The note above this last chapter indicates that Clara wrote it three years after the last narrative from Montpellier (southern France).
Clara was surprised to be taking up her pen once more. She truly thought she would perish in her house from her grief; there appeared to be no reason to remain living. However, she notes, “Such is man. Time will obliterate the deepest impressions.” What she believed truly helped her break out of her depression was an accident that made it impossible for her to keep living in her house. She also attributed her improvement to the writing of her narrative. Looking back, she felt shameful that she kept her friends away and refused to accept their concern and care.
The accident that she mentioned was a fire; a servant was neglectful of putting out some embers near a barrel. Clara was barely rescued in time by a neighbor, but her house was completely destroyed. This was actually beneficial because she finally felt “roused from the stupor which had seized my faculties.” She had something to occupy her mind other than the familial disaster. Her uncle once more invited her to live with him abroad and this time she accepted without reservation. Life became worth living again; she enjoyed traveling and viewing monuments and cities.
During this time she realized she was still in love with Pleyel, but he had married the Saxon Baroness Theresa. Clara did not wish them ill but could not immediately wish them happiness. She kept her feelings to herself, which was easier because they never caused to meet in person. Cambridge organized a meeting between Carwin and Pleyel; the treacherous accusations against Clara’s character were revealed by Carwin to be false and Pleyel once again held her in his esteem. Theresa died in childbirth a year and a half later. Pleyel disposed of his property in America and joined Cambridge and Clara. The two eventually married.
As for Carwin, he met once with Cambridge and told his tale. Cambridge was a willing listener and “imputed to a maniacal illusion the conduct of Wieland” even though Carwin may have predisposed him towards such a frame of mind. Carwin hid himself somewhere in Pennsylvania and perhaps was working on a farm somewhere, contemplating the events that he in some part facilitated.
Clara then turned to the tale of Louisa Conway’s parents. Major Stuart returned to Philadelphia and tried to locate Louisa; it was from Mrs. Baynton that he heard the horrific news of what had befallen his daughter and the Wieland family. After these shocks somewhat abated, he joined the travelers abroad and related to them what he had discovered about his wife’s mysterious disappearance.
While in the military, Stuart developed a sort of rivalry with another man, Maxwell. Maxwell started a rumor about Stuart and a duel was held to resolve the situation; Maxwell was wounded and the offense atoned for. Maxwell then returned home to a rich inheritance and married a woman whom he did not love. The two eventually separated. Maxwell’s character was amoral. He concocted a plan to seduce Stuart’s wife in order to exact revenge. Stuart did not know Maxwell’s intents, and encouraged his wife to befriend him. After many attempts at seduction, Stuart’s wife finally believed herself in love with Maxwell (although she did not violate her honor by eloping with him or sharing his bed).
Maxwell tired of Stuart’s wife and left her. While she had not betrayed her marriage vows, she no longer felt love for her husband. One day she received a letter from Maxwell’s wife informing her of his immoral and hedonistic character. This caused extreme remorse and anguish in Stuart’s wife, and she resolved to flee to England. Mrs. Maxwell was aware of the scheme and was her only confidant. After the young woman’s death, Mrs. Maxwell eventually confided in Stuart what had happened to his wife and child.
Maxwell was actually part of the social circle in Avignon where Clara and her uncle resided at one point. He even asked for Clara’s hand but she refused. One day Stuart came into the room and he and Maxwell greeted each other, then retired outside to speak privately. Another duel was decided upon for the following day. Stuart stayed late with his friends and then walked back to his hotel. Along the way a figure leapt out at him and stabbed him. This man’s identity was not known but it seemed likely to be either Maxwell himself or an accomplice. Clara and her uncle no longer consented to see him socially.
Louisa’s parents had thus both died young, both deaths caused by the scheming of Maxwell. This evil was similar to that which Carwin brought upon Clara’s family. Importantly, even though Maxwell and Carwin were the authors, these evils “owed their existence to the errors of the sufferers.” Louisa’s mother could have been more steadfast in her refusal of her suitor, and Stuart should not have given in to thoughts of revenge. As for Wieland, “if he had framed juster notions of moral duty and of the divine attributes” and if Clara had a calmer, more rational temperament and foresight, they may have eluded Carwin.
