Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Review: "Edgar Huntly"

Charles Brockden Brown's 1799 gothic novel Edgar Huntly, or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker is another of those works that's rather difficult to review. Like Brown's other works, it contains fascinatingly complex motifs (concealed or mistaken identities, sleep-walking, unrequited guilt, revenge) and intensely complicated problems (tangled financial matters, inter-racial warfare, and the persistent dilemmas associated with growing up).

In his prefatory note, "To the Public," Brown notes that his unconventional uses of particularly American gothic motifs is entirely intentional: "One merit the writer may at least claim; that of calling forth the passions and engaging the sympathy of the reader, by means hitherto unemployed by preceding authors. Puerile superstition and exploded manners; Gothic castles and chimeras, are the materials usually employed for this end. The incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of the western wilderness, are far more suitable; and, for a native of America to overlook these, would admit of no apology. These, therefore, are, in part, the ingredients of this tale, and these he [the author] has been ambitious of depicting in vivid and faithful colours." He certainly succeeds there.

It's impossible to evaluate 18th-century novels in the same ways I would a novel published today: the styles are utterly different, as are the motives (of both writer and reader). But that's alright. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the narrative, and even after all these years, Brown's ability to creep out his reader remains as powerful as it ever was. Well worth a read.

1 comment:

Ed said...

One of the reasons I love 18th century novels so much is that they don't behave the way we expect novels to. Style, plot, conventions. It can all seem so bizarre. And refreshing.