Clara was perplexed at the change in Pleyel's demeanor and wondered if he was finally convinced of her innocence. But when he agreed to an interview with her she noticed that his visage had returned to solemnity and disapproval. She asked him to please give her an account of the evidence he was using to cast aspersions upon her character. At this, “he appeared to be struggling with his rage,” and told her that he believed the telling of his tale would change nothing but that since she had asked he would grudgingly comply.
He began by noting his overwhelmingly idealistic and admiring opinion of Clara. Their time together revealed her to him as a woman of consummate beauty, morality, intelligence, principle, and discernment. She skillfully ran her household and conducted her relationships with ease and charm. His esteem for her led him to write down “every particular of [her] conduct.” He knew of no imperfection and she “claimed all [his] tenderness.” Unfortunately, Carwin entered their society and Pleyel was apprehensive that Clara might be beguiled by him. He contented himself that she would be wary of his “deportment, and the obscurity of his life.” However, Pleyel was uneasy at how enraptured Clara was by Carwin's voice and the portrait she drew of him. While they all shared in society together, Pleyel scrutinized the looks and words of both parties, hoping Clara’s principles would keep her from falling under Carwin’s spell. He remembered that they debated whether or not Carwin was a suspicious character and believed this to indicate Clara was immune from his charms.
One evening Pleyel noticed a light in Clara’s room, and Judith informed him that her mistress was occupied writing. Curious, he went upstairs to see what she was writing, telling himself that he knew it was inappropriate to pry into her papers but “I reflected that in sentiment of yours was of a nature which made it your interest to conceal it.” As he looked over her shoulder he noticed the words “summer-house,” “midnight,” and those that insinuated another meeting were to take place. When he made his presence known, Clara was startled but he did not ask her about the content of her writing.
Reflecting on her words, Pleyel wondered if Clara had a clandestine meeting with Carwin in the dark at the summer-house and why she chose to conceal it. Perhaps Clara was in love with Carwin? Pleyel was confused because Carwin was not pursuing her openly. He concluded that he did not have enough evidence to truly suggest that there was something between them. He did not feel he could mention this to Clara because if it were not true, then she would be offended. If it were true, nothing good could come of it. He chose to believe that Carwin was upright and that Clara had a good reason to be silent.
Pleyel continued his narrative, explaining that he had been unsure what to do about the situation. He feared telling Clara because it might push her to Carwin, but speaking to Carwin was not an option. He did want to speak to Wieland either. He finally decided he must speak to Clara, above all to protect her. This would hopefully not engender ire but her gratitude instead.
Pleyel then accounted for the events of the previous day when he was supposed to attend the rehearsal. He was resolved to speak privately with Clara afterward but was still a victim of apprehension and uncertainty. During the day he called at Mrs. Baynton’s home, although he was not sure what impelled him to go there. While drearily lounging in her parlor, he rather mechanically picked up a newspaper lying nearby. To his complete and utter alarm he read an article about a criminal who had escaped a prison in Dublin; this prisoner’s name was Francis Carwin and his description, including his gait, complexion, figure, and facial features, matched that of the Carwin in their circle. He was guilty of murdering a Lady Jane Conway and robbing a Mr. Ludloe. Pleyel’s mind was in a torment; he knew he must flee and recue Clara from this horrid and dangerous man. However, he believed he must attain more information before presenting this discovery to the Wieland family, Clara in particular.
Pleyel went to the house of the printer who had received the British article. He learned that a Mr. Hallet specifically provided the article to the printer in hopes that it would be reproduced. Pleyel went to Mr. Hallet’s house, who acquainted him with the information that he and Mr. Ludloe were friends when Ludloe resided in America some time past and Ludloe mailed him the article. Hallet showed Pleyel a letter that accompanied the article; the letter confirmed Carwin’s escape and that he most likely fled to America. Carwin’s immense talents were thoroughly dangerous and his ends were “pursued by means which leave it in doubt whether he be not in league with some infernal spirit.”
Pleyel left Hallet’s house and while on his way to the Wieland estate, he met with his servant Bertrand, whom he had left in Germany. Bertrand was newly returned and gave Pleyel a packet of letters. Pleyel did not tell Clara in his narrative what these letters contained, but returned to his discussion of this journey back to her. As he traveled he reviewed the strange incidents that had recently befallen the Wieland family and noticed that they happened at the same time Carwin was introduced to their circle. He concluded that Carwin’s evil schemes had the intent of making Clara “a confederate in [her] own destruction.”
As he entered the property on which Clara’s house was located, he heard a faint voice in the darkness. He ascertained that it was Clara’s, and he felt rooted to the spot on which he paused. His suspicions aroused, he became sensible of a sentiment of rage and wondered whether he might burst in and interrupt the secret meeting. Pleyel moved closer to the bank above the summer-house.
