1 Chapter 1 INTRODUCING THE CONTRADICTORY TIMES AND NOVELS OF CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN For someone who wants to write original American literature “to exhibit a series of adventures, growing out of the condition of our country” (Brown, Edgar Huntly 3), Charles Brockden Brown oddly ends most of his gothic novels with the departure of his heroes and heroines (Arthur Mervyn, Clara Wieland, and Constantia Dudley) from America to Europe. This oddity is just one of the difficulties that readers encounter when reading his novels since Brown always seems to be articulating one belief while illustrating another. In his four major novels, Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a SleepWalker (1799), Wieland; or the Transformation (1798), Ormond; or the Secret Witness (1799), and Arthur Mervyn; or, Memoirs of the Year 1793 (1798-1799), Brown both illustrates and rejects the values of his society. While Brown’s representation of physical disability as a punishment for failing to embrace the Early Republic’s values of reason, self-restraint, and common sense show him as potentially upholding his society’s values, some of his plots depict mental disabilities in ways that blur the lines between the rational and the irrational. As we will see, disability theory helps to make sense of Brown’s critical illustration of the values of his time, which then sheds light on the contradictions that readers feel when they read the novels. In turn, exploring the origin of these internal contradictions reflects the many paradoxes of the period when Brown wrote his novels: 2 the years between 1798 and 1801 were a contradictory time when people wanted to define what it meant to be American by merging pre-Revolutionary ideals with turbulent world politics, epistemological philosophy, and medicine as a social cure. The Early Republic of the 1790s inherited a comparable sense of world mission that Revolutionary America received from the Puritans’ ideal of becoming a shining example for the world. However, the mission of the 1790s transformed America into a place of refuge. In Common Sense (1775-76), Thomas Paine articulates one of the ideals that the new nation would embrace in its Revolutionary rhetoric: America was to be an “asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe” (Paine, 24, emphasis in the original). Paine’s document paints America as an exceptional place with a world mission, which can be found again in the documents such as “The Declaration of Independence” stating the egalitarian tenet that “all men are created equal” (Jefferson 8). While echoes of this rhetoric of America as an asylum continue to shape the concept of Americanness to this day, we can spot a shift in emphasis just a few years after the Revolution. In “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America,” published in 1784, Benjamin Franklin qualifies the openness of Paine’s asylum. While he reiterates that “strangers are welcome… and every one will enjoy securely the profits of his industry,” Franklin also underlines the fact that only those who are willing to be industrious and do not expect to enjoy the feudal inequalities of Europe will be able to make it in the United States (464). The rhetoric of the 1790s, while still upholding the Revolutionary ideals of America as an exceptional place of civil liberties and the Franklinian beliefs that America makes people exceptional because it 3 rewards them for being industrious and independent, was shaped by international turmoil and the increasing waves of immigrants coming to the United States. Again, the openness of Paine’s asylum had to be re-qualified. The anxious question became: how can we keep America and the American people exceptional when so many European radicals and potential enemies to the Republic are mixing with the Anglo-American population? Even worse, how can the very idea of America as a place superior to others survive when some Americans themselves are not the rational, self-restrained, and hard-working people described by Franklin and therefore fail to uphold the standards of Americanness? While the belief that America is an exceptional space with exceptional people continued to shape what it meant to be American in the 1790s, a growing anxiety about foreign and inner degeneration contributed to the definition of American identity through binaries: American/alien, rational/irrational, healthy/degenerate. European turmoil such as the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the French Revolution (1789-1799) brought fleeing radical Europeans to the United States, which intensified the fear towards unruly foreigners importing radical ideas from Europe. Indeed, the nativist crisis of 1798-1801, best illustrated by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 that increased the President’s power to arrest citizens and deport foreigners with radical political ideas, was a result of the American anxieties of seeing European radicals – in particular the Irish – become politically active in the Early Republic (Durey 177, 248). As Michael Durey demonstrates in Transatlantic Radicals and the Early American Republic, European radicals were coming to America as a refuge from legal persecution, treason trials, and as a land of hope where they could implement the radical changes they had 4 failed to bring to their native countries. However, creating a new life in the United States did not always pan out, and some radicals became “rogues” who stole or dealt in forgery (Durey 160). These were certainly not the men Franklin pictured in “Information to Those Who Would Remove to America,” and nativist propaganda, using the rhetoric of human perfectibility found in philosophical and medicinal works, depicted them as the worst threat against the United States. To believe that America is an asylum for those fleeing less perfect societies and to fear that immigrants might cause the degeneration of the United States reveal a belief in human progress since it creates a hierarchy of societies; this worldview goes hand in hand with the medical discourse of the time. Starting a trend that would endure throughout the nineteenth century, the eighteenth-century doctors focused on human perfectibility (both physical and moral) and on a “medicine that offer[ed] the most ambitious programs for improving the human race” (Winston 265). This belief was to transform the role of doctors as the social curers infiltrating into the most private affairs of their society. For example, believing that “defect or deformity in one of the parent’s body parts could result in the disability being passed on to the offspring,” led doctors to categorize human people in terms of their reproductive suitability (Winston 267). These categories became pertinent to nativists worried that unsuitable people (both alien and unideal Americans) would cause the degeneration of the American population. In fact, doctors became more and more the dictators of the social norm; during the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Rush, who was himself a doctor, described the ideal army general being “modest, sober, and temperate” (qtd. in Stozier 419). Even though George Washington did not approve of a 5 doctor mingling in army affairs, this example illustrates how medicine was acquiring the central role it would later have in nineteenth-century politics and social programs. The decrees of eighteenth-century doctors had real social repercussions for the individuals they targeted; for example, doctors during the Enlightenment described women as “inferior or degraded versions of their male counterparts” who should embrace motherhood as their only natural call (Winston 271). This promoted the idea of separate spheres, with the natural call of women being to remain in the private sphere. Similarly, the fact that some doctors described the brain of Africans as having an insufficient amount of cerebral matter to be able to be independent reinforced the justifications for slavery (Baynton 40). Therefore, the rhetoric of doctors became more and more prominent in the debates of citizenship of the Early Republic, which is something that did not escape Brown’s attention: three of his gothic novels have important characters as doctors advising and guiding the actions of the heroes and heroines. The medical concerns about people’s fitness also invaded the field of philosophy through the means of epistemology. John Locke linked knowledge to sensations, and his concept of the mind as a tabula rasa stated that “there appear not to be any ideas in the mind before the senses have conveyed any” (Locke 141). Although at first this does not seem to be related to medicine, it actually gives a standard to measure people’s apparent ability to reason. For example, the philosophers debated the epistemological and rational aptitude of people who were not relying on one of the senses; they debated on questions such as: was a blind person a whole person able to reason? Locke’s reflection on Molyneux’s question (could a blind man, cured of his blindness, immediately recognize a 6 sphere and a cube only by sight?) influenced all of the major philosophers of the Enlightenment. Indeed, a quick look at the titles of some of the philosophers’ works reveals the connections they were making between the senses and epistemology and the central role of the senses in their philosophical debates: Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (Berkeley); Traite’ des Sensations (Condillac); Lettres sur les Aveugles (Diderot). A physical disability was not just a medical concern: it also became a philosophical query on whether disabled people could experience the world and therefore be able to reason – thus making the divide between philosophy and medicine harder to draw. This had real political repercussions. For example, the philosophers of the Enlightenment relied on science and medicine to argue for the differences in the sexes to keep women out of the public sphere and to deny them full citizenship rights (Outram 87). These philosophers were also interested in madness since during the eighteenth century (the heyday of reason as an epistemological and philosophical basis) madness was reinterpreted as threatening reason and “disclosed that underlying realm of unreason which threatens man and envelops… all the forms of his natural existence” (Foucault 83). Even further, philosophy and medicine intertwined on the subject of madness, since doctors stated that an unchecked liberty could become a source of madness, and argued that the unprecedented freedom of liberalism created a perfect opportunity for alienation between the individual and society’s contrasting interests (Foucault 214). The United States, striving (at least rhetorically!) to create a nation based on liberty for all, thus also became a medically and philosophically anxious site regarding potential loss of reason. 7 The Early Republic’s politicians took advantage both of the philosophical and the medical rhetoric to categorize the unwelcome. Since American society never was the free and equal society promised by its revolutionary documents, one way to reconcile the dissonance between the rhetoric and the reality was to use the vocabulary of disability and pathology to keep certain groups of people (such as women, African Americans, and newly-arrived immigrants) disenfranchised (Baynton 33). Brown’s historical period saw European and American political writers using disability vocabulary and the idea of the monstrous body against those unwelcome to citizenship rights; indeed, “writers with opinions as diverse as Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine would rely on often identical monstrous metaphors to malign those they wished to attack” (Kudlick 275). Timothy Dwight’s pamphlet contributing to the Illuminati scare by using yellow fever vocabulary is a case in point. Describing how the secret and foreign society’s members are infiltrating American society, Dwight uses words such as “polluted,” “pestilential,” and “plagues” (377-379). Disabilities (and the “degeneracy” vocabulary), then, became central to the debates on nation-building and citizenship rights. Not only immigrants and women were re-described through a disability and pathological vocabulary, but all disabled Americans became a threat to the core national values of self-control and selfreliance; “freighted with anxieties about loss of control and autonomy that the American ideal repudiates, the ‘disabled’ became a threatening presence” (Garland Thomson 41). Often ignored in historical studies, disabilities and their appearance in historical texts and literature can provide an understanding of how the bodies of those unwelcomed to participate in the national project were translated into a substandard to “true 8 Americanness.” Using and abusing medical and philosophical rhetoric, the Early Republic’s politicians disempowered and attacked all those targeted by the nativist anxieties. Since the focus of this research is not so much the Early Republic’s nativism per se, but rather its contradictions, which create a cultural space where Brown wrote his novels, a New Historicist reading of Brown might be the most suitable for the scope of this thesis. As Louis Montrose states in “New Historicisms,” “representations of the world in written discourse participate in the construction of the world: they are engaged in shaping the modalities of social reality and in accommodating their writers, performers, readers, and audiences to multiple and shifting subject positions within the world that they themselves both constitute and inhabit” (396). This concept allows us to see Brown as a cultural product of his society, which means that he was shaped by his culture, but also participated as an active agent in shaping it. Because “the possibilities for action are always socially and historically situated, always limited and limiting” (Montrose 414), Brown’s response to the anxious American exceptionalism of the 1790s must be placed in its historical context to understand the forces that shaped his writing and the responses he directed to these forces. One way to understand this process is by reading Brown’s novels through the lenses of disability since his representation of disability both illustrates the rhetoric of his time and yet actively adds to the debate by contradicting or questioning the rhetoric. 9 DISABILITIES: THE METAPHORICAL DEVICE FOR EVERYTHING NONAMERICAN As David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder demonstrate, disabilities have appeared in literature to cast race and gender in monstrous vocabulary; they call this the “double bind” of disabilities: while people with disabilities are kept at the margins of society, disabilities are used to represent other marginal groups in literature (Mitchell and Snyder “Introduction” 6). As such, “disability pervades literary narrative, first, as a stock feature of characterization and, second, as an opportunistic metaphorical device” (Mitchell and Snyder “Narrative Prosthesis” 274). This metaphorical device is used in literature to illustrate to the readers the evil nature of a character, to make a comment on human errors by showing characters punished through disability, or to make a larger moral statement on human frailties and virtues. Indeed, “disability lends a distinctive idiosyncrasy to any characters that differentiate themselves from the anonymous background of the norm” (Mitchell 16). Of course, literary works are not the only texts setting norms by describing the abnormal. Medical works use disabilities as a frustrating opposite to health since “disabled bodies prove undisciplined because they refuse to conform to the controlling narratives of medical or rehabilitative science;” in philosophical works, disability is “a metonym for that which refuses to conform to the disciplinary desire for order and rationality so apparent in empirical discourses” (Mitchell 16). Inevitably, then, the metaphorical device also bleeds into the political nativist rhetoric that uses medical and philosophical values to discern the welcome from the unwelcome body. As an example, in his “Narrative of the Late Massacres, in Lancaster County,” Benjamin Franklin 10 accuses the Irish settlers of being “Christian white savages” who will be afflicted by sleep talk “in the Delirium of a Fever” and unconsciously confess their crimes (206-207). Whether they appear in literature, medical works, philosophical tracts, or political pamphlets, disabilities (and the vocabulary of pathology that often accompanies them) are used to illustrate the problematic abnormal. In an anxious time when politicians felt that America was attacked both from aliens and from unideal Americans, disabilities took a prominent place in the political rhetoric. These anxieties and the rhetoric of the un-American show up in Brown’s novels and become visible in Brown’s work when explored through the lenses of disability. There are three main representations of disabilities in his novels: as signifier of evil Europeans coming to America, as signifier of unmanned Americans who do not fulfill the expectations of rationality and self-reliance because they have become influenced by evil Europeans, and as a destroyer of the illusion that seemingly rational Americans are somehow safe from madness and irrationality. Brown’s villains are (or appear) European and many of them have either physical or mental disabilities (such as sleep and memory disorders). They also corrupt or abuse American citizens, which leads the American characters to develop disabilities as well, ranging from blindness to homicidal madness. These disabled American characters, then, lose any possibility of matching the ideals of rationality and self-reliance that shaped the Early Republic’s vision of itself. Even worse, the European villains seem to excite a dormant mental disability in their American victims, thus creating doubt over the possibility of ever being safe from madness. Since these catastrophic turns of events feed on the readers’ already existing fear of population 11 degeneration, the gothic writer produces thrills with pre-existing, local anxieties, thus revealing his society’s internal malaise. While at times Brown seems to espouse the nativist rhetoric in his depiction of disabled characters, he also deconstructs the binaries of his society. This should not come as a surprise from someone depicting so many kinds of disabilities since “representations of disability… allow an interrogation of static beliefs about the body” (Mitchell 17). That is, by depicting disabled characters, Brown sets in motion a deconstruction of the signifiers that he seems to be defining, which then shakes the foundations of his society’s values. For example, rather than upholding the Enlightenment’s binary of reason/madness, which his anxious society used to differentiate between those degenerate and those who needed protection from the degenerate, Brown mixes the two opposites in Wieland to the point where the readers cannot tell them apart anymore. What this deconstruction of the reason/madness binary allows us to see is that “in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis à vis , but rather with a violent hierarchy” (Derrida, Positions 41). That is, reason is valued over madness in Brown’s society, but Brown overturns the binary. In Wieland, the characters’ reason drives them to madness as they insist on explaining everything rationally – to the point of becoming irrational. By the end of Wieland, the readers are not sure if this hierarchy holds any essential truth to it, nor if the two terms are actual opposites. Brown goes even further, though, and he deconstructs the binaries of American/alien and disabled/able that were at the center of the philosophical, political, and medical rhetoric of his time and that were used to define the American identity of the 12 1790s. By blurring the differences between an American (Edgar) and an alien (Clithero) in Edgar Huntly, and between blindness that disempowers and blindness that enables to truly see (as in the character of Dudley in Ormond), Brown forces his readers to question the binaries and to come to the realization that “to deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment” (Derrida, Positions 41). What Brown seems to articulate is that the binary terms should not be placed in a hierarchy of opposites, no matter what the nativist rhetoric of the Alien and Sedition Acts states, or what the medical profession is doing to categorize the population through the healthy/degenerate terms. To deconstruct these binaries, though, is to deconstruct the belief in human progress and perfectibility that upholds the concept of American moral and political superiority over other nations as stated by the nativists. Therefore, Brown uses and abuses the metaphors of disabilities present in the philosophical, medical, and political rhetoric of the Early Republic to create gothic thrills feeding on his society’s anxiety over population degeneration due to newcomers, unideal Americans, and the inescapable madness that threatens us all – thus describing an American society that is far more complex than the simplistic vision of the nativists. To explore fully how Brown achieves this feat by both echoing his society’s rhetoric and yet contradicting it, we must analyze his work through different lenses. 13 THE GOTHIC WRITER AS THE UPHOLDER AND THE DECONSTRUCTER OF BINARIES The Gothic genre got its official start with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), followed by the very successful gothic novels of Ann Radcliff (Botting 49, 63). Even though Radcliffian gothic novels have a reputation of being conservative in their effort to end with a return to the norm, explain supernatural terrors in a rational manner, and confirm the status quo, the genre was still a radical one before the end of the 1790s (Kilgour 42). Brown picked a genre whose “main concern is not to depict character but to create a feeling or effect in its readers by placing them in a state of thrilling suspense and uncertainty” (Kilgour 6). Through its thrills, the genre has the potential to wake its readers to their own reality and to give them a new perspective on the status quo’s allegedly common good. This genre, through extraordinary and supernatural effects, allows an exploration of the boundaries set by society and of the validity of those limits. Brown was not the only one to use this genre in this way. William Godwin (whom Brown admired and imitated) wrote Things as They Are; or The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), in which “the source of gothic terror… is… not a supernatural agent, but ‘things as they are,” which is the British social structure that impedes the goodness of individuals rather than promote it (Kilgour 57). Just like Godwin, Brown uses his own society as the setting for his gothic novels, promoting “the gothic’s critical potential for a revolutionary attempt to dismantle old systems of oppression and recover a tradition of freedom;” also just like Godwin, Brown “suggests a way of achieving such a revolution by running his enemies’ own weapons, mystery and suspense, against them” (Kilgour 14 57). In his gothic novels, Brown describes very familiar settings to his readers to force them to come to terms with the terrifying aspects of their own society. Brown’s novels, then, put forward a social and political critique since, after all, “this is what the hybrid, bastard form of the Gothic records: the undamming of dark forces that rush into and insidiously undermine the order of everyday life. This prospect is a terror but also of course a delightful promise” (Luckhurst xi). Therefore, the gothic genre is both thrilling and terrifying in showing the dark side of the readers’ own society. What is more, the romantic strand of gothic genre worked perfectly for Brown’s ambiguous heroes and heroines, since in this genre “the individual in question stands at the edges of society and rarely finds a path back into the social fold… usually male, the individual is outcast, part victim, part villain…. The disturbing and demonic villain, however, retains a darkly attractive, if ambivalent, allure as defiant rebel against the constraints of social mores” (Botting 92). As this thesis will show, Brown uses the ambiguity of this liminal genre to explore and expose his society’s contradictions and dangerous nativist rhetoric. Chapter Two of this thesis shows how Brown is a gothic writer who takes full advantage of his readers’ nativist anxieties to create gothic thrills through his representation of disabled characters. Living in a society whose political propaganda used disabilities and medical rhetoric to exclude the unwelcome, Brown’s readers would have quickly recognized the tropes that Brown uses to mimic that rhetoric. In novels such as Ormond and Arthur Mervyn, Brown represents disability as a metaphor for negative signifiers that would be easily decodable to his readers, and thus tricks his readers into stories that seem to confirm every point from the nativists’ anxieties. In Ormond, the 15 heroine’s father, Dudley, becomes blind, and this disability is a direct consequence of Dudley’s not upholding the Franklinian values of industriousness. Far from being the self-made man who matches the national values of self-reliance, Dudley was unmanned even before his blindness; his disability can therefore be interpreted as underscoring his nature, but also as a punishment, which is a rhetorical device that is recurrent in sentimental literature. Dudley, reduced to poverty by his own fault, has become degenerate, irrational, and unable to take an active part in the national project. Similarly, Welbeck, the evil European antagonist in Arthur Mervyn, has a physical disability that should alert the attentive reader to his hidden evilness. This, of course, leads the readers into experiencing the gothic thrills of recognizing their own society as the setting for these twisted plots. The fact that Brown uses nativist tropes and recognizable settings becomes important once we explore in the next chapters how the predictable patterns deviate and lead the readers into questioning their validity. Chapter Three analyzes sympathy in Edgar Huntly, a novel rich in mental instability. In this novel, disability as a metaphor appears as sleepwalking, and it marks both the degenerate alien and the degenerated American. Edgar, the American hero of the novel, insists on trying to cure the Irish, insane, murderer Clithero, who contaminates Edgar’s mind; by sleepwalking, Edgar goes on to lose his self-restraint and to perform excesses. Brown here uses the rhetoric of nativism, doctors, and the American exceptionalism of 1790s with all of its anxiety through the common theme of disability as a metaphor for the degenerate and the unwelcome. Once again, Brown uses the nativist tropes of sick, evil foreigners and sick, unideal American citizens, and he illustrates an 16 important Early Republic ideal: sympathy. However, this seemingly nativist tale contains a transgressive message: the nativist politics of sameness (based on feeling sympathy towards those we can identify with) is a politic of exclusion towards those who do not fit the norm. Brown illustrates how the Early Republic’s rhetoric is intolerant of diversity and he leads the readers into identifying with the Other, thus blurring the differences between the us/them binary so dear to the nativists. Chapter Four focuses on Wieland and demonstrates how Brown’s use of disabilities is not only underscoring and contradicting the rhetoric of its time, but also deconstructing it. In Wieland, Brown deconstructs the dichotomous worldview of the nativists, so that madness and reason cannot be easily separated anymore. He goes even further and debunks the systems of knowledge that lead to one to believe there are clear difference between ourselves and the Other. This leads to the conclusion that immigrants are not the real danger to the United States, but rather the Early Republic’s perception of the world through simplistic and contradictory binary systems that hold America as superior to other nations. Even worse, Brown hints that American citizens might already be all contaminated by madness. When Clara states “that this madness, if madness it were, had affected Pleyel and myself as well as Wieland” (Wieland 137), she insinuates to the readers that the narrator and themselves might be just as mad as Theodore Wieland. Instead of creating Enlightened and soothing binaries of rationality and madness, Brown plays with the tenets that built the Early Republic as a beacon of rationality: he illustrates how freedom can lead to madness, and he shatters the myth that, as long as the evil foreigners are kept out, the United States will remain safely self-controlled. 