Archive for the 'Eng 250' Category

James Baldwin

November 28, 2006


James Arthur Baldwin
American writer, noted for his novels on sexual and personal identity, and sharp essays on civil-rights struggle in the United States
Born in Harlem, New York City, son of a domestic worker and brought up in great poverty
Never knew his own father, his stepfather was cruel and a storefront preacher who died in a mental hospital
First short story was featured in the church newspaper at the age of 12
At age 14 , Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem
Left home at 17 for Greenwhich Village to write
Most important source of literary support came from Richard Wright until Baldwin criticized his novel “Native Son” (from which Baldwin got the title for his novel “Notes of a Native Son”) in his article “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

“I knew Richard and I loved him. I was not attacking him; I was trying to clarify something for myself.”

Claimed to have traveled so much because it allowed him to clearly focus on American civilization
Died of cancer at the age of 63

“What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only ways societies change.”

Everybody’s Protest Novel 1949

Essay attacking the kind of fiction, specifically Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Native Son, that had been written about the ordeal of the American Negroes


“Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a very bad novel, having, in its self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality, much in common with Little Women. /Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – like its multitudinous, hard-boiled descendants – is a catalogue of violence.”

“But that battered word, truth, having made its appearance here, confronts one immediately with a series of riddles and has, moreover, since so many gospels are preached, the unfortunate tendency to make one belligerent. Let us say, then, that truth, as used here, is meant to imply a devotion to the human being, his freedom and fulfillment; freedom which cannot be legislated, fulfillment which cannot be charted. This is the prime concern, the frame of reference; it is not to be confused with a devotion to Humanity which is too easily equated with a devotion to a Cause; and Causes, as we know, are notoriously blood-thirsty.”

“It is this power of revelation which is the business of the novelist, the journey toward a more vast reality which must take precedence over all other claims.”

“The virtuous rage of Mrs. Stowe is motivated by nothing so temporal as a concern for the relationship of men to one another – or, even, as she would have claimed, by a concern for their relationship to God – but merely by a panic of being hurled into the flames, of being caught in traffic with the devil. She embraced this merciless doctrine with all her heart, bargaining shamelessly before the throne of grace: God and salvation becoming her personal property, purchased with the coin of her virtue. Here, black equates with evil and white with grace; if, being mindful of the necessity of good works, she could not cast out the blacks – a wretched, huddled mass, apparently, claiming, like an obsession, her inner eye – she could not embrace them either without purifying them of sin.”

“Our passion for categorization, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions.”

“The aim has now become to reduce all Americans to the compulsive, bloodless dimensions of a guy named Joe.”

“It is the peculiar triumph of society – and its loss – that it is able to convince those people to whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree…”

“The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.”

Giovanni’s Room  1956

Baldwin explores the connection between race and sexuality 


“I had asked her to marry me before she went away to Spain; and she laughed and I laughed but that, somehow, all the same, made it more serious for me, and I persisted; and then she said she would have to go away and think about it. And the very last night she was here, the very last time I saw her, as she was packing her bag, I told her that I had loved her once and I made myself believe it. But I wonder if I had. I was thinking, no doubt, of our nights in bed, of the peculiar innocence and confidence, which will never come again, which had made those nights so delightful, so unrelated to past, present, or anything to come, so unrelated, finally, to my life since it was not necessary for me to take any but the most mechanical responsibility for them. And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no one to watch, no penalties attached – it was this last fact which was our undoing, for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom. I suppose this was why I asked her to marry me: to give myself something to be moored to. Perhaps this was why, in Spain, she decided that she wanted to marry me. But people can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” 

“Then, for the first time in my life, I was really aware of another person’s body, of another person’s smell. We had our arms around each other. It was like holding in my hand some rare, exhausted, nearly doomed bird which I had miraculously happened to find.”

“And my father’s face changed. It became terribly old and at the same time absolutely, helplessly young. I remember being absolutely astonished, at the still, cold center of the storm which was occurring in me, to realize that my father had been suffering, was suffering still.
‘Don’t cry,’ he said, ‘don’t cry.’ He stroked my forehead with that absurd handkerchief as though it possessed some healing charm. ‘There’s nothing to cry abount. Everything’s going to be all right.’ He was almost weeping himself. ‘There’s nothing wrong, is there? I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?’ And all the time he was stroking my face with that handkerchief, smothering me.”

“For I am – or I was – one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself. People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes on humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not.”

“‘I don’t believe in this nonsense about time. Time is just common, it’s like water for a fish. Everybody’s in this water, nobody gets out of it, or if he does the same thing happens to him that happens to the fish, he dies. And you know what happens in this water, time? The big fish eat the little fish. That’s all. The big fish eat the little fish and the ocean doesn’t care.’
‘Oh, please,’ I said. ‘I don’t believe that. Time’s not water and we’re not fish and you can choose to be eaten and also not to eat – not to eat,’ I added quickly, turning a little red before his delighted and sardonic smile, ‘the little fish, of course.’

‘Anyway,’ he said mildly, ‘I don’t see what you can do with little fish except eat them. What else are they good for?’
‘In my country,’ I said, feeling a subtle ware within me as I said it, ‘the little fish seem to have gotten together and are nibbling at the body of the whale.’
‘That will not make them whales,’ said Giovanni. ‘The only result of all that nibbling will be that there will no longer be any grandeur anywhere, not even at the bottom of the sea.'”