At this point he paused in his narrative, and Clara recalled how upset she was at his words. She marveled at the plot Carwin had constructed to destroy her and how fruitless it seemed to try and dissuade Pleyel from his suppositions. Pleyel asked if he should continue, and Clara sadly told him to do so and that she would peaceably submit to listening and hopefully learn what her fate should be at the tale’s close. Pleyel hesitated, perhaps because a seed of doubt had been planted in his mind. He decided to continue, though he still believed he was telling her things she already knew.
He did not, however, choose to recount the words of love and confessions of “former deeds of dishonor” that passed between Clara and Carwin. Pleyel explained that Clara’s voice spoke of things that only she or one acquainted with her family could know, and that her discourse was particularly her own, down to the language used. It was clearly her. No other being could know how to sound like her or know the things she did. Pleyel eventually left the spot and retired to his room, where he was consumed with rage and grief.
Pleyel concluded his narrative by reasserting his intent to embark on a journey and leave Clara behind, as she clearly had dismissed him in her esteem. He left the room but Clara retained her composure. She believed her life worthless and there was nothing to do to change that. She returned to the city.
The analysis for chapters 11-12 dealt with the construction of gender in 18th century America in regards to Clara’s supposed lost purity. These two chapters, where Pleyel continues and concludes his narrative, reveal the evidence that is stacked against Clara. Even though she is an unreliable narrator, the reader generally assumes that they know that what Pleyel is saying is based on misleading evidence. The woman’s voice outside was not Clara’s. She was in her house the entire evening but remained silent and kept her door locked because she feared Carwin’s return. Her writing that Pleyel espied over her shoulder was misinterpreted; the voice she heard at the summer-house - to which this refers - demanded secrecy, so Clara cannot clear her name on his account either. The chain of events that led Pleyel to assume Clara’s honor was violated occurred so perfectly that Clara understood how difficult it would be to mount her defense. The sheer believability of the evidence coupled with the near-irrational despair and rage Pleyel felt at thinking his model of perfect womanhood besmirched seemed to make Clara’s task of refutation futile.
Pleyel, while not as interesting a character as Clara or Wieland, still offers a compelling character study as a man who is some degree the stand-in for modern readers. Even though readers experience the events of the story through Clara, her oftentimes-dramatic and obsessive behavior and her belief in the supernatural make Pleyel, the avowed rationalist, the most “normal” character and the one whose reaction to the mysterious events would most likely mirror our own. When Clara discusses his upbringing and personality, she writes that he was “the champion of intellectual liberty, and rejected but that all of his reason” (23). He was just as conversant in the Latin writers as Wieland and “not behind his friend in his knowledge of the history and metaphysics of religion” although he definitively rejected its claims to absolute truth. Pleyel believed in what his senses revealed to him.
Thus, it is no surprise that he comes to the conclusions he does after observing Clara and hearing her voice - he relies upon his senses. He explains that “my eyes, that my ears, should bear witness to thy fall! By no other way could detestable conviction be imparted!” There could be no ambiguity for him, no mistaking what he heard and saw. Anything supernatural or mysterious could not be entertained for even a second. When Clara goes to her brother to inquire as to what evidence Pleyel has against her and to hopefully insure that his own opinion of her reputation is unchanged, Wieland explains he does not know all of the evidence but that even if Pleyel viewed the events of the night “through mists of prejudice and passion” (85), “that he should be deceived, is not possible” (85). The rationality and logic that define his character are no match even for the fleeting human emotions that may color his perceptions.
Again, it is no wonder why, with a man like Pleyel, Clara does not know how she will prove her innocence. She wondered if her own defense would be “permitted to outweigh the testimony of his senses?” (86) Her tale of Carwin and strange voices and poor women compelled to imitate her voice would not sit well with Pleyel, who is “skeptical in a transcendent degree” (86). Even though the reader feels sorry for Clara, it is not difficult to assume that Pleyel’s grounds for belief would seem valid. When we hear a voice of someone we know, who speaks the same way and mentions things only they would be familiar with, our first thought naturally is that it is actually the person we hear –not a ventriloquist or a supernatural being.
Of course, Pleyel is wrong (right?), and this is where Brown’s novel has won a lot of praise. This and other events later in the novel illustrate the concept that one cannot entirely trust one’s senses. Brown keeps swinging the pendulum back and forth between supernatural and human explanations for events and by the end of the novel, even when the mystery is technically cleared up, there are still several things left unknown or murky. The complete Enlightenment reliance upon reason can be misleading, and in some cases, even dangerous.