17 Chapter Five continues the deconstructive analysis of Brown’s novels, by highlighting how Brown seems to destroy every binary he sets up. The first binary to be deconstructed is the American/European one: many of the heroes have European origins (Constantia, Wieland, Arthur); the evil Europeans are not really Europeans (the “British” Craig is from Portsmouth and the “Irish” Carwin is from Pennsylvania); in fact, the evil Europeans are not that evil (Welbeck’s American associates are far more depraved than this forger from Liverpool), and Europe is a place of rest for most of the heroes after their American gothic terrors. Even further, Brown deconstructs the disabled/able binary, by showing that disabilities are not disabling: it is only by becoming blind that Dudley really sees himself and Ormond. Finally, we will demonstrate how Brown brings down the binaries of the American-Rational-Able-Hero/Alien-Irrational-Disabled-Villain. If reason and madness are not clearly discernible, if disabilities lose their meaning as negative signifier, and if both immigrants and upper class American-born citizens seem to switch back and forth between the opposite terms of all binaries, the anxious belief that keeping the “bad elements” out will save the nation from physical and mental degeneracy gets jeopardized. Brown illustrates his society’s failings in values and worldview, he demonstrates that the us/them binary cannot exist since both concepts are intermingled, and he calls for an acceptance of the complexity and imperfection of the human condition. Ambiguity is central to Brown’s work because it helps him to illustrate the pitfalls of wanting to create clear-cut binaries: if we want to separate the welcome from the unwelcome, we are all in danger of not meeting the standard. 18 At the end of the deconstruction of Brown’s works, what one is left with is the suspicion that Brown’s underlining message is that the binary of disable/able does not really exist since we are all already disabled. After all, even though Carwin and Clithero bring out the American characters’ hidden desires, fears, and irrationalities, those desires, fears, and irrationalities were already present in Wieland’s and Edgar’s psyche before Carwin’s and Clitheros’ arrival. And, after all, that might be exactly what Brown illustrates in his work. The idea that the American rational heroes are just as “degenerate” as the European villains might be the scariest thrill a gothic writer could come up with during the 1790s’ anxious nativism. This thesis argues that Brown’s representations of disabilities mimic the tropes of nativist propaganda and rhetoric to tap into the readers’ anxieties created by that propaganda; however, the entertaining thrills of recognizing their own society leads the readers into the terrifying thrills of witnessing the pitfalls and intolerance of their society. Through his ambiguous use of disabilities, Brown illustrates the problems that are central to a society based on binaries set to exclude the Other. Through a method that is very similar to deconstruction, Brown leads his readers into considering that they might already be degenerate physically and mentally, that it is impossible to separate ourselves from the Other, and that refusing to accept human imperfection means creating a society where we are all at risk of not meeting the norm. 19 Chapter 2 DISABILITIES AND METAPHORS IN ORMOND AND ARTHUR MERVYN Charles Brockden Brown consistently upholds and confuses recognizable tropes of the literature, philosophy, and politics of his times. As this chapter will demonstrate, one can recognize evil and flawed characters through Brown’s use of disabilities that reflect the tropes used in other literary works and nativist propaganda. Focusing on the representation of disability in Arthur Mervyn (1798-1799), readers can read this novel as a straightforward nativist tale since disabilities show up to unmask the evil European, which creates thrills of terror as the hero is unaware of the villain’s evilness, while the readers are warned to it immediately through a telling physical disability. Similarly, in Ormond (1799), the unideal American character is punished through blindness, which Brown describes as “eternal dark” (Ormond 15), thus again leading his readers to indulge in the gothic pleasures of imagining the terrifying punishment that could happen to them if they ever strayed from the ideal of Americanness set by people such as Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush. However, even though Brown uses predictable patterns and tropes to create gothic thrills by tapping into the anxieties of his readers who lived under the brainwashing propaganda of the nativists, he also leads the patterns in contradictory and ambiguous directions, thus leaving his readers questioning the validity of said patterns. While the rest of this thesis will demonstrate how Brown turns the rhetoric upside down and deconstructs the nativist metaphors he sets up, the main focus of this chapter is to demonstrate how Brown takes advantage of the rhetoric of his times to make 20 the novels’ society recognizable as the readers’ own society. The fact that the readers can recognize the novels’ society and rhetoric as their own becomes important once Brown deconstructs the patterns and leads the readers into questioning their validity. The rhetoric of the Early Republic juggled difficult contradictions of both calling America “the most perfect society now existing in the world” (Crèvecoeur 41) and of describing America’s perfection as something fragile in need to be protected from contamination. The overlapping of the belief that America had “a special mission… as a guiding beacon for the oppressed peoples of the world” (Sharp 70-71) when combined with the fear that the waves of radicals coming to the United States were posing a threat to American identity led to anxieties that shaped every aspect of American society. While Benjamin Franklin’s 1755 infamous lines on German immigrants making “Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens” (The Papers of Benjamin Franklin) show that fear of foreigners invading the New World had been a recurring Anglo preoccupation, in the 1790s the United States cloaked their nativist anxiety with medical discourse of purity and health of the population. Although the late nineteenth century is often seen as the century giving rise to eugenics and social hygienists, the medical vocabulary (and the power it conferred upon those who stood on the healthy side of the socially-constructed binary) started seeping into the political discourse during the eighteenth century. Eminent doctors like Benjamin Rush listed the defective characteristics of human life around the globe, such as the “deficiency of ideas” of Native Americans and Africans having “their understandings and passions… in a torpid state” (164, 165), and he drew sweeping nationalistic conclusions that “in no part of the human 21 species, is animal life in a more perfect state than in the inhabitants of Great Britain, and the United States of America” (167). Of course, not every American lived up to such elevated standards, which in turn heightened the anxiety about a potential population degeneration. In addition, this discourse of pseudo-science with nationalist interests also targeted unwelcome immigrants perceived as a health concern for the fitness of the American population. Humphrey Marshall’s 1798 poem, “The Aliens: a Patriotic Poem,” describes two classes of immigrants, the welcome and the unwelcome type: “of aliens, there are e’en two; / It is proper to distinguish those, / From the other; a malignant crew” who is bent on the mission “to poison our minds, with false speeches” (qtd. in Gardner 58-59). The fear of radical foreigners contaminating the minds of Americans and spreading their diseased desires for anarchy in the United States is a leitmotif of the antiIlluminati pamphlets, a propagandist rhetoric that was very present in Brown’s society. 1 The result of these politico-medical anxieties led to the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798), which increased the President’s power to arrest citizens and deport foreigners with radical political ideas, and the language surrounding the acts reflects how, in the late eighteenth century, political and medical discourses became increasingly harder to untangle. As Eric Wolfe points out, “one of the crucial words in the Federalist rhetoric of the period, and one that suggests the Federalists’ obsession with national unity, is purity. The Alien and Sedition Acts were designed to purify the body of the nation by expelling dangerous The French Revolution with its reign of Terror only fueled the anti-foreigners’ propaganda with its extremisms and violence. The anti-foreigners pamphleteers constantly make references to the threat of a French invasion. 1 22 aliens and to purify the voice of the nation by suppressing oppositional speech” (433). To be a fit American or a welcome immigrant meant to be politically fit (meaning not a radical), which would then reveal a physical and mental fitness, which in turn was a condition to achieve civic and moral fitness. Indeed, as demonstrated by the Naturalization Act of 1798, which increased the years necessary for citizenship, and which was “an act that wedded the medical discussions of morality with a highly restrictive residency requirement” (Murison 253), the concepts of political and medical fitness could not be seen as separate anymore. Colleen Terrell offers an interesting insight on how doctors and politicians relied on the same vocabulary through her analysis of how Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin both used the term “republican machines” to describe human organisms. Rush’s famous words, “I consider it is possible to convert men into republican machines… to perform their parts properly, in the great machine of the government of the state” (92), fit perfectly in the eighteenth century’s vision of the world as a precisely constructed mechanism. Just like Rush, Franklin declares that “as Man is a Part of this great Machine, the Universe, his regular Acting is requisite to the regular moving of the whole” (Autobiography 324). Both men use mechanical vocabulary to articulate a concept that would be impossible to define as solely medical, political, moral, or civic. Rush’s medical rhetoric on the term “republican machines” brought together “mechanism and biology… in the service of the Enlightenment’s belief in the perfectibility of man, rationalizing methods of pedagogy and moral improvement” (Terrell 102). Similarly, in his Autobiography, Franklin “aims for a mechanical regularity of behavior, a certain 23 standard of ethical action, which is measured, even, and predictable” (Terrell 118). Both men visualized the human body and mind as a mechanical organism that could be regulated to improve not only the individual’s health, but the individual’s society as well. That is, even though Rush and Franklin talked about civic duty and morality, their instructions for political and social improvement took a medical approach on how to lead one’s life in order to regulate one’s machine (i.e. one’s body). The idea that the body is a machine that can be regulated, though, sets standards of health that point an accusing finger towards those who apparently fail to regulate themselves. Thus, bodies lose their humanity to become objects to be perfected for the individual’s and the common good. Those who could not regulate their bodies to the standards set by Franklin and Rush became the irregular machines within society, lacking not only in their health but also in their moral and civic duty since both Franklin and Rush equated a regulated body with a regulated citizenship. In this moment of contradictions, when the new nation tried to define itself, its values, and its citizens, and when it feared that its population was at risk of degeneration, the vocabulary that the new nation utilized to define what is – or what should be – an American became increasingly pathological. Unsurprisingly, this pathological vocabulary created strict binaries where disability was set as the opposite of ideal Americanness. This seems inevitable for a country that rested its national identity on the Enlightenment’s values of the perfectibility of human machines. Indeed, the binary-spouting discourse of the Enlightenment created a human hierarchy of all human societies moving from the state of nature to a social contract where proof of this human progression rested just as much on 24 cultural/economical/social production as on the characteristics of one’s body.2 One does not have to go any further than the sentence “all men are created equal” from slave owner Thomas Jefferson to see the Enlightenment binaries at work, setting skin color and gender as visible body markers of those deserving or underserving of civil rights. Dorinda Outram argues that “this contradiction between support for supposedly universal rights, and the actual exclusion of large numbers of human beings from the enjoyment of those rights, is central to, and characteristic of Enlightenment thought” (121). Therefore, the values and language of the Enlightenment did nothing to liberate Western thought from its dependency on binaries, and this dichotomic thinking became crucial for the Early Republic’s nationalistic project; this, in turn, would have important consequences on the role of disabilities in the nation’s politico-medical discourse. As Rosemarie GarlandThomson argues in her seminal book Extraordinary Bodies, “constructed as the embodiment of corporeal insufficiency and deviance, the physically disabled body becomes a repository for social anxieties about such troubling concerns as vulnerability, control, and identity” (6). That is, disability becomes a way to funnel the abstract anxieties of nationalism towards a visible difference from the norm. One of the reasons why disability became the representation of the unwelcome is because it defiantly counters some of the American values informed by the philosophers of the Enlightenment such as self-reliance, self-restraint, and rationality. Indeed, “freighted with anxieties 2 The concept of the noble savage from Enlightenment philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot illustrates the philosophers’ idea that all human societies were moving on the same progress line towards “civilization,” which ended with European societies. The fact that the noble savages were nonwhite linked physical differences to “civilized” progress. For a hierarchical list of human groups moving from the apes and ending with – no surprise! – the Europeans, see Charles White’s The Regular Gradation of Man (1799). 25 about loss of control and autonomy that the American ideal repudiates, ‘the disabled’ become a threatening presence” (Garland-Thomson 41). Even further, the way GarlandThomson describes how disabilities are perceived resembles the way the political discourse described unwelcome aliens: “bodies that are disabled can also seem dangerous because they are perceived as out of control. Not only do they violate physical norms, but by looking and acting unpredictable they threaten to disrupt the ritualized behavior upon which social relations turn” (37). Therefore, not only did disability vocabulary become useful to describe the unwelcome (be they disabled or foreigners), but it also had an important role in a nation-building society obsessed with defining democracy. Inevitably, this had important repercussions on the representations of disabilities in literary works. David Mitchell explains that “disability pervades literary narrative, first, as a stock feature of characterization and, second, as an opportunistic metaphoric device” that he coins as “narrative prosthesis” (15). Therefore, when disabilities show up in works of fiction (and, as we have seen in Chapter One, in the political tracts of the Early Republic) they are stand-ins for more abstract concepts. For example, as Mitchell illustrates, “blindness may represent the incapacity of humanity to see into the future; lameness can designate the crippling effects of social ideologies” (25). Therefore, it is not surprising to see disabilities show up in Brown’s novels as metaphors; what is surprising is that these metaphors both mimic and contradict nativist ideals. This quick overview of the 1790s’ political rhetoric, the anxieties tied to the idea of immigrants polluting American society, the intermingling of political and medical discourses, and the use of disabilities as metaphors in literary works is necessary if we 26 want to place Brown in his social context and use a New Historicist approach to analyze his novels. In particular, we need to look at how Brown used the paranoia and propaganda of his society to engage his readers with the thrills of gothic stories. Robert Levine’s argument in Conspiracy and Romance rests on his analysis of how Brown’s novels “engage the ‘provincial’ conspiratorial fears of his time” (16). Indeed, as we will see in Chapter Two and three and through our analysis of Ormond¸ Arthur Mervyn, and Edgar Huntly, Brown’s novels constantly echo the nativist rhetoric of the Early Republic, thus bringing the terrors of his novels very close to his readers’ everyday life. Most of Brown’s villains are Europeans (or appear more European than American). Levine points out how “Brown’s villains raise dark questions indeed about the futurity of a republic wherein ‘emigrants’ can, theatrically, fabricate identities as ‘Americans,’ all the while cloaking their origins, politics, and agendas” (16). Sometimes, though, a physical disability gives the attentive readers a visible clue signaling the disguised villain’s true nature, or it highlights the potential degeneration of an American character. This visual clue is just as useful for Brown’s contemporary readers as it is for his literary scholars. Toni Morrison argues in Playing in the Dark “that Americans choose to talk about themselves through and within a sometimes allegorical, sometimes metaphorical, but always choked representation of an Africanist presence” (1011). That is, even in works that seem unconcerned with race, the white characters’ definition of whiteness and Americanness rests on a binary racial system. Disability Studies scholars have a very similar approach to the analysis of literary representations of disabilities. Scholars reveal that even works that seem unconcerned with disability use disabled minor characters or 27 metaphorical disability vocabulary to create a contrast that will highlight the nondisability of the main characters and help the readers understand a social/political/philosophical message that is presented as a binary between the positive non-disabled concept and its negative disabled contrast. We can see this metaphor at play in Brown’s use of the yellow fever epidemic in his novels. The pathological vocabulary of the yellow fever in Brown’s two novels Ormond and Arthur Mervyn often stands in to signify themes that are not immediately concerned with the fever itself.3 Unsurprisingly for a time that frequently mixed political and medical concerns, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 launched politicians and doctors on debates on the sources of the disease, and the different sides of the debate revealed different political affiliations. While Jeffersonian doctors like Benjamin Rush argued that the yellow fever was a result of the filthy conditions of the city, the Federalist doctors insisted that the fever was brought by French immigrants fleeing the Haitian Revolution (Waterman 219). Both sides are as political as they are medical, since their medical solutions deal with stricter immigration laws or internal social reforms. Elizabeth Lamont demonstrates how the novels reveal Brown’s side of the debate: Brown did not believe that the French immigrants were at fault; instead, he believed that the real cause of the epidemic was tied to the individual lack of diet and healthy habits of Americans and French alike (108). However, the fever in the two novels does not just appear to allow Brown to express his politico-medical views. It also has a metaphorical significance that Fever as a metaphor in Brown’s novels has already been addressed in different ways by scholars. For example, some scholars argue that Brown uses the epidemic as a metaphor for the selfishness of capitalism and the corruption of the mercantile class. For more on the epidemic as a metaphor for economic and social corruption, see Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s This Violent Empire. 