For some time after learning what happened at the trial, Clara remained indoors and shied away from any company other than that of her uncle. She believed herself to no longer be in love with Pleyel; she still desired the erroneous assumption that her virtue was sullied to be corrected, but this was only because she sought the veneration, not the love, of Pleyel. Her uncle told her he had spoken with Pleyel, but surprisingly the latter did not mention any of those sordid untruths that he believed about Clara. Clara wondered if he had realized they were not true and why he apparently visited her beside when she was ill.
Clara also learned more about Pleyel’s planned journey. It turned out that the Baroness de Stolberg was still alive; she had rumors spread of her death because she secretly planned to visit her lover Pleyel in America. The packet of letters Pleyel received from Bertrand contained tidings of her arrival in Boston. When Clara heard this she understood that Pleyel was never in love with her, but merely regarded her as a friend. She also remarked how the mysterious voice that announced the Baroness’s death was either a part of the plan or was mistaken.
Cambridge invited Clara to stay with him in either France or Italy. She was not inclined to go but he stubbornly insisted and she finally agreed. Plans were drawn up in haste to depart. Clara was unsure why the departure needed to be so immediate, and she resolved to visit her brother in his dungeon once before she left. It was cruel to set off for Europe if she would never see him again, and perhaps her presence might do something to cure him of his malady. There was no way to enact this scheme without her uncle’s knowledge and consent, so she informed him of her desire to visit Wieland.
Cambridge was confounded as to why Clara would want to do this. She explained that even though the rest of society might abhor Wieland, she would not withhold her sympathy and tenderness. How would it seem to Wieland if he heard his sister left without speaking to him? It was her duty, and quite possibly the means of restoring him to his rationality. Cambridge disagreed; he explained that the only thing that kept Wieland from descending into the depths of despair was that he was mad, and if Clara stripped away some of his insanity he might be crushed by the realization of what he did to his wife and children. He should remain elated, virtuous, and content in his belief of the necessity of his actions.
Clara listened to her uncle and agreed that his argument had merit. She was unsure whether her brother was “a maniac, a faithful servant of his God, the victim of hellish illusions, or the dupe of human imposture” but she still wanted to visit him. She planned to remain silent and be satisfied with just a look at him. Unfortunately, her uncle would still not comply with her scheme and finally confessed his reasons for preventing her from visiting Wieland.
Cambridge confessed that both she and Pleyel were in danger from Wieland; Wieland believed God told him the sacrifice could not be truly complete until they were also slain. Indeed, Wieland had escaped twice. The first time he went to Pleyel’s house and the latter barely escaped out his window. Wieland was imprisoned once more, but by some miracle he escaped again and was caught before he made it to where Clara was residing. Cambridge pressed upon her the necessity of leaving immediately before Wieland could carry out his dastardly designs.
Clara readily agreed but was aghast at this tale. Alone with her thoughts she mourned that she was now hunted to death by her own brother and that she could not be safe anywhere. She remembered the omens that foretold this destiny - the pit to which her brother beckoned her and her conjuration of his image when she was experiencing dark and ominous thoughts. Of course, “these images were unavoidably connected with that of Carwin.” That man must be the “grand deceiver; the author of this black conspiracy; the intelligence that governed in this storm.” She became consumed with the desire for knowledge and vengeance.
She was to depart America forever in two days’ time and wondered if she should visit the site of the disasters and pay her respects to the graves of Catharine and the children. She had almost decided against this idea when she suddenly remembered she had left a manuscript – a diary, in fact – in her closet. This diary was what Pleyel had observed her writing in. Since this manuscript contained her most secret thoughts she knew she must retrieve it. She decided to do this secretly, and under the guise of taking a casual drive, a servant conducted her to Mettingen.
Clara made her way to her own house, passing the graveyard with the newly-added graves of her family. Her house was empty and quiet and she went upstairs to her room to retrieve the diary. The horrible things that had happened in her chamber flooded her mind, and she became filled with anguish. She sank down into a chair in distress. The dark room mirrored the darkness of her thoughts, which soon turned to suicide. As she moved to pick up a lancet with which to stab herself, she thought she heard footsteps outside her door. Out of the gloom moved Carwin. Clara could not withstand the tumult of emotion and fainted.
When she awoke she was lying on her bed and Carwin was sitting on the floor, head in hand. When he saw she was awake he cried out that he could not behold her and live. His words expressed his utter agony. He was considered a fiend but did not know his crimes, that he had acted but his actions had effected more than he designed. Clara was confused - did he believe himself innocent? Was there truly human agency in the recent events? She told him to leave her alone with her grief but he claimed that he had come to atone for his sins.
Finally, he burst out “It was my voice that you heard! It was my face that you saw!” This did not immediately make sense, for how could his voice come from one place and his face another? And if it was true, then Carwin was the prompter of her brother! Carwin continued, saying he was the one who injured her, who plotted to destroy her, who deceived her. He needed to confess. He claimed, however, that he was not the villain; he did not slay anyone but the gift he used prompted another to such acts. This gift, of which he did not know the name, allowed him to mimic the voices of others and modify them so it seemed they came from whatever location or distance he chose. When he was younger and discovered this talent, he used it indiscriminately and to attain what he desired. He left America, went abroad but was betrayed by a friend of his, and decided to return again to America to avoid this friend, but this time he disguised himself as a rustic.
