A Darkness Visible: the Case of Charles Brockden Brown

  • A. Robert Lee
Part of the Insights book series


Nathaniel Hawthorne’s celebrated inclusion of Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810) in ‘The Hall of Fantasy’ sets him, to be sure, infinitely among his betters, at first glance a truly discrepant name to be found in so august an assembly. But, if duly assigned a place at the periphery, ‘an obscure and shadowy niche’, Brown does have at least one legitimate cause for being named in this roll-call of the great and the good. Like Homer, Dante and Shakespeare, or any of the rest — especially his fellow novelists Richardson, Fielding and Scott — he was despite all his limits an essential founding presence, a figure of departure. For it fell to him to take his place as America’s first fiction writer of consequence, a begetter of that line of ‘romance’ which begins at the turn of the nineteenth century, and which, with key stop-overs at the likes of Poe, Melville and Hawthorne, evolves through to Faulkner and well beyond.3


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  1. 3.
    Here and elsewhere in this essay, I have benefited from the following works: Arthur Hobson Quinn, American Fiction, an Historical and Critical Survey (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1936);Google Scholar
  2. Alexander Cowie, The Rise of the American Novel (New York: American Book Company, 1948);Google Scholar
  3. R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955);Google Scholar
  4. Richard Chase, The American Novel and its Tradition (New York: Doubleday, Anchor, 1957);Google Scholar
  5. Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958);Google Scholar
  6. Leslie A. Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, rev. edn (New York: Criterion, 1966);Google Scholar
  7. and Richard Brodhead, Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    John Keats to Richard Woodhouse, 21–2 Sep 1819, in Letters of John Keats, ed. Robert Gittings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) p. 297.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    There are also two modern biographies of Brown: David Lee Clark’s Charles Brockden Brown: Pioneer Voice of America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1952);Google Scholar
  10. and, far more definitive, Harry R. Warfel’s Charles Brockden Brown: American Gothic Novelist (Gainesville, Fla: University of Florida Press, 1949). To call Brown America’s first professional novelist is in no way to ignore the importance of other pioneer Americans, notably Susanna Rowson with her Charlotte Temple (1791).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    For a complete bibliographical listing of reviews and essays on Brown see Patricia L. Parker, Charles Brockden Brown: A Reference Guide (Boston, Mass.: G. K.Hall, 1980).Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    All of the remarks quoted in this paragraph, plus those of R. H. Dana Sr, Hazlitt and Whittier cited earlier, may be found in Bernard Rosenthal (ed.), Critical Essays on Charles Brockden Brown (Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1981). Rosenthal’s introduction offers a full, most helpful account of Brown’s early reputation.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (New York: Dover, 1973).Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    In my account of Brown’s fiction I have benefited particularly from the following works: Larzer Ziff, ‘A Reading of Wieland’, PMLA, LXXVII (1962) 51–7;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Donald A. Ringe, Charles Brockden Brown (New York: Twayne, 1966);Google Scholar
  16. Arthur G. Kimball, Rational Fictions: A Study of Charles Brockden Brown (McMinnville, Ore.: Linfield Research Institute, 1968);Google Scholar
  17. Norman S. Grabo, The Coincidental Art of Charles Brockden Brown (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981);Google Scholar
  18. and Alan Axelrod, Charles Brockden Brown: An American Tale (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Robert Lee

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