Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker

Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker Summary and Analysis of Chapter XXV-Letters


Chapter XXV

Sarsefield continued his story. The party was able to slay a few Indians, but one killed Mr. Huntly with his own gun during a battle. When they were unable to find Old Deb at her hut, they began to suspect her involvement in these recent attacks.

A few days later, they returned to the hut to find the gruesome spectacle of dead Indians, the farmer's daughter, and the haggard Edgar. Assuming Edgar was dead after he fainted, they brought the girl to a neighboring house, where she finally calmed down enough to tell them her story.

Now suspecting Edgar might have survived, Sarsefield returned to the hut to find Edgar gone. They re-launched an "indefatigable search," tracing the enemy to the home of the Selby family, and then into the mountains (171). Sarsefield was shocked when someone (who turned out to be Edgar) shot at him from a promontory, and they fired back as Edgar leapt into the river. When Sarsefield found the gun that the fleeing man had left behind, he recognized it as Edgar's, and realized what had happened. As he says, "Fate has led us into a maze, which could only terminate in the destruction of one or the other. By the breadth of a hair, had I escaped death from you. The same fortune had not befriended you" (173). He assumed Edgar must have died in his jump.

Sarsefield explained that he had returned to American for many reasons, one of them being to take care of Edgar. Thus, he felt like a failure for having witnessed the demise of both Edgar and Mr. Huntly.

He added one more detail to his story. When investigating the sounds that Mr. Huntly had heard in the attic, Sarsefield found the packet of Waldegrave's letters in the rafters of the roof, where Edgar must have left them while sleepwalking. Knowing their importance, Sarsefield carried them with him, which is how they ended up where Edgar found them on the desk.

Sarsefield concluded by restating his happiness at seeing Edgar alive again.

Chapter XXVI

Edgar tells Mary of both the humiliation and joy he felt, but indicates that he did not want to be overcome by those emotions.

Instead, he noted that Sarsefield had mentioned marriage during his story, and wondered how this conformed to Clithero's story. When Edgar mentioned both Mrs. Lorimer and Clithero, Sarsefield explained that Mrs. Lorimer and Clarice were with him in America, and then angrily insisted he never wanted to hear Clithero's name again.

Edgar explained that Clithero was living wretchedly in the wilderness, but Sarsefield refused to express any sympathy. However, he did help Edgar into bed, where Edgar privately wept over his sorrow. He also wondered if he might be able to engineer a happy end for everyone now that Clithero could potentially be reunited with Mrs. Lorimer and Clarice.

Suddenly, he heard a musket discharge downstairs. Before he could even rise from bed, an Indian sped into his room and leapt from his window. Edgar then found Sarsefield, who explained that the hunting party had returned with captives, and that the Indian Edgar saw had escaped. Sarsefield then told him that Clithero had also been found, terribly wounded, and was downstairs suffering. Though Sarsefield had the skills as surgeon to help him, he did not want to employ them for a man he hated. Instead, he asked Edgar to accompany him next door, where they could rest.

On their way out of the house, Edgar saw Clithero's prostrate body, and tried to convince Sarsefield to help him. However, Sarsefield again refused, and left the house.

Chapter XXVII

Edgar felt great pity for the mangled Clithero, who insisted that Edgar could do nothing to help him. He suggested that fate had been good to him, giving him food when he needed it and returning Mrs. Lorimer's manuscript to him. (He did not realize that Edgar had engineered both of these occurrences, the latter by leaving the document behind when he fled the panther.) He also told how he had eventually been forced to accompany the savage Indians as a slave, and was glad when the hunting party slew them.

Convinced that he could convince Sarsefield to help the man, he found his former tutor and told him the entire tale. As the story continued, Sarsefield's "indignation and fury grew less, and at length gave to horror and compassion" (182). When the tale finished, Sarsefield explained that he had thought Clithero had gone mad, and had convinced Mrs. Lorimer and Clarice to flee the country, and hopefully their tormentor.

To Edgar's exhortations, Sarsefield agreed to help Clithero, though he admitted he could not simply forget his years of hatred and disgust. After reflecting on the parallels between his sleepwalking incidents and Clithero's, Edgar decided to try and find another healer who might be less prejudiced towards the patient. Luckily, Sarsefield discovered that Clithero's wounds were not nearly as gruesome as they had seemed.

After patching Clithero up a bit, Sarsefield explained that he must travel to Virginia for a while, and that he hoped to eventually take Edgar to live with him in New York.

To everyone's surprise, Clithero vanished from the house that night.

Edgar's letter to Mary is coming to a close, but he first explains what happened with Waldegrave. It was eventually discovered that Queen Mab was responsible. When she was captured, she "readily confessed and gloried in the mischief she had done" by encouraging one of her "sanguinary and audacious" fellow Indians to kill Waldegrave (186-187). The news is terrible, but Edgar feels a sense of relief at discovering the truth.

He then concludes his narrative by admitting how surprisingly the story turned out, and by confessing how excited he is to see Mary again.

First letter

The rest of the novel is comprised of shorter letters. This first is written from Edgar to Sarsefield.

Edgar describes the letter as hurried. It warns that Sarsefield knows that Mrs. Lorimer is in New York, and that he is heading that way. Edgar hopes Sarsefield can avert the disaster that will result if Clithero makes it there.

