Wieland Summary and Analysis of Chapters 23-24


Chapter 23

Carwin continued his narrative, explaining that he was exceedingly curious about Clara and her remarkable character. He admitted to exploring her room and its contents multiple times. He came across her diary and read the entire thing with eagerness. He was impressed by her intellect and became privy to her innermost thoughts and secrets. He once more resolved not to use his gift because, as the diary revealed, it was profoundly powerful.

One evening he knew Clara was at her brother’s house and chose to snoop through her chamber once more. He was particularly looking for something concerning her father, as only some information had been given about that man’s life. He was inside Clara’s closet (which he had figured out how to get into without a key) and suddenly heard her steps within. He was thoroughly dismayed and embarrassed that she might find him within and strove to find a way out of the situation. He hoped she would leave but she remained, sighing aloud in a melancholy fashion that Carwin took to be about Pleyel. Suddenly, to Carwin’s great anxiety, Clara moved toward the closet to open it. All he could think to do was hold the doors fast and cry “Hold! Hold!” Even this did not deter her, and Carwin explained, “Seldom have I felt deeper mortification, and more painful perplexity” when she espied his face.

Carwin chose to pretend that the voice was a “good genius” who had interposed to save her from him. Even though he recoiled from having to pretend that he was there to vanquish her virtue, this was the only course to take. He left her astonished in her room and fled from the house; “compunction, self-upbraiding, hopelessness, satisfaction” characterized his state of mind. He knew he must flee because he had made himself a villain to the Wielands.

While ruminating on how to execute his plan, he noticed Pleyel making his way toward Clara’s house. He immediately felt that “to deceive him would be the sweetest triumph I had ever enjoyed” and fashioned the lovers’ dialogue between himself, to whom he gave murderous and criminal attributes, and Clara. Pleyel listened and then continued toward the house. Carwin's pleasure was short-lived and he began to repent of his actions and thought of “how many evils were produced by [the gift] which I had not foreseen.” He felt terrible for inflicting such mental perturbation upon Clara and spent the evening in distress and confusion.

The next morning he saw the newspaper article about his alleged crimes; this was planted by an enemy in Europe. Before he departed he felt he needed to meet with Clara to repair the effects of his misconduct, especially now that she had probably seen the article. He left her a note requesting her presence in her chamber. When the appointed hour came, he stole upstairs to meet her. As he headed up the stairs he became aware of a light within her room; not wanting the person to see him so close to her door, he disguised his voice to sound like it was at the bottom of the stairs and inquired if Miss Wieland was in her chamber. No answer came. When he got to the room the light was there but it was empty. He wondered if someone was hiding from him.

Carwin went to see if Judith was in her room but she was not. Returning to Clara’s room, he surmised that she was not coming to meet him and prepared to write her a note. However, his attention was caught by the horrible spectacle of Catharine’s body on the bed. “The deed was newly done. I only was in the house: what had lately happened justified any suspicions, however enormous.” Hearing Clara’s steps, he dashed off the letter, blew out the light, and ran down the stairs, hiding while Clara ascended to her chamber. Fearing that she would be utterly overcome by the sight of Catharine, he decided to warn her and thus was responsible for the mysterious voice and the face. He fled the house and pursued his journey to his brother’s farm near Philadelphia.

Chapter 24

Carwin continued his narrative, but admitted that he was unsure of how to describe the part in which he played in the Wielands’ deaths. He explained, “Surely my malignant stars had not made me the cause of [Catharine’s] death; yet had I not rashly set in motion a machine, over whose progress I had no control…?” He decided he needed to speak with Clara and returned to the Wieland property. Theodore Wieland’s house was desolate and empty and hers was as well. He said he had finished telling his tale and that it was the truth and the extent of his offenses. He was guilty but not of murdering Catharine.

Carwin paused when the two heard the kitchen door close. He knew he needed to leave before his enemies found him and detained him. Clara narrated that during Carwin’s confession she had remained silent and utterly absorbed. Carwin was the agent of some evil and “the author of all our calamities.” Rage and desire for vengeance filled her, and she hoped that the person(s) within the house was there to help bring this evil man to justice.

Carwin did not depart, as he could not seem to decide whether it was safer for him to remain or to flee. Confusion and anxiety were writ across his face. The stranger entered the room and both Carwin and Clara regarded his tangled locks, tattered clothes, naked feet and limbs, and uneasy expression in his eyes. It was Wieland.

Wieland did not seem to notice Carwin but fixed his gaze upon Clara. He cried out his thanks to God for guiding him here to perform His will and complete the sacrifice. He told her that she must prepare to die and nothing could deter him from his plan to carry out her execution. Clara, who moments ago was contemplating suicide, realized that to die by her brother’s hand was incomprehensible and odious. The only thing to do was to apprise her brother of Carwin’s role in these events. She must unmask him as “the devil who seduced him.” Steeled by these thoughts, she cried out that Carwin was the betrayer and he recently confessed his evil deeds.

