Clara recounts that her circle was much occupied in discussing the strange events of the past weeks. She told them about the stranger who came to her house; Pleyel said he had seen that man in town and also in his travels abroad and teased Clara about being in love with him.
A few weeks after this Clara went for a walk and retired to a small building near groves of trees and water where she enjoyed resting and thinking. She fell asleep but was troubled by strange dreams. One of them featured her walking along a path to her brother’s home. Her brother stood at a distance beckoning her forward with haste, but a voice warned her that there was a pit along the path that she was about to plunge into. Clara awoke from this in the dark and was filled with fear. A strange voice spoke; it was one of the voices from her closet. The voice introduced himself as a friend, despite having earlier plotted to murder her. He tells her to avoid this spot lest danger befall her and to “remember your father, and be faithful” - and also to keep this conversation secret. Clara became even more terrified when rays of light flitted across the space in which she reclined. Thankfully she heard the voice of Pleyel calling for her, and she joined him in returning to her house.
Clara chose not to speak of the voice she had heard, but merely explained that she had fallen asleep. When she was alone with her thoughts, she wondered if she had dreamt the voice as she dreamt the pit and her brother. She wrote that she understood her readers may think that “calamity has subverted my reason,” but at this point in the narrative there was no evidence to reassure her that her senses were sound. She wondered who might have designs upon her life, as she was sympathetic, charitable, and well-liked. She did not fear death overall, but was horrified to think it might be brought upon her secretly by an unseen assassin. Her thoughts returned to the voice’s allusion to her father’s death and wondered if it meant for her to understand that the death was caused by “human machinations.”
The next day Pleyel informed Clara that he had seen the stranger that came to her house. The two men had met in the city and recognized each other, and Pleyel invited him to Clara’s house the next day. Pleyel offered some information about the man; he was an Englishman but traveled in Spain, dressed and carried himself in a Spanish manner, and converted to Catholicism. He even took a Spanish name - Carwin. The man underwent a "transformation". While Carwin was intelligent, well-spoken, and conversant in many topics, he did not proffer any information about his personal life. He diverted the conversation when questions of his past arose. Clara sat and pondered the imminent visit and the information provided to her by Pleyel. She wondered why he had left his English roots and religion. Her thoughts then turned to how drastically things had changed for her in recent months. Her life was previously serene and pleasant but now anxiety and fear dogged her steps. She found herself most vexed that Pleyel continued to joke that she was in love with Carwin, but she decided not to tell him how his words affected her happiness.
The next evening Clara met Carwin at Mettingen. His face and figure still roused her curiosity and she found herself wondering “whether he were an object to be dreaded or adored, and whether his powers had been exerted to evil or to good.” Carwin proved himself to be intelligent, polished, and interesting, but still did not mention anything about his past or current situation. After several visits the Wielands and Pleyels spent a copious amount of time analyzing his words, actions, gestures, and glances but could not discern anything further concerning his character or life.
As more visits occurred, Pleyel tried to drop hints or provoke Carwin into speaking of himself, but these attempts never brought to fruition what the company desired. Carwin was still inscrutable, and oftentimes seemed upset or regretful about those “laboriously stifled” events of his past.
As Carwin was now more or less an inevitable part of their circle, the conversation included the strange voices that were heard recently. Clara first feared that Carwin would ridicule and scoff at the tales, just as she had done in the past when acquaintances spoke of similarly mysterious circumstances. However, Carwin did not respond as she had anticipated. He listened seriously and pursued the idea that sometimes human beings may have interaction with the “author of nature,” but that almost every time he heard of something like this the mystery could be attributed to human sources. He expanded on this idea by relating certain instances he knew of and how mysterious voices could come from skillful rhetoricians or devices like a tube. Carwin said he could only believe that voices came from a higher being if he heard them himself in a way that could not be explained. He also said that mimicry, in the case of Catharine’s voice, was very plausible. His rational explanations may have worked for some, but Clara recalled that “it was insufficient to impart conviction to us.”
A month passed, and Carwin became a regular fixture at the Wieland homes. He was always interesting and always welcome, and “entered and departed without ceremony.” However, Clara and the others still wondered if his fellowship was good or evil and became melancholy when ruminating on this. Wieland was always solemn, Catharine moldable by her friends’ moods, and Pleyel unhappy. Pleyel also seemed dissatisfied and uneasy, and to her strange delight, Clara realized it was because he now found her behavior newly ambiguous.