“Now the cabdriver asked us where we wanted to go, for we had arrived at the choked boulevards and impassable sidestreets of Les Halles. Leeks, onions, cabbages, oranges, apples, potatoes, cauliflowers, stood gleaming in mounds all over, on the sidewalks, in the streets, before great metal sheds. The sheds were blocks long and within the sheds were piled more fruit, more vegetables, in some sheds, fish, in some sheds, cheese, in some whole animals, lately slaughtered. It scarcely seemed possible that all of this could ever be eaten. But in a few hours it would all be gone and trucks would be arriving from all corners of France – and making their way, to the great profit of a beehive of middlemen, across the city of Paris – to feed the roaring multitude. Who were roaring now, at once wounding and charming the ear, before and behind, and on either side of our taxi – our taxi driver, and Giovanni, too, roared back. The multitude of Paris seems to be dressed in blue every day but Sunday, when, for the most part, they put on an unbelievably festive black. Here they were now, in blue, disputing, every inch, our passage, with their wagons, handtrucks, camions, their bursting baskets carried at an angle steeply self-confident on the back. A red-faced woman, burdened with fruit, shouted – to Giovanni, the driver, to the world – a particularly vivid cochonnerie, to which the driver and Giovanni, at once, at the top of their lungs, responded, though the fruit lady had already passed beyond our sight and perhaps no longer even remembered her precisely obscene conjectures.”

“Giovanni stared. ‘Mas tu es fou,’ he said mildly. ‘There is certainly no point in going home now, to face an ugly concierge and then go to sleep in that room all by yourself and then wake up later, with a terrible stomach and a sour mouth, wanting to commit suicide. Come with me; we will rise at a civilized hour and have a gentle aperitif somewhere and then a little dinner. It will be much more cheerful like that,’ he said with a smile, ‘you will see.’
‘But I must get my clothes,’ I said.
He took my arm. ‘
Bien sur. But you do not have to get them now.’ I held back. He stopped. ‘Come. I am sure that I am much prettier than your wallpaper – or your concierge. I will smile at you when you wake up. They will not.'”

“But they made me tense – with their ribaldries, their good-nature, their fellowship, the life written on their hands and in their faces and in their eyes.”

“I remember that life in that room seemed to be occurring beneath the sea. Time flowed past indifferently above us; hours and days had no meaning. In the beginning, our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear; but they did not work themselves to the beginning until our high beginning was aloes on our tongues. By then anguish and fear had become the surface on which we slipped and slid, lsoing balance, dignity, and pride. Giovanni’s face, which I had memorized so many mornings, noons, and nights, hardened before my eyes, began to give in secret places, began to crack.”

“Giovanni liked to believe that he was hard-headed and that I was not and that he was teaching me the stony facts of life. It was very important for him to feel this: it was because he knew, unwillingly, at the very bottom of his heart, that I, helplessly, at the very bottom of mine, resisted him with all my strength.”

“And what distinguished the men was that they seemed incapable of age; they smelled of soap, which seemed indeed to be their preservative against the dangers and exigencies of any more intimate odor; the boy he had been shone, somehow, unsoiled, untouched, unchanged, through the eyes of the man of sixty, booking passage, with his smiling wife, to Rome. His wife might have been his mother, forcing more oatmeal down his throat, and Rome might have been the movie she had promised to allow him to see. Yet I also suspected that what I was seeing was but a part of the truth and perhaps not even the most important part; beneath these faces, these clothes, accents, rudenesses, was power and sorrow, both unadmitted, unrealized, the power of inventors, the sorrow of the disconnected.”

“And this was perhaps the first time in my life that death occurred to me as a reality. I thought of the people before me hwo had looked down at the river and gone to sleep beneath it. I wondered about them. I wondered how they had done it – it, the physical act. I had thought of suicide when I was much younger, as, possibly, we all have, but then it would have been for revenge, it would have been my way of informing the world how awfully it had made me suffer. But the silence of the evening, as I wandered home, had nothing to do with that storm, that far-off boy. I simply wondered about the dead because their days had ended and I did not know how I would get through mine.”

“He smiled, ‘Why, you will go home and then you will find that home is not home anymore. Then you will really be in trouble. As long as you stay here, you can always think: One day I will go home.’ He played with my thumb and grinned.”

“‘I don’t see what’s so hard about being a woman. At least, not as long as she’s got a man.’
‘That’s just it,’ said she. ‘Hasn’t it ever struck you that that’s a sort of humiliating necessity?’
‘Oh, please,’ I said. ‘It never seemed to humiliate any of the women I knew.'”

“I began to realize it in Spain – that I wasn’t free, that I couldn’t be free until I was attached – no, committed – to someone.'”

“I may have been the only man in Paris who knew that he had not meant to do it, who could read why he had done it beneath the details printed in the newspapers.”

“I move at last from the mirror and begin to cover that nakedness which I must hold sacred, though it be never so vile, which must be scoured perpetually with the salt of my life.”


