Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker

Edgar Huntly: Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker Summary and Analysis of Chapters XIII-XVIII


Chapter XIII

Once he returned home, Edgar's thoughts returned to Waldegrave. He tells Mary about how he still kept copies of letters Waldegrave had written about religion - the early ones espouse a deist view, while the later ones recount his return to religion. Waldegrave was embarrassed by them and wanted them destroyed, but Edgar refused to honor his late friend's wishes because he believed them important and publishable.

He decided he would look through them, to begin preparing them for publication, but he was shocked to discover that they were missing from the cabinet where he housed them. Nobody but Mary knew where they were, so he was extremely worried about who could have taken them.

Suddenly, Mr. Huntly appeared, in a nightdress, to ask whether Edgar was okay. Mr. Huntly had heard someone pacing in the third story of the house, and assumed it was Edgar, who insisted he had not left his room at all that night. Confused, the uncle then asked Edgar's sisters about the noise upstairs, but learned nothing new.

Edgar remained lost in "dejection and reverie," partially because of this new mystery, but mostly because of the lost letters (93). Before he fell asleep that night, his thoughts returned to Clitero, and he resolved to find him again.

Chapter XIV

The next day, a man whom Edgar recognized arrived at Mr. Huntly's house. He introduced himself as Weymouth, a friend of Waldegrave's, and quickly explained his purpose: he had made a good sum of money ($7000) and entrusted it to Waldegrave while he left on a journey that had turned into an unexpected adventure. Weymouth had been injured on his journey and left in the hands of primitive surgeons in Spain. When he finally returned to America, he learned that Waldegrave had died, and that his friend Edgar Huntly had managed his affairs.

Though Waldegrave did leave a considerable sum of money behind, which was strange because his only income was his paltry salary as a teacher, he did not leave a will explaining that the money belonged to Weymouth.

Chapter XV

Edgar explained that Waldegrave had left no information about this sum of money, but noted that he and Mary only learned about the sum after Waldegrave's death. Though Weymouth admitted that he had no legal proof of his claim, he desperately needed the money to take care of both his ill father and a wife who was stranded in Europe awaiting money for passage. After making his case, he left.

Edgar writes Mary that while their marriage was dependant on the money, since he could not support her otherwise, he felt obliged to believe Weymouth's story: "his countenance exhibited deep traces of the afflictions he had endured and the fortitude which he had exercised" (103). Provided he can find proof of Weymouth's claim, he believes they must give him the money. What money they had already spent, they will need to repay him. He is concerned by what this might mean for their future, but feels compelled to do the right thing.

Chapter XVI

At this point in his letter, Edgar admits that he might lack the fortitude to continue narrating, as the subsequent events are full of horror. He does not know how to relate them intelligibly, but he decides to continue.

The night after Weymouth had visited, Edgar fell asleep. He remembers when he fell asleep, and when his thoughts stopped.

When he woke up, however, he found himself in total darkness and in tremendous pain, lying on a hard surface while his thoughts were "wildering and mazy" (107). He had no idea where he was, or how he got there. Though his limbs felt like stone, he managed to investigate to discover that he was in a vast, dank and dark stone pit, with only his tomahawk as accompaniment. He was lost to delirious and strange thoughts for a while, until a hunger craving took over.

After a while, he discerned that might be in the same pit he had seen several days before. Its sides were smooth, so that he could not initially find a way to climb out. After deciding not to kill himself, he perilously scaled the pit walls, almost dying in the process. Nevertheless, he made it out.

Unfortunately, he then stood facing the gleaming eyes of the panther. Without delay, Edgar threw his tomahawk at the panther, killing it. Though it made him wretch, he satiated his hunger by feasting on its raw flesh. The stomach pains overtook him when he finished, and he passed out.

When he woke, he felt less hungry, but was tormented by thirst. In the distance, he heard echoes suggesting the presence of running water, and he headed towards the sound. Finally, he saw a glimmer of light, and emerged from a crevice into a cavern where a man-made fire was crackling.

