Jamie's Reviews > Edgar Huntly, Or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker

Edgar Huntly, Or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker by Charles Brockden Brown
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Sep 21, 10

bookshelves: read-in-2010
Read from September 17 to 20, 2010 — I own a copy

Another book in the I-guess-this-was-ok-or-at-least-interesting-to-discuss-in-class 18th century American lit series.

Technically an epistolary novel, if you count 280 pages of one long, narrative "letter" followed by three super short letters as an epistolary novel. Obviously, I think this suggests something about the struggle to figure out the 'proper' form for the American novel, and Brown is insistent that he's writing an AMERICAN novel. In some sense, this transposes the Gothic form onto the roughage and 'primitive' terrors of baby America, and there is a great deal more interior to this novel than what we've been reading for the class so far.

The last two novels we did in this course--Charlotte Temple & The Coquette--were both seduction narratives, and as my professor argued, this gendered bifurcation in the American novel at this time set the table for American lit through the Civil War. In the sense that, until the Civil War, "women wrote about courtship and the family and men wrote about adventures." I don't know enough about the pre-Civil War literary period to fall either way with this line of thought, though my feminist hackles were raised. Edgar Huntly was certainly different from CT & Coquette (or CTTC, as I've been thinking of those little peapod novels); there's something to be said for the notion that Brown is inscribing a particular history of violence and imperialism into his "brand spankin' new American narrative"--some of the discussions we had in class struck me as similar to things one hears about an author like Cormac McCarthy.

Ultimately, though, Edgar Huntly is a bit of a narrative mess. It's suspenseful at times, violent often, and fairly tedious. I skimmed a great deal more than I probably should have. My review is, likewise, a bit of a mess, but perhaps (I'll hope) because I found talking about this very odd, very 'new' (at least in its historical moment) novel to be messy and disorienting. Bottom line: read it if you have to, or this time period is your thang. From my experience, early American lit is just too nascent to be enjoyable; I'll stick to post-Civil War stuff, methinks.
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Reading Progress

09/19/2010 page 204
70.0%

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