Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker

Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker Summary and Analysis of Chapters VII-XII


Chapter VII

Clithero's confession continued, and Edgar notes that was more distressed from this point onwards. Clithero told how Sarsefield one day brought him news that he had definitively seen Arthur Wiatte in town. Both men were afraid and upset, but decided not to worry Mrs. Lorimer by telling her. Instead, they posted a guard at the gate of her house to keep Arthur away. Meanwhile, they made a plan to have him followed when he was next seen in town.

Clithero in particular knew how her brother's return would distress his mistress, and was moreover perturbed to realize that Arthur was Clarice's father, and could hence cause trouble to their impending union. Though he suspected Sarsefield slept fine on the night that Arthur was rediscovered, Clithero was overwhelmed by the onslaught "of the presence of that power by whose accursed machinations I was destined to fall" (49). In other words, he felt even then that fate was conspiring to ensure his downfall.

One evening soon after Arthur's return, Clithero was running an errand for Mrs. Lorimer. While lost in thought, he was assaulted by a figure who cursed him as a "dead man" and then shot at him (50). The pistol only grazed Clithero's forehead, so the man confronted him with a dagger. By instinct, Clithero used his own pistol to shoot the man.

Of course, it was Arthur, who died soon after, despite the efforts of a surgeon who followed the crowd that gathered around the scene. Everyone there understood that Clithero had acted in self-defense, and he was free to return home.

Chapter VIII

Clithero's confession continued. Though he was happy that the threat of Arthur had been extinguished, he now worried how he would break the news to his mistress. He recalled how Mrs. Lorimer once told him that her fate was inextricably linked to her brother's, and how she believed that "the stroke that deprives him of life will not only have the same effect upon me, but will set my portion in everlasting misery" (54). In other words, he worried that news of his death will cause her own.

His thoughts and worries were so overwhelming that he arrived back home without realizing it. To Edgar, Clithero stresses that his mental anguish was so intense that he was practically out of his mind. He had convinced himself that Mrs. Lorimer might have felt Arthur's death through a psychic link and hence died herself, and so he decided to sneak into her room to determine whether she lived. Sneaking past a maid asleep in the antechamber before her room, he pulled back the curtains of Mrs. Lorimer's bed to see her sleeping peacefully.

And yet he could not forget how the news of Arthur's death would destroy her, and how he was responsible for that death. His guilt grew overpowering, until he was convinced he must shelter her from the truth. When he saw a dagger nearby, its origin unknown, he felt possessed by a demon and lifted the blade to kill her.

Suddenly, an arm grabbed his own, and redirected the blade. Clithero was confused to see that it was Mrs. Lorimer who had stopped him, and that it was actually Clarice who was asleep in the bed. His moment of insanity had passed, and he now turned the blade on himself, disgusted with what he had almost done. Yet again, Mrs. Lorimer stayed his hand.

When she begged for an explanation , he cried out, "I came to murder you. Your brother has perished by my hands" (61). In horror, she cried out that she was done as well, and then collapsed to the floor. Clithero's plan had backfired. Without a second thought, he fled the house and began living in beggar's garb. He booked passage to America, where he knew no one, and ended up working for Inglefield.

Thus, he told Edgar, he was indeed a guilty party, though not of Waldegrave's murder. His consternation on hearing of Waldegrave's death (reported by others in Inglefield's household) was merely a symptom of his own guilty conscience.

Chapter IX

Once Clithero's story was done, Edgar felt utterly discombobulated, both confused over his suspicions and sympathetic over Clithero's suffering. He felt convinced that Clithero was not guilty in the case of Arthur's murder, and could somewhat understand how Clithero's tumultuous mindset might have misled him into thinking it was right to murder Mrs. Lorimer.

To Mary, Edgar reflects on the strange connection between the twins (Mrs. Lorimer and Arthur), and reminds her that he knows Sarsefield. During Edgar's youth, Sarsefield had worked for a time as Edgar's tutor, and he and Edgar had grown extremely close. However, Sarsefield had disappeared at one point, leaving no information about where he had gone.

After the confession, Clithero left Edgar, who worried that the man might feel drawn towards suicide. When Clithero was not heard from for several days, Inglefield worried as well. Edgar conjectured that the immigrant might have disappeared into the wilderness to kill himself, and felt compelled to seek the man out. It was an easy decision, since he himself has a fondness for the wilderness, which is tough but not impossible to navigate.

Edgar ventured into the woods, which he knew well from his own wanderings. Clithero's route was "laboriously circuitous," but Edgar eventually made his way to the mouth of the cave where he had left the man on his earlier chase (68). By that time, however, it was dark, and Edgar regretted not bringing a light with him.

Chapter X

Not wanting to go home and abandon the quest, Edgar proceeded into the cavern with a light. Using the wall as a guide, he moved along a treacherous path, starting to worry he had entered some sort of maze. He stopped when he arrived at a steep descent, and followed the edge of it until he noticed that the path was ascending.