The last chapter of Wieland spends a strangely inordinate amount of time on a handful of characters that seem relatively inconsequential to the story. Louisa Conway and her parents – one dead, one newly present to claim his long-lost daughter – provided a moderately entertaining story-within-a-story in Chapter 4. Louisa, as the Wielands’ ward, appeared once or twice in the background in later chapters and was only mentioned later in any detail when Clara sees her after her death; however Clara's plan of bidding her friend a proper goodbye as “such had been the merciless blow that destroyed her, that not a lineament remained!” (120). It is unclear why Louisa’s death at the hand of Wieland was so brutal. The space given to the tying up of the loose ends of Louisa Conway has long frustrated critics who wish Brown had simply left her narrative alone. The inclusion of this tale may have been necessitated by the fact that earlier chapters of the novel had already gone to print and Brown was loath to let the mystery of Louisa’s mother and the fate of Major Stuart untold. One of the accusations leveled against Carwin is the murder of Jane Conway. Likewise, this is another thread that Brown does not resolve. Is this woman Louisa's mother - whom we know died in Philadelphia? Did Carwin actually kill this other Conway woman? Or are all accusations false? These questions go unanswered in Wieland.
Nevertheless, scholar Bernard Rosenthal finds some significance in the last chapter and the Louisa story. He writes that by tying together the Maxwell tale and the Wieland tale Brown is saying “what applies in religious conduct applies in social conduct as well.” Even if the chapter is seemingly tacked on for no apparent reason, “it manages to take the moral of a religious tale and show its application to that of a conventional seduction story.” The Stuarts and the Wielands did not know what type of moral duty living in the world required; both of them failed to negotiate a morality for themselves that was based in reason.
Wieland does not entirely succeed as a novel about the gimmickry of ventriloquism. Several components of the plot and that explanation for its events are confusing and even farcical. Critics have also complained about the pacing of the novel, the inordinate amount of space given to the Pleyel-Clara romance, and Brown’s possible inconsistencies. Despite these criticisms, Wieland attracts praise from literary scholars and historians because of its articulation of some of the tensions present in post-Revolutionary America, its depiction of the constraints of gender, its portrayal of the friction between religion and Enlightenment thinking, and its manifold psychological insights.
The danger of religious fanaticism is of course the most salient moral of the story. Both Wieland men were exceedingly devoted to their faith; the elder Wieland’s character, supposed madness, and strange death serve to foreshadow the younger Wieland’s fate. The elder Wieland viewed his religious duty through the lens of an apocalyptic Protestant sect and was thus unable to allow reason to filter into his thinking. The younger Wieland tempered his religion with the study of literature and history (particularly Cicero), but was unable to shake his desire to truly act as the instrument of God’s will. His predisposition to melancholy led him to embrace the strange voice’s command to murder his family without contemplating the origin of the voice and whether or not it was truly in line with his religion’s precepts. In an America that had recently witnessed the histrionics and hysterics of the Great Awakenings, this presentation of the perils of religious fanaticism was necessary and welcome.
Brown’s work showcases two of his major intellectual concerns: his interest in reason, truth, rationalism, Enlightenment thinking; and his fascinating with the Gothic, supernatural, sentimental, and how those elements can wreak havoc with the former. Scholar William H. Manly writes about the two conflicting interests, “It seems clear that Brown constructed his tale not around one, but around both - the one leading dramatic force to the other - and that the dramatic tension so generated is the key to Wieland's central fascination despite its surface flaws.” Indeed, Clara’s vacillation between reason and the belief in the supernatural informs her - and Brown's - entire narrative. Brown is not just decrying the problems of religious experience, but also those connected with reason and the senses; the senses are depicted as extremely untrustworthy. The novel is not an attack on reason, as Rosenthal writes, but “it is an attack in reason rooted in beliefs of the supernatural.” Ultimately, as Clara says, each person must confront ordinary evils with good character to avoid falling prey to sensationalism and vice.