3 28 is linked with the heroes’ and heroines’ internal states. In both novels, the yellow fever appears around the time of the encounter of the hero or heroine with the villainous European, thus paralleling their turmoil and potential degeneration. The novel Arthur Mervyn starts with Dr. Stephen’s narrative about finding a sick young man in the streets of Philadelphia during the epidemic of the yellow fever. Stephen takes him home, and learns that the youth, Arthur Mervyn, left his father’s house in the country to start a new life in Philadelphia. Even though his neighbors warn Stephen of the danger of harboring the unknown young man and point to “the dangerous condition of [the] patient, and the dubiousness of his character” (Arthur Mervyn 8), the doctor does not feel that Arthur is a threat to him. However, he starts to have doubts when one of Stephen’s friends, Wortley, recognizes Arthur as connected to the man who ruined him – a European named Thomas Welbeck. Wortley calls Arthur a “young villain” (Arthur Mervyn 12), and pushes Stephen to find more information on his guest. The fact that Arthur refuses to break the promise of secrecy he made to Welbeck and to give any information of his whereabouts makes him in Wortley’s and the readers’ mind into an accomplice to the evil actions of Welbeck. Thus, with a hero infected by the fever and, possibly, infected by the depravity of Welbeck, starts a complicated novel of intrigues as Arthur retells his side of the story to Dr. Stephen. While Arthur recovers quickly from the fever, the readers will ponder for the rest of the novel if Welbeck’s evil influence has infected the hero, leading him astray beyond the possibility of recovery. In Ormond, another novel with the same setting of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the fever strikes at the worst possible time: when Dudley and his daughter 29 Constantia, reduced to ruin by the intrigues of the evil Craig and Ormond, are left without any possible protection and with limited survival options. The plot of the novel then slows down to allow Brown to illustrate his medical opinions on how to treat the fever (Constantia gets sick but her healthy habits save her; the French are accused of spreading the fever, but the obviously biased rumor disproves the accusation) to then bring Constantia into the vicinity of the evil European Ormond. Just as she was not immune to the fever, Constantia almost becomes infected by Ormond’s fascinating ways; she befriends the mysterious European and leaves the readers wondering about her potential fall until the end of the novel, where she kills Ormond to escape his attempted rape. Brown calls Constantia’s yellow fever infection a “trial” and he also describes Ormond’s attempt to rape her as a “trial” (Ormond 46, 216), underlining the similarities between the two experiences. Ormond’s infection is not only acting on Constantia’s mind but acting on her physical health as well. The rape is described in pathological vocabulary, paralleling the fever vocabulary; Ormond describes to Constantia the “contamination of thy purity” when he will rape her and warns her of the impossibility “of prevention or cure” to the violence that is about to happen (Ormond 216). However, because she was healthy, rational, and virtuous, Constantia does not succumb to either fever or a villainous seducer. While the fever was a real historical event during Brown’s life, and while it served Brown’s purposes to expound on his politico-medical ideas, it also served the gothic writer as a metaphor to lead the readers into an exploration of the hero’s mental and moral state, and of the heroine’s ability to withstand the perversion of the evil seducer. Brown’s linking of the fever with the evil European creates a recognizable 30 pattern to his readers: the metaphor of the yellow fever and the evil Europeans’ immoral infection taps right into the readers’ anxieties since they are the same rhetorical devices that nativist propagandists used to terrify their audience. This leads the readers into recognizing their own society in the novels and into feeling the thrills of terrors of seeing the worst nativist nightmares comes alive. The fever, however, is only one of the metaphors from the medical rhetoric used by Brown in these two novels; both novels also deal with physical disabilities as metaphors. In Arthur Mervyn, Brown uses a physical disability to highlight the evil nature of Thomas Welbeck, thus giving a clear message to his readers of the faults of that character. Thomas Welbeck, the novel’s antagonist, is an evil European who will stop at nothing to increase his fortune. He has gathered his fortune illegally, since “his wealth was the fruit of illicit practices. He was opulent, and the sources of his wealth unknown” (Arthur Mervyn 61). Brown immediately introduces Welbeck, who is from Liverpool, as having a face with “a foreign mould” (Arthur Mervyn 67, 41). Not only his face, but everything is foreign around him: his house is decorated in the French style, and he lives with a woman, Clemenza, who does not speak English (Arthur Mervyn 41). Beside his foreignness, which for the Early Republic readers might awaken the fears spread by nativist propaganda4, Welbeck is also distinguished by a physical disability – a disfigured hand – which is a literary signal that something is not quite as it should be with this The anti-Illuminati propaganda, especially, spread fear of foreigners. Timothy Dwight’s The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis is a perfect example of alarmist propaganda against mysterious foreigners (especially French) invading America with the sole goal of destroying its values and morals. Both Ormond and Arthur Mervyn have hints of Illuminati, even though Brown never explicitly mentions the secret society. For more on Brown’s use of the anti-Illuminati panic in his novels, see Robert S. Levine’s Conspiracy and Romance. 4 31 character. Because “disability lends a distinctive idiosyncrasy to any characters that differentiate themselves from the anonymous background of the norm” (Mitchell 16), attentive readers will not ignore this small imperfection on Welbeck’s Byronian beauty. Welbeck explains to Arthur that “my maimed hand, so saying he shewed me his right hand, the forefinger of which was wanting, will not allow me to write accurately or copiously. For this reason I have required your aid” (Arthur Mervyn 44). While Brown uses this physical disability as a novelistic strategy to advance the plot and link Arthur to the villain, it also alerts his readers that there is something wrong with Welbeck’s morality. Indeed, a disability in a character “seeks to lure the reader/viewer into the mystery of whether discernible defects reveal the presence of an equally defective moral and civil character” (Mitchell and Snyder, “Introduction” 13). Since Welbeck’s immorality has already been announced by Wortley at the beginning of the novel, his disability serves to certify Wortley’s judgment. Welbeck’s maimed hand underlines the true nature of this evil European character as a forger, a thief, and a seducer, which Arthur does not immediately see as he is himself seduced by Welbeck’s cosmopolitan savoir-faire and elegance. Unlike Arthur, however, the readers can easily spot the list of things that work in Welbeck’s disfavor (his foreignness, his disability, his mysterious wealth, and the negative stories against him) and experience the gothic thrills of having the naïve hero trust the villain and unknowingly assist him in his immoral adventures. As the rest of the thesis demonstrates, though, this sense of security of knowing who is evil and who is good never last for long in the novels since Brown constantly blurs the clear distinctions that his use of disabilities seem to make. Therefore, the recognizable pattern 32 becomes a trap, luring the readers into a sense of security that will shatter once the establish patterns deviate from the expected path. Physical disability also shows up in the novel Ormond, where Brown uses blindness as a typical metaphorical device to illustrate the consequences of being an unideal American. The novel starts with the description of Dudley, the father of the heroine Constantia, who seems to be the personification of Benjamin Franklin’s most horrifying nightmare. Dudley does not uphold the Franklinian values of industriousness, and he spends his youth in Europe training to be a painter (Ormond 5). Forced to take over his father’s business, Dudley hires Craig – an American thief posing as a newly arrived European immigrant in search for work – to take over the business duties. Dudley trusts Craig immediately: “Mr. Dudley did not require much time to deliberate. In a few days, the youth was established as a member of his family, and as a coadjutor in his shop… he was able to relieve his master of most of the toils of his profession… [and Dudley] placed more absolute reliance on the fidelity of his dependant [sic]” (Ormond 8). Of course, this naïve trust, guided by a desire to avoid work, leads to the inevitable demise of Dudley: Craig steals his money and leaves him penniless. As if poverty were not enough to highlight the error of Dudley’s ways, Brown punishes the character even further with blindness. Dudley’s unideal manhood is represented physically through a disability. The description of Dudley’s situation after he becomes blind shows how Brown illustrates blindness as a terrible disempowering condition – and therefore a terrible punishment to inflict on a character: 33 He was now disabled from pursuing his usual occupation. He was shut from the light of heaven, and debarred of every human comfort. Condemned to eternal dark, and worse than the helplessness of infancy, he was dependant for the meanest offices on the kindness of others, and he who had formerly abounded in the gifts of fortune, through only of ending his days in a gaol or an alms-house. (Ormond 15) Described as helpless as an infant and completely dependent on others, Dudley has only two options: jail or charity. Following this discernible pattern of unideal Americanness being punished, the message to the readers seems obvious: for not wanting to work, Dudley is punished by not being able to do anything.5 The contrast between father and daughter only further underscores this moral, leading the readers more and more into a seemingly straight nativist tale. Constantia is a model of self-restraint and independence: “she had learned to square her conduct, in a considerable degree, not by the hasty impulses of inclination, but by the dictates of truth. She yielded nothing to caprice or passion” (Ormond 16). Even though Constantia will also go through some terrible adventures and almost get raped by the novel’s villain, her self-reliance and industry do not present these terrible adventures as punishments but as challenges that she is able to surpass and thus highlight her qualities. Once again, Brown echoes the values and beliefs 5 The choice of blindness as punishment, though, might reveal that Brown felt more sympathetic than vengeful towards Dudley. At the end of the eighteenth century, blindness was recast in sentimental literature “as an indication of inevitable suffering and misery” that was supposed to elicit sympathy from the reader (Klages 20). The moral of the story might be harsh, but it does not mean that Dudley does not deserve our sympathy. One of the reasons why Brown might not have felt so vengeful towards a failed businessman like Dudley might be that Brown trained in the law, only to disappoint his family and become a novelist. 34 of the nativists through metaphors of disability, thus using his society’s own rhetoric as a source for gothic terrors. The metaphorical use that Brown makes of blindness follows predictable philosophical and literary patterns, and was therefore easily recognizable to his contemporary readers. After he goes blind, Dudley virtually disappears from the story as a character. This use of a blind man as having no real experience of the outside world, and who only exists to serve the author’s needs, is very similar to the use of the “the Hypothetical Blind Man” of the European philosophers arguing on the role of sensation on epistemology (Kleege 522). In particular, John Locke, with his concept that “there appear not to be any ideas in the mind before the senses have conveyed any” (Locke 141), uses disabilities to ponder on philosophical questions.6 In Ormond, Brown’s use of blindness to incapacitate Dudley and to cut him off from the world parallels Locke’s ideas that the absence of sight gives a man no real experience of the world, leaving him unable to comprehend what is happening around him—that is, unable to reason. Once blind, Dudley’s physical degeneration represents his inability to take an active part in his survival, his civic duty, or his daughter’s life. In both novels, Brown also follows predictable literary expectations as to his use of disabilities. David Mitchell lists the steps that usually happen in literary use of disability as a metaphorical device. It is worth looking in detail since this schema is used in both Ormond and Arthur Mervyn: In particular, Locke’s reflection on Molyneux’s question (could a blind man, cured of his blindness, immediately recognize a sphere and a cube only by sight?) influenced all of the major philosophers of the Enlightenment. William Paulson’s Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France describes how philosophers such as Voltaire, Berkeley, and Diderot grappled with this question since the various answers to it helped the philosophers articulate their positions on sensory epistemology and Locke’s concept of tabula rasa. 6 35 First, a deviance or morphed difference is exposed to a reader; second, a narrative consolidates the need for its own existence by calling for an explanation of the deviation’s origins and formative consequences; third, the deviance is brought from the periphery of concerns to the center stage of the story to come; and fourth, the remainder of the story seeks to rehabilitate or fix the deviance in some manner. This fourth move toward the repair of deviance may involve an obliteration of the difference through a cure, the rescue of the despised object from social censure, the extermination of the deviant as a purification of the social body, or the revaluation of an alternative mode of experience. (Mitchell 20) In Ormond, Dudley’s blindness is the “morphed difference… exposed to a reader,” and, following a classical pattern of disability as punishment, the readers interpret it as Dudley’s punishment for being an unideal American and for having lost the wealth that would have paid for a cure. While the character of Dudley is not center-stage after he becomes blind, his blindness is a major problem for the heroine since Constantia finds herself alone in dealing with both poverty and the villainous Ormond. The deviance is fixed once Dudley has learned the error of his ways; Constantia’s industriousness and reason become a model for Dudley, and “he resigned himself with pleasure to her guidance” (Ormond 129). He is rewarded by getting his wealth and his vision back.7 In The surgeon who performs the operation to cure Dudley’s cataract is worth analyzing with some attention. He is described as “one of the numerous agents and dependants [sic] of Ormond and had been engaged to abdicate [Europe] for purposes widely remote from his profession” (Ormond 129). This is quite a shady description of an eye surgeon, but a description that fits the beliefs of its historical period. The literature and drama between 1760 to 1830 staged many blind characters in need of a cure. Most often, the cure came from an oculist who was “an ambiguous figure in this literature, sometimes a virtuous hero of enlightened 7 36 Arthur Mervyn, Welbeck’s maimed hand is exposed to the reader almost as soon as the hero meets the villain; the origins of this disability are never explained, and it never takes center stage in the story. However, if we interpret the disability as a metaphor for Welbeck’s corrupt soul, the link between soul and maimed hand follows a predictable pattern. Welbeck has a corrupt soul from the beginning of his existence, starting with his father’s trade in Liverpool, a city with an economy centered on the slave trade (Arthur Mervyn note 8). Welbeck’s on-and-off contact with Arthur has an important role in Arthur’s coming of age novel. The readers and Arthur find out that, besides being a seducer, Welbeck stole large sums of money and is a forger. While Welbeck never appears to be who he really is, his maimed hand is a signal to the readers (and to Arthur, even though he is much slower to understand it) of Welbeck’s real character. Welbeck’s corrupt soul, represented by his maimed hand, cannot be cured, rescued, or revaluated in any ways; the only choice left to Brown is to erase it from the novel through Welbeck’s death. These easily-recognizable patterns are there to trick readers, though, since in both novels, Brown is not so much concerned with the physical disability he gives his characters, but rather with tapping into his readers’ fears through predicable patterns of representing disabilities. Brown’s readers lived in a society obsessed with medicopolitical rhetoric that used the vocabulary of disabilities to mark the unwelcome. Therefore, the evil European’s maimed hand and the unideal blind American become science, sometimes a vain old schemer, sometimes an out-and-out charlatan” (Paulson 73). Dudley’s oculist does not quite fit any of these descriptions perfectly since he is a successful surgeon, but also a fugitive from the law. His ties with Ormond, however, could make the readers lean more towards identifying him as a “vain old schemer.” 37 stock characters that resonate with nativists’ warnings about population degeneration. Thus, Brown’s fairly predicable use of literary patterns and of the political rhetoric of his time works well in creating gothic thrills for his readers and in making them recognize the novels’ society as their own. Brown achieves that both through echoing the medicopolitical rhetoric of the Early Republic and positioning his tales in recognizable American settings. As Ezra Tawil argues, Brown’s use of recognizable American settings gave his readers “a front-row seat for the manifold and wondrous ‘disorders’ and ‘diseases’ paraded before them,” and this proximity both heightened their terrors and their readerly pleasure (119). One of the reason for illustrating the readers’ worst nativist fears is to thrill them into the terrors of gothic novels: these fictitious nightmares are not so distant from the readers’ reality and thus lead them to imagine themselves in the same situation. Thus, the predicable patterns become a tool of the gothic writer: the readers can predict who are the evil characters even before the heroes can identify them as villains and they can feel their prejudices against sketchy foreigners vindicated. However, Brown’s novels echo recognizable literary, philosophical, and political rhetorical patterns to trick the readers: the more one tries to stick to the nativist rhetorical patterns in Brown’s novels, the more one gets lost as the patterns lead to contradictions. At the end of each novel, Brown’s readers are left to decide for themselves if a character was really evil or virtuous – whether that character had a disability or not. As we shall demonstrate in the rest of this thesis, Brown’s use of disabilities in a nativist fashion is deceptive since it is meant to trick his readers and plunge them into a much more ambiguous and complex worldview than that of the nativists. 38 As an example of Brown’s ambiguous use of disabilities, one should look no further than Arthur Mervyn, a novel where both minor characters and the hero present unclear disabilities or health issues, thus scrambling the medico-political message carefully articulated in nativist propaganda. Besides Welbeck, there is another character in Arthur Mervyn who has a visible physical disability, but this metaphor is much harder to decode than the villain’s. During the yellow fever epidemic, Arthur comes back to Philadelphia from the countryside, looking to rescue a young man named Wallace, and walks through a scene of death and abandonment. During his search in an empty house, Arthur finds a dying man and sees himself in a mirror. Suddenly, behind him, appears the figure of a black man described as having “one eye, a scar upon his cheek, a tawny skin, a form grotesquely misproportioned, brawny as Hercules, and habited in livery” (Arthur Mervyn 113). The man hits Arthur and leaves him for dead, and the novel never reveals with certainty if the black servant acted to protect the dying man thinking that Arthur was a robber, or if he was himself robbing his dying master and hit Arthur so as to not get caught.8 Again, here Brown makes a direct reference to the heated debates going on in his society. Like the French, African Americans were believed by some to be immune to the fever and, as they stayed behind while the city’s population fled during the epidemic, the debates raged and depicted them as either selfless caregivers or as monstrous grave robbers (Lynch 781). Even further into the day’s debates, the scar on his cheek connects the man to slavery, indicating that he might be a runaway slave or a runaways catcher 8 Even though Mr. Estwick, the man who almost buried Arthur alive on finding him unconscious in the room, explains that the servant was robbing his master, Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro point out that this explanation has more to do with the racial prejudices at the time of the fever than a valid testimony (Arthur Mervyn 115, note 5). 39 (Barnard and Shapiro, “Introduction” Arthur Mervyn xliii). Since Brown does not elucidate the reasons behind the man’s violence towards Arthur, the readers (and scholars) have only his physical description to try to make sense of him. Carroll SmithRosenberg interprets this mirror scene with Toni Morrison in mind, explaining that “European Americans had built their identities around a racist dyad that contrasted whiteness, virtue, civility, and productivity to blackness, savagery, licentiousness, and sloth” (Smith-Rosenberg 442). What is left out of this list of binaries between Arthur and the black man is the able/disabled one, since the black man only has “one eye.” 9 Frustratingly, Brown gives us too little information about this character to be able to interpret his disability as either a sentimental representation of black slaves’ suffering (popular in abolitionist propaganda) or as a proof of the character’s wickedness as robbing his dying master (popular in pro-slavery propaganda). Therefore, the predictable patterns of associating race, disabilities, and criminality do not help in any way the readers (or scholarly critics!) identify the true nature of this character. This ambiguity might be too quickly attributed to a fault in the novel, if it did not also show up for the novel’s hero. Arthur, with his self-appointed rescuing missions that only bring more problems to everyone and his apparent inability to distinguish evil characters from virtuous ones, is a very difficult character to interpret. Similarly as with all of Brown’s narrators, the 9 Failure to analyze what the physical disabilities might show about a character means potentially misreading the character. Sean X. Goudie, like Smith-Rosenberg, does not pay close attention to the black character’s disability. In “On the Origin of American Specie(s): The West Indies, Classification, and the Emergence of Supremacist Consciousness in Arthur Mervyn,” he contrasts Arthur’s unblemished face with “the monstrously scarred visage of the West Indian mulatto” (64), which means that he has already decided the origin and meaning of this character before he looked at what the scars might represent. 40 readers can never completely shake off the doubt that Arthur Mervyn is an unreliable narrator, whose self-narrated life story could be both an example of total naiveté of a country youth lost in the corruption of Philadelphia, or the story of a much darker character who is well aware of how to improve his own situation in life by pretending to be naive. 10 Contemporaneously to his ambiguous sense of morality, Arthur also has ambiguous health. He describes his family as sickly: “some defect in the constitution of [their] mother has been fatal to all” of Arthur’s siblings (Arthur Mervyn 14). This character, with a “constitution [that] has always been frail” (Arthur Mervyn 14) is however able to survive the yellow fever. The ambiguity of the character’s morality is underlined by his health issues since he is potentially sentenced to a “premature fate” (Arthur Mervyn 14) but ends up being strong enough to go on numerous adventures. Are the health issues indicating that Arthur’s virtuous nature keeps him safe through the many challenges he encounters, or are they a ticking bomb showing that the hero may degenerate physically as well as morally at any time? Brown leaves the readers to make up their own mind about many of his characters’ health and morality, even after he has set deceptively clear nativist tropes. Thus, the recognizable patterns only lead the readers into more ambiguity when they meet representations of disabilities that defy any definite reading or coded moral message. Therefore, Brown creates gothic thrills both by having his readers recognize the rhetoric they heard from nativists and leading them into The romantic gothic genre of Brown also plays a part in Arthur’s ambiguous morality, since the hero of the romantic gothic “stands at the edges of society and rarely finds a path back into the social fold… usually male, the individual is outcast, part victim, part villain… the disturbing and demonic villain, however, retains a darkly attractive, if ambivalent, allure as defiant rebel against the constraints of social mores” (Botting 92). 