Despite his fear, he eventually found an exit from the cavern, and discovered a fantastic scene of mountains and vales and fertile lawns. After appreciating the open air for a while, he reentered the cavern and found another exit that brought him to a mountain overlook. He wondered whether he was the first person to ever glimpse this “sanctity and awe” and “absolute loneliness” (71).

The next moment, Edgar was startled to see Clithero passing along the rocks that bordered the stream. They were separated, however, by a wide gulf that Edgar could see no way to easily bridge. The immigrant was clearly starving, and Edgar called out to him. Clithero ignored the cries, and reentered the cave.

Filled with “compunction and terror," Edgar decided he must find a way to help Clithero (73). After studying the area, he decided that the only way to cross to Clithero's side of the mountain was to cut down a tree to act as bridge. He then returned home to procure an axe.

Chapter XI

The next day, Edgar returned to the site with his axe, retracing his wave through the cave. There, he cut down a tree and climbed it across the gulf so he could enter the cavern into which Clithero had escaped. He found Clithero in a deep sleep, and chose not to wake him from such peace. While waiting, he decided that any advice he might give would only exacerbate the man's guilt and despair. Ultimately, he decided to merely leave some food for Clithero, hoping sustenance would inspire positive thoughts.

When he returned to civilization, Edgar was invited to spend the night at Inglefield’s, as the latter had an errand in the city. On his way there, Edgar passed by the elm and saw that the earth where Clithero had been digging was now neat and tidy; clearly, someone had been there since his last visit. He decided he would return to investigate once Inglefield’s household had gone to bed.

While waiting for that to happen, Edgar talked with Inglefield's housekeeper and learned of a mysterious box that Clithero had left behind. Although Inglefield did not think it proper to open the box, the woman had tried and failed. Edgar examined the box, which Clithero had ingeniously constructed himself. Though he too thought it improper, Edgar convinced himself that opening it would help him learn more about Clithero so that he could help the man.

Chapter XII

Edgar discovered the secret spring that opened Clithero's box, but found nothing worthwhile inside. Unfortunately, the box would not close again, and even broke; Edgar realized that Clithero designed it this way on purpose, so that he would know if someone had interfered in his business.

Dismayed, Edgar went to the elm. He dug in the spot where Clithero had dug previously, and uncovered another item. Excited, he headed back to Inglefield's, and from a distance saw Clithero entering the house. Before he could reach the house, he heard an angry outburst, and assumed Clithero had found his opened box.

Clithero was not there when Edgar returned, so Edgar investigated the item he found underground. It was a manuscript that Mrs. Lorimer had written in defense of her brother, at a time when others were attacking his reputation.

The next day, Edgar returned to the mountain even though the weather was treacherously stormy. His way was difficult, and he lost the provisions. After crossing the bridge however, he saw a panther waiting on the other side of the gulf. Terrified, he took out his tomahawk, fearing he would have to kill it.

Edgar had not wanted to cross his tree bridge in the terrible storm because of its precariousness, but he saw that the panther intended to. However, the panther instead leaped into a pit nearby. Quickly, Edgar rushed back over the tree, leaving the manuscript behind. The panther emerged to follow him, but the tree collapsed before it could. Instead, the panther leapt towards Edgar, and fell into the chasm to its death.

Now that the bridge was gone, Edgar had no way to return to the other side. He therefore returned home to make other plans.


In these chapters, the novel truly veers into adventure. Following Clithero's melodramatic story, which is itself full of murders, death, and wild intentions, he vanishes into the wilderness of Norwalk. Edgar, compelled to find him through feelings of guilt, also has to undertake adventures, battling the weather, the unknown, and finally a panther. The same dangerous themes reemerge, including sleepwalking and the uncertainty of the frontier.

Clithero's narrative is truly horrible. The reader will most certainly feel sympathetic over the extremes that plagued the immigrant's life. Just when things were as good as they would ever become for him, they were then turned to tragedy. Most extreme, however, is his rationalization of killing Mrs. Lorimer. If taken as fact, Cithero's story is truly incredible, and his character is notably complex.

And yet there are several elements of the story that can give a discerning reader pause, and make us doubt his reliability. First, he does admit to suffering some madness after he hears about Arthur's return: "Such was the beginning of a series ordained to hurry me to swift destruction. Such were the primary tokens of the presence of that power by whose accursed machinations I was destined to fall" (49). Further, he falls into a state akin to sleepwalking after killing Arthur. As he says, "I was fettered, confounded, smitten with excess of thought, and laid prostrate with wonder!" (52). And most telling of all is his state of mind before attempting to kill his patroness. He explains, "I was scarcely conscious of any transition. The interval was fraught with stupor and amazement. It seemed as if my senses had been hushed in sleep, while the powers of locomotion were unconsciously exerted to bear me to my chamber" (54-55). When Edgar stalks him in the wilderness, Clithero seems to be in trancelike form, and his appearance clearly suggests madness. In other words, it is possible that Clithero has lost his sanity.

