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  • Brownian MotionDirections in Charles Brockden Brown Scholarship
  • Hilary Emmett (bio)
The Collected Writings of Charles Brockden Brown: Letters and Early Epistolary Writings Volume 1 Edited by philip barnard, elizabeth hewitt, and mark kamrath Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2013 972 pp.
The Historicism of Charles Brockden Brown: Radical History and the Early Republic mark kamrath Kent: Kent State University Press, 2009 352 pp.
Gothic Authors, Critical Revisions: Charles Brockden Brown jeffery andrew weinstock Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011 206 pp.

Jeffrey Weinstock’s Gothic Authors, Critical Revisions: Charles Brockden Brown presents a synthesis of fifty-odd years of criticism on Brown’s contribution to the genre of gothic literature that seeks to introduce students and beginning scholars to his life and work. Mark Kamrath’s The Historicism of Charles Brockden Brown: Radical History and the Early Republic offers a dense critical account of Brown’s historical writings and theory of history, and Philip Barnard, Elizabeth Hewitt, and Kamrath’s first volume of the Collected Writings of Charles Brockden Brown brings together his epistolary writings—personal correspondence as well as epistolary fictions. Beyond the author in question, there is little immediate common ground on which to find purchase here, either theoretical or thematic. Yet [End Page 205] each is an exemplar of one of the foundational practices on which our profession rests—pedagogy, criticism, archival recovery—and reading them in synchrony allows for a fuller and richer understanding of all and thus of Brown’s work as a whole. One commonality such reading reveals is that all three are infused with a curious sense of Brown as a man simultaneously of and ahead of his time. Weinstock’s aim is to illustrate the ongoing resonance of Brown’s work in gothic texts from the mid-twentieth to the twenty-first century and his analysis therefore begins with the later texts and looks back to Brown’s. In this way, Brown’s novels are drawn into a conversation in which the later works set the terms of the discussion, meaning we read Brown through the lens of the modern rather than vice versa. This contemporizing tendency is even more pronounced in Kamrath’s book, which stakes a claim for Brown’s postmodernity—that his carnivalesque, heteroglossic, and intertextual historicism anticipated the challenges to master narratives leveled by the thinkers of the 1960s. Barnard et al. propose that while Brown’s letters and fictions are deeply embedded in eighteenth-century epistolary practices, his experimentation and the resultant self-reflexivity of the letters turned these writings into “laboratories” that pushed the envelope of what the epistolary mode could do in both personal and public life. This desire to read Brown as both timely and untimely creates a tension in all three books, but is one that may ultimately be reconcilable by reversing the claim that Brown is a man of our time, and insisting instead that we as scholars and lovers of literature have never left his.

Jeffrey Weinstock’s Charles Brockden Brown is a contribution to the University of Wales’ Gothic Authors: Critical Revisions series, which aims to “offer new perspectives on, and reinvigorate discussion of canonical and neglected Gothic authors” (1). In his opening gambit in response to this objective, Weinstock presents Brown as a critical conundrum: an author who appears to be simultaneously canonical and neglected—“the most important American author no one has ever heard of” (2). The scholarship Weinstock cites in support of this claim is outdated—he leans heavily on Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Norman Grabo’s The Coincidental Art of Charles Brockden Brown (1981), and the authors in Bernard Rosenthal’s Critical Essays on Charles Brockden Brown (1981) in order to establish what he presents as Brown’s precarious canonical status—and his implied critic will no doubt seem something of a straw [End Page 206] person to readers of this journal. Indeed, Weinstock’s stated aim in his “Polemical Introduction” of demonstrating Brown’s “quality, significance, and influence” (7) in the face of his detractors certainly appears rather redundant given the frequency with which scholars engage Brown’s work in Early American Literature—most notably in 2009’s...