10 41 ambiguous directions to show that the patterns do not necessarily have any validity to them. Brown lived in a political period of binaries reinforced by Enlightenment ideas, and a literary and philosophical period where disabilities always meant something more than just disabilities. He uses the fear of his time about non-ideal Americans and evil immigrants to create gothic thrills, and his society’s anxieties shaped some of the representations of Europeans and disabilities in his novels. Thus, by tapping into their preexisting fears and anxiety, Brown leads his readers into recognizing their society, which creates both enjoyable and terrifying gothic thrills as they imagine themselves in the twisted plots. However, his novels are far from being works of propaganda offering an overly simplistic and nativist description of the Early Republic. In Ormond and Arthur Mervyn, disabilities and pathologies (such as the yellow fever epidemic) show up as a physical manifestation to represent corrupt Europeans and unideal Americans, but they also represent other more slippery signifiers that are much harder to decode in any simplistic nativist reading. In the next two novels we will analyze, Edgar Huntly and Wieland, Brown keeps creating gothic thrills through both predictable and contradictory representation of disabilities, but he creates the thrills through madness and the fear that no one is ever safe from mental degeneration – no matter the personal values, quantity of reason, years spent in a democratic society, or amount of Americanness. 42 Chapter 3 SYMPATHY, MADNESS, AND THE POLITICS OF SAMENESS IN EDGAR HUNTLY Neither a doctor nor a politician, but interested in these two fields through his personal connections and readings, Charles Brockden Brown takes part in the citizenship debates through his gothic novels. He argues in the preface of Edgar Huntly (1799) that the new national literature must focus on “the sources of amusement to the fancy and instruction to the heart, that are peculiar to ourselves” and which are “growing out of the condition of our country” (Edgar Huntly 3). What “grow[s] out of the condition” of the United States, though, is a mix of politics and medicine since the introduction to Edgar Huntly immediately links the nationalistic concerns for a new literature with sleepwalking, which Brown describes as “one of the most common and most wonderful diseases or affections of the human frame” (3). While this mixing of discourses might appear as peculiar to today’s readers, Brown’s novels are echoing the same mixed language of the political and medical tracts of the Early Republic. That is, Brown’s gothic novels are cultural products responding to, and created by, a specific culture. What is more, this exploration of their society’s inner workings gives Brown’s readers “a frontrow seat for the manifold and wondrous ‘disorders’ and ‘diseases’ paraded before them. If on the one hand this implied that American readers were symbolically susceptible to these disorders and subject to their terrors, they also—by virtue of the epistemological alchemy of the sublime—had a unique kind of proximity to its pleasures” (Tawil 119). 43 The new American literature created gothic thrills by echoing the specific fears of its readers to make them feel both scared and excited about their proximity to danger – and also to make them think about the contradictions and oversimplifications of the rhetoric that politicians and doctors were feeding them. Edgar Huntly looks like a conservative nativist tale, but it actually leads the readers into transgressing the ideals and standards set by the nativists. Transgression is central to the aims of gothic novels, which are “a play of ambivalence, a dynamic of limit and transgression that both restores and contests boundaries. This play of terms, of oppositions, indeed, characterizes the ambivalence of Gothic fiction: good depends on evil, light on dark, reason on irrationality, in order to define limits” (Botting 8-9). By using their own society as a gothic theatre, Brown forces his readers to plunge head first into the contradictions that arise from reductive nativist politics, the anxiety towards diversity that came out of nativist politico-medical rhetoric, and the intolerance towards non-normative the Other. The Early Republic was in the unusual position of having to form a nation made of immigrants from different parts of the world (at the time, the world meant chiefly Europe); one way to create a bond between these diverse people was through sympathy. In Letters From an American Farmer, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur illustrates how sympathy translated into bonding between different people when he describes Scottish immigrants arriving in Philadelphia. They looked lost and without friends, but soon “several citizens, impelled either by spontaneous attachments, or motives of humanity, took many of them to their houses” (Crèvecoeur 74). Sympathy served as the glue among all of these different people forming a new nation as “the idea of the American people as 44 a single unified body [was] made possible by imagining diverse individuals connected in a sympathetic chain” (Barnes 2). As the example from Crèvecoeur’s demonstrates, literature played an important instructive role on how “to participate in a fantasy of democracy that would fulfill its promise of equality by negotiating diversity in the cause of union” (Barnes 2). Sympathy appeared in all aspects of society, and in a society that did not differentiate between national and individual health, sympathy even showed up in medical works that had the dual goal of reinforcing the health of the population and of inspiring civic duty. In “The Influence of Physical Causes Upon the Moral Faculty,” Benjamin Rush urges people to promote morality (which he identifies as a synonym for Adam Smith’s “sympathy”) through the action of seeing others’ suffering. He explains that the hospital in Philadelphia is a place where we can see these “scenes of distress from poverty and disease” and where “the flame of sympathy, instead of being extinguished in taxes, or expiring in a solitary blaze by a single contribution, may be kept alive by constant exercise” (Rush 206). Similarly to Rush, in a letter to a friend, Charles Brockden Brown gives a definition of sympathy that depends on seeing: “pity or compassion is a sympathy or fellow-feeling with those that are afflicted. It is that emotion which is excited by the contemplation of Misery” (Collected Writings 151). Clearly, sympathy was perceived as the bond between citizens, and it depended on seeing other people’s suffering. While Rush and Brown explain how sympathy works through the vision of others’ suffering, they do not expound on the sine qua non condition for sympathy to happen: identification with the person suffering. Sympathy requires that we put ourselves 45 into other people’s shoes, which can only happen if we can perceive a similarity with other people; therefore, “sympathy converts otherness into sameness, organizing sentiments around the perception of familiarity and constructing a community of likeminded individuals” (Barnes 115). This in turn creates a paradox: sympathy in the Early Republic was used as a bond between different people, but it could only be successful if the different people were not too different from one another. Consequently, “sympathy can as easily become a method of exclusion… While an individual may be taught to see others as her– or himself, what she learns is that difference is to be negated rather than understood. A sense of self is created through identification with others, but only those others who can be proven in some way related to us” (Barnes 22). This situation is most problematic to the people who are routinely identified as different: immigrants and people with disabilities. This paradox of nationalism built on equality through conformity has not escaped Disability Studies scholars. The politics of sameness do not just result from sympathy but are a central concept for nationalism and the idea of the creation of a democratic society of equal citizens. The abstract notions of equality and nation depend on standards to define equal citizens since “the ideology of equality encourages sameness of condition and expression among democratic citizens” (Garland-Thomson 68). That is, equal citizens are those who conform to the norm – thus leaving out those who are abnormal in terms of gender, race, physical or mental difference, and country of origin. These are the very issues that the Early Republic was dealing with, and thus it is not surprising to see that the political and medical languages became unified in the nationalistic project. This led to the mixing of 46 definitions between physical fitness and moral and civic fitness. As Lennard Davis states, “the emphasis on nation and national fitness obviously plays into the metaphor of the body. If individual citizens are not fit, if they do not fit into the nation, then the national body will not be fit” (10). Throughout the national project of the Early Republic, the politico-medical discourse used the vocabulary of disabilities to attack what threatened the stability of the new nation: the non-conformist, the foreigner, the unwelcome. The Early Republic’s construction of a democratic society rested on binaries of those who could participate in the democratic process and those that were barred from it. After all, “democracy needs the illusion of equality, and equality needs the fiction of the equal and average citizen. So with the creation of representative democracy comes the need for an ideology that will support and generate the aims of normalcy” (Davis 104). The idea that “the person with disabilities is singled out as a dramatic case of not belonging” (Davis 105) is important in Brown’s novels. Disabilities, whether physical or mental, keep showing up in his plots to mark those who do not conform to the expected standards. The links between disability, nationalism, the politico-medical rhetoric of the time, and nativism’s politics of sameness are all at work in Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Edgar Huntly. Edgar Huntly is a novel that, like Ormond and Arthur Mervyn, can be read in a nativist light with disabilities used to signify the evil European corrupting American society and the unideal American who lets himself get corrupted. Once again, Brown follows easily-identifiable nativist tropes of the medico-political rhetoric to represent the unwelcome as disease and non-American, thus tapping directly into the nativist anxieties 47 of his readers. The main character, Edgar Huntly, investigates the murder of his friend Waldegrave and believes that a sleepwalking Irish servant has committed the crime. From the very beginning of the novel, Clithero is identified repeatedly as a foreigner, and this characteristic is immediately highlighted by Edgar as a proof of Clithero’s murder of Waldegrave. Listing the servants of Inglefield, Edgar separates them in term of nationality: “Inglefield has two servants, one of whom was a native of this district, simple, guileless and incapable of any act of violence. He was, moreover devoutly attached to his sect. He could not be the criminal. The other was a person of a very different cast. He was an emigrant from Ireland, and had been six months in the family of my friend” (Edgar Huntly 11). Edgar creates a binary between the native servant who “could not be the criminal” and the Irishman who – by the process of elimination – has to be the criminal. Looking for further proof of Clithero’s foreign identity, Edgar checks the catalogue listing the community’s members. As Martin Bruckner perceptively points out, Edgar’s perusal of the catalogue illustrates the Early Republic’s obsession with knowing the identity of its citizens (282). Going over the catalogue, Edgar insists again on Clithero’s foreignness and links this foreignness to the evidence of his criminality: “As I conned over the catalogue, I perceived that the only foreigner among us was Clithero. Our scheme was, for the most part, a patriarchal one. Each farmer was surrounded by his sons and kinsmen. This was an exception to the rule. Clithero was a stranger, whose adventures and character, previously to his coming hither, were unknown to us” (Edgar Huntly 12). Because he is unknown, non-native, and without family ties, Clithero is identified as the personification of everything that terrified the nativists as they saw the 48 waves of European radicals emigrating and mixing with the American population. While Edgar is wrong in designating Clithero as the murderer of Waldegrave, Clithero is not an innocent character since he came to the United States after having killed Wiatte, the evil brother of his benefactress, Mrs. Lorimer, and after having unsuccessfully tried to kill her. Edgar might have gone too quickly to impute the murder of Waldegrave to Clithero, but the seemingly straightforward nativist premise set by Brown leads the readers into considering that Edgar’s instinctive reaction to call the Irishman a murderer was not off base. Clithero might not be as villainous as Ormond, but there is something definitely suspicious about this character. Another trait that identifies Clithero as a murderer is that he is sick: a sure sign of a perturbed soul in the eighteenth century. Clithero has a mental disability that leads him into irrational and criminal acts, and this disability’s most noticeable symptom is sleepwalking. Both by the witness of others and by his own admission, Clithero “was considerably disturbed by restlessness and talking in his sleep” (Edgar Huntly 19). Edgar immediately connects this disability with criminality: “the incapacity of sound sleep denotes a mind sorely wounded. It is thus that atrocious criminals denote the possession of some dreadful secret” (Edgar Huntly 11). His sleepwalking reveals that Clithero is deeply deranged. When he attempts to kill his benefactress, Mrs. Lorimer, Clithero admits: “all within me was tempestuous and dark… I was haunted to despair by images of death, imaginary clamorous, and the train of funeral pageantry. … I paused on the brink of the precipice, as if to survey the depth of that phrensy that invaded me” (Edgar Huntly 55). All of this leads to the conclusion, as Clithero admits it himself, that he 49 suffers from “madness” (Edgar 57). Michel Foucault explains in Madness and Civilization that the concept of madness assumed its modern meaning during the eighteenth century: perceived as going against bourgeois values, madness was viewed as a public scandal that “showed men how close to animality their Fall could bring them” (68, 81). Undermining the Enlightenment’s belief of people’s ability to be self-reliant and self-controlled, madness was threatening because it “disclosed that underlying realm of unreason which threatens man and envelops –at a tremendous distance—all the forms of his natural existence” (Foucault 83). As a mental disability, madness shows up frequently in Brown’s novels, and its appearance inevitably leads to social chaos since Brown’s mad characters end up killing people. Clithero is sick because he is a murderer and he is a murderer because he is sick: in the eighteenth-century logic of the politico-medical discourse, this made perfect sense to Brown’s readers. Following the logic of a nativist reading of the tale, the disabled evil European corrupts the soul and mental state of the American hero since Edgar degenerates into sleepwalking and loses control of his self-restraint. However, Edgar’s degeneration is made possible by his own unidealness as an American. Instead of realizing that Clithero’s madness signifies a deranged soul, Edgar wants to help Clithero, which is what leads him into his own sleepwalking disturbances. Edgar, feeling pity and compassion for Clithero, keeps following the Irishman into the woods, obsessively trying to restore him to sanity – to the point where Edgar becomes deranged as well. As Caleb Crain points out, there is a connection between Edgar’s feeling sympathy and his descent into madness since “it was commonplace in the eighteenth century to compare the spread of sympathy to the spread 50 of disease” (121). Edgar’s fault, from a nativist point of view, is that he becomes obsessed in his sympathy for the dangerous foreigner, thus transforming this nationbuilding tool into a disease against the American population. The concept of sympathy as disease also brings up another metaphorical layer to the yellow epidemic novels of Ormond and Arthur Mervyn. Both Constantia and Arthur show too much sympathy for the villains and get infected; what saves them is that they do not fall into such obsessive sympathy as Edgar does: they recognize in time that the foreigner is too unsalvageable to become identifiable as an American citizen. In these three novels, Brown uses the nativist rhetoric to lead his readers into experiencing the thrills of seeing their worst nationalistic fears coming to life. In Edgar Huntly, the foreigner infects the mind of the unideal American character, and Edgar soon starts to sleepwalk and becomes mad and agitated “with the misguided fury of a maniac” (Edgar Huntly 124). Even his friend and fatherfigure Sarsefield notices the change in him when he sees him sleepwalking, arguing that “none but a man, insane or asleep, would wander forth so slightly dressed” (Edgar Huntly 166). Edgar wakes up in a cave, kills and devours panthers, and brutally murders Native Americans. Then, Edgar comes back home where he finds Sarsefield who is back from Ireland as the new husband of Mrs. Lorimer. Against Sarsefield’s advice, Edgar insists on trying to cure Clithero, only to push him into a last insane killing attempt against Mrs. Lorimer, who miscarries. Clithero finally dies and releases Edgar from his illusion of curing the Irishman. Of course, the problem is not that Edgar feels sympathy for Clithero, but that his identification with him goes too far: he cannot stop following Clithero, thus losing his selfhood, which leads him into a primitive devolution and madness (Sugar 39). 51 Even further, Caleb Crain argues that Edgar is obsessed with the death of Waldegrave, whose “haunting” becomes a “deformation of sympathy” (135-136). Clearly, Edgar’s misguided sympathy has gone wrong even before Clithero’s arrival; the theme of the American hero being deranged well before the arrival of the European is a recurring – and terrifying! – theme in Brown’s novels. Edgar Huntly has all the ingredients of a classic nativist tale: an evil, insane, European villain; a naïve American hero who becomes degenerated as punishment for his trust towards the villain; the dramatic ending of a miscarriage to illustrate the consequences for the new nation’s population if European unruly immigrants are not treated with the necessary firmness (or, in unsalvageable cases such as Clithero’s, excluded outright). Each of these elements mixes political and medical concepts: madness to represent the evilness of the immigrant, sleep disorders to highlight the degeneration of the American youth, and a miscarriage to illustrate a nativist political message. Therefore, it is not surprising that many critics have read Edgar Huntly as a nationalistic tale in tune with the anxiety and the rhetoric of the Alien and Sedition Acts and as a novel that uses the medical vocabulary of the time to make a political comment. In particular, Jared Gardner’s Master Plots: Race and the Founding of an American Literature focuses on Edgar Huntly as a national novel reflecting the same rhetoric as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Gardner explains that “Edgar Huntly describes how the act of exorcising the alien (be he Indian or, as we shall see, Irish) from the land allows American identity to come into existence” (54). Gardner’s analysis of the novel demonstrates how the action and characters follow closely the political rhetoric of 52 Brown’s society; for example, he argues that the fact that Edgar and Clithero are doubles reveals the anxiety hiding behind the Acts of having aliens disguising themselves among the American population (63). Gardner highlights the mixing of political and medical discourses that happens in the novel since he describes Edgar’s mistake in trusting the alien in medical terms: Edgar’s belief in his ability to transform the degenerate European into an American has been belied again and again. It is this belief that leads to all his dilemmas, making him vulnerable to the contagion of both the alien and the Indian, as he inherits Clithero’s disease … Edgar remains infected… he remains sufficiently contaminated to fulfill, unconsciously, the hostile aims of both the Indian and the alien in his unwitting murder of Sarsefield’s child. (Gardner 77) By using the same medical terms to describe political failings as the medical terms present in the novel, Gardner parallels the politico-medical discourse of the time. He argues that Brown wrote a nativist novel since its conclusion is that “hunting the alien from the nation” becomes “the machinery of citizenship” for American citizens (Gardner 80). As a nativist novel, Edgar Huntly is a thrilling gothic adventure in the American wilderness that warns its readers of the dangers lurking all around them. However, and this is where Brown’s notoriously ambiguous messages on the rhetoric and values of his time complicate simple nativist readings of his novels, what makes Clithero insane in the first place, and what exacerbates his mental instability, is the same thing that was used to build the Early Republic into a nation: sympathy. 53 The traumatic events that triggered Clithero’s madness happened in Ireland because of the sympathy of Mrs. Lorimer. Clithero comes from a peasant Irish family, and he is taken under the protection of Mrs. Lorimer, a lady who lives “in the manor of which [Clithero’s] father was a vassal” (Edgar Huntly 27). Clithero becomes her steward, and Mrs. Lorimer is such an ideal benefactress that she wants Clithero “to become a member of her own family” (Edgar Huntly 29). Mrs. Lorimer does all this for Clithero because “of her candour, her cheerfulness, and her benevolence” (Edgar Huntly 29) – that is, her sympathy. She does not see class differences between herself and Clithero, and thus she can identify with him, going so far as to promise her niece Clarice in marriage to him. However, there are two characters who are unable to forget about class differences: Clithero and Mrs. Lorimer’s twin brother Arthur Wiatte. Even though Mrs. Lorimer insists on making Clithero’s her equal, he never sees himself as such. When he falls in love with Mrs. Lorimer’s niece Clarice, Clithero views their marriage as impossible, calling the difference between their social ranks as “the barrier that existed in the present case,” which he finds “insurmountable” (Edgar Huntly 37). Similarly, Wiatte, is far from being as liberal-minded as his sister: he forbids Mrs. Lorimer from marrying the non-aristocratic Sarsefield because Wiatte “set no value on any thing [sic] but the means of luxury and power” (Edgar Huntly 33); therefore, he would never accept to let Clithero marry his daughter Clarice. Wiatte stays true to the feudal and classist ideas of society, and he is the symbolic reminder that Clithero will never be an equal among this aristocratic family. Even though Clithero recognizes the evilness in Wiatte’s character, he fundamentally agrees with Wiatte’s feudal worldview. Clithero never lets 54 go of classicist language to describe his worldview: he knows “the essential distinctions that subsist” between him and his “lady” (Edgar Huntly 37). After he kills Wiatte in selfdefense, Clithero decides to kill Mrs. Lorimer so that his benefactress will not “awake but only to perish at the spectacle of my ingratitude” (Edgar Huntly 58). As Justine Murison claims in her article “The Tyranny of Sleep: Somnambulism, Moral Citizenship, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly” Clithero’s madness “is fundamentally that of a colonial Irish subject in the British Empire” (264). Clithero’s aristocratic ideology is too ingrained for him to allow him to let go of his vassal role and to identify with the likes of Mrs. Lorimer. Try as he may, he does not have Mrs. Lorimer’s ability to let go of the feudal ideology, and Mrs. Lorimer’s failing in recognizing his inability to feel as an equal drives him to insanity. Brown here may allude to a common fear of his society that too much freedom may lead to mental issues. Benjamin Rush, for example, stated that in “despotic countries… where life and property are secured only by the extinction of the domestic affections, madness is a rare disease” (qtd. In Murison 254). Therefore, Mrs. Lorimer’s egalitarian spirit in a despotic feudal country led to too much freedom, which in turn led to insanity. Mrs. Lorimer’s insistence that Clithero be her equal is a sort of violence towards Clithero’s psyche since it refuses his worldview and his sense of identity. Unfortunately for Clithero, when he goes to the United States, his sense of identity is threatened once more by Edgar, who wants Clithero to feel and act as an American citizen would. Edgar’s obsessive sympathy towards Clithero means that not only does he identity with Clithero but that he refuses to see any difference between himself and the Irishman. 