Dreams play a major role in this novel, both in the traditional sense of being purely imaginative events in one’s mind while asleep, and of daydreams, where the characters’ ruminations blur the line between reality and fantasy. By chapter 7, Clara has now fallen asleep several times and been beset by ominous dreams that hint at the horrors to come; this is Brown’s very unambiguous way of foreshadowing the future. The most recent dream is that of Wieland trying to hasten Clara’s death by motioning her down a path in which there is an abyss for her to fall into. Clara also spends an inordinate amount of time awake but intensely pondering the strange voices and events that have befallen the family of late. When thinking of Carwin, she cannot keep her mind from wandering down paths it should not go; she meditates on death as a certainty for all humans, her brother and his family, and her father’s mysterious demise. She obsesses over Carwin to the point where it interferes with her sleep. This is the evening when she hears the murderers in her closet. Her friends think she was dreaming, while she initially thinks she imagined it and then decides she does not know for sure. Daydreams seem to bleed into actual events, while actual dreams seem to forecast them. Clara’s constant inward gaze leads to obfuscation and ambiguity; she cannot seem to decide what is real and what is not because she cannot fully separate the internal and the external.
Another interesting point to make concerning these two chapters is the growing romantic tension between Pleyel and Clara. Pleyel jokes with Clara that she is in love with Carwin when she confesses how much she was captivated by his voice and face. This causes extreme agitation: “Had he been aware of its influence upon my happiness, his temper would not have allowed him to persist” (56). Later, when Carwin has entrenched himself in the family, Clara notices that Pleyel is much more prone to uneasiness and unhappiness; she attributes this to his constant observation of the ambiguity of her behavior and not to the recent death of his European mistress. It is not yet clear, however, if Pleyel is upset because he has feelings for Clara or whether her conduct has displeased him for another reason.
Clara’s feelings for Pleyel are different than those for Carwin. Scholar James Russo writes, “where she is romantically attached to Pleyel, her reaction to Carwin is quite different, as made clear by her long physical description of him…[her description] of Carwin is highly ambivalent, portraying accurately her attraction and repulsion.” He concludes that, “in short, Clara is, at least subconsciously, confronted with her own sexuality.” Clara never gives a description of Pleyel, but she is utterly magnetized by Carwin’s physical presence and his provocative voice.
The inability of the Wielands to set aside supernatural explanations for the voices that have assaulted them continues in this chapter. Carwin does not entirely discount a supernatural origin for those events, but thoroughly and rationally gives multiple explanations for the voices. In relating mysterious circumstances that he encountered in the past, “for every difficulty that was suggested, a ready and plausible solution was furnished. Mysterious voices had always a share in producing the catastrophe, but they were always to be explained on some known principles, either as reflected into a focus, or communicated into a tube” (59) and suggested that “Catharine’s voice might be easily imitated” (60). However, the Wielands are not convinced. Clara recounts that while others might be swayed by the rational argument, “it was insufficient to impart conviction to us”’ (60). Clearly, even when an outsider diligently provides scientific, objective explanations for the events, Clara and Wieland are not interested.
What is also interesting about the Wielands in this chapter is how readily they invited someone into their home and made them an integral part of their social circle when, as Clara wrote on two separate occasions, they were unsure whether or not he was good or evil. Carwin represents many things that are very different; he adopted a Spanish name, he converted to Roman Catholicism, he is secretive, and his garb and manners are at odds with each other. Brown even italicizes the word “transformation” when Pleyel explains his reticence to discuss his relinquishing of his English life and character and his assumption of his Spanish persona. Carwin is a sort of alien to America and to the Wieland family, and it remains to be seen whether their ready embrace of him into the sanctuary of their home was wise (this will be discussed in further analyses).
As the subtitle of the book, transformation is a loaded word in this novel. The word can refer to Carwin himself, to the Wielands' transformation from rationality into madness (to be discussed later) or to Brown's writing itself - an early American tale, written after the Revolution, that takes place at the dawn of the American identity. Edwin Sill Fussell notes that Brown himself would have undergone a transformation as he grew up to become an American citizen; his youth and early adulthood coincided with the very birth of his country. (171)