Clara had just summoned the strength to bring the penknife to Wieland’s heart when he suddenly shrunk back and freed Clara from his grasp. A loud, shrill voice commanded Wieland to hold. His countenance was filled with doubt and hesitation. Clara knew this was Carwin, who had fled the scene only to prepare himself to intervene. This moment for Clara was “pregnant with fate” and she stood, fixed by Wieland’s credulity.
The voice told Wieland his senses misled him to commit those deeds and he should “shake off thy phrenzy, and ascend into rational and human.” Wieland was shocked, and appealed to heaven whether or not his impulse that led him to commit the murders was wrong and if he was insane. The voice gave its affirmative and Wieland finally fell from his lofty and moral ground to complete and utter sorrow.
He sat motionless and silent until a fit of desperation and tempestuousness shook his body. He appeared consumed by a fire of madness. His actions lacked any coherence, and he walked back and forth, wringing his hands. Suddenly he seemed to have an idea that animated his whole being; he observed the knife that Clara had dropped moments ago and quickly lunged toward it. Seizing the weapon, he thrust it into his neck and died.
Clara held him, anguished that this was her brother’s last deed. She called Carwin in to the room to help, but could not focus on his continual assertions of innocence and terrified looks and expressions of pity. Carwin left and informed Clara’s uncle and others what had happened.
The body of Wieland was removed from the house, but Clara resigned herself to remain within its walls forever. The pleading and begging of others was insufficient to extract her; even force was attempted but this failed as well. She consented to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe, but no one could tell her where to live out the remainder of her days. This was the spot she chose to reside in until she died.
As she brings her narrative to a close, Clara said she did not care what happened to Carwin. He rescued her and disabused her brother of his illusions, but she did not care about the rest of his tale. She did not want to be tormented by him any longer; she did not feel she needed to forgive him because it would not matter when his hour of judgment arrived.
One of the most interesting questions to consider at this point, now that this part of Clara’s narrative is complete, is whether or not she herself is insane. Her narrative is frequently incoherent, her thoughts jumbled, her conclusions shaky and even specious. She admits that her narrative “may be invaded by inaccuracy and confusion,” (112) and several times acknowledges that her readers may find the events she describes outright unbelievable. She has a familial history that includes at least two examples of insanity: her maternal grandfather, who heard voices and threw himself off a cliff; and her father, who was a religious fanatic and probably mentally unstable. Clara is prone to outbursts of emotion that vacillate from extreme ecstasy and happiness to profound depression and morbidity. She considers suicide at least twice. All of her assertions of rationality and lack of reliance upon religion are equaled in number, if not surpassed, by her attribution of supernatural explanations for the voices and events that plague her. After her brother kills himself, she is indisputably mad. She writes that “importunity was tried in vain: they threatened to remove me my violence – nay, violence was used; but my soul prizes too dearly this little roof endure to be bereaved of it” (172). When her neighbors and uncle tried to use force, she responded with “ferociousness and phrenzy” (172) and contented herself with finishing her narrative and alluding to suicide once it was done.
The scholar James Russo’s article on Clara’s “chimeras of the brain” is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking pieces on Clara’s possible insanity. In a thorough argument complete with manifold evidence, Russo calls into question whether or not Carwin could actually have been responsible for the voices Clara heard, if she was the one that actually used a voice to impel Wieland to murder his family, and if she fabricated Carwin’s confession. In order to poke holes in Clara’s narrative concerning hearing the voices in her closet and at the summer-house, Russo notes the inability of Clara and the reader to distinguish between her dreams and reality; he also notes the traits of dreams present, such as the inability to move and the confusion of the senses. She also attempted to fall asleep at the most heightened state of emotion, which could of course lead to the confusion between waking and sleeping. Carwin’s confession of his role these events is, as Russo says, “contradictory, incoherent, and improbable.” Carwin could not have known about her family history when he warned her not to go her father’s fate.