Henry James

October 24, 2006


American-born writer, interested in literature, psychology, and philosophy
Wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 12 plays and a number of works of literary criticism
Born in New York City into a wealthy family
Father was one of the best known intellectuals of his time
Traveled back and forth between Europe and America during his youth
Outbreak of WWI was a shock and became a British citizen in 1915 to protest the US’s refusal to enter the war
Died of a stroke on December 2nd
Draws understanding and sensitive portraits of ladies
Themes of innocence of the New World in conflict with corruption and wisdom of the Old
Became interested in the unconscious and supernatural

Washington Square (1880)

Inspired by a story James heard at a dinner party
Tells how Morris Townsend tries to win the heart of heiress Catherine Sloper against the objections of her father
Endures as a matchless social study of New York in the mid-nineteenth century


“During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practised in the city of New York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession. This profession in American has constantly been held in honour, and more successfully than elsewhere has put forward a claim to the epithet of ‘liberal.’ In a country in which, to play a social part, you must either earn your income or make believe that you earn it, the healing art has appeared in a high degree to combine two recognised sources of credit. It belongs to the realm of the practical, which in the United States is a great recommendation; and it is touched by the light of science- a merit appreciated in a community in which the love of knowledge has not always been accompanied by leisure and opportunity.”

“It will be seen that I am describing a clever man; and this is really the reason why Dr. Sloper had become a local celebrity.”

“She grew up a very robust and healthy child, and her father, as he looked at her, often said to himself that, such as she was, he at least need to have no fear of losing her. I say ‘such as she was,’ because, to tell the truth—. But this is a truth of which I will defer the telling.”

“Once, when the girl was about twelve years old, he had said to her-
‘Try and make a clever woman of her, Lavinia; I should like her to be a clever woman.’
Mrs. Penniman, at this, looked thoughtful a moment. ‘My dear Austin,’ she then inquired, ‘do you think it is better to be clever than to be good?’
‘Good for what?’ asked the Doctor. ‘You are good for nothing unless you are clever.'”

“After this, the tide of fashion began to set steadily northward, as, indeed, in New York, thanks to the narrow channel in which it flows, is obliged to do, and the great hum of traffic rolled father to the right and left of Broadway.”

“It was here, as you might have been informed on good authority, that you had come into a world which appeared to offer a variety of sources of interest; it was here that your grandmother lived, in venerable solitude, and dispensed a hospitality which commended itself alike to the infant imagination and the infant palate; it was here that you took your first walks abroad, following the nurserymaid with unequal step and sniffing up the strange odour of the ailanthus-trees which at that time formed the principal umbrage of the square, and diffused an aroma that you were not yet critical enough to dislike as it deserved; it was here, finally, that your first school, kept by a broad-bosomed, broad-based old lady with a ferule, who was always having tea in a blue cup, with a saucer that didn’t match , enlarged the circle both of your observations and our sensations. It was here, at any rater, that my heroine spent many years of her life; which is my excuse for this topographoical parenthesis.”

“He looked straight into Catherine’s eyes. She answered nothing; she only listened, and looked at him; and he, as if he expected no particular reply, went on to say many other things in the same comfortable and natural manner. Catherine, though she felt tongue-tied, was conscious of no embarrassment; it seemed proper that he should talk, and that she should simply look at him. What made it natural was that he was so handsome, or rather, as she phrased it to herself, so beautiful. The music had been silent for a while, but it suddenly began again; and then he asked her, with a deeper, intenser, smile, if she would do him the honour of dancing with him. Even to this inquiry she gave no audible assent; she simply let him put his arm around her waist- as she did so it occurred to her more vividly than it had ever done before, that this was a singular place for a gentleman’s arm to be- and in a moment he was guiding her around the room in the harmonious rotation of the polka.”

“‘That’s the way to live in New York- to move every three or four years. Then you always get the last thing. It’s because the city’s growing so quick- you’ve got to keep up with it. It’s going straight up town- that’s where New York’s going…
They invent everything all over again about every five years, and it’s a great thing to keep up with the new things. I always try and keep up with the new things of every kind. Don’t you think that’s a good motto for a young couple- to keep ‘going higher?'”

“She confessed that she was not particularly fond of literature. Morris Townsend agreed with her that books were tiresome things; only, as he said, you had to read a good many before you found it out. He had been to places that people had written books about, and they were not a bit like the descriptions. To see for yourself- that was the great thing; he always tried to see for himself. He had seen all the principal actors- he had been to all the best theaters in London and Paris. But the actors were always like the authors- they always exaggerated. He like everything to be natural. Suddenly he stopped, looking at Catherin with his smile.
‘That’s what I like you for; you are so natural! Excuse me,’ he added; ‘you see I am natural myself!'”

“…for Catherine, at the age of twenty-two, was after all a rather mature blossom, such as could be plucked from the stem only by a vigorous jerk.”

“‘Don’t you see anything in people but their bones?’ Mrs. Almond rejoined. ‘What do you think of him as a father?’
‘As a father? Thank Heaven I am not his father!’
‘No; but you are Catherine’s. Lavinia tells me she is in love.'”

