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Eric Carl Link Who Killed Waldegrave? Ladies and Gentlemen of thejury: The question for consideration here constitutes literary doublejeopardy. Our defendant, Edgar Huntly,has been tried for the crime of murder in the past-see Bernard v.Huntly (1967)-and was found guilty. But, Huntly escaped the hangman’s noose, for post-1967criticismof CharlesBrockden Brown’s 1799novel EdgarHuntly has only casually flirted with the idea that Edgar himself might be implicated in some fashion in Waldegrave’s murder. A slayer of Indians, of course, but the murderer of his friend, the brother of his beloved MaryWaldegrave?Surelynot. Fortunately,the US. Constitution does not extend Fifth Amendment privileges to literary somnambulists, so despite Huntly’s peremptory plea of autrefis convict, let us drag him back before the bar. Edgar Huntly has generated a sizeable body of probing criticism in the past couple of decades and has been a favoriteamongpostcolonial critics, cultural critics,and otherswho find the text fertile territory for mapping outsome of the complexities of earlyrepublican literature in America.And even though I may risk appearing sophomoric in the midst of thiswave of delicatelynuanced, culturally rich criticismof the novel,in this essayIsimplywish to address a matter of plot. Whatever else Edgar Hunt@may be, and whatever else it may have to say about life in the earliest years of the republic, Brown’s novel is, at its core, a murder mystery, and although its title character is no Sam Spade or Continental Op, he is,nevertheless,a self-styled detectiveseekinghis friend’skiller.Or, in Huntly’s own words: “Once more I asked, who was his assassin ?B y what motivescould he be impelled to a deed like this?”’Huntly provides answers to these two questions in the novel:Waldegrave was killed in a chance meeting with a lone Native American on a quest to wreak vengeance for accumulated wrongs on the first settler he should meet. That settler was Waldegrave.He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been anyone. It is easy to take Huntly at his word, as most critics do, but to do so is certainly risky business, for Huntly is a notoriously unreliable narrator, and, simply put, his explanation-revealed asan afterthought at the end of the narrative in a brief passage-is unsatisfjmg enough to warrant an inquisitive second glance. If we momentarily set aside Huntly’s own explanation regarding Waldegrave’smurder and reexamine Edgar Huntly in a fresh effort to answer the question Huntly himself poses at the beginning of the narrative, the evidence-perhaps overwhelmingly so-points to none other than Huntly himself. EDGAR HUNTLY ON TRIAL Onlyone critichas argued extensivelyfor Huntly’s conviction for the murder of Waldegrave. In 1967, Kenneth Bernard took Huntly to task for Waldegrave’s death in his article “EdgarHuntly: Charles Brockden Brown’s Unsolved Murder,” and the rare critic since 1967 who has toyed with the notion of Huntly’s guilt has typically done so as a tip of the hat to Bernard’s essay.* Such acknowledgments have been infrequent, however,and Bernard’shypothesishas never been accepted per se by the critical community, merely noted on occasion (and those occasions rare) as a curious minor reading of Brown’s noveL3 Beforeproceeding with our own investigationinto Huntly’s potential guilt, it would serve us well to review the case Bernard makes. Bernard’s hypothesis that Huntly is guilty of the murder of Waldegrave arisesfrom an attempt Who Killed Waldem-ave? 91 to find an aesthetic explanationfor the structure of the novel-an explanation that might answer objections made by previous critics that Edgar Huntly is an interesting, but structurally flawed, even “botched,”work.4Specifically,what Bernard attemptsto demonstrateis that there is a relationship between the two halvesof the novel-that is, between the interpolated story of Clithero Edny in the first half of the novel and Huntly’sviolent escapades in the Pennsylvaniawilderness in the second half. If a lone and vengeful Indian killed Waldegravein a chance encounter, then, presumably , there is little structural necessity for the Clitherosubplot.But,asBernard argues,if Huntly himself is the killer,then the Clitherosubplotis a vital component of the novel,for it is Huntly’sinteraction -and psychologicalidentification-with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 90-103
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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