Wieland Summary and Analysis of Chapter 25


Clara paused in her narrative, tremulous and exhausted. She decided to persist in her writing because it was necessary to put everything to paper before she died; indeed, she believed that “when I lay down the pen the taper of life will expire: my existence will terminate with my tale.” She continued, returning to her room where she and Wieland stood after Carwin’s absence. Clara was infuriated that Carwin was gone and her desire for revenge unsatiated.

Wieland raised his eyes to heaven and murmured words that Clara understood to be evidence that his beliefs were shaken. Doubts plagued his mind. Clara waited and watched Wieland, paralyzed by terror that her life might still be in danger. She even contemplated using her penknife to stab her brother, but abandoned this plan. Remembering the fact that “my heart was black enough to meditate the stabbing of a brother” brought her chills even as she penned this narrative. When she threw the penknife across the room her brother was shaken from his meditations.

He lamented the deaths of his wife and children and wondered if he would do better in the next life. He reiterated that he was “pure from all stain” because he believed God was his guide. If he did err, it was due to his senses, not his judgment. Clara was surprised that he was not bereft of sadness but that his soul was still tranquil. She wondered if this was a different type of madness, and could not help but let an agonized groan of “O! Carwin! Carwin! What hast thou to answer for?” escape her lips.

She became wary as a new look of serenity and purpose passed over Wieland’s brow. He spoke to her, explaining that for a short time he believed this tale of human malice but now understood Carwin only to be a demon. This demon urged him to sacrifice his family, but since this demon was still from God the sacrifice of Clara remained necessary. He told her that she had three minutes before her death.

Clara could not conceive of a way to escape the chamber, and she became confused and unsteady with the weight of her thoughts. She cried out for Wieland to spare her. After her prayer was uttered she looked toward the door and saw Carwin standing within the frame. She suddenly realized that, since he persisted with his claim that his intentions were not malicious, he could undo the spell upon her brother and redeem himself. She screamed to him to “counterwork this hellish stratagem” and use his powers to prevent her violent death at the hand of her brother. Unfortunately, Carwin turned and left the room, leaving her consumed with rage and despair.

Clara held the knife in her hand once more and considered striking her brother. His eyes were fixed on the clock, and after the close of three minutes, he turned to her filled with inhuman fury. He gripped her left arm. Here Clara breaks her narrative and expresses how difficult it is to continue. She does not know why she should “rescue this event from oblivion” or relive these horrors. After a moment she convinced herself to proceed; she will die as soon as the tale is completed.


Wieland is very much a novel about writing. Writing, narration, and reading are extremely significant structural components to the story. Firstly, the novel is actually Clara’s narrative which consists of two separate letters. Secondly, almost all the characters are engaged at one time or another in narrating a series of events or writing: Clara’s meta-narrative; Pleyel’s long explanation of his reasons for suspecting Clara’s moral failure; Wieland’s court testimony; the elder Wieland’s autobiography; Clara’s diary; Carwin’s lengthy confession; Major Stuart’s history; and Cambridge’s relation of the histories of Clara’s grandfather and father. Almost all of the characters are narrators and almost all of them are participating audiences at one time or another. Many scholars view Carwin as a powerful writer, as he spins a fantastic tale and makes his “characters” - the Wielands and Pleyels - perform his chosen actions. Edwin Sill Fussell explains that Brown “wrote a diatribe against writing but within that context he split the indictment in order to show an irresponsible writer wreaking havoc and wretchedness on a hapless populace while quite another kind of writer – his kind – was quietly restoring a semblance of reason and peace…” Carwin as author is a figure with extreme power but no responsibility or restraint. Clara as author is a figure who tries to use writing to impart a moral or a lesson and purge the horrors of her past. One of the reasons to point out how intrinsic writing is to the novel is to remember that this novel was written in the immediate years following the American Revolution, which was, as Fussell points out, “at least partly caused by writers, then that revolution, now won, necessitates an American literature to justify it and ensure its fruits to posterity.” Charles Brockden Brown was writing about writing; he was demonstrating its power for good and for evil, and trying to offer a commentary on the newly American literature that was coming into being at the time.

Clara's narration has, throughout the novel, helped to stoke tension through description and pacing; e.g. not revealing the identity of the stranger who interrupts her and Carwin in Chapter 24 until describing his manner and dress. At this point, however, the reader knows that Clara's designs on suicide and her brother's assault will come to naught. Since this scene is being related in full to the reader means that she survives this assault. Furthermore, Clara's constant bidding that she will die when the story ends connects her vitality to the narrative. Still, the ultimate endgame of her brother's visit and the fact that Clara's state of mind renders her a faulty narrator maintain the reader's interest.

We now shift gears from talking about the centrality of writing to discussing the characters themselves. Many critics have read into the relationship between Clara and her brother a hint of incest. Psychological readings of the novel find evidence of this in the stiflingly close-knit, insular society of the Pleyels and the Wielands and the almost-interchangeable nature of the relationships; Clara’s frequent meditation upon her brother in her daydreams; her dream that he was beckoning her towards an abyss; her irrational fear that he was in her closet; and her comment about wanting to give him one last look at her before she left for Europe with her uncle: “Perhaps the sight of the sister whom he was wont to love with a passion more than fraternal, might have an auspicious influence on his malady.” However, there is no further textual evidence, if “evidence” can even be deemed an appropriate word. As earlier analyses have shown, Clara’s sexual feelings seem to revolve around Carwin, while Pleyel is the beneficiary of her chaste, romantic yearnings.

In terms of character development, in this chapter Wieland continues to embrace his commitment to the divine command he believes he has received. Even Carwin’s confession only casts momentary doubt. Within minutes he has convinced himself that Carwin may have uttered the words because he was a demon, but only God would permit a demon to act as he did; therefore, the command is still valid and needs to be completed. As previously discussed, it remains unclear if Carwin was actually responsible for these voices. If not, Brown does not allow the reader to believe they are of supernatural origin. What becomes a more logical conclusion is that Wieland is insane, but even with the familial history of insanity, it is not that simple to conclude that Wieland must be afflicted by madness.

Wieland is avowedly religious, but according to Clara’s description of him in the initial chapters, his mind was “enriched by science, and embellished by literature.” He chose to think thoroughly and logically about human life and the nature of truth. His intellectual hero was Cicero; he even placed the bust of that secular thinker within his father’s temple, once a hallowed space for Protestant devotion. His explanation for the voices, while accepting that they may be of a supernatural origin, is markedly rational: “There is no determinate way in which the subject can be viewed. Here is an effect, but the cause is utterly inscrutable. To suppose a deception will not do. Such is possible, but there are twenty other such suppositions more probable…time may convert one of them into certainty. Till then it is useless to expatiate on them” (31). Unlike Clara, whose ruminations on these strange events are chaotic, exhausting, scattered, and morbid, Wieland actually seems to have a moderate, reasoned response to them.

Unfortunately, there is a major gap between the Wieland previously discussed and the Wieland who murders his family because a divine voice tells him to. Wieland all but disappears from Clara’s narrative in the middle of the text and there are no other hints that he has delved into madness. Can insanity really be used as an explanation for Wieland’s voices and the resulting murders? Brown does not make it easy for the reader to decide upon a definitive answer. This may be frustrating, but it adds dimension and interest to the novel.