Catharine Maria Sedgwick

September 12, 2006


Born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Daughter of federalist lawyer and successful politician, Theodore Sedgwick, who later became a judge of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
Liked by Edgar Allan Poe – who hates everyone
Was very popular during her time but is not included in the Cannon
Mother went insane during her childhood
Taught by her father
Brought up a Calvinist, but converted to Unitarianism which led her to write a pamphlet denouncing religious intolerance that evolved into her first novel, A New-England Tale
In her later work, Married or Single, she put forth the bold idea that women should not marry if it meant they would lose their self-respect

Hope Leslie (1827)

Set in seventeenth-century New England
Forces reader to confront the consequences of the Puritans’ subjugation and displacement of the indigenous Indian population at a time when contemporaries were demanding still more land
Recounts a dramatic conflict between British colonists and Native Americans
Is a Historical Novel: not based on actual events but possible situations
Sedgwick describes in the Preface:

“Real characters and real events are, however, alluded to; and this course, if not strictly necessary, was found very convenient in the execution of the author’s design, which was to illustrate not the history, but the character of the times.”

Ideas to Explore:

The significance of eyes
Meaning of natural metaphors and symbols for both parties
Parallel between Mononotto and Fletcher
Narrator’s tone about religion, is it meant to be ironic?


“‘Caution Will against all vain speculation and idle inquiries- there are those that are for ever inquiring and inquiring, and never coming to the truth. One inquiry should suffice for a loyal subject. ‘What is established?’ and that being well ascertained, the line of duty is so plain, that he who runs may read.'” -Sir William Fletcher

“‘No man should be suffered to decline either on the left or on the right hand, from the drawn line limited by authority, and by the sovereign’s laws and injunctions'” -Sir William Fletcher

“Fletcher obeyed the voice of Heave. This is no romantic fiction. Hundreds in that day resisted all that solicits earthly passions, and sacrificed all that gratifies them, to the cause of God and of man- the cause of liberty and religion. This cause was not to their eyes invested with any romantic attractions. It was not assisted by the illusions of chivalry, nor magnified by the spiritual power and renown of crusades. Our fathers neither had, nor expected their reward on earth.”

“These are the men of genius- the men of feeling- the men that the world calls visionaries; and it is because they are visionaries- because they have a beau-ideal in their own minds, to which they can see but a faint resemblance in the actual state of things, that they become impatient of detail, and cannot brook the slow progress to perfection.”

“Never was a name more befitting the condition of a people, than ‘Pilgrim’ that of our forefathers. It should be redeemed from the puritanical and ludicrous associations which have degraded it, in most men’s minds, and be hallowed by the sacrifices made by those voluntary exiles.”

“‘Magawisca,’ she said in a friendly tone, ‘you are welcome among us, girl.’ Magawisca bowed her head. Mrs. Fletcher continued: ‘you should receive it as a signal mercy, child, that you ahve been taken from the midst of a savage people, and set in a christian family.’ Mrs. Fletcher paused for her auditor’s assent, but the proposition was either unintelligible or unacceptable to Magawisca.”

“Two young plants that have sprung up in close neighbourhood, may be separated while young; but if disjoined after their fibers are all intertwine, one, or perchance both, may perish.”

“‘She says, madam, the baby is like a flower just opened to the sun, with no stain upon it- that he better pass now to the Great Spirit. She says this world is all arough place- all sharp stones, and deep waters, and black clouds.'” – Magawisca, translating from Nelema

“She turned away, as one conscious of possessing a secret, and fearful that they eye, the herald of the soul, will speak unbidden.”

“‘They are a kind of beast we don’t comprehend-out of the range of God’s creatures- neither angel, man, nor yet quite devil.'” -Digby

“‘I think you have caught the fear, Digby, without taking its counsel,’ said Everell, ‘which does little credit to your wisdom; the only use of fear, being to provide against danger.'”

“‘You need not fear it; I can honour nobel deepd though done by our enemies, and see that cruelty is cruelty, though inflicted by our friend.’
‘Then listen to me; and when the hour of vengeance comes, if it should come, remember it was provoked.'” -Everell, Magawisca

“Magawisca crept to her bed, but not to repose- neither watching nor weariness procured sleep for her. Her mind was racked with apprehensions, and conflicting duties, the cruelest rack to an honourable mind.”

“‘Thank, thank you, Everell,’ said the little girl as she mounted her pinnacle; ‘if you knew Hope, you would want to see her first too- every body loves Hope. We shall always have pleasant times when Hope gets here.'” – Faith Leslie

“The scene had also its minstrels; the birds, those ministers and worshippers of nature, were on the wing, filling the air with melody; while, like diligent little housewifes, they ransacked forest and field for materials for their house-keeping.”

“‘You call me a bird of ill-omen,’ replied Magawisca, half proud, half sorrowful, ‘and you callt he owl a bird of ill-omen, but we hold him sacred- he is our sentinel, and when danger is near he cries, awake! awake!'”

“‘Oh!’ said Magawisca, impetuously covering her eyes, ‘I do not like to see any thing so beautiful, pass so quickly away.'”

“‘Ah, Magawisca! so I thought,’ said Jennet. ‘She knows everything evil that happens in earth, sea, or air; she and that mother-witch, Nelema. I always told Mrs. Fletcher she was warming a viper in her bosom, poor dear lady; but I suppose it was for wise ends she was left to her blindness.'”