Chapter XVII

In that cavern, Edgar saw four Indians (i.e., Native Americans) sleeping by the fire. Each had a musket. He remembered how there had been Indian raids in the community lately, and reflected on how his own parents were killed by Indians when he was young. He and his sisters had been away, or they would have been killed too. As a result, he had always been frightened of Indians.

He realized he would need to sneak past them out of the cavern so he could warn others on the frontier of their presence. Right before he set across the cavern, though, one of the Indians woke and walked away from the fire. Luckily, that man walked out of the cavern altogether.

Edgar resolved to steal one of their weapons and rush out. However, before he left, he heard a quiet cry and realized that they had taken a captive: a farmer's daughter. Thankfully, she did not cry out when she saw him. Knowing there was likely an enemy outside, he had to leave her behind.

After taking a musket and a hatchet from a sleeping Indian, he snuck out to the steep cliff where the woken Indian was crouching. After debating whether to kill the man, Edgar decided against it. However, the Indian almost noticed him, and Edgar fired out of self-defense. He had never killed anyone before, and considered it against his religious sensibility, so he felt "remorse and dismay" (120). These feelings did not keep him from drinking ravenously from a nearby stream, though.

Chapter XVIII

Now worried about the farmer's daughter, Edgar returned for her. The other Indians were still sleeping, so he cut her bonds and carried her out into the wilderness. After a while, she was able to walk herself, and told him that her entire family had been slaughtered by the Indians who kidnapped her.

After traveling a while through rough terrain, they came across a small, extremely rudimentary house. Inside, Edgar built a fire, and they shared the moldy bread and water they found there. Eventually, the farmer's daughter fell asleep, but Edgar's thoughts kept him awake. He looked more closely at the Indian's gun he had stolen, and was horrified to realize that it was his own gun, from his private cabinet. He had to conclude that the Indians had raided his uncle's house and killed his family.

He then felt less guilty about killing the Indian, and he rashly decided to return and slaughter the others as retribution. Before he can set out, though, he saw three figures approaching; those Indians were now on their trail.

Edgar snuck outside through an opening near the chimney, and was able to escape the vicinity. He worried about the girl, however, especially when the Indians entered the cabin and cried out in shock at finding her there. To his horror, he heard the sound of a blow and then of her cries. One Indian dragged her outside, and Edgar shot him dead. The other two exited at once, and Edgar realized he had only one bullet left. He used it for one of his enemies, but only wounded the man.


These chapters complete the novel's transition into full-fledged adventure. They feature a heightened degree of violence, mental perturbation, and narrative complexity and ambiguity. Perhaps most notably, however, is that they introduce the novel's most extreme antagonists in the form of the Delaware Indians.

Chapter XVI is often cited in the critical literature as a turning point, as the narrative suffers from what scholars Barnard and Shapiro call an “abrupt break." Before this point, the story seems to be a traditional tale of redemption and rational benevolence, rooted in Enlightenment themes. From this point onwards, it becomes a horrific and sanguinary nightmare, as well as a disconcerting plunge into the psyche of the protagonist.

The first major event of these chapters concerns Weymouth, who brings terrible news to Edgar. As Edgar explains, he does not have an income of his own, and hence could not support Mary without the inheritance left her by Waldegrave. So losing that money is not just an inconvenience, but a small tragedy for their relationship. And yet Edgar feels entirely convinced that Weymouth's claim is justified, so much so that he practically resolves to sell out his future simply because the man's suffering seems legitimate.

Interestingly enough, this is the only episode of the novel in which Weymouth appears; there is no real conclusion to this thread, and he is never mentioned again. Critics have largely ignored Weymouth, but some call attention not to the events of the story itself, but rather to its placement in the narrative. Peter T. Bellis writes, “its very excessiveness may be what leads Huntly to transcribe it in its entirety, to deliberately delay his ‘return to my narrative’ in the next chapter.” It may be a way to forestall writing to Mary about the bloody and disturbing events to come, which separate the two because they “take him into a world that she can never enter, one that reflects and embodies his deepest fears and desires.” In other words, it is easier for him to veer into social issues, which concern conventional morality. The solution to the Weymouth problem is simply to 'do the right thing.' On the other hand, the events that follow are rooted in subconscious fears and aggressive instincts; they are horrific, and not easy to explain or manage.