Wieland turned to look at Carwin, who trembled with fear. Wieland called for Carwin to address the charge and answer if the mysterious voice and face belonged to him. Carwin could not speak and Wieland continued to call on him to speak the truth. Clara became sensible that Wieland’s rage was being transferred from herself to Carwin, and that if the truth of his deception were to come out, her uncle’s prediction that Wieland would become enraged might lead him to rend Carwin limb from limb. Carwin may not have been the voice that her brother heard, but if he confessed being the perpetrator of any voice, it might lead to his violent death.

When Clara attempted to speak, Wieland silenced her and once more asked Carwin “whose form –whose voice - was it thy contrivance?” Carwin stammered that he meant no ill will but that the voice and face in the entry were his. Wieland’s expression changed; his eyes were downcast, his breathing hoarse. Trembling, he commanded Carwin to leave. When the latter hesitated, Wieland warned him that Carwin should “tempt me no more. I am but a man, and thy presence may awaken a fury which may spurn my control.” Carwin finally complied, departing slowly and grimly.


Brown acknowledged a source for the events of his novel - James Yates’ 1781 murder of his family. One evening he was sitting before the fire reading his Bible and he heard a voice commanding him to destroy his idols; after throwing his Bible into the fire he was then commanded to murder his family. He decided to set his house on fire so as to convince people that Indians had committed the crime. Like Wieland, Yates firmly believed he was responding to a divine command and thus fervently adhered to honor in his actions. Another source that Brown would have been familiar with was The Narrative of William Beadle, an account of a 1782 murder-suicide. In Beadle’s letter he claimed he was a deist and was committing these gruesome murders so he might achieve direct access to God.

The dangers of religious fanaticism, both in Calvinist revivalism and deism, are clear in Beadle’s narrative, but as scholar Shirley Samuels points out, there are further lessons to be learned in this work and in Wieland: “[There is] an unbearable distinction between the family and the world” and the problems within the Beadle and Wieland families “cannot finally be blamed on an alien intrusion; instead, the family republic…is caught in the grip of transformations in which it discovers that the alien is already within.” Both families, as reading the factual Narrative of William Beadle and the fictional Wieland makes clear, are too keen on cherishing a private, exclusive, and even suffocating familial realm for themselves without effectively negotiating with the outside world.

The next thing to consider is Carwin’s confession of his responsibility (or lack thereof) for Wieland’s crimes. His confession has always proved somewhat unsatisfactory for critics and it is difficult to take at face value. Nearly all of his assertions can be challenged and it seems very likely that he is lying about some elements of it. His confession is very ambiguous; he never explicitly admits to causing the voices that prompt Wieland to kill his family but clearly has suffocating guilt. He acts confused, contrite, and in the last quote, actually does seem to confess to Wieland that he was at least in the entryway: “Yet tell me my offense!; ” “I have acted, but my actions have possibly effected more than I designed;” “I am not this villain; I have slain no one; I have prompted none to slay;” “Surely my malignant stars had not made me the cause of her death; yet had I not rashly set in motion a machine…” “The perpetrator of Catharine’s death was unknown to me till now; nay, it is still unknown to me;” “‘I meant nothing – I intended no ill – if I understand – if I do not mistake you – it is too true – I did appear – in the entry – did speak. The contrivance was mine, but -”

All of these fail to provide any clarity as to Carwin's innocence or guilt. One thing that might absolve him from a role in the murder of Wieland’s family is that he has no real motive. Indeed, even if he had caused Catharine’s death accidentally, why would he need to have the children, Louisa, and later Pleyel and Clara murdered as well? Carwin is clearly intelligent and mischievous at the very least; he is sneaky and violates Clara’s privacy. He used his gift of biloquism in the past to attain his desires, and finds a perverse pleasure in teasing people like Pleyel. However, none of those character failings or any of Carwin’s actions suggest a murderous bent. His confession of the voices stops short at confessing that he told Wieland to murder his family.

However, it is not easy to dismiss Carwin’s guilt. One scholar wrote that the most incriminating piece of evidence was the “failure to determine Carwin’s whereabouts from the time he appeared to Wieland at elven o’clock until he cried out his warning to Clara and thereupon fled to his brother’s farm. This chronological gap unquestionably provides Carwin with the opportunity to utter the second command.” The timing for Carwin seems right. In the collection of quotes above, Carwin seems on the verge of admitting to something. He obviously feels intensely guilty, but this guilt seems over-the-top if it is simply for imitating Catharine’s voice.

Ultimately, as Bernard Rosenthal wrote, “the reader can never fully know just what role Carwin had, since he can be understood only through the distorted understandings of Clara” (see chapter 26’s analysis for more information about Clara’s problems as a narrator). The reader can never truly claim that Wieland’s voices were supernatural, made by Carwin, a result of his insanity, or uttered by another person like Clara (again, see chapter 26). This is what makes Brown’s novel successful, even if it proves frustrating to readers who want answers, resolution, and clarity.