55 Against Clithero’s will, Edgar goes into a self-appointed mission to rescue the Irishman from his insanity. Edgar is an American citizen, and therefore does not share Clithero’s feudal worldview. He wants to cure Clithero “to restore him to those vocations for which his talents, and that rank in society for which his education had qualified him” (Edgar Huntly 190). Just like Mrs. Lorimer, Edgar does not see class differences as an issue to individual advancement and thus wants Clithero cured and raised again over the rank of a servant. Sympathy is Edgar’s motivating force in this mission, perhaps because Edgar, in a difficult social and economic position that prevents him from marrying the woman he loves, identifies with the Irishman’s troubles. When Edgar finds Clithero in the wilderness, he leaves food unannounced, thinking that “the magic of sympathy, the perseverance of benevolence, though silent, might work a gradual and secret revolution, and better thoughts might insensibly displace those desperate suggestions which now governed him” (Edgar Huntly 76). However, Edgar’s sympathy pushes him further, as he wants to reason with Clithero and show him he should not let guilt drive him mad. Illustrating the way madness was treated in the eighteenth century, Edgar wants to talk to Clithero “to persuade the madman of his madness in order to release him from it” (Foucault 264). Edgar wonders: “Could I not restore a mind thus vigorous, to tranquil and wholesome existence? Could I not subdue his perverse disdain and immeasurable abhorrence of himself?… Reason was no less an antidote to the illusions of insanity like his, than to the illusions of error” (Edgar Huntly 66). Edgar thinks he can cure insanity with reason, and that he can use conversation to solve the errors of Clithero’s mind. The reason why Edgar thinks this is that he feels sympathy for the Irishman; that is, he thinks 56 Clithero would react to reason in the same way Edgar would in the same situation. Throughout the novel, Edgar refuses to admit that Clithero is mad beyond a cure or that he might not want a cure. That is, he continuously refuses to accept Clithero’s difference, perceiving him more as a reflection of himself that needs fixing than as a different individual. Through the example of sympathy from Mrs. Lorimer and Edgar, Brown illustrates some of the issues with sympathy and the politics of sameness: they can lead to an intolerance of difference even all the while preaching equality among people. After having illustrated the pitfalls of sympathy, Brown gives us an example of the extreme opposite of sympathy through the character of Sarsefield, who does not show any sympathy for Clithero. Looking like an embodiment of both Rush and Franklin, Sarsefield shows up towards the end of the novel as a father-figure for both Edgar and the rest of society. Sarsefield is a side character that shows up for most of the novel through the descriptions given by Edgar and Clithero, but he has the last word and stands as a positive healthy contrast to both Edgar and Clithero. Clithero immediately points out the difference between Sarsefield and himself through their different reactions to the return of the evil Wiatte. While Clithero is “harassed by anxieties [and] could procure no sleep that night… Sarsefield probably enjoyed his usual slumber” (Edgar Huntly 49). Not only does Sarsefield have a sound – healthy – sleep that sets him apart from both Edgar and Clithero, he also stands as a contrast with Edgar in his manner to treat Clithero. Sarsefield never identifies with the Irish murderer and he never hesitates to treat Clithero with harshness or to call him out for the “madman” and “the lunatic” he is (Edgar Huntly 175, 194). He never catches Clithero’s disease, and offers the sound advice that Edgar should 57 have followed: lock Clithero up in the Pennsylvania hospital since he is “a madman whose liberty is dangerous, and who requires to be fettered and imprisoned as the most atrocious criminal” (Edgar Huntly 193). Because he does not see Clithero as similar to himself and because he does not become contaminated by the madman, Sarsefield is a much less ambiguous character than Edgar. Sarsefield’s distrust of Clithero, along with his self-control and health, makes him a more classic hero than Edgar. After all, “if disability appears in a novel, it is rarely centrally represented. It is unusual for a main character to be a person with disabilities” (Davis 13). This leads to a reading of the novel where the non-disabled Sarsefield, not Edgar, is the hero. Even further, since “in the classical period, the man of tragedy and the man of madness confront each other, without a possible dialogue, without a common language” (Foucault 111), one could see Sarsefield – the rational man who cannot marry the woman he loves, shows up to help his friend, loses his unborn baby, and never trusts Clithero – as the real man of tragedy in Edgar Huntly. Unsurprisingly, the doctor-as-hero takes an important role at the end of this novel that uses pathological vocabulary to talk about nation building. Sarsefield’s solution to lock Clithero into the hospital does not only conclude the novel, but also highlights his character’s important social role since “the asylum as it was constituted at the end of the eighteenth century [led to] the apotheosis of the medical personage” (Foucault 269). Michel Foucault points out that as madness became identified as a mental disease in the eighteenth century, the asylum became a medical space, where the “Physician… was Father and Judge, Family and Law” (270, 272). This sheds light on why Sarsefield seems so harsh to modern readers towards the sad figure of the diseased 58 Clithero: his role is not to cure the madman, but to socially punish him; that is, to lock him in an asylum to protect society. There is no intention of curing Clithero from Sarsefield since he only wants him confined, stating: “I will not occupy the same land, the same world with him” (Edgar Huntly 176). Sarsefield constantly points out to Edgar what should have been evident: Clithero is dangerous and should not be given any pity. Only at the end of the novel does Edgar realize his error, as he admits to Sarsefield: “I have erred, not through sinister or malignant intentions, but from the impulse of misguided, indeed, but powerful benevolence” (Edgar Huntly 192). Sarsefield’s absence of sympathy towards Clithero is also a characteristic of his profession as a doctor; in a letter he wrote to his wife during the yellow epidemic in Philadelphia, Benjamin Rush explains: “I even strive to subdue my sympathy for my patients, otherwise I should sink under the accumulated loads of misery I am obliged to contemplate” (406). Sympathy is not a good virtue for doctors since it is only by being separated from the dangers of sympathy that they can be the true protectors of society—be it in medical or national terms. Therefore, Sarsefield’s advice to Edgar to stay away from Clithero showcases him as not just a doctor but also as a social reformer concerned with the well-being of a society that shows too much compassion towards unruly foreigners. Clearly, through the dramatic miscarriage of Mrs. Lorimer, Edgar Huntly shows how naïve and wrong Edgar’s attempted cure and sympathy for the foreigner has been. And the readers, confronted with Sarsefield’s last words scolding Edgar, can only agree. Edgar is not the only one of Brown’s heroes not to listen to the doctor’s advice, as the figure of the doctor as the social protector appears repeatedly in Brown’s gothic 59 novels. In Wieland, Mr. Cambridge sheds light on the reasons behind Theodore’s insane actions: he “imputed to maniacal illusion the conduct of Wieland, though he conceived the previous and unseen agency of Carwin, to have indirectly but powerfully predisposed to this deplorable perversion of mind” (Wieland 179). Not only does he give the readers a rational and medical explanation for Theodore’s erratic and murderous behavior, but he also steps in as the protector of the heroine, telling Clara to leave for Europe for her own safety. Medicine, as depicted in Brown’s novels, never appears as solely concerned with physical health: it pervades every aspect of society and constantly strives to improve not just the health of bodies, but also of minds, institutions, and civic and moral duties. As a mix between a lawyer and a doctor, Cambridge “is responsible for the apprehension of Wieland [as] he both prepares a diagnosis of his case and offers a balanced judgment” (Paryz 36). If only Clara had listened to Cambridge’s advice to immediately leave for Europe, she would not have found herself face to face with the madman. Arthur is another of Brown’s heroes who does not follow the advice of the wise doctor. In Arthur Mervyn, Dr. Stephen attempts to stirs Arthur in the right direction to rescue the young man from his wrong start in the city. Even though Stephen takes Arthur under his protection, Caleb Crain points out that he does not fall into Edgar’s impulsive sympathy; he carefully discusses the situation with his wife, and does not obsessively follow Arthur like Edgar does with Clithero (120). Since his association with the evil foreigner Welbeck has made Arthur an accomplice in the eyes of those tricked by Welbeck, Stephen tries to convince Arthur to study medicine and to become useful to society. Wanting to “render that life profitable to himself and to mankind,” Stephen concludes that Arthur will, “in a 60 few years, be fitted for the practice of physic. A science, whose truths are so conducive to the welfare of mankind, and which comprehends the whole system of nature, could not but gratify a mind so beneficent and strenuous as his” (Arthur Mervyn 167). Not only will Arthur have a profession, but this profession is depicted as a mission to save and better mankind, which was the role of doctors in the Early Republic. Unfortunately, just like Clara and Edgar, Arthur will not follow Stephen’s advice, but will become the example of a degenerated American youth in the eyes of the 1790s nativists: married to a Jewish woman, he will lead a life of leisure and European travels, and he abandons his noble pursuit to become a doctor. There is a running theme in Brown’s novels: doctors give sound personal and social advice that the heroes and heroines do not follow, which leads them unto a dangerous or degenerate path that is a boon to the gothic writer. That is, Brown uses the gothic genre to create a “reaction against the optimistic rationalism of its founding era, which allowed for a rethinking of the prohibitions and sanctions that had previously seemed divinely ordained but now appeared to be simply social agreements in the interest of progress and civic stability” (Lloyd-Smith 5). More than the heroes and heroines, the doctors are the healthy, rational, American characters who are worthy of admiration in their contained sympathy that takes care of the American heroes and heroines but never gets wasted on unsalvageable foreigners. Therefore, these rational-sympathetic characters helping the American youths who have momentarily lost their way are the ideal citizens of the politics of sameness. However, the advice that the doctors give may sound wise, but the gothic writer transgresses the norm by having the heroes do the opposite, which 61 leads to both the thrilling pleasures of going against the authoritative and normative figure of the doctors and to question their authority and standards. After all, even though the heroes and heroines do not follow the advice, they do so because they are moved by virtuous intentions of helping others – even the unsalvageable European villains who are contributing to their degeneration. This leads the readers to question the advice of the doctors; for example, the fact that Sarsefield has no qualms about leaving the mentally disturbed Clithero alone in the wilderness makes the doctor look so concerned with the preservation of the status quo that he forgets his duty of helping those in need. The seemingly unambiguous doctor characters, then, are both models fit for imitation and social reformers who seem to lack a heart. Sarsefield might be the protector of society, the man of tragedy, and the classical hero of the novel, but he remains an unlikable character in his refusal to help Clithero. Even though Sarsefield is often described as the father figure and the symbol of authority in the novel, it is not uncommon for scholars of Edgar Huntly to interpret Sarsefield in a negative light. In the introduction to Edgar Huntly, Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro describe Sarsefield’s refusal to help Clithero as “a stunning denial of human compassion and betrayal of medical ethics” (“Introduction” Edgar Huntly xxix); they also argue that the novel’s anti-imperialistic message shows that imperialism will “create new forms of destructive behavior, typified by Sarsefield’s inhumanity” (xxxi). Similarly, Kate Sugar, in “’A Wonderful Disease’: Edgar Huntly, Erasmus Darwin, and Revolutionary American Masculinity,” argues that Sarsefield’s lack of sympathy and negative example of American masculinity is punished through Mrs. Lorimer’s miscarriage. Therefore, Sarsefield’s total lack of sympathy does 62 not offer a satisfactory opposite to Edgar’s exaggerated sympathy. Indeed, both Edgar’s sympathy and Sarsefield’s lack of sympathy lead to problematic results because they are both extreme in their intolerance towards those who are different from them. Brown goes even further in the transgression of norms, though, as he prevents readers from identifying with the social reformer. What sparks sympathy is tied to the ability to identify with others, but one must hear their point of view in order to identify with them. Sarsefield never listens to Clithero, so he does not hear his side of the story. Just as Sarsefield does not hear Clithero, the readers do not hear Sarsefield’s story: the brief anecdotes from Sarsefield’s past are overshadowed by Clithero’s long tale and do not create the same sympathetic impact. So, as Sarsefield is unable to sympathize with Clithero, the readers cannot truly identify with Sarsefield. On the other hand, since Edgar hears Clithero’s story, he sympathizes with him and, because the readers read Edgar’s letter explaining both Edgar’s and Clithero’s stories, they identify with the sufferings of both men. Creating a sympathetic effect through storytelling is typical of the gothic style, which “produces emotional effects on its readers rather than developing a rational or properly cultivated response” (Botting 4). Therefore, in Edgar Huntly, the readers end up identifying with the people who are the opposite of the ideal from the politics of sameness: foreigners and deranged people. Even though the novel seems to show the dangers of sympathizing with those who are not salvageable, the readers end up doing the exact opposite of the apparently obvious nativist’s message: they sympathize with those who are different from them and who have no chance of becoming ideal citizens. Consequently, through his novel, Brown tricks his readers into feeling sympathy for the 63 very same people the politics of sameness warns against. Thus, with Edgar Huntly, Brown writes a seemingly conservative nativist tale revealing the dangers of sympathizing with the degenerate, only to use storytelling as a way to make readers sympathize with the degenerate. Brown’s trick of leading his readers into sympathizing with what the nativists viewed as the Other, though, blurs the differences between the two groups (us versus them). If the readers cannot identify with Sarsefield, it means they do not recognize themselves in this normative character; if they identify with the Other, it means they might be as mentally unstable as the characters they feel sympathy for: Edgar and Clithero. This leads the readers to have to consider the terrifying possibility that they might be just as degenerate as these two unideal, diseased, and foreign characters. It might be an understatement to claim that Brown has an ambiguous stance on sympathy. Caleb Crain argues that Brown invented stories in the letters to his friend as a way to preserve his selfhood and not to lose it through other people’s sympathy towards his true self (Crain 129). However, these inventions created problems for Brown, since he “experienced his romantic impulse and his urge to tell stories as imposture: as a deceitful manipulation of others, which their credulity and his powerful imagination seduced him into, almost against his will” (Crain 64). As Crain concludes, Brown is “a novelist of impostors,” and he is the master impostor, never making his stance clear and thriving in ambiguity (66). But one thing is made clear through Brown’s distrust of sympathy: his questioning the validity of the politics of sameness as a viable ideal for a society. Sian Silyn Roberts argues that “what can really destroy a community, Brown suggests, is the assumption of sameness among its members” (316). Roberts makes this argument about 64 Arthur Mervyn, who always thinks others would have acted exactly as he does if they were put in his situation, but we can apply this argument to Edgar Huntly: Edgar’s (and Mrs. Lorimers’s) sympathy towards Clithero failed to alert them of Clithero’s difference from them. Rather than accepting this difference, both characters insisted on viewing Clithero as similar to them, which led to Clithero’s increasingly loss of sanity. Even though both characters acted for Clithero’s well-being, their failure to notice and accept his difference became Clithero’s undoing. Brown argues that this method of imagining the Other as the same as oneself cannot lead to a true community where the diversity of the Other or different worldviews are respected. It is important to note, though, that Brown’s stance on sympathy, even though not particularly positive, is not extremist. He illustrates how the complete opposite of Edgar and Mrs. Lorimer, Sarsefield in his total lack of sympathy for the Other, is not a particularly more appealing venue. Therefore, both the politics of sameness, which uses sympathy to reinforce normative standards, and a lack of sympathy towards those who are different are problematic because they are both extreme in their intolerance of differences. Thus, Brown is a gothic writer who narrates terrifying plots with insane murderers as a way to advocate – paradoxically! – for a middle ground that avoids all extremist passions. On a surface reading, what is terrifying in Brown’s gothic novels is tied to what is terrifying to his society: sick foreigners degenerating the American people, and an American population that ignores the social/medical/political advice of doctors who try to save the United States from this degeneration. However, Brown turns the anxious warnings of the politics of sameness upside down, and points out the oversimplification 65 and paradoxes of using sympathy as a national bonding tool. Those contemporary readers who bought into the nativist propaganda might only have seen a cautionary tale in Edgar Huntly, but any reader with a complex position on the politics of diversity and immigration can sense that Brown’s ambiguity constantly takes away the straightforward stance it seems to take. In Chapter Four and Five, we will push the exploration of ambiguity to the point of deconstruction in Wieland and the other novels, to see that Brown is not only interested in creating gothic thrills through contemporary anxieties and the contradictions inherent in the nativist propaganda, but that he also encourages his readers to rethink completely the ideals of the Early Republic, as well as their own values and beliefs. 66 Chapter 4 AMERICA AS AN “ASYLUM”: DECONSTRUCTING MADNESS AND REASON IN WIELAND During an analysis of the representation of madness in the works of Charles Brockden Brown, it becomes very tempting to snicker at the double meaning of the word “asylum” (as meaning both a haven and a hospital for the insane). Of course, Brown never uses the word to mean something else than a place of refuge or haven, much like Thomas Paine uses it to describe America as an “asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe” (Paine, 24, emphasis in the original).11 However, analyzing novels such as Wieland (1798) brings readers into an inevitable deconstruction of the word “asylum” since Brown deconstructs and overturns the binaries of reason/madness and knowledge/ignorance. Because this novel sets its characters in an utopian intellectual community only to destroy it by pushing all systems of knowledge, be they John Locke’s epistemology or religious faith, to their irrational conclusions, the readers are deprived of the reassuring idea that the world can always be comprehended in any way – and what was a haven before turns into a madhouse. What makes this Brown’s use of the term “asylum” to mean “haven” rather than “mental asylum” mirrors his society’s use of the term. Oxford English Dictionary shows that the word took the secondary meaning of mental institution during the mid-nineteenth century (OED). As Carla Yanni explains in her book The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States, during the eighteenth century “doctors preferred the term ‘hospital for the insane’ to describe the buildings that housed the mentally ill, because the word ‘hospital’ suggested that mental illness was a disease. The buildings were called ‘madhouses’ in the eighteenth century and at the start of the nineteenth century, but this usage declined as the nineteenth century wore on. ‘Asylum’ was widely used throughout the nineteenth century, and it suggested a refuge from the pressures of civilization” (161). In Brown’s work, the word “asylum” never shows up to mean a hospital for the insane. When Sarsefield takes Clithero to what we would call today an asylum, he refers to it as “the Pennsylvania Hospital” (Edgar Huntly 193). 11 67 transformation possible is the fact that these systems of knowing the world rest solidly on binaries, which is one of the recurring themes in a nativist’s worldview. To be able to set norms, to distinguish between the welcome and the unwelcome, and to believe that there is such a thing as an essential us/them difference, nativists must have a strong faith in their dichotomous understanding of the world. Nativists view, on one side, the United States as a nation superior to others and on the other side everyone else who does not meet the standard. However, this interpretation of the world leads one to overly simplistic understandings of the self and the Other. In Wieland, through the representation of madness as a mental disability, Brown deconstructs the binaries of knowledge/ignorance and rationality/irrationality to illustrate some of the pitfalls of dichotomous thinking. What is more, he debunks the idea of an essential American superiority by highlighting the dangers of an unbridled freedom and hinting at the fact that the American population may have gone insane long before the arrival of evil Europeans. The dangers in Wieland do not all come from the evil foreigner, but rather from an internal weakness caused by the contradictions of the Early Republic’s political and philosophical rhetoric – that is, in its values and its worldview. Indeed, the novel sheds doubt on reason, faith, and even on the value of freedom, and it debunks the Early Republic’s systems of understanding the world, starting with John Locke’s philosophy. In Wieland, Brown puts Locke’s epistemological philosophy (i.e. there are no innate ideas, and knowledge comes from sensory perceptions) to a somewhat unfair test; but, however improbable the plot seems, it is effective in showing the pitfalls of an unquestionable faith in the senses. Brown’s novel tells the story of Clara and Theodore 68 Wieland, a brother and sister living a pastoral life rich in intellectual debate with their friends Catherine and Henry Pleyel. Theodore marries Catherine, and Clara and Pleyel seem destined to follow suit shortly. However, two dark clouds hover over this bucolic image of landed American gentry: first, Clara and Theodore’s father, a German religious fanatic who came to America as a missionary to convert Native Americans, dies dramatically in a spontaneous combustion; second, a newcomer to the group, Carwin, uses ventriloquism to trick the group, sending Theodore into a murderous madness that leads him into killing his wife and children thinking he is doing the command of God. Brown is counting a lot on his readers’ ability to suspend disbelief in this gothic novel since they must accept two extraordinary premises: spontaneous combustion as a probable cause for death and a ventriloquism act so perfect that it can imitate all sorts of different voices and give the illusion that they are coming from different directions. 12 These extraordinary premises, though, as incredible as they are, help Brown take a direct stab at Locke’s epistemological philosophy. Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, linked human knowledge to physical sensations, stating that “there appear not to be any ideas in the mind before the senses have conveyed any” (Locke 141). He adds: “it is about these impressions made on our senses by outward objects that the mind seems first to employ itself, in such operations as we call perception, remembering, consideration, reasoning, &c.” (Locke 141, emphasis in the original). That is, our knowledge and understanding of the world comes from the information we receive Both of these premises would have been more acceptable to Brown’s readers than they are today. Brown’s footnote on spontaneous combustion refers the readers to a case studied and published in European medical journals (Wieland 19) and he adds a footnote to explain ventriloquism (he refers to it as “Biloquium”) by listing cases that appeared in European treatises of the time (Wieland 150). 