A quick note on gender relations in the novel: the women in this novel are consistently controlled and undercut by men, and any gains they may experience in autonomy are destroyed by the novel’s end. Mrs. Lorimer is forced to marry a brute whom she does not love by her brother and parents; after the man’s death, she has a short period of control, but by the end of the novel cedes that control to her new husband, Sarsefield. Similarly, Clarice is viewed by Sarsefield as an object; he assumes he can simply marry her off to Edgar. Old Deb, yet to be introduced, enjoys a great deal of freedom and power for most of the novel, but is captured at the end and subsequently severed from her land and history.

This patriarchal control is even clear with Edgar. Though Waldegrave's money was left to Mary, Edgar implies that he is the one who has control of it through his insistence in the Weymouth incident. Furthermore, Edgar is often dismissive and condescending in his tone to her; at one point, when discussing her own brother’s letters, he writes, “Thou, like others of thy sex, art unaccustomed to metaphysical refinements. Thy religion is the growth of sensibility and not of argument” (90). Barnard and Shapiro observe that the male characters “express their assumed patriarchy as they insist that the novel’s women are incapable of negotiating the complexities of a modern commercial economy, an inability exacerbated as the women are refused equal access to the means of knowledge and the channels of self-education.” When thinking about how this novel addresses 'the other,' one can consider not only immigrants and savages, but women as well.

In many ways, the introduction of the Indians brings Edgar’s unconscious issues to the fore. The "abrupt break" of Chapter XVI begins with the most pronounced incident of Edgar's sleepwalking. In effect, he loses control of himself. As he writes to Mary, “solitude and sleep are now no more than the signals to summon up a tribe of ugly phantoms” (106). And not surprisingly, this journey into his subconscious brings him to horrific, dark places.

As Edgar's experiences most clearly parallel Clithero's in this section, the reader also becomes aware that Clithero has mostly dropped from the novel's focus. The new subject is Edgar himself, and the miasma of his mind. Sydney J. Krause writes that “Huntly has at last taken the unimpeded plunge into the dark recesses of his own subconscious, which, though not a negative undertaking, is not risk free.” Clithero's story, despite its length and complexity, serves then more as a lens through which to understand the parts of the psyche which Brown wishes to explore through his protagonist.

Edgar has somnambulistically ended up in Clithero’s cave. There, his strict Quaker values seem to be of little use to him. Instead, he must revel in his animalistic instincts, embracing his aggressive tendencies, if he is to survive. In fact, he must act as the type of savage that his society considers the Indians to be. Scholar Beverly Voloshin notes, “He has fulfilled the worst expectations of many European settlers, that whites who came in contact with the wilderness will become savage and wild.” Perhaps the most grotesque incident in the novel is his consumption of the panther's flesh, which is “just the beginning of his embroilment with the bestial,” Krause writes.

We are meant to recognize the contrast between this dive into the dark recesses (of the cave and of his mind) and his earlier foray into the wilderness, when he meant to secure Clithero's return to sanity and society. Then, he slowly and carefully navigated the darkness of the cave, using a precipice as a guide. Here, he had fallen head-first into the precipice. He is now concerned not with Christian goodwill, but solely with survival and vengeance. The reader learns that Edgar’s own parents were killed by Indians; he explains “I never looked upon, or called up the image of a savage without shuddering” (116). What surfaces here, then, are repressed hatreds and fears, which will drive him towards violent desires.

Of course, it is notable (and ironic) that while Edgar labels the Indians “savages,” calling them inherently murderous, he is the one who sets about murdering them. He reminds Mary that he does not believe he has violent inclinations, but the reader is easily skeptical of this claim, especially as he continues to kill the Indians throughout the last part of the book. Whether Brown means to suggest that we all have the potential to become the 'Other,' or whether his taste for the grotesque merely led him from a moral intention, is unclear.