Archive for the 'Charles Brockden Brown' Category


Jun 10 2010

Hello again

by at 5:50 pm

Hello, blog. I know I have been careless and forgotten about you during my thesis-writing days. I’ve come to make amends. It’s the summer, I’m sitting in Tryst Cafe after having met with Dana about the introduction to my thesis, and I come groveling back to you.

I’m sorry. Really, I am. I promised I would keep up with you, but I didn’t. Now that those apologies are out of the way, let’s get down to business:

My meeting with Dana was super helpful and I’d like to include some of the key points from our conversation because it’s pretty critical to the way my thesis is shaping up. Dana has a magical way of being, “So this is what your thesis is about,” as I nod my head and scribble frantically to get it all down. Yes. Now that you mention it, that is what it’s about.

So here are the important points from my Thursday, 6-10-2010 meeting:

1. My thesis is really just an expanded meditation on the notin of epxerimentation–specifically on scientific experimentation (ie: scientific method, etc.) versus literary experimentation, and then quite larger how this all connects to the volatile experimentation of the United States a political experimentation. This is where the atmosphere and electricity and such come into play. Yes. So that’s what it’s about. For now. At least.

2. In my chapter on Charles Brockden Brown, I’m not going to say which Brown critic is right or wrong or whatever. That’s not what I’m trying to do. Instead, my point is to look at the politics of experimentation and show that that is why we’ve been so confused about Brown’s politics. He experimental form and process is what has perplexed Brown scholars and what creates competing readings of him.

3. In my introduction I talk about the “Third Culture,” but it’s not a question of the “Third Culture” but really Culutre. So Snow’s binary of Two Cultures and then there being a Third Culture is actually inaccurate. It’s all just Culture.

4. Critics in for CBB chapter: Paul Witherington looks at Brown’s stylistic experimentation in Edgar Huntly. These are aesthetics stakes and not political as such, but the act of being experimental has inherent political implications. Bernard Rosenthal and Peter Swirski: bring these two theorists in, in conjunction with Witherington, to join the literary with the scientific. They talk about literary experimentation, but join together to show how CBB is both scientifically AND literarily experimental. Jared Gardner and race too.

4. Temporality of the Literary Experiment:  Writing itself is the experiment, as opposed to the experiment in which you perform it and then write it up. So there’s this dea of the novel as an unfinished experiment that we’re cowriting with CBB as we read his novel in the 21st century.

5. The footnote: Think about postmodern footnotes in Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Complete and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. In Dias, we have mock ethnographic footnotes. Footnotes in books are shocking to 20th century readers but not to 21st century readers, however, Brown is doing different things with the footnote in Wieland than what postmodern footnotes are doing. Brown’s footnotes are scientific with a really straight face, but in the postmoden novel it’s tounge-in-cheek. It’s the footnote in parody. For Diaz, it’s the performance of the containment of information. So I’ll need to include a presentist paragraph or two on postmodern contemporary fiction.

No responses yet | Categories: Charles Brockden Brown,Constantin Volney,Thesis

Feb 20 2010

Martin S. Vilas, Early 20th Cent. CBB Scholar

by at 2:46 am

Martin S. Vilas publishes Charles Brockden Brown: A Study of Early American Fiction in 1904, definitely the earliest criticism I’ve read on CBB thus far.

Some great quotes from this guys:

The interest in Charles Brockden Brown and his works arises largely from his ranking positioon among American Prose Writers.  Hence, it is not expected that an estimate, somewhat extended and somewhat critical, of his writings is likely to become popular. No other than this, save very brief sketches of Brown and of what he has done is known to the writer. It may be, then, that the student of American literature will find this book, written five years ago, something suggestive, perhaps something usually called original (Vilas 4).

I find it interesting when CBB’s work is “rediscovered.” Cathy Davidson resurrects early national literature in the 80’s; Vilas apparently resurrects it in the early 20th century, although he predicts that critical attention to CBB’s work is unlikely to become popular. In a way he is right and wrong. CBB now is certainly not mainstream in the culture at large, but he’s canonical in early American studies.

But notice how Vilas, as any good scholar would, is sure to point out that this book is perhaps something original because it sheds light on the rarely explored author.