“In the quiet possession of the blessings transmitted, we are, perhaps, in danger of forgetting, or undervaluing the sufferings by which they were obtained. We forget that the noble pilgrims lived and endured for us… No-they came not for themselves- they lived not to themselves. An exiled and suffering people, they came forth in the dignity of the chosen servants of the Lord, to open the forests to the sun-beam, and to the light of the Sun of Righteousness- to restore man- man oppressed and trampled on by his fellow; to religious and civil liberty, and equal rights- to replace the creatures of God on their natural level- to bring down the hills, and make smooth the rough places, which the pride and cruelty of man had wrought on the fair creation of the Father of all.”

“‘And I am a coward,’ replied Magawisca, reverting to her habitually calm tone, ‘if to fear my father should do a wrong, even to an enemy, is cowardice.’ Again her father’s brow softened, and she ventured to add, ‘send back the boy, and our path will be all smooth before us- and light will be upon it, for my mother often said, ‘the sun never sets on the soul of the man that doeth good.'”

“‘He has the skin, but not the soul of that mixed race, whose gratitude is like that vanishing mist,'” -Mononotto, in regards to Everell

“Everell sunk calmly on his knees, not to supplicate life, but to comment his soul to God. He clapsed his hands together. He did not- he could not speak: his soul was ‘Rapt in still communication that transcends / The imperfect offices of prayer.’ At this moment a sun-beam penetrated the trees that enclosed the area, and fell athwart his brow and hair, kindling it with an almost supernatural brightness.”

“‘Dear Everell,
This is the fifth anniversary of the day you left us- your birth-day, too, you know; so we celebrate it, but with a blended joy and grief, which, as my dear gaurdian says, is suitable to the mixed condition of human life.'”

“‘I hope you have not forgotten the autumnal brilliancy of our woods. They say the foliage in England has a paler sickly hue, but for our western world- nature’s youngest child- she has reserved hermany-coloured robe, the brightest and most beautiful of her garments. Last week the woods were as green as an emerald, and now they look as if all the summer-spirits had been wreathing them with flowers of the richest and most brilliant dyes.'”

“‘I seated myself on the foot-stool at his feet, so that I could look straight into his eyes; for many a time, when my heart has quailed at his solemn address, the tender spirit stationed in that soft hazle eye of his- so like yours, Everell- has quieted all my apprehensions.'”

“‘…Jennet is such an obstinate self-willed fool! I believe she will be willing to see Nelema hung for a witch, that she may have the pleasure of saying, ‘I told you so.’
Poor Nelema! -such harmless, helpless, lonely being- my tears fall so fast on my paper, that I can scarcely write. I plabe myself for bringing her into htis hapless case- but it may be better than I fear. i will leave my letter and try to sleep.'”

“‘However, the singularity of the case only served to magify their wonderr, without, in the least, weakening their faith in the actual, and, as it appeared, friendly alliance between Nelema, and the evil one. Indeed, I was the only person present whose belief in her witchcraft was not, as it were, converted into sight.'”

Charles Brockden Brown

August 24, 2006


American novelist, historian, magazine editor
Regarded as the most ambitious and accomplished US novelist before Cooper: wrote 7 novels in 2 years
Writing covers multiple genres: novel, short story, essay, historiography, reviews
Touchstone for understanding the Early Republic
Born to a Quaker family, initially intended for a legal career
Died of tuberculosis at 39

Wieland (1798)

“Wieland or The Transformation: An American Tale”
Gothic novel
Novel of authority misrepresented and imagined, a terrifying account of the fallibility of the human mind and of democracy
Set in rural Pennsylvania before the American Revolution; relates how a small community is disturbed by the intrusion of the mysterious Carwin whose extraordinary verbal gifts cast doubt among them
Narrator Clara is intended for the private- novel in letter form, journals, notes- but forced into the public by both Carwin and Pleyel
Brockden states in the “Advertisement” section about his intentions for writing the book:

“His purpose is neither selfish nor temporary, but aims at the illustration of some important branches of the moral constitution of man.”

Ideas to Explore:

The use of eyes in the novel
The transformation of private to public
The “family” as a representation of early America
The fault of the victim
Issues of trusting evidence


“I feel little reluctance in complying with your request. You know not fully the cause of my sorrows. You are a stranger to the depth of my distress. Hence your efforts at consolation must necessarily fail. Yet the tale that I am going to tell is not intended as a claim upon your sympathy. In the midst of my despair, I do not disdain to contribute what little I can to the benefit of mankind. I acknowledge your right to be informed of the events that have lately happened in my family. Make what use of the tale you shall think proper. If it be communicated to the world, it will inculcate the duty of avoiding deceit. It will exemplify the force of early impressions, and show, the immeasurable evils that flow from an erroneous or imperfect discipline.”

“His morals, which had never been loose, were now modelled by a stricter standard. The empire of religious duty extended itself to his looks, gestures, and phrases. All levities of speech, and negligences of behaviours, were proscribed. His air was mournful and contemplative. He laboured to keep alive a sentiment of fear, and a belief of the awe-creating presence of the Deity. ideas foreign to this were sedulously excluded. To suffer their intrusion was a crime against the Divine Majesty inexpiable but by days and weeks of the keenest agonies.
No material variation had occured in the lapse of two years. Every day confirmed him in his present modes of thinking and acting. it was to be expected that the tide of his emotions would sometimes recede, that intervals of despondency and doubt would occur; but these gradually were more rare, and of shorter duration; and he, at last, arrived at a state considerably uniform in this respect.”

