Daniel Couégnas’ essay, “Forms of Popular Narrative in France and England: 1700-1900″ points out research by Maurice Lévy on the titles of gothic novels. “The most frequent model of title falls into two parts linked by or in the eighteenth-century style, followed by a subtitle that indicates the genre.” That last is usually “a romance” or some such.
In the case of Wieland, however, this gothic novel is “an American tale,” an interesting effect. English gothic novels were commonly set in southern Europe, where the mysterious and occult Catholics native to the area could terrify innocent and unsuspecting heroines. Charles Brockden Brown’s novel is, instead, set in Quaker Pennsylvania just before the turn of the 18th century.
Never heard of Brown? You’re hardly alone. Invisible College Press, which partly specializes in hard-to-find classics, reprinted Wieland, which was originally published in 1798.
The first interesting thing about the novel is that the innocent, unsuspecting heroine is in fact our first-person narrator. She ominously sets the scene:
I feel little reluctance in complying with your request. You know not fully the cause of my sorrows. You are a stranger to the depth of my distresses. Hence your efforts at consolation must necessarily fail. Yet the tale that I am going to tell is not intended as a claim upon your sympathy…. It will exemplify the force of early impressions, and show the immeasurable evils that flow from an erroneous or imperfect discipline.
My state is not destitute of tranquility. The sentiment that dictates my feelings is not hope. Futurity has no power over my thoughts. To all that is to come I am perfectly indifferent. With regard to myself, I have nothing more to fear. Fate has done its worst. Henceforth, I am callous to misfortune.
A melodramatic heroine?