Vilas also speaks about the condition of literature when Brown writes. This is worth including here as well:

Literatures like Constitutions are not made; they grow. Like the growth of the coal mine, they form, harden and mature from the timber of other ages, of times well nigh forgotten, and from materials usually overlooked by the ninety and nine. Literature is the clear lake in which may be seen mirrored the vegetation that grows near it, the animal life that appears above and around it and the movements within its horizon (Vilas 10).

Viles emphasizes how literatures need to grow from material of the ages, and this, therefore, requires time. Viles notes how the beginning of every nation in literature has been in verse, not in prose, but the United States is one rare exception:

In the United States we note the rare exception. The rule has been true because with most nations we mark their rise from a condition of barbarism by long, slow stages to civilization and culture. The people in the early periods of progression have not the intellects capable of carrying on the successive steps in argumentative prose but their fancies are pleased by ballads descriptive of the heroism of themselves and their ancestors. But America received her origin and early development not through an Anchises and an Aeneas carrying their ” sacra patriosque penates” […], but she received them at a stage in the world’s history when the blackness of ten centuries of gloom had but fairly rolled away, when the civilized world, rejoicing anew in its rediscovered strength, was investigating and progressing as never before and had sent some of its best blood across the western seas to colonize and found new nations. The long years of evolution from the uncivilized to the civilized that marked the growth of European nations were absent here. For without the institutions of the Old World, the New yet possessed their training and influence and considered herself as good as her fathers. The United States, though her tuition has been derived from all the world, yet is in language, instituitions and laws, the child of England. To her she has ever turned to draw the inspiration that has set her alive ot the best instincts within herself (Vilas 10).

After his introduction, Vilas goes on to summarize and outline Charles Brockden Brown’s works. For the scope of my thesis, his analysis of Wieland is what is most relevant. Vilas notes how Wieland is influenced by Godwin’s Caleb Williams. I’ll have to take Vilas’s word for it because I’ve never read Godwin.

One of Vilas’s main arguments is, however, that Charles Brockden Brown did not understand the human mind. Huh? Really?

To contextualize, Vilas quotes Griswold who claims that Brown was “a careful anatomist of the mind and familiar with its wonderful phenomena” (22). In response, Vilas argues that while “it is true that he evidently had made a careful study of the mind, but that he ever understood its healthy workings I do not believe” (22). Vilas thus believes that Brown is more concerned with the mind in its most unstable moments. Vilas argues that CBB provides logical explanation to the seemingly supernatural occurances in the text (unlike say Macbeth, etc.) and yet “when we have finished Wieland there seems to be something ‘uncanny’ about it” (Vilas 24).

This leads Vilas to conclude that Charles Brockden Brown did not understand the human mind because the work, even with its explantions seems impossible. “We cannot make ourselves to believe that ordinary mortals would so conduct themselves,” Vilas notes, and so if Brown really understood the human mind “he must be able to show forth its workings as they are so that they seem to us possible” (Vilas 24). I find this whole question to be incredibley inrelevant and, quite honestly, poor criticism. Who cares if Charles Brockden Brown “understood” the human condition! That being said, I still must give credit to Vilas for bringing  Brown to the forefront, despite an obviously dated literary analysis. But Vilas’s argument does raise an interesting point about Brown and our perceptions of him. Was he crazy just like his books? Or was he a man of science and letters and a person that could be considered a source of inspiration the 19th century. Would 19th century Americans read Brown as Vilas reads him, or would they be more open to him as an “anatomist of the mind” and commentator on all things American? I’d venture to say the later.

No responses yet | Categories: Charles Brockden Brown,Thesis,Wieland

Feb 17 2010

American Sympathy, Caleb Crain

by at 11:00 pm

In order to get ready for some major thesis writing, I still have to do some more reading on Wieland criticsm. Sigh. I give you my first attempt at summarizing some Wieland criticism:

Informed by Freud and writings on “insanity” or imbalance behavior (as evidenced by his refernce to Dora, etc.),  Caleb Crain emphasizes the importance of the father and what he terms “copyism” in guiding the narrative’s direction. Crain defines copyism as follows: “A copyist is a self whose creative impulse has been destroyed as a sacrifice to authority. The sacrifice is in a sense a gift of love. The copyist would rather not be himself or herself than lose the approval of the one he or she copies” (Crain 107).

