And we’re on to day seven of the 30 Day Book Challenge. (For more info on what this challenge is about, click here.)
So this was a difficult one for me to choose. I don’t think I would ever consider any book I’ve read as “underrated”. If anything, books as a whole these days feel underrated, i.e. everyone’s watched the movie version but no one has actually sat down and taken the opportunity to read the book and all the lesser known characters and scenes (and sometimes those scenes are the best.)
But, regardless, I managed to choose one, and that one is …
Wieland; Or, The Transformation: An American Tale by Charles Brockden Brown
It was published in 1798 and is the first and, apparently, most famous American Gothic novel. But, despite this title (which is provided on its wikipedia page), I feel as though not many people know of nor appreciate the horror that lies within these pages. Instead, the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King are more prominent titles for American Goth and horror. After all, go to Goodreads.com and Wieland is listed as 68th, far below Frankenstein – and of all novels, Phantom of the Opera – does that even count?
Therefore, I believe Wieland deserves far more attention than it is currently receiving.
The novel of Wieland is supposedly based on a real murder which took place in Tomhannock, New York, in which a man with no regret for his actions, under religious influence, kills his wife and four children and almost murders his own sister.
This novel follows similar events where Clara’s father becomes dangerously obsessed in his own religion and then one day spontaneously combusts and then afterward dies. Later on, Clara’s brother, Theodore, after having grown up and had his own family, begins to hear strange voices – voices that influence him to kill the rest of his family.
The reason why I also find this novel underrated is due to the selective reader appreciation it garners. Many may criticise the work due to the final reveal (the reason behind the mystery and the voices which Clara and Theodore hear) – others criticise it for Brown’s not-up-to-par writing skills.
Personally, regardless of all these criticisms, I was still deeply enthralled by the shadows which the novel cast and the exploration of the fine line between what is real and what is imagined. I even did a paper on this in uni in which I wrote (and I am quoting and adapting from this paper):
Senses play a crucial role in Wieland, from the ears to the eyes, the protagonist and the reader are disorientated by Brown through shadows, spaces, and sound. In doing this, Brown reveals the errors present in ideologies purely based on spiritual and empirical paradigms, how judgments of the mind and imagination are on mutable foundations. Through this, he also exposes the unreliability of sound as evidence to the truth, the slippery nature of aesthetic rhetoric. Instead, he places emphasis on the eyes to behold the visual presence of the truth. However, this is not without reminding the reader that not all is known by the eyes. The human mind is fallible, and although it tries to retain as much information as possible, human reasoning is often flawed.
It is in this discovery where the horror lies for Wieland. It is the discovery that all we see and hear is not all we know and in attempting to know more, and to rationalise our situation, we may end up becoming more ignorant of our circumstances. I believe that Wieland should be read more, especially as a preface to the Gothic collection of American literature.
Joyce Carol Oates stated that Wieland was: “a nightmare expression of the fulfillment of repressed desire, anticipating Edgar Allan Poe’s similarly claustrophobic tales of the grotesque”
Give it a chance, you may not be satisfied by the ending, nor Brown’s writing style, but you need to admit that there are definitely moments in this novel that are haunting.
For more underrated novels, please visit Rhey of Sunshine! And tomorrow, I shall share what I believe is a completely overrated novel. Frankly, this one was so much easier to write. There are definitely many books that I find absolutely overrated.
Till next time!