Back in his native country, he amused himself by walking outside in lovely places like Mettingen. He admired the temple on many an occasions. One evening he walked by the temple and noticed a letter within and read it, even though it was wrong. He then heard a man walking back to the temple, and as he did not want to be detected, he used the gift that he had vowed to never use again to send Wieland away. Habit and the “influence of present convenience” were powerful incentives to break the vow. A few weeks later he was reclining quietly in the temple again when Pleyel and Wieland walked towards it, Pleyel attempting to convince Wieland to take up his tract of land in Saxony. The entrenched habit of using his gift made Carwin interfere once more; he mimicked Catharine’s voice and then informed Pleyel that the Baroness was dead. Carwin admitted that “my passion for mystery, and a species of imposture, which I deemed harmless, was thus awakened afresh.”
Carwin then explained that he became amorously involved with Clara’s servant, Judith, and this allowed him access to her house at all times. Judith had filled Carwin’s ears with tales of how benevolent and courageous her mistress was, and Carwin was curious to test whether or not Clara was truly impervious to fear. He decided to hold a murderous dialogue but intended it to be about another person, not Clara. Everything he had heard about Clara suggested she would not be afraid and would try to help the victim. He carried out his dialogue from her closet but was incredibly surprised at Clara’s dramatic reaction and flight to her brother’s doorstep. At that point he repented of his scheme and felt he needed to alert her family that she was swooning on their doorstep.
Carwin reasserted how much he enjoyed the natural beauty of Mettingen. He and Judith had their nocturnal rendezvous on the bank near the summer-house. Judith told him that Clara liked to walk outside in the evenings and he feared that she would start frequenting his favorite space and deprive him of it. Thus, he spoke the words of “Hold! Hold!” and alluded to her father, warning her that all places but that one were safe.
In these two chapters Clara details her coming to grips with her brother’s guilt as well as the beginning of Carwin’s confession. Before Carwin confesses, Clara displays the same ambivalence about the origins or causes of the horrific events that she did about the mysterious voices. Despite claims to rationality, she cannot help but entertain the notion that perhaps her brother really did hear voices from God commanding him to murder his family. In chapter 20 she expressed that ambivalence by reflecting upon the apparition she had seen, of which she “had no grounds on which to build a disbelief” (135) that it was not supernatural. She saw Carwin as a dark, evil force and the voice that assisted her as a “minister of heaven” (136). In terms of her brother, she knew he could not commit the murders without thinking God told him to, because “none but a command from heaven could have swayed his will” (136). Clara cannot escape her religion or her superstitions.
Of course, once Carwin confesses she places the blame on him and him alone, viewing him as the “author of all our calamities!” (161) Curiously, she first thinks he is lying and then quickly decides that he is “devilish” and is fully responsible for the murders. His confession continues for a few more chapters, but it here is an appropriate time to pause and consider the character of Carwin. Even readers who may not have guessed that Carwin would be implicated somehow in the mysterious voices and Wieland’s murders would not have been able to escape Brown’s utterly absorbing and complex depiction of this man even when he was merely the object of Clara’s fascination and a guest in the Wieland home.
For scholar David Lyttle, Carwin’s “fascinating personality is an amalgam of the amoral, almost sinisterly naive, scientific curiosity of the Age of Reason, of the guilt and dread of introspective Calvinism, and of the strange voluptuous mystery of Romanticism…Carwin is in the satanic intellectual tradition, but he is more complex…” Pleyel’s information about Carwin reveals that he was an Englishman but chose to travel extensively in Spain, study the Spanish language and customs, and convert to Roman Catholicism. He was private and mysterious and his garb did not match the capacity of his mind. Clara noted that “his manners were not unpolished” (57), “all topics were handled with him with skill” (57), and that “the intellectual endowments of this man [were] indisputably great” (57). He did not criticize religion or the supernatural, but took pains to attribute human machinations to the strange voices the Pleyels and Wielands heard early on. In later chapters his confession explains how he made his gift, biloquism (ventriloquism), “subservient to the supply of my wants, and the gratification of my vanity” (148). Clearly Carwin possesses a brilliant mind but one that is tinged with avarice and malice.
Shirley Samuels, another prominent Brown scholar, discusses Carwin as alien and infidel. She writes that the “very charm of Wieland’s community has attracted Carwin, the alien called from afar.” He is blamed for the chaos and disorder of exciting Clara’s sexuality and inspiring in Wieland a murderous rampage. This is not surprising, given the fact that in post-Revolutionary America the fear and fascination of the alien was at an unnatural level. The year the novel was published, 1798, was the year in which the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by Congress and signed into law by President John Adams. Clara is both frightened and entranced by Carwin, this inscrutable and compelling itinerant. She was utterly absorbed by his voice and his visage, spending hours in a frenzy over his portrait and referring to him as “the phantom that pursued my dreams” (120).
However, Samuels points out that Carwin is not entirely to blame for the chaos that he inspires in the Wieland household. He may be strange and alien but what actually appears to happen is that his presence exposes the sexual and emotional abnormalities already present in this family. The family in this novel and in post-Revolutionary America as a whole is supposed to be insulated, private, idyllic, a “sweet and tranquil asylum” (144) as Clara says. It is to be a haven from the outside world where virtue is inculcated and cherished. Unfortunately, the distinction between the inside and the outside world in this novel is filled with too much pressure and too much tension. It is impossible to maintain this distinction without allowing other social institutions, like education, religion, benevolent societies, prisons, or orphanages, to supplement the family. Carwin is in fact “an internal [threat], the infidelity of religious and institutional beliefs that the novel first appeared to celebrate. If the family had been properly inoculated against him, he could have no effect on them.” If the family is truly to be a haven, other social institutions must be allowed to brace it so the tensions – whether sexual, emotional, or intellectual – do not explode as they do in Wieland. Thus, Carwin may not be inherently evil; his only crime may be that he exposed the latent evils of the Wieland family.