“Was this the penalty of disobedience? this the stroke of a vindictive and invisible hand? Is it a fresh proof that the Divine Ruler interferes in human affairs, meditates an end, selects, and commissions his agents, and enforces by unequivocal sanctions, submission to his will? Or, was it merely the irregular expansion of the fluid that imparts warmth to our heart and our blood, caused by the fatigue of the preceding day, or flowing, by established laws, from the condition of his thoughts?”

“We were frequently reminded how much happiness depends on society.”

“The sound of war had been heard, but it was at such a distance as to enhance our enjoyment by affording objects of comparison.”

“He urged, that to rely on the exaggerations of an advocate, or to make the picture of a single family a model from which to sketch the condition of a nation, was absurd.”

“The will is the tool of the understanding, which must fashion its conclusions on the notices of the sense. If the senses be depraved, it is impossible to calculate the evils that may flow from the consequent deductions of the understanding.”

“So flexible, and yet so stubborn, is the human mind. So obedient to impulses the most transient and brief, and yet so unalterably observant of the direction which is given to it!”

“Something whispered that the happiness we at present enjoyed was set on mutable foundations. Death must happen to all. Whether our felicity was to be subverted by it to-morrow, or whether it was ordained that we should lay down our heads full of years and of honor, was a question that no human being could solve.”

“I have not lived so as to fear death, yet to perish by an unseen and secret stroke, to be mangled by the knife of an assassin, was a thought at which I shuddered; what had I done to deserve to be made the victim of malignant passions?”

“My brother was a much more sanguine reasoner than our guest. Even in some of the facts which were related by Carwin, he maintained the probability of celestial interference, when the latter was disposed to deny it, and had found, as he imagined, footsteps of a human agent. Pleyel was by no means equally credulous. He scrupled not to deny faith to any testimony but that of his senses, and allowed the facts which had been supported by this testimony, not to mould his belief, but merely to give birth to doubts.”

“My errors have taught me thus much wisdom; that those sentiments which we ought not to disclose, it is criminal to harbour.”

“Ideas exist in our minds that can be accounted for by no established laws.”

“I used to suppose that certain evils could never befall a being in possession of a sound mind; that true virtue supplies us with energy which vice can never resist; that it was always in our power to obstruct, by his own death, the designs of an enemy who aimed at less than our life. How was it that a sentiment like despair had now invaded me, and that I trusted to the protection of chance, or to the pity of my persecutor?”

“Are human faculties adequate to receive stronger proofs of the existence of unfettered and beneficent intelligences than I have received?”

“‘Surely,’ said I, ‘there is omnipotence in the cause that changed the views of a man like Carwin. The divinity that shielded me from his attempts will take suitable care of my future safety. Thus to yield to my fears is to deserve that they should be real.'”

“I have lost all faith in the stedfastness of human resolves. It was thus that in periods of calm I had determined to act. No cowardice had been held by me in greater abhorrence than that which prompted an injured female to destroy, not her injurer ere the injury was perpetrated, but herself when it was without remedy. Yet now this penknife appeared to me of no other use than to baffle my assailant, and prevent the crime by destroying myself. To deliberate at shuch a time was impossible; but among the tumultuous suggestions of the moment, I do not recollect that it once occurred to me to use it as an instrument of direct defense.”

“Should I confide in the testimony of my ears?”

“Surprize is an emotion that enfeebles, not invigorates.”

“Carwin’s plot owed its success to a coincidence of events scarcely credible. The balance was swayed from its equipoise by a hair.”

“Have I not reason on my side, and the power of imparting conviction?”

“Reputation and life might be wrested from me by another, but my rectitude and honor were in my own keeping, and were safe.”

“Alas! my heart droops, and my fingers are enervated; my ideas are vivid, but my language is faint; now know I what it is to entertain incommunicable sentiments. The chain of subsequent incidents is drawn through my mind, and being linked with those which forewent, by turns rouse up agonies and sink me into hopelessness.
Yet I will persist to the end. My narrative may be invaded by inaccuracy and confusion; but if I live no longer, I will, at least, live to complete it. What but ambiguities, abruptnesses, an dark transitions, can be expected from the historian who is, at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters?”

“‘Madness, say you? Are you sure? Were not these sights, and these sounds, really seen and heard?'”

“Was I not likewise transformed from rational and human into a creature of nameless and fearful attributes? Was I not transported to the brink of the same abyss? Ere a new day should come, my hands might be embrued in blood, and my remaining life be consigned to a dungeon and chains.
With moral sensibility like mine, no wonder that this new dread was more insupportable than the anguish I had lately endured. Grief carries its own antidote along with it. When thought becomes merely a vehicle of pain, its progress must be stopped. Death is a cure which nature or ourselves must administer: to this cure I now looked forward with gloomy satisfaction.”

“Presently, I considered, that whether Wieland was a maniac, a faithful servant of his God, the vistim of hellish illusions, or the dupe of human imposture, was by no means crtain.”