Her account of finding him in her closet also makes no sense. First of all, the marks of a dream are again present - she cannot run away. Secondly, when she goes to sleep that night she is once again indulging in her violent and passionate imagination. The sexual feelings she feels for Carwin are distressing her. Russo finds Carwin’s confession ridiculous: “We are asked to believe that while Carwin has the necessary physical strength to prevent Clara’s entry into the closet, he instead decides to reveal himself and confess to attempted rape and murder in order to avoid having to admit to trespassing!” Russo equates Clara’s closet with her own identity, her own inner self. Within it are the “secrets of her heart” and the “receptacle of her past” in the form of her diary and her family’s manuscripts. There is something within the closet that is difficult for Clara to face; it is not only a sexual symbol but a symbol of her fascination with her family’s violent and insane predilections and her fear that she might also be succumbing to those perversions.
Russo also believes it possible that Clara was indeed meeting with Carwin in the woods near her house and that Pleyel was not mistaken in attributing the voices to her and Carwin. The fact that the woman spoke in the same way as Clara and spoke of things that only she knew made it seem unrealistic for this to be Carwin. Clara’s suggestion that Carwin was able to sound like her because he had an overriding nerve to sneak into her room under constant chance of detection just to read her diary seems outlandish.
Clara does not appear to be a conscious liar because her lies are not plausible or even good. For Russo, “the utter absurdity of Clara’s untruths is the best evidence we have for believing that an unstable, deluded woman is telling them.” Another strange event that casts doubt on Clara’s narrative is the fact that Carwin's note asking her to meet with him is left at Mrs. Baynton’s house. There is no possible way he could guess that she went there; she must have informed Carwin she was going to Philadelphia, but why, unless they were in secret communication?
Russo successfully shows how Wieland and Clara’s narrative of the night of the murders is contradictory. For one, their paths cross without noticing each other. They both state that they stood upon the staircase at eleven o’clock. Louisa was brutally murdered and disfigured, but nowhere does Wieland say he was commissioned to kill her. Indeed, it makes no sense that he would or that he would do it so violently. It is strange that Wieland hears voices that night but has not heard them for months. Russo believes that Carwin was not the instigator of these events but that it was Clara. His argument is that being prone to violence, passionate emotions, repressed sexuality or actual guilt over the loss of her virginity to Carwin, and tinges of insanity, she urged her brother to kill his family. She did this because “the murdered people symbolize the goodness and chastity Clara has lost” and she blames Carwin because “to her mind seduction is the ultimate cause of the later murders.” She may have murdered Louisa herself because the girl symbolized her own lost purity and blamelessness. By asking Wieland to murder her, she is bringing this drama to a close and purging herself.
Russo even provides evidence that Clara imagined Carwin in her final scenes with her brother. Theodore never truly seems to see him, he enters the room silently, the questions Theodore asks could easily pertain to Clara as well (especially since it makes sense that he would let her go and not murder her), and the entire scene seems dreamy, confused, and fragmented. It is even possible that Clara murders her brother, because her vision earlier in the novel that she has his blood on her hands is brought to fruition in this scene. She is finally “seen to exhibit fully the Wieland legacy of insanity and violence.”
Of course, James Russo’s reading of the novel and Clara’s ultimate role as the initiator of the voices and both a prompter of murder and a murderer herself is only a theory as to the events of the novel, not the definitive answer to its mysteries. It is a captivating psychological reading but just one critical interpretation. Other scholarly articles make a case for Carwin as the villain and do so just as effectively. While it is impossible to deny that Clara has serious emotional problems and is probably moderately delusional if not totally insane, her guilt is ambiguous. This makes Brown’s novel fascinating to read and to study; if a reader cannot definitively ascertain if the narrator is sane or truthful, the entire stability of the text is compromised. Russo sums this point up nicely: “the novel’s major tenet seems to be that Man is incapable of obtaining true knowledge since he is incapable of perceiving things correctly.” Since the quest for truth is always filtered through the self (as this narrative is filtered through Clara's point of view), accurate perception seems all but impossible and always subjective.