Wieland Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-18


Chapter 17

With a tumult of emotion and sensation overwhelming her, Clara suddenly heard footsteps coming up the stairs. It was her brother Wieland; he did not appear as if he knew his wife’s fate and Clara wondered what brought him to her room. Not knowing what to say, her tears finally spoke for her. Wieland’s expression suddenly became intensely impassioned and Clara recoiled in horror at the change wrought upon his face. He spoke to someone not present in broken tones, crying “This is too much! Any victim but this, and thy will be done. Have I not sufficiently tested my faith and obedience?” He alluded to a “she” and “others” who were dearest to him but that Clara was sanctified and excellent beyond understanding.

Wieland moved toward Clara and she began to wonder how his loss of sanity would affect her safety. Outside she heard numerous sets of feet rushing toward the house and Wieland suddenly left the chamber in a hurry. A multitude of people crowded into Clara’s room, their faces evincing pity and terror. She recognized Mr. Hallet, a distant relative of her mother. He moved forward and asked her where her brother and sister were. Catharine’s body was revealed. At this, Mr. Hallet asked Clara if she might go stay at Mrs. Baynton’s for a few days and let him take care of the arrangements. She strongly protested this idea because she wanted to go to her brother’s house to take care of his children. Mr. Hallet opposed her at every turn but was not forthcoming with his reasons for urging her so strenuously to Mrs. Baynton’s abode. She asked if the children were well and he replied that they were. After arguing with him for some time she decided she would go see the children for only a few minutes in the city, where he told her they currently were. He objected to this as well and her suspicions were raised. Finally, she understood: “I can guess…what has happened – They are indeed beyond the reach of injury, for they are dead!” Mr. Hallet confirmed this - not one of the four children, nor Louisa Conway, was spared.

Clara reeled from this new information’ “all was tempestuous commotion in my heart and in my brain.” She went to look upon Louisa’s face and lay a last kiss upon her lips, but to her horror the blow that had killed her destroyed her entire face. Clara subsequently suffered from a fever and delirium; thoughts of Carwin’s monstrous deeds haunted her mind. Her illness lasted for a time but she slowly began to improve and was able to dwell more rationally upon the sorrowful events.

Chapter 18

Clara was informed that her mother’s brother, Thomas Cambridge, a surgeon in Europe and recently a resident of Ireland, had arrived. It was some time before she could finally get an interview with him, and she was perplexed by the mysteriousness surrounding his activities in the city. Finally a meeting between the two was set up. Clara was exceedingly nervous to see how he was handling the grief that must have afflicted him so strongly. She also hoped that he had more information regarding Carwin, whom she believed to be the perpetrator of the crimes.

Clara gave vent to her tears when she and her uncle were finally reunited. After these subsided she asked after her brother and whether or not the author of this devastation was found and punished. Her uncle responded by asking her if she knew the author and she replied that it was Carwin. She told him the entire story of the strange warnings and vision and letter found upon the table. After listening to her tale her uncle paced the room in silence and finally told her that Carwin may have been the instrument or the plotter, but the actual executor was another. While “Carwin, perhaps, or heaven, or insanity” made the murders possible, the one who committed them was known, judged, and convicted. His own testimony and the corroboration of a maid-servant hiding in a closet who witnessed the murder of the children led to the murderer’s summons to the bar, trial, and verdict by impartial jury. Clara begged her uncle to tell her who this murderer was; she could not call to mind any other individual who may have committed these crimes.

Her uncle was silent again, but when he spoke he acknowledged that “thy friends have hitherto treated thee as a child” but he knew how strong she was and he chose to provide her with a narrative of the murderer’s speech faithfully transcribed by an attendee of the court trial. Cambridge left the paper with Clara and departed; her curiosity did not let her wait even a second before beginning to read the words before her.


Clara’s gruesome discoveries continue unabated. She ascertains from Mr. Hallet that the Wieland children and Louisa were also murdered. Louisa’s face, for some inexplicable reason, is battered beyond recognition. The children were never really characters; they only existed in the background of the tale as further proof of the utopian, idyllic quality of the Wieland family. Wieland and Catharine married and reproduced, just as God and society dictated. Catharine was the perfect 18th century mother figure, raising and educating her “charming babes” (45). The fact that the children’s existence is so far removed from the immediacy of the novel and that they essentially die offstage, to use theater parlance, makes the event even more disturbing. The reader is left in the place of the maidservant hiding in the closet, imagining the sweet, unsullied children murdered in their beds. This murder of innocents ratchets up the horror of the novel.

A character already introduced in the novel returns - Thomas Cambridge, Clara and Theodore Wieland’s uncle. Cambridge’s testimony of the strange events surrounding the elder Wieland’s death was used as an incontrovertible, “exact account of the mournful catastrophe” (14). This man’s account of the death is credible because, as Clara puts it, “no man’s temper is more skeptical, and his belief is unalterably attached to natural causes” (18). Cambridge is like an older Pleyel in that he is known for his rationality, his intelligence, and his reliance upon reason and science (he is a surgeon by trade). He recognizes the dangers of religion and of remaining too isolated from the outside world. When he is speaking with Clara, the difference between them is stark: Cambridge lived in Europe, was a surgeon in the British forces during the Seven Years’ War, and lived in Ireland; Clara, in contrast, is secluded in rural Pennsylvania, and as Cambridge puts it, her friends have “hitherto treated thee as a child” (123).

Brown continues his skillful ability of heightening the suspense of the reader. Clara is already convinced of Carwin's guilt but her uncle throws her when he tells her that “Carwin may have plotted, but the execution was another’s” (122). He explains that the criminal has already given his defense, admitted his guilt, and was sentenced. The reader is wrapped up in Clara’s frantic mental exercise of trying to decide who “was qualified for ministering to malice like this” (122) and wondered “had I even seen the criminal?” (122)

Cambridge makes Clara wait while he mulls over whether or not to give her the information she desires, and finally, after a sober attempt at comfort – “Be not alarmed; you will never more behold the face of this criminal, unless he be gifted with supernatural strength, and sever like threads the constraint of links and bolts” (123) – he hands her a paper with an account of the murderer’s testimony. The reader cannot help but hurriedly move to the next chapter, which reveals the name of the convicted murderer in the first line. As discussed in other analyses (chapters 15-16) Clara’s first-person narrative effectively creates suspense.

Finally, both siblings evince a degree of insanity in chapter 17 (for more on the insanity of Clara, see the analysis for chapter 26). Clara becomes afraid that her brother, cognizant of the death of Catharine, will threaten her own safety: “I had not time to reflect in what way my own safety would be affected by this revolution, or what I had to dread from the wild conceptions of a mad-man” (117). Wieland is prevented from demonstrating his madness when a crowd of people enter the house. It is then Clara’s turn to appear unhinged. She narrates that “the impulse had ceased which was accustomed to give motion and order to my thoughts” (117). When the crowd throngs into her chamber, she is so far from rationality that she wonders “whether these were shapes and faces like that which I had seen at the bottom of the stairs, creatures of my fancy or airy existences” (117). Assertions of secular education and Enlightenment rationality do not stand up against Clara’s continual acceptance of fanciful, supernatural beings permeating her life. Brown provides much textual fodder for the claim that both Wieland siblings inherited their father’s mental instability - and the religiosity through which their madness manifest.