12 69 from our senses, which we can analyze rationally. However, as Brown’s novel illustrates, sometimes the information provided by the senses, such as in the case of the mysterious death of Clara and Theodore’s father, makes it very difficult to understand the world rationally. Clara explains that, while her father was praying in his temple, her mother witnessed “a light proceeding from the edifice…and instantly a loud report, like the explosion of a mine” (Wieland 16). Clara’s father is brought to bed and attended by a doctor, but his flesh rots away, and he dies in “fever and delirium” (Wieland 18). Trying to figure out what caused such an inexplicable death, Clara eliminates lightening as a possible cause and wonders “what are the conclusions that we must form” to explain this death (Wieland 18). The conclusion they form is that their father died of spontaneous combustion, which might seem like a strange solution to explain the mysterious death, especially since no one witnessed it. But the light and the explosion made no mark other than on their father’s body, so the inexplicable is explained by stretching reason to its most outlandish probability to give meaning to the strange information received by the senses. Similarly, in the case of Carwin’s ventriloquism, an attempt to follow a Lockean’s faith in the senses to explain the mysterious voices leads the ultra-rational Pleyel into error and into a complete misread of Clara’s character. Pleyel is a personification of Enlightenment rationality: he trusts the information his senses give him and accepts no possibility of supernatural explanations for the voices that are tricking him. When he hears the voices of Clara and Carwin talking like lovers, nothing Clara says or does (not even dramatically fainting in Pleyel’s room while trying to clear her reputation) can persuade him out of his rational falsehood: he heard her voice: therefore 70 Clara is guilty. He tells Clara “‘that voice was familiar to my senses. It was yours’” (Wieland 105), and this concludes any debate on the matter even though Pleyel’s conclusion is wrong since the voices were part of Carwin’s trick. Pleyel is so rational, he becomes irrational in his obstinacy in only trusting his mistaken conclusion.13 Thus, the “epistemological incertitude explored in Wieland is a straightforward refutation of the then prevailing Lockean philosophical frame, which defines the processes of perception and cognition” (Paryz 40). If we get our knowledge of the world from the senses, we must then come to terms with the seemingly impossible information the senses give to us sometimes, and trying to find a rational reason for everything leads to an oversimplification of the issue and, potentially, to irrationality. The idea that our senses can be trusted to understand the world and those around us is thus debunked as a valid epistemological system. Theodore uses another method to find an explanation for the voices: faith. He hears disembodied voices and argues that they must be from God since only a miraculous explanation can explain the existence of the impossible. His mistaken explanation is fully revealed when he goes to kill Clara and exclaims: “’Father! I thank thee. This is thy guidance. Hither thou hast led me, that I might perform thy will: yet let me not err: let me hear again thy messenger!’” (Wieland 163).14 Even though this explanation may seem In this sense, Pleyel resembles Arthur Mervyn in his Lockean obstinacy: “Mervyn has a sympathetic heart and a passion for justice but no moral code and no clear way of determining what goodness is… Mervyn is hardly a ringing endorsement for empiricism in morality” (Hedges 307). 14 It is interesting that Theodore uses the word “father” to refer to God since it shows that he might be haunted by his father’s ghost (literally or subconsciously) and that his madness leads him to mix his own father’s commands with those of God. This reading of the novel does not take away from the argument that Theodore finds an irrational explanation to explain mysteries at all cost, but it adds the idea that the European tyrannical patriarchy is still corrupting the minds of the American-born generation. 13 71 farfetched (especially in a society that was toying with the idea of deism), it reassures Theodore of his own sanity and, since the readers do not know the source of the voice either, it offers a somewhat plausible explanation for the fictional plot. After all, not only Theodore, but Clara and Pleyel heard the voices as well, so no one can deny their existence even though no one can explain where they come from until Carwin’s confession. Even though Clara does not embrace the religious conclusion like her brother, she considers it a possibility since she heard the voices and cannot explain them in other ways. Technically, then, Theodore is not insane, and Clara explains this to her uncle: “’Madness, say you? Are you sure? Were not these sights, and these sounds, really seen and heard?” (Wieland 135). However, in trying to find out an explanation at all costs, Theodore’s conviction that they are the voice of God leads him into irrationality; his religious enthusiasm takes him far from the truth and misleads him just as much as Pleyel’s rationality did. Elizabeth Lamont explains that Theodore wants to be more than human in his search for the truth since he wants to be incapable of being deceived (78), which might be the inevitable conclusion when attempting to interpret the world through a religious enthusiasm so fervent that it leads to homicidal insanity. Thus, in Wieland, Brown discredits all systems of knowing the world: religious, sensorial, rational; he invites his readers to consider that there are no sure ways to simplistically explain, identify, and classify the world or those around us. While Fred Botting argues that “Wieland refuses the dichotomy of religious mysticism and enlightened rationalism” (117), Brown goes even further than just pitting one system of knowledge against the other: he illustrates how both opposites rest on premises that lead to an incomplete 72 understanding of the world. When the ventriloquism act is revealed, Theodore’s religious explanation seems wholly irrational, but Pleyel ultra-rational explanation does not fare better. Even though Theodore is the most overtly madman of the novel, Pleyel’s obstinacy to cling to error turns out to be just as mad. Locke addresses madness in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and his description of madmen is a perfect illustration of what happened to Theodore and Pleyel. Locke explains that madmen are not deprived of reason, “but having joined together some ideas very wrongly, they mistake them for truths; and they err as men do that argue right from wrong principles. For, by the violence of their imaginations, having taken their fancies for realities, they make right deductions from them” (209). Theodore, and even more so Pleyel, illustrate the madmen’s propensity to “put wrong ideas together, and so make wrong propositions, but argue and reason right from them” (Locke 210). The rational thinking that supports Pleyel’s belief that Clara and Carwin are lovers started from a wrong proposition and leads Pleyel into error, but his thinking process rests on rationality. However, even though Locke gives credit to madmen’s ability to reason, he sets madness as the “opposition to reason [which] deserves that name, and is really madness; and there is scarce a man so free from it” (Locke 528). While Locke shows awareness that the terms are slippery since they coexist in everyone, he sets them as opposite of good versus evil. Madness is something that needs to be cured and striven against, while reason is the term that is positive and sought after. Describing madness, Locke says “if this be a weakness to which all men are so liable, if this be a taint which so universally infects mankind, the greater care should be taken to lay it open under its 73 due name, thereby to excite the greater care in its prevention and cure” (528-529). Locke uses pathological vocabulary to describe madness, depicting madness as a disease that needs eradication and setting it as a negative opposition to reason. However, by setting reason and madness as polar opposites in terms of positive and negative attributes, this creation of a binary, instead of reinforcing the differences between the two terms, pushes Locke’s logic right into deconstruction. Indeed, Locke’s setting of madness and reason as complete opposites becomes a perfect example of Jacques Derrida’s différance, where “the play of differences supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself, referring only to itself… no element can function as a sign without referring to another element which itself is not simply present” (Derrida Positions 26). That is, reason and madness exist as concepts because they define each other through opposition; we cannot know one without the other. As Derrida explains, “the signified concept is never present in and of itself, in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself. Essentially and lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by means of the systematic play of differences” (Derrida, Margins 11). Locke’s insistence that reason and madness are opposites clearly reveals how the two concepts are related in his philosophy and can never have meaning if separated from each other. The fact that madness and reason are constantly referring to each other in a binary of oppositions does not mean that the two terms are equal, though. Madness is the negative opposite of reason, and therefore it is used to define positively and value reason. As Derrida explains it, “in a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with 74 the peaceful coexistence of a vis à vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy” that must be “overturn[ed]” (Derrida Positions 41). Brown overturns the unequal binary in Wieland by blurring the differences between reason and madness, showing that one can lead to the other because they are two faces of the same coin. While Theodore is the madman in the novel, the other main characters, who should stand as the opposite of the madman, appear mad as well. As Elizabeth Lamont argues, Pleyel’s ultra Enlightenment-type reason leads him as much into error as Theodore in trying to explain the voices while Clara’s selfdeception in not accepting Theodore’s madness leads her into an irrational belief that the voices could be from God after all (74-75). Clara tries to cling to rationality, but since the voices cannot be explained rationally, she also starts to think that the voice are “unquestionably super-human” (Wieland 41). Here Clara demonstrates the last option of rationality: since the voices do exist and do not seem a trick of the imagination, she considers a supernatural explanation to – paradoxically – explain things rationally. Therefore, Clara shows some signs of Locke’s definition of madness and she reveals herself as an unreliable narrator because of her insistence on Theodore’s mental sanity against all odds. Even after Theodore has been tried and after he confessed his crimes, Clara continues to insist that “whether Wieland was a maniac, a faithful servant of his God, the victim of hellish illusions, or the dupe of human imposture, was by no means certain” (Wieland 142). There is nothing her uncle, Mr. Cambridge, who is a doctor and assures her that Theodore is insane without hope of recovery, can do to stop her from hoping the impossible. Even though readers are just as unaware as Clara of where the voices come from, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow her in her insistence that 75 Theodore is not insane, which makes her sound irrational. And this leads readers into not knowing how to separate the sane from the insane in this novel, and to wonder, just like Clara, if that difference even exists anymore. After all, Clara confesses to her uncle: “this madness, if madness it were, had affected Pleyel and myself as well as Wieland…Was I not likewise transformed from rational and human into a creature of nameless and fearful attributes? Was I not transported to the brink of the same abyss?” (Wieland 137). In this novel, it would seem that all the characters are either completely sane in their unflinching rationality and religious beliefs or completely insane, but it becomes harder to set the two concepts of sanity and insanity as opposites. Even worse, when Clara finally has to accept Theodore’s madness, she does not see it as the negative term in the binary anymore. When Theodore realizes that he has murdered his family, he suffers more than when he was insane, leading Clara to say: “Oh that thy phrenzy had never been cured! That thy madness, with its blissful visions, would return!” (Wieland 173). Theodore was better off before he knew Carwin tricked him: he felt righteous in his mission, while now he knows he is the one whom “faith has changed into paricide [sic] and savage!” (Wieland 173). In Wieland, we lose track of what is better: ignorance or knowledge? Madness or reason? Is the difference so well established between them after all? And what happens to the welcome/unwelcome nativist binary when the hierarchy between these concepts is turned upside down? Not only does Brown deconstruct binaries, but he also plays with the Enlightenment’s contradiction that freedom is valued, but too much freedom can lead to madness; the utopian community in Wieland is almost deprived of adults and authority 76 figures, which makes Carwin’s job of playing with his victims’ minds all the more easy. While the United States were based on a rhetoric of superiority to other nations because of their freedom, the Early Republic’s lovers of liberty had to come to terms with the idea that “liberty, far from putting man in possession of himself, ceaselessly alienates him from his essence and his world” (Foucault 214). Indeed, in “Influence of the American Revolution,” Benjamin Rush has an unusual conclusion on what the United States achieved through their gain of freedom. He argues: The minds of the citizens of the United States were wholly unprepared for their new situation. The excess of the passion for liberty, inflamed by the successful issue of the war, produced, in many people, opinions and conduct which could not be removed by reason nor restrained by government. For a while, they threatened to render abortive the goodness of heaven to the United States, in delivering them from the evils of slavery and war. The extensive influence which these opinions had upon the understandings, passions and morals of many of the citizens of the United States, constituted a species of insanity, which I shall take the liberty of distinguishing by the name of Anarchia.. (Rush 333) Rush here argues that the American victory enabled Americans to have the freedom to do, be, and think whatever they wanted – even if it led to insanity. This might be what the Wielands are experiencing in their ideal community devoid of authority figures. In fact, many critics have interpreted Wieland as a microcosm for the new nation: the old European generation dies off while the new generation of Americans experience freedom 77 in a heaven-like place. Interestingly, while many scholars see the world of Wieland as a metaphor for the new nation, they also agree in reading it as a negative metaphor. Colleen Terrell argues that Wieland shows a “profound distrust of both the republican machinery set in motion by the Revolution and its Lockean foundations” (127-128). Peter Schneck claims that Wieland “presents a devastating critique of, if not a demolition of, the very ideals that formed the foundation of the American republic: declaring the individual unfit for building a society on the principles of reason, and severely questioning the Enlightenment’s empirical trust in the reliability of factual perception and its hope for the rational control of the passions and imagination” (180). Finally, Peter Kafer argues that Brown “turns the philosopher John Locke, and the Enlightenment itself, on their side by highlighting the disturbing implications of the optimistic epistemology that had influenced so many of the Revolutionaries [who] maintained that the corruptions of the past could be purged from society and that a new political order, grounded entirely upon right reason, could be erected from a fresh foundation, a tabula rasa” (125-126). These scholarly critics focus on Wieland’s critique of the Lockean basis of the Early Republic’s philosophical and political ideals, but one could extend their metaphors of the new nation to include a critique on the religious ideals that supported the rhetoric of the Early Republic.15 If Wieland is a metaphor for the Early Republic, though, the characters seem to squander the freedom their society offers them. They are not productive in any way and 15 Nativist propaganda found its way into sermons, translating the intolerance against unwelcome foreigners into a religious mission for the new nation. For an example of this religiously-oriented propaganda, see Timothy Dwight’s 1798 sermon “The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis.” 78 at times even dream of going back to feudal Europe, with Pleyel trying to convince Theodore to claim his inheritance rights in Saxony and use “the privileges of wealth and rank” to be an enlightened lord over “his vassals” (Wieland 35-36). We are far from the Franklinian values of industry and of “a general happy mediocrity” setting America as the opposite of feudal Europe (Franklin, “Information” 463). When an outsider comes to this already fragile microcosm of un-Franklinian Americans, he can easily set it into complete turmoil through his tricks. One could almost read the novel as another nativist tale admonishing unideal Americans and warning against the evil foreigner. After all, even though Carwin is American, he is believed to be Irish by the narrator and the readers for most of the novel, and his trip to Spain may have left him more European than American. Indeed, Carwin’s stay in Spain has led to his “transformation into a Spaniard” (Wieland 59, emphasis in the original), thus highlighting his loss of Americanness, and Pleyel’s description of the body of the “’mysterious visitant’” as an “‘aukward [sic] and disproportionate form’” (Wieland 102) seems to point to all the stereotypical signs of an evil foreigner. However, the American characters representing the Early Republic are just as problematic as the foreigner, which debunks a straightforward nativist reading of this novel. What is more, they are driven to madness not by Carwin’s voices, but what they choose to make of them. That is, their freedom, which allows them to think, believe, and argue freely, is a much bigger problem than Carwin could ever be. Theodore, in particular, indulged too much in the freedom that America gave him: not only freedom from work (which he would have had in Europe as well), but also religious and intellectual freedom that dragged him increasingly away from rationality. Theodore’s 79 obsessive faith and, prior to it, his fanatical studies, made him a prime target of madness; as Michel Foucault explains, “Civilization, in a general way, constitutes a milieu favorable to the development of madness,” which can be found in the “mania for study, the life of the library, abstract speculation, the perpetual agitation of the mind without the exercise of the body,” and “too strict a devotion, too strong a belief” (Foucault 217, 215). Theodore’s freedom to speculate without any sort of restraint made him a religious fanatic and robbed him of his rationality. Once his faith turned into madness, he lost his freedom since he became a slave to an apparently fictitious command of God. Similarly, free to reason and apply an unbendable Lockean rationality to explain the world around him, Pleyel became the prisoner of a very wrong speculation and became an automaton that could not listen to reason anymore. This leads to an even stronger deconstruction of the madness/reason and the liberty/slavery binaries since readers of Wieland have to constantly decipher which is which in this novel and which is better; therefore, “it becomes well-nigh impossible to distinguish between reality and imagination, sleep and wakefulness, between truth and falsehood, sanity and madness” (Hagenbuchle 128). And this might be exactly the point Brown wants to share with his readers through his microcosm of the Early Republic. This deconstruction of binaries in Wieland forces the readers to consider that the unwelcome might already be in the country, that the unwelcome might not be aliens at all since the murderer in the novel is an American who has become insane through his faith, and that even the most rational Americans may carry as much madness as reason inside them. Brown sets up an utopian American family only to desecrate this haven through the 80 mere circus trick of ventriloquism; if this American family stands as a metaphor for the United States, Brown’s view on his society is not very encouraging. What is worse, the readers cannot give all the fault to Carwin-the-foreigner since the Wielands might already have been mentally corrupted before his arrival. A scene, in particular, shows that Clara’s mind might not be as sane as she makes it seem. Falling asleep next to the river bank, she dreams of her brother trying to lure her to plunge to her death into an abyss. Not only that, but she sleepwalks while she dreams. As Brown points out in Edgar Huntly: “the incapacity of sound sleep denotes a mind sorely wounded” (11), which means that Clara is dealing with unresolved issues that go beyond Carwin’s tricks. One of these unresolved issues might be the same one that disturbs Theodore’s mind: the mysterious death of their religiously obsessed father. Scholarly critics have not been kind in describing the mental health of the Wielands. Ralph Bauer argues that Carwin brings out the secret desires and anxieties of the Wielands, which only needed a little nudge to reveal themselves (320). This would help explain why Theodore murders his wife, and why Clara seems so selfdeluded on her brother’s mental sanity: their suppressed incestuous desires are awakened by the troubling voices. Marek Paryz goes even further, calling the Wielands “mental freaks” (38), while Peter Kafer argues that the death of their father disturbs their minds. He declares that “the Wielands are haunted all right, and nothing—not enlightenment, not Cicero, not classical music—is going to make it go away” (131). Whether the Wielands are rendered insane by having inherited their father’s insanity, by his tormenting haunting presence, by their incestuous desires, or by being too free and rational, they were doomed well before the foreigner’s arrival. What is more, the death of their father is never 81 satisfactorily explained to the readers, which means that they are haunted as well as the ghost haunts the recognizable American setting of the novel. Once again, Brown offers a terrifying thrill to his readers who must consider the possibility that they too, like the Wielands, might be mentally unstable. Carwin’s tricks have only precipitated a fall that was destined to happen: the seemingly ideal American youth can cover itself with the mantel of superiority through rationality, faith, and freedom, but it carries within itself the same self-destructing madness of its European forefathers. This, of course, contributes to the destruction of the illusion of the us/them binary so dear to the Early Republic nativists since “the perversion of filial love, exemplified in Wieland’s murder of his family, signifies that threats to American society may lie not in foreign bodies but in its own” (Barnes 55). Thus, the safety of the American/outsider binary that solidly supported nativist policies such as the Alien and Sedition Acts crumbles away. The alien in Wieland is not more insane than the American characters: he cannot be held totally responsible for the destruction of the utopian Early Republic, and living in the land of freedom did not help safeguard Theodore’s sanity. Even worse, Wieland warns its readers that trusting systems of knowledge based on binaries as a way to know the world, such as reason (rationality/irrationality) and faith (belief/disbelief), is dangerous and simplistic since it pushes people to become irrational in the hope of explaining the impossible. Consequently, it does not really matter that foreigners may threaten the Early Republic’s stability since American society has to deal with the contradictions it has created for itself: be rational at all costs even if it leads to irrationality, have an unbridled religious 82 faith that leads one to think they are the messenger of God, and embrace the freedom that sets the United States apart from the rest of the world, even if it may lead to insanity. These paradoxes burst the binaries set as moral and social compass by the Early Republic and their deconstruction makes one realize the inability to really know the world based on our senses or faith; “the lesson readers learn is not only that one cannot trust strangers, but that one cannot trust oneself” (Barnes 53-54). But how, then, can America be a haven, an “asylum” in Thomas Paine’s words, when it proves itself as unstable as everyone else? After all, “if some post-Revolutionary America saw themselves as the superior citizens of a new land, Wieland calls into question any nobility they might like to assume and undermines any Edenic discourse invoked” (Harris 200). If the Americans are as mad as anyone else (and maybe a little more than others if we factor in Rush’s fear that more freedom leads to more insanity), what kind of an “asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe” (Paine, 24, emphasis in the original) are they offering to the world? The fact that Clara leaves the United States to start a new life free of murderous madness in Europe seems to answer this question. The utopian community in Wieland brutally shifts from being a haven of intellectual debate held in a pastoral setting to being an asylum for the insane. This chapter has demonstrated how Brown does not just complicate the debates of his time by using nativist rhetoric or trending philosophical values: he also shows the pitfalls present in those debates. By pushing the ideals and values of the Early Republic to their breaking point, he reveals what happens when a society places too much trust in its ability to reason, its inherent superiority to other nations, and the unshakable sanity of its citizens. 