Back Charles Brockden Brown, “Somnambulism”

Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

Deep Woods in Fall, undated oil on canvas by American artist John Joseph Enneking (1841–1916). (Courtesy of The Athenaeum)

Was Charles Brockden Brown the first American novelist, as has often been claimed? Well, no—not even close. But he’s certainly the earliest American novelist whose reputation has endured over the last two centuries. His influence was acknowledged by many later American writers, including Cooper, Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Longfellow, Bierce, and Lovecraft.

For our Story of the Week selection we present “Somnambulism,” one of the stories written during Brown’s four-year stint as a novelist.

Central Michigan University professor Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock places “Somnambulism” as the forerunner of a uniquely American Gothic tradition: “[It] is a story about the mind divided and human beings who are strangers to themselves, compelled as we are by unconscious impulses. But what structures the possibility and participates in the development of this story is Brown’s creation of a haunted and menacing American landscape. . . . The American Frontier Gothic begins in ‘Somnambulism’ with a midnight murder in the middle of the woods.”

Read “Somnambulism” by Charles Brockden Brown

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