“‘Catharine was dead by violence. Surely my malignant stars had not made me the cause of her death; yet had I not rashly set in motion a machine, over whose progress I had no controul, and which experience had shewn me was infinite in power? Every day might add to the catalog of horrors of which this was the source, and a seasonable disclosure of the truth might prevent numberless ills.'” -Carwin

“Were views so vivid and faith so strenuous thus liable to fading and to change? Was there not reason to doubt the accuracy of my perceptions?”

“Alas! nothing but subjection to danger, and exposure to temptation, can show us what we are.”

“I listen to my own pleas, and find them empty and false: yes, I acknowledge that my guilt surpasses that of all mankind: I confess that the curses of a world, and the frowns of a deity, are inadequate to my demerits. Is there a thing in the world worth of infinite abhorrence? It is I.”

“‘Sister,’ said he, in an accent mournful and mild, ‘I have acted poorly my part in this world. What thinkest thou? Shall I not do better in the next?'” -Weiland

“Such was my weakness, that even in the midst of these thoughts, my mind glided into abhorrence of Carwin, and I uttered in a low voice, O! Carwin! Carwin! What hast thou to answer for?”

“Such is man. Time will obliterate the deepest impressions. Grief the most vehement and hopeless, will gradually decay and wear itself out. Arguments may be employed in vain: every moral prescription may be ineffectually tried: remonstrances, however cogent or pathetic, shall have no power over the attention, or shall be repelled with disdain; yet, as day follows day, the turbulence of our emotions shall subside, and our fluctuations be finally succeeded by a calm.”

“I leave you to moralize on this tale. That virtue should become the victim of treachery is, no doubt, a mournful consideration; but it will not escape your notice, that the evils of which Carwin and Maxwell were the authors, owed their existence to the errors of the sufferers. All efforts would have been ineffectual to subvert the happiness or shorten the existence of the Stuarts, if their own frailty had not seconded these efforts. If the lady had crushed her disastrous passion in the bud, and driven the seducer from her presence, when the tendency of his artifices was seen; if Stuart had not admitted the spirit of absurd revenge, we should not have had to deplore this catastrophe. If Wieland had framed juster notions of moral duty, and of the divine attributes; or if I had been gifted with ordinary equanimity or foresight, the double-toungued deceiver would have been baffled and repelled.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe

August 9, 2006


Abolitionist and author of more than 10 books
Born into a famous New England family
Brothers and sisters were major religious leaders of their time
Harriet and her sister, Catherine, founded a new seminary: the Western Female Institute
Married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor at her father’s theological seminary, after his wife and close friend to Harriet passed
Had 7 children
Themes of slavery, women’s position in society, the decline of Calvinism, the rise of industry and consumerism, and the birth of a great national literature

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin 1852

Written as an angry response to the 1850 passage of the second Fugitive Slave Act and the murder of Eliza Lovejoy
First published in the anti-slavery newspaper The National Era as a series
The first major American novel with an African-American hero
When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe he joked, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

“I could not control the story, the Lord himself wrote it. I was but an instrument in His hands and to Him should be given all the praise.”


“‘I would rather not sell him,’ said Mr. Shelby, thoughtfully; ‘The fact is, sir, I’m a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir.'”

“There was something so piquant and original in these elucidations of humanity, that Mr. Shelby could not help laughing in company. Perhaps you laugh too, dear reader; but you know humanity comes out in a variety of strange forms now-a-days, and there is no end to the odd things that humane people will say and do.”

“So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections, only as so many things belonging to a master, -so long as the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kindest owner, may cause them any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil, -so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best regulated administration of slavery.”

“Her husband, who made no professions to any particular religious character, nevertheless reverenced and respected the consistency of hers, and stood, perhaps, a little in awe of her opinion. Certain it was that he gave her unlimited scope in all her benevolent efforts for the comfort, instruction, and improvement of her servants, though he never took any decided part in them himself. In fact, if not exactly a believer in the doctrine of the efficiency of the extra good works of saints, he really seemed somehow or other to fancy that his wife had piety and benevolence enough for two – to indulge a shadowy expectation of getting into heaven through her superabundance of qualities to which made no particular pretension.”

“‘It’s a free country, sir; the man’s mine, and I do what I please with him,-that’s it!'”

“A very humane jurist once said, The worst use you can put a man to is to hang him. No; there is another use that a man can be put to that is worse!”

“‘dat ar glory is a might thing! It’s a mighty thing, chil’en, -you don’no nothing about it, -it’s wonderful.'”

“‘This is God’s curse on slavery! -a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing! -a cruse to the mater and a curse to the slave! I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours, – I always felt it was, -I always thought so when I was a girl, -I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought i could gild it over, -I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom- fool that I was!'”

“No tear dropped over that pillow; in such straits as these, the heart has no tears to give, -it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence.”

“He leaned over the back of the chair, and covered his face with his large hands. Sobs, heavy, hoarse and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his fingers on the floor: just such tears, sir, as you dropped into the coffin where lay your first-born son; such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir, he was a man, -and you are but another man. And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and in life’s great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!”

“If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a trubal trader, to-morrow morning, -if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o’clock till morning to make good your escape, -how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom, -the little sleep head on your shoulder, -the small, soft arms trustingly holding on toy your neck?”

“There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed.”