Crain cites a letter CBB writes to a friend of his in which he rails against the entrance of copying into the realm of art. In a discussion on music, Brown writes, “low, indeed must be the ambition, which is satisfied with pleasing by mere mimicry, but putting off every distinctive property, everything that constitutes themselves; and warbling the words of others, and running through unmeaning, unappropriate, unintelligent notes.”

Not coincidently, Brown was preoccupied with the idea of copying and imposture. His father, Elijah Brown,was a conveyancer and copied over legal documents but he often copied over documents on his own time as a kind of therapeutic technique of relaxation. Brown was also involved in lots of shady business transactions, and here is where Crain ties in issues of copyism, and issues of father figures. Brown attempts to do things differently–not to imitate his father’s shady ways, but Brown cannot help but see the links between the literary art and its “combination of imposture and projection,” which like Carwin, can “speak where he is not” (108). The idea that the novel itself is suspicious with its disembodied voice, just as Carwin’s ability to project his voice as if it is detached from his own body, is an interesting idea to think about.

No responses yet | Categories: Charles Brockden Brown,genre,Thesis,Wieland

Sep 21 2009

The Much Anticipated Cecelia Tichi Article…

by at 11:31 pm

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Cecelia Tichi could have stolen my orals/thesis thunder. Tichi got to Volney and Brown before I did, but have no fear, she is a great writer and thinker and this actually helps. A lot.  So, drumroll please, I give you  important snippets from Tichi’s article that will inform my orals/thesis:

Notice the  first sentence of Tichi’s article. I knew she had it from the first line. First line!

In his lifetime Charles Brockden Brown translated one work only: C.F. de Volney’s A View of the Soil and Climate of the United States. For the novelist-editor-critic and, as of 1803, political pamphleteer, the translation of Volney in 1804 seems an odd choice. Although he was America’s foremost litterateur, Brown rendered into English no romantic tale in the tradition of Chateaubriand’s Atala but “the first book to give an organized synthesis of the physiographic and geologic regions of the United States and of the climatology of the continent” (Tichi 1).

Some important things to note about the above passage:

  1. I like that Tichi calls Brown a “novelist-editor-critic.” I like the hyphenation. I wonder if “translator” or even “naturalist” would be appropriate additions?
  2.  I wasn’t able to include the footnote here, but that quotation in the last line of this paragraph is from George W. White’s “Introduction” to his 1968 facsimile of Brown’s translation. I know White’s “Introduction” well. I came across White’s facsimile long before I ever knew about Tichi’s article. I’d say it’s a good sign when you start recognizing random critics in obscure footnotes….
  3. Tichi makes an excellent point: why didn’t Brown translate into English a romantic tale or something more literary? It is kind of strange that CBB would translate this work on American geology and climatology, no?

Next passage:

The choice for translation seems doubly puzzling when we consider that a London English language edition was already available in America even as Brown labored at its American counterpart (Tichi 1).

Cecelia Tichi, I like the way you think! I’ve seen the original London English edition at the Library of Congress and remembered being puzzled myself. I was looking for the CBB translation because that’s why I was interested in the Volney addition in the first place. But the book I looked at wasn’t what I expected. I remember thinking, “Is this the CBB edition?” Nah, it just couldn’t be, because the CBB edition was clearly marked as such, with CBB as translator and annotator, and a translator’s preface, all of which were missing in the edition I looked at, which turns out to be the one Tichi is referring to. I make note of this first edition in an endnote in my writing sample. Hmmm, I should probably reference Tichi now that I’ve got more information…

And here it comes, Tichi’s argument:

But while his biographers have viewed Brown’s effort as an anomalous quasi-literary interlude between his novels and his political-historical activities, such easy dismissal of the translation may leave neglected a significant aspect of Brown’s thought. The Monthly Anthology reviewer had denounced Brown’s alterations of Volney as “wholly unpardonable,” both dishonorable and unjust. Yet a close look at the eccentricities of Brown’s translation suggests that Volney stimulated the Philadelphian both to define the American in relation to his nation and continent, and to attempt actuation of the territorial expansion which, as of his first political pamphlet, Brown evidently believed would insure national progress. Indeed, the special biases Brown reveals in his translation make it quite clear that the effort was no perfunctory exercise in a language self-taught, nor a task undertaken only at the urging of Brown’s fellows in the Friendly Club. Rather, Brown’s translation of Volney appears to be the work of a mind bent upon using the pen for specific nationalistic purposes (Tichi 2).