The importance and meaning of sleepwalking start to become clear in these chapters. In particular, it tends to represent a lack of self-knowledge. For Clithero, his lack of physical consciousness mirrors his lack of self-knowledge. He does not quite know where he fits in the world or what his responsibility should be - to himself or Mrs. Lorimer? - and as a result suffers a psychic break that manifests in sleepwalking.

In her article on the coherence of the self in Edgar Huntly, Beverly Voloshin delves into the murkiness of Clithero and Edgar's psyches. She begins by discussing the Lockean concept of perception as one's self being a conscious thinking being that observes physical objects and incorporates their "sensations", or ideas. The self was perceived, therefore, as a stream of consciousness. Brown knew of and read Locke, but his work goes a bit further, contemplating what happens in the "gaps" in consciousness that might occur when the mind cannot absorb the ideas put forth by objects or events. In these gaps, where full consciousness does not exist, the thoughts experienced may be more meaningful and revelatory; she writes, "the mind has a kind of metaphorical depth, such that unwanted ideas may be suppressed by not obliterated."

Hence, Clithero and Edgar's sleepwalking conveys great meaning. Clithero seems to act without reason and without conscious choice, and his murder of Arthur Wiatte seems to have a near-Oedipal flavor about it. Wiatte is the man who cut Clithero off from Clarice and Mrs. Lorimer, and Clithero actively wishes him dead before "accidentally" killing him. The fact that he buries the document - which argues for the goodness of Arthur - while in the unconscious state of sleepwalking suggests that Clithero has suppressed certain facts in order to live with himself. Perhaps what he must live with is his own love for Mrs. Lorimer.

Similarly, Edgar's own narrative will prove to be one of "a series of repetitions intended to compose a tale and compose the self, but this play of repetitions disperses its elements even as it attempts to organize them." In other words, Edgar's story aims to justify his behavior to Mary, and yet he loses his thread at times because he does not fully understand himself. Edgar's narrative expresses a dilemma: if sensation is not made orderly, it becomes chaotic, and terrible experiences might become even more destructive to order and coherence. However, the writer has to relive them and can become distressed. When sensation decays, it becomes generalized and cauterized, and ceases to exist. Thus, if Edgar imposes strict narrative structure on his story, all sensation would disappear, and the story would lose its honest complications. However, if he does not order and assimilate what happens to him, his narrative spins out of control and his self becomes compromised. The novel constantly vacillates between these extremes of compromised clarity and honest chaos.

Clearly, Edgar is growing more chaotic, like Clithero is. He retraces Clithero's routes, begins to copy his behavior and obsessions, and will soon start sleepwalking as well. He continually doubles back and repeats actions, and occupies both poles of thought and action – as Voloshin writes, "Huntly plays the doubled roles of hunter and hunted, detective and criminal, victim of Indian attack and attacker of Indians, the man of feeling and the creature of instinct, enlightened gentleman and outcast." Where he was a simple Quaker at the beginning of the novel, he is now beginning to discover his inner contradictions.

Some scholars have posited that Edgar might have been grappling with such complications before the novel begin. Though his identity - as a Quaker with good intentions - is well established at the beginning, we here see that his 'self' is far less developed, and that he grapples with a variety of subconscious issues. In other words, even a Quaker defined by a strong moral code has repressed desires for selfishness and violence.

These desires are particularly interesting to consider in terms of Waldegrave's death, which is fraught with controversy and significance. Waldegrave's death is similar to that of the deaths of Edgar's parents, especially since Waldegrave was a substitute father figure in terms of being an "intellectual and spiritual guide." Later, Edgar feels guilty over abandoning his pursuit of his friend's killers and chasing Clithero through the wilderness; he could not prevent his parents' or Waldegrave's death, and he cannot find out who killed the latter. Further ambivalence comes with Huntly's feelings over Waldegrave's letters, which he does not destroy despite his late friend's wishes. One scholar, Norman S. Grabo, posits that Edgar unconsciously desired Waldegrave's death so he could assume the man's fortune and marry his sister. If this were true, then his attempt to help Clithero can be understood as an attempt to expunge guilt over those feelings (especially since the feelings for Mary are sexual and hence would be considered somewhat uncouth by a good Quaker man). Other scholars suggest that Edgar might have killed Waldegrave himself (though this does not line up with Delaware Indian's confession at the end of the novel.) No matter how one interprets Edgar's connection to Waldegrave's death, it is easy to see that his firm, decided feelings about Waldegrave, as with most things, are more complicated that he realizes.