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Legal Fictions: Gothic and the Spectre of the Law in Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly; or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker

Edwards JD (2016) Legal Fictions: Gothic and the Spectre of the Law in Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly; or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker, Studies in Gothic Fiction, 5 (1), pp. 13-22.

First paragraph: In Law and Letters in American Culture (1984), Robert A. Ferguson asserts that the relationship between law and literature is vital for understanding America’s first major Gothic novelist, Charles Brockden Brown. Ferguson writes that in 1793 “Brown rejected the law as his profession after six years study in the Philadelphia law office of Alexander Wilcocks” in favor of writing fiction (129). Following this career change, Brown feverishly wrote several Gothic novels, including Wieland (1798), Ormond (1799), Arthur Mervyn (1799-1800), Edgar Huntly; or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker (1799) and The Memoirs of Stephen Calvert (1799-1800). Building on Ferguson’s biographical comments about Brown’s education and working life, I read Edgar Huntly as a Gothic novel that meditates upon the theoretical trajectories of the law in the United States. This approach is particularly fruitful not only because it strays into new territory in Brown criticism, but also because it adds a theoretical dimension to the close readings of Edgar Huntly by critics such as Sidney J. Krause and Jared Gardner who discuss the novel in the context of the US laws arising out of the “Elm Treaty” and “Walking Purchase,” as well as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Instead of going over the ground covered by Krause and Jared, I suggest that the wilderness of Edgar Huntly lies beyond the order of the law—a wilderness where the foundations of legal discourse are exposed as unfounded.

Gothic; American Literature; Charles Brockden Brown

AuthorsEdwards Justin D.
Publication date2016
Publication date online01/06/2016
PublisherNational University
ISSN 2156-2407

Studies in Gothic Fiction: Volume 5, Issue 1

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