Tichi’s aligns Brown’s translation of Volney’s naturalistic work with Brown’s personal politics. Brown makes significant changes to Volney’s appendix; Tichi’s argument depends on these modifications. During the course of this essay, Tichi elaborates on Brown’s politics, specifically his endorsement of American expansionism (aka: the creation of an American empire). Brown’s translation, Tichi argues, is informed by such political aims.

Brown as cultural archivist; Brown’s translation as an indication of his politics:

Brown’s interest in, and encouragement of, American national self-consciousness in varied areas of life has been well documented. For example. his brief editorial tenure at the Monthly Magazine and American Review (1799-1800) had found him reviewing “more or less critically” some “one hundred and fifty American publications.” And his later journalistic ventures in editing the Literary Magazine and American Register (1803-1806) and then the American Register, or General Repository of History, Politics, and Science (1807-1809) reveal by their contents–and even by their titles–the value Brown placed upon preserving the current record of the growing nation. Moreover, as a novelist Brown had used fiction to define the American experience […] But Brown published no fiction after 1801, and Warner Berthoff finds in the “feebleness” of his last two novels an anticipation of Brown’s “abandonment of the novel as a literary instrument” […] Certainly one of Brown’s major ideas concerned American nationalism, a term whose political ramifications are perhaps best revealed in the kinds of liberties Brown took with Volney’s text in the cast his marginal notes gave that work (Tichi 2).

No responses yet | Categories: Charles Brockden Brown,Constantin Volney,Orals,Thesis,Writing Sample

Sep 17 2009

Talking Back: Charles Brockden Brown, Jefferson, and Scientific Dissent

by at 1:10 pm

My orals have been shaping into something over the past couple of days. Nice surprise, I know, but I think I need to backtrack a little to show how I got to where I am now.

James Delbourgo cites Charles Brockden Brown’s translation of Constantin Volney’s A View of the Climate of the United States of America in A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders. I read this a ways back, but never sought to find it.  Over the summer, I went to the Library of Congress and was able to see Volney’s work. Apparently, Lauinger Special Collections has a copy as well. I have to get on that.

In any case, I thought that this translation had never really been discussed, at least in relation to Brown explicitly (Delbourgo mentions Brown, but never acknowledges that he was an early American author). Well, I was wrong. I just found an article by Cecelia Tichi, published in 1973, and called “Charles Brockden Brown, Translator.” I know what you’re thinking, Cheryl is freaking out because her great, original idea has already been taken. Hold it, not so fast. Things are fine. Great actually. I’m not only writing on Brown and his connection to Volney. I’m actually more concerned with how Brown fits into a wider early American community of thinkers, like Jefferson, who counter European generalizations about their continent. Professor Rubin informed me that Jefferson translated Volney’s Ruins. Although Jefferson does not annotate Volney’s work, Jefferson does refute Buffon’s generalization about Americans and the American continent in Notes on the State of Virginia. In these examples, Brown and Jefferson engage with European scientific dialogue by assuming a scientific form. I would like to expand this approach to include the novelistic form. I am interested in how American authors embrace and contest conclusions made about the American climate in European discourses of science. Given this framework, I plan to look at Melville’s Pierre and Israel Potter, which, although 50 years later than Brown and Jefferson, invoke the language of the atmospheric sciences.

So, Cecelia Tichi, wherever you are, thanks for your article. Really. A write-up of this article is soon to follow.

2 responses so far | Categories: Charles Brockden Brown,Constantin Volney,Herman Melville,Orals,Personal Statement,Thesis,Thomas Jefferson,Writing Sample | Tags: , , , , , , ,