83 The American population may already be degenerate beyond repair; reason, freedom, and religion only exacerbate the population’s self-denial of its mental instability. Instead of reinforcing the Enlightenment’s soothing binaries of rationality and madness, Brown destroys the tenets that built the Early Republic as a beacon of rationality and liberty and shatters the myth that, as long as the evil foreigners are kept out, the United States will remain safely self-controlled. In Wieland, Brown’s use of mental disabilities pushes the readers to rethink the political and philosophical values, as well as the nativist beliefs, of their society, and to contemplate the terrifying idea that we all might already be insane. 84 Chapter 5 DECONSTRUCTING BINARIES TO EXPLORE IMPERFECTION IN BROWN’S GOTHIC NOVELS Charles Brockden Brown’s scholarly critics have always grappled with the difficulty of his novels, and their frustration with his ambiguity has led some of them to describe him unfairly as “a flawed writer;” critical works during the New Critical wave of the 1950s, such as Alexander Cowie The Rise of the American Novel and Richard Chase The American Novel and Its Tradition, were particularly harsh towards Brown’s novels (Barnard, Kamrath, Shapiro xix). But Brown’s ambiguity is essential to his work since he systematically deconstructs every binary he sets up. This, in turn, forces his readers to rethink and reevaluate personal values and beliefs, and to distrust reductive dichotomous propaganda. To achieve this didactic goal, Brown uses the gothic genre, which is itself a genre that defies any essentiality. In her review of the recent scholarship on the gothic and, in particular, of Jacques Derrida’s essay “The Law of Genre,” Teresa Goddu argues that the gothic has been perceived as a problematically hybrid genre; “associated with the hackneyed, the feminine, and the popular, the gothic lacks respectability and hence must be quarantined from other literary forms” (Goddu 4-5). But Brown does not appear to be a big proponent of quarantines, be they literary, medical, or political. He never presents one clear side to an issue or one unambiguous character that can be easily interpreted; instead, Brown’s novels constantly mix the boundaries and categories so dear to nativists. The American-Rational-Able-Hero/Alien-Irrational-Disabled-Villain binaries do not 85 survive Brown’s multiple twists in his complicated plots, thus calling attention to the reductive pitfalls of defining ourselves and the Other through binaries. In doing so, he plays with his readers’ anxieties but he also debunks the paranoia of political propaganda, suggesting that imperfections and ambiguities are not only inevitable but necessary to any human society. Through his use of the gothic genre, Brown “unsettles the idea of America” (Goddu 4) and puts forward a non-conservative, contradictory, and complex image of the Early Republic that seems to warn us that the real danger does not rest within the alien and the different, but within the intolerant need to classify the world through dichotomies. In his 1782 publication, Letters From an American Farmer, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur calls America “the most perfect society now existing in the world” (41), and this idea of the United States’ perfection remained an important aspect of the 1790s political discourse, even though Crèvecoeur’s optimism went through a nativist anxiety translation over the potential loss of perfection. The purity of this perfect nation, in particular, became a recurring nativist weapon against the unwelcome. As an illustration, Humphrey Marshall’s “A Patriotic Poem” denounces the dangers of radical influences from Europe and urges Americans to protect their identity: “it is to the defense of the purity of this identity—an identity founded on the purgation of aliens—that all must rally, bringing to bear an artillery of laws, surveillance, and vigilance” (qtd. in Gardner 60). The medico-political rhetoric’s reference of purging the country from foreign bodies illustrates the importance of the us-versus-them binary in the nativist rhetoric and the fact that aliens were scapegoated as diseases attacking the country. But purging was not 86 enough: the nativists wanted a clear separation between America and Europe. In his 1798 sermon “The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis,” Timothy Dwight explains how to keep the country safe from French degeneration: “Would you wholly escape, you must be wholly separated. I do not recommend that you must not buy or sell, or exhibit the common offices of justice and good will; but you are bound by the voice of reason, of duty, of safety, and of God, to shun all such connection with them, as will interweave your sentiments or your friendship, your religion or your policy, with theirs” (qtd. in Silverman 100). Although the nativists quoted here are targeting aliens, the concepts of perfection, purity, and clear separation between people are not new terms in the history of disabilities. While the “eighteenth century [was] a transitional moment in the history of representations of disability, a period suspended between religious wonder at monstrous forms and unawed scientific classification of natural difference” (Deutsch 198), the transition did not bring a positive change to social perspectives on disabilities. The variety of human physical and mental difference was perceived negatively since it was a difference against the norm. In fact, throughout modern Western history, people with disabilities have repeatedly been the victims of national purges, from the rhetorical to the genocidal. Brown’s deconstruction of the perfection/imperfection binary, then, flies in the face of the medico-political discourse of exclusion and of the nativists’ desire to define clearly the perfect from the imperfect. In fact, it seems that Brown constantly works towards blurring the lines of the us-versus-them binary, thus destroying the idea that perfection and purity even exist. 87 One of the most puzzling deconstructed binaries in the works of this new American literature “growing out of the condition of our own country” (Edgar Huntly 3) is that, while some of the main villains are clearly Europeans, the American heroes and heroines are not so clearly American, and most novels end with a departure for Europe. Even though the Atlantic world was one of great movement of population, American identity rested on binaries since the colonial period, classifying people along strict dichotomous lines of: “saved and damned, Christian and heathen, civilized and savage, white and black” (Zuckerman 143). However, most of Brown’s heroes and heroines do not have a solidly American identity since they have strong European ties. Constantia is part French; we learn at the end of Ormond that “Constantia’s mother was stolen by Mr. Dudley from a Convent at Amiens” (Ormond 180). In Wieland, Theodore and Clara’s parents are Germans, and their “ancestor may be considered as the founder of the German Theatre” (7). Arthur Mervyn’s father “had been a Scottish emigrant” (Arthur Mervyn 17). This European first-generation characteristic for so many of the main characters represents the mixed world of a country founded on immigration, and it shows that Timothy Dwight’s desire for complete separation between Europe and the United States might not have been in tune with the reality of the population living in the Early Republic. But it also complicates a strict nativist reading of the novels. What is even more perplexing is that Europe is not consistently represented as a wicked place in Brown’s novels. To be fair, there are plenty of gothic and medieval descriptions of Europe throughout the novels. In Edgar Huntly, Weymouth’s gothic shipwreck in Portugal and sojourn at a convent sound like a classic gothic novel (97). In Wieland, 88 Europe is depicted as tyrannical and feudal, with Pleyel trying to convince Theodore to take advantage of his primogeniture rights and become a lord (35). But, even after giving such images of Europe, many of Brown’s characters go there to rest after their gothic adventures in the United States. Sophia convinces Constantia to go to Europe for “the prospect of her ultimate restoration to tranquility,” and she comments that “since her arrival in England, the life of my friend has experienced little variation” (Ormond 221). Similarly, in Wieland, Clara goes to France to get some rest after her terrifying adventures. Like Ormond, Wieland ends with the heroine living in a very calm Europe, since Clara describes: “here I am, a thousand leagues from my native soil, in full possession of life and of health, and not destitute of happiness” (176).16 Arthur will probably leave the United States too, since he declares that “in a year or two we hie to Europe” (Arthur Mervyn 330). In these three novels, Brown ends his gothic tales with the American deserting America. The American hero/European villain binary is further deconstructed, though, since some of the European villains who make the heroes and heroines’ lives miserable are not really Europeans. The case that stands out the most is Craig’s in Ormond. To be hired by Dudley, he pretends to be from England, telling an elaborate tale of poverty and misery: “a native of Wakefield, in Yorkshire… he had… come to America, in search of the means of independent subsistence… he had just arrived in a ship” (Ormond 7). In reality, this evil European who ruins the American character is from Portsmouth, New 16 Clara goes to France, though, which in this period of revolutions was much less calm than England. This geographical detail might again underscore some potential internal troubles with the mental stability of this particular heroine. 89 Hampshire (Ormond 10). The fact that the evil Craig pretended to be a European but is really an American prevents a simple nativist reading of Ormond, even though the main antagonist (Ormond) is of mysterious European origins. This fact complicates Robert Levine’s argument that “Brown’s villains raise dark questions indeed about the futurity of a republic wherein ‘emigrants’ can theatrically fabricate identities as ‘Americans,’ all the while cloaking their origins, politics, and agendas” (Levine 16). The exact opposite happens in Ormond: the American fabricates an identity as a European to mask his evil plans. But, even further, the real problem here is not so much Craig, but Dudley’s interested gullibility for Craig’s story. As Michael Drexler and Ed White have demonstrated, Craig’s fantasy story of describing himself as an immigrant only further underlines Dudley’s own faults. Craig’s invented immigrant story appeals to Dudley and convinces him to hire Craig because it satisfies Dudley’s warped ideas about work; that is, Craig’s story confirms Dudley’s unethical definition of the American Dream as having immigrants dedicate their lives to work for Americans’ success (Drexler and White 340). This prevents even further a nativist reading since this novel seems to be arguing that there is something wrong with the American Dream itself. The fact that European antagonists turn out to be Americans reveals a problem with the American characters who believe them to be Europeans. As we have seen in Chapter Four’s analysis of Wieland, the American Carwin, while appearing as an evil European for most of the novel but really being a native of Pennsylvania, brings out the fears and desires that are repressed in other American people. Clearly, the Americans in Brown’s novels do not need Europeans to degenerate: they seem experts at tricking one another, and they are 90 already in extremely bad shape in terms of values, perception of the Other, and mental state. Carwin is a particularly interesting case because, posing as the evil European for most of the novel and yet saving Clara from her murderous brother, he leads the readers into wondering if Brown’s evil Europeans are really all that evil. While Carwin admits of his ventriloquism tricks against the Wielands, he also defends himself, telling Clara: “I am innocent. I intended no ill” (Wieland 148). He insists that he should not be held responsible for Theodore’s descent into madness: “I am not this villain; I have slain no one; I have prompted none to slay; I have handled a tool of wonderful efficacy without malignant intentions, but without caution” (Wieland 149). Even though Clara never forgives him and considers him the cause of Theodore’s madness, the readers understand that Carwin did not set out to destroy this family. Even further, he saves Clara when Theodore comes to kill her. To stop Theodore’s murderous rage, Carwin reveals that he has tricked him with his ventriloquist ability, telling Theodore: “Man of errors! cease to cherish thy delusion: not heaven or hell, but thy senses have misled thee to commit these acts. Shake off thy phrenzy, and ascend into rational and human. Be lunatic no longer” (Wieland 172). Even though this realization eventually leads Theodore to kill himself, it saves Clara from ending up murdered like Catherine. In the end, Carwin’s criminal intentions do not appear all that wicked, especially when we compare them to Theodore’s homicidal actions. Theodore might have resisted the temptation of going to Germany and to “degenerate into a tyrant and voluptuary” (Wieland 36), but he becomes a most tyrannical despot in the United States, killing his entire family. 91 Similarly, the European antagonist in Arthur Mervyn, Welbeck, who has a deformed hand designating him as the villain to the readers, does not seem especially ruthless when compared to some of the novel’s American businessmen in Philadelphia. Thetford, an American import-export merchant, not only tricked and ruined Welbeck, leaving him to die in the debtor prison, but his treatment towards a female servant during the yellow fever epidemic illustrates his evilness. When she feels sick from a fever that might not be even related to the yellow fever epidemic, the terrified Thetford forces her against her will to go to the hospital, which at the time was a place of infection and death; the girl, exposed to the open air and to her dread of going to such an unsafe place, dies even before she arrives to the hospital (Arthur Mervyn 121-122). Selfish, panicked, and heartless, Thetford personifies the American paranoia during the yellow fever epidemic, which contributed to a lot more senseless deaths than those that European immigrants may have caused. If nativists thought Europeans brought diseases and destroyed society, Thetford is there to remind them that Americans can be just as evil and dangerous to their own society. Teresa Goddu argues that the novel’s use of the yellow fever plague shows the self-destruction of a society that is becoming dependent on mercantilism and the corruption that comes with it. She explains that “the novel’s Enlightenment narrative of progress, stability, and success argues for the benefits and civilizing influence of commerce. The novel’s gothic counternarrative of disease, degeneracy, and decay warns of commerce’s corrupting effects… Arthur Mervyn horrifies precisely because it upholds the paradox that the Enlightenment narrative of good health may finally be indistinguishable from the gothic narrative of disease” (32). Even through this 92 perspective, though, Thetford remains worse than Welbeck since, in his successful conspiracy to ruin Welbeck, he demonstrates that the American is more adept at playing the corruption game than the foreigner. What Brown depicts in these deconstructed binaries of American hero/European villain is a very complex America, where evilness and goodness do not follow nationality lines. This very radical message in an anxious nativist period becomes even more radicalized when we look at how Brown deconstructs the perfection/imperfection binary so dear to the political propagandists. Nothing shows this deconstruction more vividly than Brown’s imperfect heroes. Chapter Four has demonstrated the deconstruction of the hero in Wieland through the transformation of Theodore into a murderous madman and through the transformation of the narrator into an unreliable witness who might be as deranged as the madman she describes.17 However, the ambiguity of the hero appears in the other novels as well, and in particular in Edgar Huntly and Arthur Mervyn, where the novels’ heroes might be potential villains. In terms of health, reason, and appealing characteristics, most of Brown’s American heroes appear deficient, and Arthur Mervyn is a case in point. To begin with, Arthur comes from a diseased family, which cannot promise anything good to readers who interpret diseases as a literary device to indicate potential moral failings. As already discussed in Chapter Two, his unclear health underscores the ambiguity of this character. What makes it even harder to define and trust this character’s morality is his ethnic origin. Arthur’s father is “a Scotch peasant” named “Sawny,” which reveals that Arthur is The word “transformation” only appears once within the novel Wieland; or, the Transformation, and it refers to Carwin’s “transformation into a Spaniard” during his stay in Spain (Wieland 59, emphasis in the original). But Carwin is clearly not the only character to go through a transformation. One more interpretation of this word might be the transformation of the readers from feeling safely secured in their dichotomous world to realizing that they too could be afflicted with a dormant madness. 17 93 Scots-Irish (Arthur Mervyn 179, 176, 176 note 3). Scots-Irish people did not have a good reputation in the Early Republic since many among them were frontier people who were associated in savageness with the Native Americans (Brooks 32). This “savage” ethnic background is not a good attribute of Arthur’s character and it links him to savage Irish villains such as Clithero. Arthur’s Americanness, then, is in question and, with it, his “civilized” sense of morality. What also makes Arthur’s coming-of-age adventure questionable is how unFranklinian the consequences of his adventure are. Very similarly to the story Benjamin Franklin tells in his Autobiography, Arthur leaves his father’s home, but, instead of finding a productive job in Philadelphia, he immediately starts working for a forger. Leaving his father in the hands of an immoral woman, Arthur later finds out that his penniless and alcoholic father ends up in jail. Even worse, rather than becoming a productive and valued member of society by studying medicine, Arthur declares that “books are cold” (Arthur Mervyn 317) and marries a wealthy Jewish woman. The marriage to Ascha Fielding is most disconcerting to nativist readers yearning for purity since she is an alien everywhere. She was born in England, but since Ascha’s father is a Portuguese Jew, British people consider her “the daughter of an alien;” even worse, her family’s health history is murky since her unstable mother has “fits” of “frenzy” that necessitated “incessant superintendence, restraint, and even violence” (Arthur Mervyn 308, 310). Carroll Smith-Rosenberg analyzes Ascha Fielding in terms of all the binaries she deconstructs: “subverting distinctions between women and men, Ascha Fielding at the same time subverts distinctions between black and white…we soon learn that Ascha Fielding is that archetypal liminal figure who spans East and West, 94 black and white, outsider and insider” (440). This is definitely a nonstandard wife for our American hero. Smith-Rosenberg describes Arthur’s happy ending by pointing out that he has become “a fashionable London gentleman. Thus concludes the career of the early American Adam” (440). We are very far from Benjamin Franklin’s model of industriousness and civic duty! And yet, because Arthur is the hero of the novel, and because the novel ends well for him, Brown seems to suggest that we do not all have to be like Franklin: Arthur is ambiguous, he is not a clear-cut hero, he could be interpreted as a villain, and many facts about him go counter the ideals of the Early Republic – but he is a possible alternative to the normative ideal.18 Towards the end of the novel, and in the midst of his courtship of Ascha Fielding, Arthur experiences a “midnight wandering” (Arthur Mervyn 324); that is, he sleepwalks. This hero, like many of Brown’s heroes, does not enjoy “sound sleep,” which indicates that he has “a mind sorely wounded” (Edgar Huntly 11). If we accept him as a hero, we must accept him in all of his human flaws and ambiguities: people are not perfect halves of a dichotomy, and an unhealthy non-industrious hero might be a hero after all. The same imperfection of a main character’s mental health appears in Edgar Huntly. The end of this novel is much less happy than Arthur Mervyn’s, and the readers do not get a good sense of appeasement since they do not know if Edgar is definitely cured. As Robert Levine points out, the ending of the novel is unsettling since, “although While in Arthur Mervyn Brown shows an alternative to Franklin’s model, in Ormond he depicts a heroine who follows a strict Franklinian ideal of industriousness and independence – but does not get rewarded with a true happy ending. Clearly, Brown has more than one bone to pick with Franklin’s one-size-fits-all philosophy of industriousness and independence. Maybe the issue is that Franklin seems incapable of accepting human variety; his Autobiography is a how-to manual for success that views everyone as having his same physical, social, and mental circumstances: white male without a trace of mental instability, at the right place at the right moment. 