If There Is Nothing Lurking in the Darkness, Then Illumination and Exposure Are Pointless
Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Wieland is famous as the first American Gothic novel. It was published in 1798, at the very end of the Eighteenth Century and just fifteen years after the end of the American Revolution. While the novel was written in a time still dominated by Enlightenment-era thinking, the novel questions many of the assumptions of the Enlightenment. The realizations of the limits of the Enlightenment become apparent as the book progresses. The novel offers the characters Wieland and Pleyel as opposites in the novel, the former representing religion and the latter representing rationalism. Wieland is a novel that interacts with epistemology, that is, the study of knowledge; and the two characters are prime examples to focus on. The Enlightenment was characterized by the belief that the universe is a logical and orderly place and the hope that humanity would uncover the laws that govern it. Multiple scientific discoveries led to achievements in politics, the arts, and religion; but as the work proceeded, the importance of religion seemed to decline. As the years went on and questions remained unanswered after the American Revolution, it became assumed that not everything was as logical as it seemed at the spark of the Enlightenment. Another factor that added to the “burning out” of the Enlightenment was the French Revolution. Americans saw what a bloodbath the revolution in Europe had been and realized that the American Revolution could have just as easily been as bad. The combination of the limits of the Enlightenment with the near-missed massacre led writers to adopt a dark and opposite side of the reasonable thinking of the Enlightenment: the Gothic. This movement became the exploration of the extremes of emotions and limits of human understanding, so it included many mysterious happenings. Gothic literature typically contains old ruins, inexplicable...
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