Wieland Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-16


Chapter 15

Clara decided to pause at Mrs. Baynton’s house for refreshment and maternal affection on her way back to Mettingen. When she arrived one of the servants gave her a letter from Carwin; he asked her for an interview alone within her house at eleven that evening. He promised she would not be harmed and that he would try to repair his misconduct. Clara was flabbergasted at his audacity in writing her and requesting such an interview; she reflected that normally she would never even consider meeting a man in the time and place he requested - especially one who had committed such vile crimes.

When she continued her journey home, her thoughts turned to Pleyel and the unfortunate coincidences every step of the way that provided to him the unassailable evidence that her purity was destroyed. Carwin’s plan “owed its success to a coincidence of events scarcely credible.” She wondered if there was any point of refusing Carwin - what other harm could he cause? She recoiled from the momentary thought that she might agree to meet with him, but could not help but return to it many times. There was nothing left to fear of him, and he could not ensnare her mind with “blandishments or magic,” although she could not hope to repel force. Pleyel was lost forever, and the least she could do was to try and compel Carwin to repair the ills he visited upon her. Perhaps she could appeal to his intellect and reason with him. Finally, Clara decided to meet him at the appointed hour.

Her next concern was how to get to her own house, as she was now supposed to be residing with Catharine and Wieland. She considered alerting everyone and setting a trap for Carwin but dismissed this. Lying was not something she was familiar with and could not thus be an option. Delaying her decision, she arrived at the Wieland home. Strangely enough, a light was still burning dimly in the parlor and the door was unlocked but no one was present. Clara waited to see if her brother and his wife appeared, but as the time had arrived to meet Carwin, she decided to leave. Before departing, with concern for her family weighing upon her, she went to Louisa Conway’s room to inquire after the missing family. Louisa told her that when she had gone to bed, Catharine and Wieland were downstairs awaiting Clara and did not know why they were not there now. Clara did not feel entirely at ease, but assumed the two of them went for a walk because the evening was serene and lovely. She left the Wieland home and hurried to her own, but thoughts as to the wisdom of this course assaulted her.

Chapter 16

Clara arrived at her house but was perplexed to see a light in her chamber; it seemed strange that at the hour of their meeting Carwin would choose to go into that room. The light changed position several times and cast light out upon the yard where she stood. She knocked at the door but no one answered and the light extinguished itself. Fear and apprehension flooded Clara, and she gripped her penknife to use as a weapon in case anything went awry.

She entered through the kitchen and took up a candle to light the darkness before her. It was unknown whether Carwin put out the light in order to hide, harm her, or give her the impression the house was unoccupied. Whatever the reason, Clara was determined to “see his face, and summon him to penitence and retribution.” As she moved toward the stairs, she remembered the voice she heard before the other two times she was threatened. Perhaps she would be assisted by her angel again?

At this point Clara stopped her narrative and alerted her reader that her “fingers are enervated; my ideas are vivid, but my language is faint; now I know what it is to entertain incommunicable sentiments.” She acknowledged that even if her words were unclear or her narrative inaccurate because of the horrors she experienced, she needed to persist to the end.

Returning to her narrative, she explained that she had paused at the foot of the stairs after leaving one of the rooms. Suddenly she heard the same cry from before of “Hold! Hold!” and saw a face in the doorway of the other room swiftly draw itself back. The face was that of Carwin, and he seemed to be the one uttering the shriek. Clara wondered if her fancy had construed this face. The voice, though, while benevolent as in the other cases, did not stop her from ascending the stairs. She clarified that she was not unequivocally sure the voice was supernatural but that that explanation was more permanent than others.

She entered her unlocked room and espied no outward changes. No light was present and she wondered if it might be from the supernatural voice; could it be a glow “producible at the will of him to whom that visage belonged, and partaking of the nature of that which accompanied my father’s death?” Clara looked at the closet, the site of the earlier encounter with Carwin. Her attention was caught by a paper on her desk that proved to be a note from Carwin saying that he was disappointed she did not meet him but that she would see a horrible sight and he wondered how she would bear it.

Clara was confused as to what he might mean by his phrase - “How inexplicable will be this transaction!” As she neared the closet, she noticed that one of the curtains on her bed was drawn up. Upon the bed was the terrible sight Carwin warned her of. The fate which she was to suffer had been bestowed upon another. Clara had discovered her sister-in-law’s dead body; it was clear to her that she died a ghastly death at the hands of Carwin. In agony, Clara wondered how her brother would handle this news. She composed Catharine’s messy clothing, kissed her brow, and sat next to her lifeless form on the bed. It became clear that all happiness and hope had existed with Catharine. Pleyel’s departure was bad enough, but Catharine’s demise was worse. Clara felt completely and totally lost and overwhelmed.


These two chapters culminate in the horrific discovery Clara makes of Catharine’s dead body within her chamber. She decides to return to her house because Carwin has asked her to. Her reasons for returning are somewhat suspect on their own, but what makes the note that she received and her response to it even odder is that there does not seem to be any way Carwin would have known she was in Philadelphia and that she would be stopping by Mrs. Baynton’s house. It seems quite a risk for Carwin to leave a note with those particular contents at a woman’s house with whom he has no association.

Brown is effective at establishing suspense through his style of narration. In particular, in the scene where Clara returns to her chamber to find it empty but for a note from Carwin alluding to some horrible sight that she would soon see, Clara’s first-person narration is extremely successful at creating breathless suspense. She does not immediately give away whose body it is upon her bed when she turns to inspect the open curtain on her bed. All the reader has to go off of are her exclamations of horror; we do not know it is Catharine. She writes, “This then was the sight which Carwin had predicted…this was the fate which had been reserved for me, but which, by some untoward chance, had befallen on another!” (114)

Clara’s first-person narration is an effective tool throughout the novel because the reader experiences the events of the tale through this young woman whose state of mind - and authority - is suspect. Page after page of her fevered musings, tremulous fears, and heightened sentiments pull the reader into this strange world where nothing is what it seems. Her narrative style is characterized by the posing of numerous questions; for example, in chapter 16 she asks thirty-three rhetorical questions. Her constant questioning of herself and the situations she finds herself in heightens the feeling of instability and uneasiness. Her paranoia is absolutely affecting to the reader.

One final point to make about these chapters: it is interesting that Clara sees a strange light within her bedroom; this light is similar to the light that her father saw before his death at the temple. The light confuses and frightens her, causing her mind to spin with speculation: “Would not this danger, when measured by a woman’s fears, expand into gigantic dimensions? Menaces of death; the stunning exertions of a warning voice; the known and unknown attributes of Carwin; our recent interview in this chamber; the pre-appointment of a meeting at this place and hour, all thronged into my memory” (111).

Brown may be using this light as a symbol of the madness and tempestuousness of the Wieland family. It has no clear origin and seems to defy the senses. It appears in sacred places – the temple and Clara’s private room – before the death of a person. The temple and Clara’s room are supposed to be inviolate, private places of communion (both spiritual and personal) and both are the sites of brutal deaths.