Transformation is the terror story of Clara Wieland (the narrator) and her brother, Theodore (the Wieland of the title). They are the only children of a German-born religious fanatic and missionary who foretold his death (by spontaneous combustion) for supposed lax service to God. Clara and Theodore become orphans at the ages of seven and ten years, respectively. Reared by a maiden aunt under “enlightened” principles and in circumstances of affluence, Clara and Theodore grow up with Catherine and Henry Pleyel. These four young people are caught in the crosscurrents of eighteenth century thought.

Theodore, who decides to pursue agriculture as his occupation, marries Catherine, and they become the parents of four children. Clara secretly nourishes affection for Henry, who is engaged to German baroness Theresa von Stolberg. A stranger named Frances Carwin, an escaped convict from Ireland who has eyes and a voice suggesting powers of witchcraft and who has a talent for impersonation, joins the Wieland and Pleyel circle.

Seven times in the course of the narration, a mysterious voice is heard, under varying and increasingly mystifying circumstances. Theodore is certain of the supernatural origin of the voice. Clara thinks that the voice is supernatural but not malevolent. Henry, who is told of the death of his sweetheart in one of the statements of the voice, prefers a rationalistic inquiry.

After witnessing...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Mettingen (MEHT-ihn-jehn). Fictional name of the Wieland’s eastern Pennsylvania farm and later of Clara’s house located on her share of the farm. Mettingen is also the name of a real city in Germany that is the Wielands’ ancestral home. Charles Brockden Brown uses this site as part of an overview of American history, starting with the arrival of the Puritans and proceeding to the Revolutionary War. In the Wieland family history, Brown creates parallels with American history including the escape from religious persecution in England, the resolve to spread the gospel in the new world, the material success of the settlers, and the subsequent abandonment of the religious mission and its replacement by private worship. Significantly, he locates the principal characters near Philadelphia (where the institutions of American democracy were born), in the late eighteenth century, and on a farm, suggesting the founding fathers’ belief in agrarianism as the cornerstone of American society. Additionally, in the Wieland family history, Brown explores developments in intellectual history, as seventeenth century Puritan lives based entirely on faith clash with eighteenth century lives based on reason.

The life of Clara and Theodore’s father is grounded in faith in God’s plan. After he dies, the Wielands convert their father’s temple from a place for the exercise of religious faith to a place wherein the rationalistic precepts of the Enlightenment are largely practiced, although Theodore retains some of his father’s reliance on faith. Close...

(The entire section is 646 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Jones, Howard Mumford. Belief and Disbelief in American Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. Discusses the religious ideologies characterizing American thought from the colonial era to the twentieth century. Cites specific writers. Explains eighteenth century rationalism and its coexistence with Calvinistic guilt.

MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. Maintains that from the inception of the gothic novel, authors consciously employed symbolic elements and sought to educate their readers in the workings of the mind. Claims that the infusion of psychology into literature derived from the interest generated by the studies of eighteenth century thinker John Locke.

Punter, David. The Literature of Terror. New York: Longman, 1980. Treats the relationship between the eighteenth century novel and the philosophy of rationalism. The chapter on early American Gothic fiction discusses Brown’s contribution regarding the effects of heredity and Puritanism on one’s psychological composition.

Ringe, Donald A. American Gothic: Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth Century Fiction. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982. Recounts the characteristics of Gothic fiction, and discusses the psychological and moral insight Brown brings to his writing.

Thompson, G. R., ed. The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dark Romanticism. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1974. Argues that gothic literature is directly descended from the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages. A chapter on religious terror in the gothic novel offers enlightenment regarding Wieland’s perception of grace.