Second letter

This letter is also written from Edgar to Sarsefield.

Now that he has sent off the warning, Edgar can explain what happened in more detail. After some time passed following the events of his primary letter, Edgar learned that Clithero had moved into Old Deb's hut. Saddened that the man would have to live such a solitary life, Edgar visited him there.

Clithero was gone, so Edgar waited patiently in the sparsely appointed hut. Once Clithero returned, it took a while for him to recognize Edgar. Once he did, Edgar explained that Mrs. Lorimer was not dead. When Clithero refused to believe him, Edgar noticed the traces of madness in him. When Edgar accidentally revealed where the lady lived, Clithero declared he would travel there immediately, and left.

Now realizing that "Clithero is a maniac," Edgar was embarrassed and worried (192). He assures Sarsefield that he never intended any harm.

Third letter

The third and final letter is written from Sarsefield to Edgar.

The elder man chastises Edgar for his actions. Mrs. Lorimer was pregnant with their child, but when she received Edgar's first letter (the warning), she miscarried the baby from shock.

Sarsefield immediately secured permission to arrest Clithero as soon as he landed in town. A few hours after Sarsefield read Edgar's letter, Clithero applied for passage to Elizabethtown, and was seized, to be sent then to a mental hospital by ship. Sarsefield accompanied the man on the journey, without telling his wife about the plan.

However, on the journey, Clithero leaped into the water, killing himself. Sarsefield ends his letter with a lamentation: "May this be the last arrow in the quiver of adversity!" (194).


Though Edgar wraps up his primary letter quite tidily, there is much ambiguity left for the reader to grapple with. Many of his relationships have been strained. For instance, it is difficult to know whether he and Mary will ever actually marry. Clearly, he is a different person than he was before. But even if this change were surmountable, Mary has lost her fortune because of Weymouth, and he has no other source of income. His relationship with Sarsefield is strained by his refusal to leave Clithero alone, and obviously, his attempts to meddle in Clithero's affairs cause tragedy for both Mrs. Lorimer and Clithero himself. All told, it's a rather unresolved ending, even in Edgar does not acknowledge that.

One of the most prominent themes in the critical literature on the novel is in fact the problematic nature of the narrative itself. Now that the reader has come to the end of the text, it is worth examining the complexities of the storytelling, as they further illuminate both Edgar's character and the context within which the story is being told. First and foremost, there is an inherent contradiction in Edgar's intention: he wants to tell the story to overcome the torture it causes, and yet he relives it so graphically in the telling. Every attempt to impart distance between himself and his story ends up spiraling out of his control. As he writes, Peter Bellis comments, "his story only [opens] up other more dangerous tales that he must struggle to rationalize and repress even as he records them."

The reason for this failure is that his task is impossible. He is trying to rationalize the irrational, and so has no tool but the hope that returning over and over again to the same points will produce new results. Notice that he tends to repeat himself constantly, returning often to the same conjectures and thoughts about characters, particularly Waldegrave and Clithero. In a way, his story resembles Clithero's more and more as it progresses. He not only begins sleepwalking, but indeed also begins to delve into murderous impulses that he can hardly understand. The only real order that the novel maintains overall is that of doubling. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand how these entirely distinct stories belong in the same novel.

Also interesting is the collapse of temporal succession in the novel's later sections. Chronological order becomes progressively less prevalent, as Edgar not only loses sections of his memory because of sleepwalking, but also recounts events out of order to Mary. Consider the fact that Sarsefield's story, being repeated by Edgar, unfolds out of order, with many events (like the discovery of Waldegrave's letters) coming only as postscript. This collapse of temporal succession means that the events "overlap and merge in the kind of compression and condensation characteristic of dreams but utterly alien to ordinary language," in Bellis's words.

Edgar can barely explain why he does the things he does later in the novel. The scenes in the wilderness are confusing and "wildering and mazy," as Edgar himself describes them. Edgar cannot think rationally, believing everything is a threat to himself. He tries to suppress his irrational thoughts and control his narrative, but finds that "these forces are themselves the source and origins of his narrative" (Bellis). In other words, his story is ultimately concerned not with order, but with disorder. He is trying to make sense of his descent into the subconscious desires that would later be called the 'id.'

The contrast with the final letters, which are short, simple, and clear, is obvious. And yet the events they relate reveal that Edgar will not achieve the closure he hopes to find by telling his story. Life is out of his control: he cannot save Clithero; Mrs. Lorimer suffers a miscarriage; and his childhood bond with Sarsefield is strained. This young Quaker man, who seems to still believe that his virtue and rationality will ultimately engender success, continues to grapple with the fact that the world, much like the human psyche, is at least as defined by chaos as it is by order.

All of this complexity is echoed by the setting, of the American frontier in the decades after the Revolution. It was a dangerous and wild place which, for Brown at least, brought out some of the worst human traits from its inhabitants. As this young country faced a turbulent period of politics, economics, and class tensions, Edgar stands as a symbol of a man who maintains that his strong belief in himself and his moral code will prove to be enough. But the setting is chaotic, and he can navigate neither his physical nor mental milieus very well. Brown's ultimate suggestion has both psychic and social implications, then. The individual is not capable of controlling himself, and hence would benefit from a society that imposed control. In other words, man is not able to impose order on the world, but rather needs the world to meet him halfway.