18 95 [Edgar] eventually returns to the bounds of civilization, the dichotomy between civilized self and savage other is never restored… We leave Huntly in a state of disintegration and confusion, for he can cull from his experience only a dreadful insight into human fragility” (54). For much of the novel, Edgar is as irrational and uncontrollable as Clithero, to the point where the distinctions between hero and villain become completely blurred. If reason and madness are not clearly discernible, and if both Irish immigrants and upper class American-born citizens seem to switch back and forth between the two, the anxious belief that keeping the “bad elements” out will save the nation from physical and mental degeneracy gets jeopardized. This doubling effect is troubling since it can lead to a reading of the novel with Edgar as a potential villain. For example, Edgar shows up as a villain in Joanna Brooks’s article “Held Captive by the Irish,” where she argues that the doubling between the two characters means that they are equally savage, and that Brown uses the doubling effect to point out the Quakers’ responsibilities in the frontier atrocities. Rather than admitting that they were just as brutal in their relationship with the Native Americans, the Quakers wanted to appear blameless, and so scapegoated the Irish as the violent savages who attacked the Native American population. Edgar illustrates this phenomenon by refusing to take responsibility for the massacres he perpetrates in the novel, dumping all the fault on Clithero’s evil influence. Even further, Mark Edelman Boren, in “Abortographism and the Weapon of Sympathy in Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly,” depicts Edgar has a Machiavellian villain who uses his rhetorical powers to scare the woman he has seduced, Mary, and thus induce a miscarriage that would allow him to abandon her and to make an advantageous marriage with Clarice. By 96 depicting his terrifying adventures in the wilderness, Edgar hopes to frighten Mary to the point of making her lose their baby. The fact that both the Irish villain and the American hero are such doubles that we cannot tell them apart makes the nativist scare useless: the degeneration danger is already present in the American population. Worse, rather than giving us a normalizing structure, Edgar Huntly raises more questions than it answers. As Lennard Davis explains, “the very structures on which the novel rests tend to be normative, ideologically emphasizing the universal quality of the central character whose normativity encourage us to identify with him or her” (13). However, this does not happen in Edgar Huntly, and, if the readers identify with him, they must accept their own potential mental instability. Thus, calling Edgar a hero means embracing his nonnormative ambiguity, mistakes, and mental instability. Once again, Brown seems to address Benjamin Franklin directly, arguing that “the condemnation and denial of human imperfection leads not to enlightened, utopian excellence but tragedy, as Brown’s image of the sleep-walker makes clear” (Lamont 147). Brown’s call for embracing human imperfection (or at least accepting it as an inevitable aspect of human nature) makes his novels unique because it clearly goes counter the mainstream beliefs of his time. The late eighteenth century was still embracing Enlightenment ideas of human progress, and mixed philosophy with science to create human classifications. While Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau had less of a negative view towards the different than the Early Republic nativists, they still reinforced binaries between “civilized” and “savage” groups of people in their philosophical treatises. For example, Rousseau sees “solitude as a defining characteristic of the savage, and uses that word to 97 refer to primitive tribes in Africa and the Americas as well as to the physically isolated. The feral child and the primitive tribesman may be in different states, but they are both states of nature, not states of society” (Simpson 566). Thus, Rousseau creates and reinforces separate categories of people. The philosophical tendencies to categorize people became a leitmotif of the medical discourse of the late eighteenth century, where “scientific theories of race had begun to emerge…based on linear hierarchies, but rooted in the altogether more static idea of the Great Chain of Being – the deistic idea that all living and inert things occupy a place in an infinitely graduated scale” (Simpson 563). The eighteenth-century ability to create strict categories of individuals rested on a worldview divided into easily-discernible groups of people that were either one thing or another. What is more, these categories were perceived as being on a scale moving from various degrees of imperfection towards an idealized human perfection. Not surprisingly, the European and American religious leaders, philosophers, and scientists all agreed to nominate white males as coming closer to that idealized perfection. Brown, though, through ambiguous white male heroes such as Arthur and Edgar, illustrates “that calls for human perfectibility, be they the outcropping of Quakerism or Enlightenment philosophy, are ignorant of the complex biology of human nature that makes available to each and every human the capacity to modify beyond the savage primal state but not the ability to overthrow that primacy once and for all” (Lamont 147). Jacques Derrida might have articulated a deconstruction of the Enlightenment’s tenets, but Brown’s systematic ambiguity on any of the value of the Enlightenment (reason, self-restraint, independence, industriousness, and human progress towards perfection) preceded Derrida’s critique. 98 Brown’s constant deconstruction of all binaries keeps coming back to the importance of human imperfection, and he articulates this importance most vividly when he deconstructs the able/disable binary. Through the changes taking place within the character of Dudley in Ormond, Brown appears to praise acceptance of the imperfection of disabilities in order to facilitate human growth. Even though Dudley’s blindness is a punishment for his unideal Americanness, it also allows him to grow and, paradoxically, to see. When he is reduced to poverty by Craig, Dudley contemplates suicide and only desists from this project when he becomes blind and understands the evilness of this thought: “Mr. Dudley’s blindness might justly be accounted, even in its immediate effects, a fortunate event. It dissolved the spell, by which he was bound, and which, it is probable, would never have been otherwise broken. It restored him to himself and shewed [sic] him, with a distinctness which made him shudder, the gulf to which he was hastening” (Ormond 21). This is as deconstructive as it can be: blindness shows Dudley that suicide is the wrong path to take, and Brown goes as far as calling blindness “a fortunate event” because it saves Dudley from killing himself. Not only that, but, while blind, Dudley grows as an individual, and learns not to trust too easily. Contrastingly to his daughter Constantia, Dudley understands that Ormond is dangerous, and he wants her to go to Europe to be safely distant from the evil European. Dudley tries to warn Constantia about Ormond: “He exspatiated [sic] on the dubious character of this man, the wildness of his schemes, and the magnitude of his errors. What could be expected from a man, half of whose life had been spent at the head of a band of Cassacks [sic], spreading devastation in the regions of 99 the Danube, and supporting by flagitious intrigues, the tyranny of Catherine, and the other half in traversing inhospitable countries, and extinguishing what remained of clemency and justice, by intercourse with savages?” (Ormond 162). While the novel started by painting Dudley as a gullible man who goes into ruin because he over-trusted strangers, he has clearly become a new man by the end of the novel. The roles between Dudley and Constantia (this solidly non-disabled character) have been reversed: Constantia’s model of reason and independence begins to falter and sends her right into the evil European’s trap. Insisting on feeling “more curiosity and wonder, than fear” towards Ormond (Ormond 201), Constantia does not realize how dangerous he is and, going alone to her old home, she puts herself in the perfect setting to get attacked by him. If she had listened to her father and immediately left for Europe, she would have avoided the attempted rape and Dudley would be alive. Through his blindness, Dudley has become a new man and has learned to see others’ hidden nature. Thus, his physical imperfection has brought him personal growth and wisdom. Dudley, and possibly Arthur at the very end of Arthur Mervyn, are the only characters who accept the imperfection of the human condition. Edgar in Edgar Huntly does not accept Clithero’s mental imperfection since he wants to cure him of his disease; he also does not accept his own imperfection, believing that he can cure it through curing Clithero. Clara in Wieland never accepts Theodore’s human imperfection, and her brother does not accept his human condition, striving to become a messenger of God. Constantia in Ormond leads a life structured by the idea of human progress and perfectibility since she follows strict tenets of self-reliance and industry. This ideology prevents her from 100 recognizing Ormond’s dark side and leads her into danger. Because these main characters refuse human imperfection, they make decisions that lead them into trouble and create the main plots of Brown’s gothic novels. All of these main characters are moved by virtuous ideals of helping and only seeing the goodness in others, but their virtue mixed with their refusal of imperfection leads them into either wanting to fix – cure – other people’s shortcomings or into being in denial about the dark complexities of the human psyche. While Brown was certainly not against being virtuous, he illustrated in all of his novels the dangers of wanting to do good while being intolerant of human diversity and complexity. All of the acts of kindness of the heroes and heroines turn against them, leading them into dark and twisted gothic tales. Only Arthur, at the end of Arthur Mervyn, escapes this fate. While he was as intolerant and in denial of human imperfection during most of the novel in his constant desire to help others (and in so doing bringing them to more problems than they had before his intervention), through his marriage with Ascha Fielding and his distancing himself from the Franklinian ideals of industry and civic duty, Arthur is the only of Brown’s heroes to get a proper happy ending. Ormond’s Dudley does not fare as well since he ends up dead, mostly due to his daughter’s insistence in befriending the murderous Ormond. However, he is the only character who accepts his imperfection when he becomes blind and understands the value of this imperfection; this acceptance enables him to come to terms with human complexity and to recognize the true twisted nature of others, such as Ormond’s. The idea that becoming disabled could be a positive event in one’s life must have been a counterintuitive thought for Brown’s readers and as destabilizing as the idea that 101 the main character can be imperfect, which leads readers to come to the realization of their own potential imperfection. What is more, flawed American characters like Theodore and Edgar reveal that disabilities are already a reality of American society since their dormant madness existed before the arrival of the foreigner. The idea that this might be the case for the readers as well is a scarier thought than creating mainstream gothic thrills through evil European characters coming to the United States. Even though Brown tempers this anxiety (even anxieties are ambiguous in Brown!) with the idea that disabilities can actually bring positive outcomes to someone’s life, creating gothic thrills is one of his goals throughout the novels. Indeed, he starts Wieland with a very gothic advertisement telling readers of “an authentic case, remarkably similar to that of Wieland,” of a man killing his family (Wieland 3). He also calls on scientific authority, stating that those who would doubt the plausibility of such a murder should consult “Physicians and …men conversant with the latent springs and occasional perversions of the human nature” (Wieland 3). Clearly, Brown wants his readers to experience the gothic thrills that result from thinking that the tales of terror of a gothic novel could actually happen to them. Thus, the idea that the American rational heroes are just as “degenerate” as the European villains, and that the readers might be just as mad, might be the scariest thrill a gothic writer could come up with during the 1790s’ anxious nativism. However, Brown’s gothic novels also have a didactic mission, which means that he aims at teaching something through all of his terrors and deconstructed binaries. Elizabeth Lamont argues that Brown leads his readers into thinking critically about their society, “to admit of its brutalities, dangers, and promise, and to appeal to the collective soul of a 102 people who, he believed, were solely responsible for the decision to embrace or deny the decencies and obligations that would prove the national adaptation a superior, or inferior, one” (155). Brown’s didactic message, then, is pointed at the Early Republic’s own failings, and his decision to share this message through the Gothic genre is not incidental. As Teresa Goddu argues in her introduction to Gothic America, the Gothic is a genre that has been erroneously labelled as escapist; rather, she argues, this genre “registers its culture’s contradictions, presenting a distorted, not a disengaged, version of reality” (23). Brown’s distorted representation of the Early Republic’s mythicized American youth and demonized European villains forces the readers to come to terms with their society’s simplified worldview. Goddu goes farther, arguing that “American gothic literature criticizes America’s national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation’s claim to purity and equality” (10). Brown’s gothic novels, then, illustrate the contradictions of the nativist propaganda, even all the while using the propaganda to scare the readers by tapping into their fears. By constantly blurring the lines between illustrating the worse nativist nightmares and debunking these nightmares as overly simplistic, Brown forces his readers to contemplate the messy complexity of human existence and to distrust any nation-building effort based on intolerance towards the Other. Brown does what Goddu sees as American Gothic’s primary objective: “in its narrative incoherence, the gothic discloses the instability of America’s self-representations; its highly wrought form exposes the artificial foundations of national identity” (10). Through the gothic genre, then, Brown is able to spread radical ideas, during a conservative political period, on the complexity of American identity. 103 While the 1790s were a period of revolutions and turmoil in Europe, the Early Republic was moving towards conservatism, as evidenced by the paranoia of the Alien and Sedition Acts. This anxious atmosphere was not the best for people like Brown who viewed human nature as infinitively more complex than the nativists. One way to voice those ideas in a socially acceptable manner was to use genres that allowed veiled subversion. For example, in her article “The Love of Plants; or the Cross-Fertilization of Science and Desire at the End of the Eighteenth Century,” Fredrika Teute describes how the language of botany allowed the spreading of anti-conventional social ideas without the repercussions of a conservative censorship (83). Similarly, the gothic genre vehicle of subversive ideas through its extraordinary tales, and through it American Gothic writers questioned their society’s values. While British “gothic novels question only the perversion of class and gender hierarchies from traditional values…some North American gothics critique the form of the hierarchy itself [and] early North American gothics frequently resolve their conflicts by creating an alternative order” (Cowell 126). Brown uses the gothic, then, to explore new social orders and to lead to “open-ended investigation of social institutions” (Cowell 127). Indeed, one of the main ideas that Brown puts forward in his novels is “his fictional representation of the ‘impossibility of absolute certainty’” (Verhoeven 29). Only through absolute certainties can one create dichotomies between wholly positive and wholly negative items; without absolute certainty, one is left with ambiguous shades of positive and negative elements and with a picture of America much more complex than nativist propaganda and politicians tried to represent. While Wil Verhoeven argues that Brown was not a particularly radical citizen 104 of his society since he “was exactly where the Republic was at the end of the eighteenth century: at the nexus of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, colonialism and modernity, progress and consolidation” (32), a close reading of his novels reveals that any apparent conservative message he presents becomes deconstructed through ambiguity and contradiction. His constant ambiguity is what caused Brown to be “construed, as he had been since his death in 1810, as a flawed writer” (Barnard, Kamrath, Shapiro ix), but ambiguity is the tool through which the gothic writer expresses his radical views. After all, “gothic fiction is a destabilizing genre by definition, a genre whose very form prohibits a secure framework for defining the self. When traditional sources of knowing – reason and nature – are undermined, the coherence of the self is also subverted. The epistemological grounding for identity is cut away” (Cowell 128). Brown takes away epistemological certainty and gives his readers ambiguity as the base for identity exploration.19 At first, Brown’s deconstruction of all binaries may appear nihilist; after all, if we have no absolute certainty in anything, there is nothing worth fighting for. However, Brown is not so much a nihilist as an expert gothic writer illustrating the incoherence and paradoxes of his society’s anxious debates over nativism, degeneration, and unideal Americans. To argue that there is a clear way to differentiate the welcome from the unwelcome leads one on a slippery slope that reveals everyone’s inability to meet a standard that refuses any difference or human frailty. This intolerant standard, says 19 If some scholars, especially in the 1950s, have categorized Brown as “a flawed writer,” as Philip Barnard, Mark Kamrath, and Stephen Shapiro point out in Revising Charles Brockden Brown (ix), these hostile scholars might have been involuntarily complimenting him, then, since Brown’s work reveals that perfection is neither graspable, nor desirable. 105 Brown, is the real danger for the United States because it leads to panic and anxieties towards all those who do not conform: foreigners, unideal citizens, people with disabilities. And this means that anyone could be targeted by this panic since Brown illustrates in his novels that we are all more or less foreigners, unideal citizens, and visibly or invisibly disabled. Therefore, in his extraordinary and terrifying gothic tales, Brown comes out as a paradoxically calming voice of acceptance among tyrannical political acts, vitriolic anti-foreigner propaganda, and the anxious pathologization of the Other. Brown may not be as widely-known today as other American authors, and he might be accused of being an imperfect writer, but his mark on American literature is undeniable – his depiction of a terrifying, imperfect, and complex America echoes throughout the American canon. 106 Chapter 6 EPILOGUE Analyzing Walt Whitman’s contradictory stance on health and disability in his poetry, Robert Scholnick points out that Whitman’s poetry uses disabilities to represent both nativist health concerns and dignified metaphors of sacrifice for the nation. Indeed, a reading of Whitman’s poetry through Disabilities Studies’ lenses reveals an ambiguous representation of disabilities. In “Song of the Open Road,” Whitman declares: “Only those may come who come in sweet and determined bodies, / No diseased person—no rum-drinker or venereal taint is permitted here” (131). Scholnik argues that, “in promoting physical health as a means of fostering national stability, control, and improvement, Whitman excluded those lacking the best blood,” which was in tone with the phrenologist and eugenic readings that the poet consulted (249, 252). Further, in “Salut au Monde,” Whitman lumps disabilities with social misfits and criminals: “I see the prisoners in the prisons, / I see the defective human bodies of the earth, I see the blind, the deaf and dumb, idiots, hunchbacks and lunatics, / I see pirates, thieves, betrayers, murderers” (123). This mixing of people with disabilities and criminals appears often in nineteenth-century rhetoric, where the non-conforming body was perceived as a danger to the state, and thus criminal. However, in the poem “The WoundDresser” from Drum Taps, Whitman gives a sentimental and sympathetic representation of disabilities. Whitman graphically describes the wounds of the disabled veterans: “From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand / I undo the clotted lint…I dress the 107 perforated shoulder” (261), but these disabilities are not signs of degeneracy. Indeed, the wounded soldiers, with their “side-falling head,” “the foot with the bullet-wound,” and their “wound in the abdomen” (261) become types of Christ, inscribed in the master narrative of the crucifixion, since the poet imagines the death of Christ as replayed in the Civil War. These wounds symbolize the sacrifice the soldiers made in the war for their loved ones and their country, and so these visible physical marks become metaphors for the wounded nation. Analyzing this constant ambiguity of the use of disabilities in Whitman’s poetry, Scholnick concludes by arguing that Whitman deployed a discourse of national perfectibility, which carried with it distinct eugenicist implications about the value of different races and individuals. But he also drew from a discourse of democratic inclusiveness in which all people are valued on their own terms. The tension between these two languages lies at the heart not only of Whitman’s life work but also of the America whose song Whitman sang. (259) While this argument sheds light on how nineteenth-century American poets were still dealing with the same issues of nativism and health as crucial to nation building, Scholnick’s conclusion also highlights what Charles Brockden Brown is achieving through his use of Early Republic’s nativist rhetoric and his deconstruction of binaries. The contradictions Brown sets up while using (and abusing) his society’s rhetoric rest at the center of his novels’ message. At times echoing the nativist rhetoric to thrill his readers, at others debunking the rhetoric to terrify and provoke his readers, Brown’s 108 representation of America’s imperfections and complexity is as all-encompassing as the representation of America in Whitman’s poetry. This thesis has focused on Brown’s ambiguous use of disabilities in an attempt to understand Brown’s stance on the Early Republic’s debates over the welcome and the unwelcome. Chapter Two’s focus on Ormond and Arthur Mervyn has demonstrated that Brown is a gothic writer taking full advantage of his readers’ anxieties over foreigners and disabilities fueled by the nativist politico-medical rhetoric. Tapping into his readers’ anxieties, Brown sets predictable nativist patterns only to debunk them and leave his readers to question the patterns’ validity. Chapter Three demonstrates through a close reading of Edgar Huntly that Brown depicts the pitfalls of sympathy as a tool for nation building since it reinforces the norm and the politics of sameness; he tricks his readers into sympathizing with the unwelcome and forces them to realize that holding norms and sameness as goals for the nation leads to exclusion. Chapter Four continues the exploration of Brown’s illustration of the paradoxes and contradictions at the heart of the nativist rhetoric and values of his society; in Wieland, showing the similarities between reason and insanity, Brown depicts the United States as already unstable and degenerate, and illustrates how a dichotomous worldview leads to a simplistic and incorrect understanding of the world and those around us. Finally, Chapter Five argues that ambiguity is central to Brown’s argument: he deconstructs all the binaries he sets up to give us flawed heroes who are more imperfect and complex than the literary heroes the nativists would want to see represented in the new American literature. Through his use 109 of the Gothic, Brown gives a radical depiction of the Early Republic as complex, flawed, and diverse. The arguments in these chapters bring forward the idea that Brown’s gothic novels worked against any reductionist depiction of the United States. All the perspectives of his society that he gives through his characters (medical, political, philosophical, moral) debunk any simplistic theory that tries to point an accusing finger toward the Other. His representation of the Yellow Fever reminds American citizens to be responsible citizens during the epidemic and to not incriminate immigrants for the mass infection. Brown reveals complex political views through his representation of sympathy, where the readers identify with the Other and, as they do so, come to terms with their own imperfection. He ridicules the fear that foreigners are the cause for national degeneration and that American citizens are in any way more perfect than others. Brown removes certainty and the fortress of binaries behind which hide those who have a simplistic worldview and who want to feel superior to others. Brown’s novels do not leave one stone unturned as they investigate and question the values and beliefs of the Early Republic. Disabilities feature prominently in Brown’s work because they are the ultimate Other that all discourses reject and that the gothic writer constantly reintroduces in his depiction of America. In Brown’s novels, America is an asylum in both senses of the word: a haven only for those who conform (but whose conformity is mere illusion) and a padded cell for those viewed as a threat that needs to be contained, incarcerated, excluded (and whom Brown depicts as heroes such as Edgar and identifiable villainous characters such as Clithero). 110 What comes out of this exploration of Brown is his distrust of any kind of extremism, even when it is inspired by virtuous ideals. Virtuous acts, in Brown’s novels, do not get rewarded. This does not mean that Brown does not want people to be virtuous, but that he questions the validity of virtue that is promoted by the ulterior motives of getting a reward. The reward sought by Brown’s heroes and heroines is to change human imperfection into perfection. This desire, taken to its extreme, leads to extremist views that are not far from those of the nativists. Wanting to cure others of their imperfection has been a constant theme of those with the power to categorize the substandard Others, be they people with disabilities, unwelcome foreigners, or unideal citizens. This kind of virtue through cure, illustrates Brown, is a euphemism for oppression, victimization, and destruction. The fact that Walt Whitman’s poetry still shows themes of health concerns as key for the nation-building project and, at times, of seemingly eugenic tendencies, may lead one to think that the nineteenth-century United States ignored Brown’s message and embraced instead the nativists’ anxiety and desire for perfection, uniformity, and exclusion. And yet, Whitman’s love declaration to America in all of its imperfections echoes the America of ambiguities and contradictions that is represented in Brown’s gothic novels, revealing a continuity between the two authors. 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