Book Cover of Arthur Mervyn

Arthur Mervyn

by Charles Brockden Brown

Kicked out of his parental home by his scheming young stepmother, a young country boy, Arthur Mervyn arrives in Philadelphia. Here he finds the city in the throes of a deadly yellow-fever epidemic. However, he finds a small job as a clerk and is determined to make his way in the world. He soon discovers that his employer is a con man and a murderer. One night, Arthur helps him dispose of a body in the river. While they're struggling with the corpse, the employer is swept away by the current... If you haven't encountered American Gothic before, Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown is a great introduction to this genre. Originally published in two parts, the novel is set in the turbulent, crime ridden and disease prone Philadelphia of 1793. Arthur Mervyn was published in 1799 and 1800 respectively. It reflects several aspects of the age in which Brockden Brown wrote the aftermath of the French Revolution was still being felt in America. The Reign of Terror, which dismantled the class system and the violent Slave Rebellion in Haiti with its elimination of slavery on the island nation were viewed with increasing fear and insecurity in America. Seen in the light of these events, writers like Charles Brockden Brown used plot devices and characters that evoked mystery and terror to great effect. Though he is little known today, Charles Brockden Brown was one of the pioneers of the early American novel, on par with James Fenimore Cooper. Born in a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker family, Brown initially took up the study of law. However, he soon became part of the Friendly Club, a group of New York intellectuals. He gradually began to publish essays and short pieces in various journals and newspapers. At this time, he was also heavily influenced by writers like Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Frankenstein) and from 1798-1801 he published a series of Gothic novels characterized by motifs like sleepwalking, religious mania, violence, drama and intellectual complexity. Always known as a “writer's writer” Brown's work is only now being recognized and given its due. The book reflects the multicultural mix of America, with its diverse range of characters from different cultural backgrounds. One of the interesting things about this book is that the disease of Yellow Fever itself is almost a character in the novel. It symbolizes a disembodied force that attacks people regardless of their race or socioeconomic status and scholars of Brown's works liken it to the impact of print media on a hitherto unlettered populace. Arthur Mervyn is indeed a valuable and educational read not to be missed.

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Charles Brockden Brown	 image

Charles Brockden Brown (January 17, 1771 – February 22, 1810) was an American novelist, historian, and editor of the Early National period. He is generally regarded by scholars as the most impor...

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