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The Apparition in the Glass

Charles Brockden Brown's American Gothic
A non fiction book by

The first American to be recognized internationally as a serious novelist, Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) sought in his fiction to project a native voice that would express the character of the young republic. In the four Gothic romances that are his best-remembered works - Wieland (1798), Ormond (1799), Arthur Mervyn (1799-1800), and Edgar Huntly (1799) - Brown insisted he was writing "American tales" portraying "the condition of our country. Bill Christophersen, in The Apparition in the Glass, follows Brown's lead, exploring the ways in which his novels reflected America during the 1790s - an America that was proud of its newly achieved status as an independent republic but was also plagued by spiritual doubts, social dilemmas, and volatile postrevolutionary tensions. These doubts, dilemmas, and tensions, Christophersen suggests, are the novels' latent subjects. At their best, he argues, Brown's fictions "hold up the glass to this many-layered and parlous cultural self." In close readings of Brown's Gothic novels, Christophersen traces the specific links between the texts and a society in which flux and revolutions of fortune are the rule rather than the exception. He examines Wieland in light of the factionalization that was peaking during 1798, when Brown was writing the book, and the religious anxieties of the Second Great Awakening that were just beginning to manifest themselves beneath the revival tent. He treats Ormond, with its yellow-fever plague and the French seducer-villain, as an allegory of America's revolutionary and postrevolutionary history. Arthur Mervyn he suggests, projects doubts about a utilitarian approach to moral concerns and expresses fear of an enslaved underclass. He sees Edgar Huntly as an exploration of the debate about human nature in the late eighteenth century - a philosophical debate of importance to a nation Brown repeatedly depicted as asleep to her darker self. Taking its title from Arthur Mervyn in which an apparition

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