“In order to appreciate the sufferings of the Negroes sold south, it must be remembered that all the instinctive affections of that race are peculiarly strong. Their local attachments are very abiding. They are not naturally daring and enterprising but home-loving and affectionate. Add to this all the terrors with which ignorance invests the unknown, and add to this, again, that selling to the south is set before the Negro from childhood as the last severity of punishment.”

“‘My country again! Mr. Wilson, you have a country; but what country have I, or any one like me, born of slave mother? What laws are there for us? We don’t make them, -we don’t consent to them, -we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down. Haven’t I heard your Fourth-of-July speeches? Don’t you tell us all, once a year, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed? Can’t a fellow think, that hears such things? Can’t he put this and that together, and see what it comes to?'”

“But who, sir, makes the trader? Who is most to blame? The enlightened, cultivated, intelligent man, who supports the system of which the trader is the inevitable result, or the poor trader himself? You make the public sentiment that calls for his trade, that debauches and depraves him, till he feels no shame in it; and in what are you better than he?”

“Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us. There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dressing, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called living yet to be gone through…”

“You would think no harm in a child’s caressing a large dog, even if he was black; but a creature that can think, and reason, and feel, and is immortal, you shudder at; confess it, cousin. I know the feeling among some of you northerners well enough. Not that there is a particle of virtue in our not having it; but custom with us does what Christianity ought to do, -obliterates the feeling of person prejudice.”

“‘I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people’s glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone.'”

“‘It is true what she told me; if we want to give sight to the blind, we must be willing to do as Christ did, -call them to us, and put our hands on them.’
‘I’ve always had a prejudice against Negroes,’ said Miss Ophelia, ‘and it’s a fact, I never could bear to have that child touch me; but, I didn’t think she knew it.'”

“It was like that hush of spirit which we feel amid the bright, mild woods of autumn, when the bright hectic flush is on the trees, and the last lingering flowers by the brooks; and we joy in it all the more, because we know that soon it will pass away.”

“ETERNITY, -the word thrilled through the black man’s soul with light and power, as he spoke; it thrilled through the sinner’s soul, too, like the bite of a scorpion.”

“Liberty! -electric word! What is it? Is there anything more in it than a name- a rhetorical flourish? Why, men and women of America, does your heart’s blood thrill at that word, for which your fathers bled, and your braver mothers were willing that their noblest and best should die?

To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To him, it is the right of a man to be a man, and not a brute…”

“Pity him not! Such a life and death is not for pity! Not in the riches of omnipotence is the chief glory of God; but in self-denying, suffering love! And blessed are the men whom he calls to fellowship with him, bearing their cross after him with patience. Of such it is write, ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.'”

“They knelt together, and the good man prayed, -for there are some feelings so agitated and tumultuous, that they can find rest only by being poured into the bosom of Almighty love, -and then, rising up, the new-found family embraced each other, with a holy trust in Him, who from such peril and dangers, and by such unknown ways, had brought them together.”

“‘In these days, a nation is born in a day. A nation starts, no, with all the great problems of republican life and civilization wrought out to its hand; -it has not to discover, but only to apply. Let us, then, all take hold together, with all our might, and see what we can do with this new enterprise, and the whole splendid continent of Africa opens before us and our children. Our nation shall roll the tide of civilization and Christianity along is shores, and plant there mighty republics, that, growing with the rapidity of tropical vegetation, shall be for all coming ages.'”

“‘It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it was possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. Think of your freedom, every time you see Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was.'”

“For many years of her life, the author avoided all reading upon or allusion to the subject of slavery, considering it as too painful to be inquired into, and one which advancing light and civilization would certainly live down. But, since the legislative act of 1850, when she heard, with perfect surprise and consternation, Christian and humane people actually recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens -when she heard, on all hands, from kind, compassionate and estimable people, in the free states of the North, deliberations and discussions as to what Christian duty could be on this head, she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion. And from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a living dramatic reality. She has endeavored to show it fairly, in its best and its worst phases. In its best aspect, she has, perhaps, been successful; but, oh! who shall say what yet remains untold in that valley and shadow of death, that lies the other side?”

“But, what can any individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There is one thing that every individual can do,  -they can see to it that they feel right. An atmosphere of sympathetic influence encircles every human being; and the man or soman who feels strongly, healthily and justly, on the great interests of humanity, is a constant benefactor to the human race. See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy?
Christian men and woman of the North! still further, -you have another power; you can pray! Do you believe in prayer? or had it become an indistinct apostolic tradition?”

“Do you say, ‘We don’t want them here; let them go to Africa’?
That the providence of God has provided a refuge in Africa, is, indeed, a great and noticeable fact; but that is no reason why the church of Christ should throw off that responsibility to this outcast race which her profession demands of her.”

“The first desire of the emancipated slave, generally, is for education. There is nothing that they are not willing to give or do to have their children instructed; and, so far as the writer has observed herself, or taken the testimony of teachers among them, they are remarkably intelligent and quick to learn. The results of schools, founded for them by benevolent individuals in Cincinnati, fully establish this.”

“O, Chruch of Christ, read the signs of the times! Is not this power the spirit of Him whose kingdom is yet to come, and whose will to be done on earth as it is in heaven?”

“A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved, -but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!”