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  • Charles Brockden Brown, Revised and Expanded
  • Bryan Waterman (bio)
Revising Charles Brockden Brown: Culture, Politics, and Sexuality in the Early Republic. Edited by Philip Barnard, Mark I. Kamrath, and Stephen Shapiro. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004. 394 pp.
Charles Brockden Brown's Revolution and the Birth of American Gothic. Peter Kafer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. 249 pp.
Charles Brockden Brown and the Literary Magazine: Cultural Journalism in the Early American Republic. Michael Cody. Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland and Company, 2004. 203 pp.

I never read Charles Brockden Brown as an undergraduate. My college American lit survey (to which some of us referred derisively as "eight white guys over 300 years") skipped straight, a la Perry Miller, from Edwards to Emerson, seeming to confirm the derisive notion that nothing worth reading had been written in the intervening period. To be fair, the curricular omission likely had more to do with the absence of a classroom-friendly edition of one of Brown's major novels, which would not exist until Jay Fliegelman's Penguin Classics edition of Wieland was published in 1991. That is not exactly true, though: Norman Grabo had edited Edgar Huntly for the same series three years earlier, the same year I started college, but Edgar Huntly has never gained the curricular presence currently enjoyed [End Page 173] by Wieland, which now appears in comparable editions from Oxford and the Modern Library, not to mention a number of smaller presses and, even, digital formats available for downloading. I started graduate school just after Fliegelman's Wieland came out, and suddenly Brown seemed to be everywhere. Three separate titles in my introductory "Literature of American Studies" course had chapters on one or more of his books. Ten years later, Wieland routinely kicks off courses in the nineteenth-century novel and Brown has come to be the second most studied literary writer from the early American republic, knocking Irving down a notch or more. (Cooper alone, according to a quick survey of online databases, attracts more critics, though I doubt somehow that Cooper is taught more than Brown.) In addition to Wieland and Huntly, Mary Chapman's Broadview edition of Ormond, Kent State's reissue of the bicentennial edition of Arthur Mervyn in paper, and the Library of America's collection of three Brown novels suggest that Brown's four major novels are more accessible-and to a larger audience-than ever before, even if that audience is made up almost exclusively of scholars and college students. Here and there you see ambitions among Brown's latter-day fans to gain some place for him in the larger culture: A San Francisco-based theater company staged Erik Ehn's adaptation of Wieland in 1996; Caleb Crain, whose recent book American Sympathy places Brown in a queer history of male literary friendships, reviewed the Library of America volume in the New York Times Book Review (6 Dec. 1998), where he credited Brown with "infecting America with his perverse and incurable taste." And Matthew Pearl, author of the literary thriller The Dante Club, recommended Wieland as the single book he thought Entertainment Weekly's readers "have to read" (16 May 2003). Pearl, felicitously, had read Brown's novel in a law seminar at Yale-felicitously, because some 210 years earlier Brown had quit his own legal studies to try his hand at literary writing. While some friends and family at the time questioned his choice, as biographers dating to William Dunlap have told us, after two centuries his status in the American canon has probably never been greater.

The editors of Revising Charles Brockden Brown, a new collection of 13 essays, all but two of which are previously unpublished, position their volume in this moment of increasing scholarly and classroom attention to a Brown who is no longer "marginal" (x). The word choice is telling: it suggests that the volume's cultural orientation-with essays situating Brown via feminist, queer, and postcolonial theories, varieties of post-new [End Page 174] historicism, and the rise of Atlantic studies-reflects a range of interests and approaches that now seem fundamental to much Americanist literary criticism, mirroring Brown's own migration from margin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-147X
Print ISSN
0012-8163
Pages
pp. 173-191
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-17
Open Access
No
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