Edgar Huntley, or, Memoirs of a Sleep-walker

October 21, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads)

sleepEdgar Huntly, or, Memoirs of a Sleep-walker by Charles Brockden Brown


I added this book to my to-read list after reading The Monk, and seeing it mentioned in the foreword as another example of a Gothic novel. So, of course, I expected it to be, you know, Gothic. Instead, what I found was a book that had some Gothic leanings, but was mostly long-winded and rambling and took a long time to get to the point. I suppose I should grant it some leeway, since it was published in 1799, but The Monk was published just three years earlier, got to the point faster, and was a much easier read.

This book contains some of the most stilted language I’ve ever read.

It was natural to suggest to my friend, when expatiating on this theme, an inquiry as to how far subsequent events had obliterated the impressions that were then made, and as to the plausibility of reviving, at this more auspicious period, his claims on the heart of his friend.

In other words, “Dude, she doesn’t like you.” Again, yes, this is from 1799, not 2016, but again, The Monk didn’t read like this. Did this guy get paid by the word or something?

The novel starts out with the narrator, Edgar, explaining who he is. Interminably. Then we get the next section, where he confronts the guy he saw digging under the tree, named Clithero.

(Vulgar side note: I kept reading this character’s name with the break between the T and the H. It was … somewhat distracting.)

In the next section, we get another interminable description of who Clithero is. Then we get some adventure, as Edgar pursues Clithero into a cave on one of his sleepwalking jaunts. There’s some back-and-forth throughout, as Edgar has to keep returning home, and later Edgar finds himself in the caves, lost, in the darkness, and starving. The story picks up, and it’s easier to manage Brown’s melodramatic narrative, which takes us through to the end of the novel.

The thing is, between the time when he follows Clithero into the caves, and later finds himself lost in the same caves, he runs across a guy named Weymouth who says that Waldegrave was holding money for him. He has no proof of any of his claims, though the evidence supports it, and Edgar believes him.and wants to give him the money. I get the feeling Brown is trying to show Edgar as a generous, honorable character, but the interaction is random, and doesn’t serve the story at all.

There are some redeeming features of the story: Edgar is an unreliable narrator, which adds a layer of interest; Native Americans are referred to by Edgar as “savages”, when Edgar is the one who kills them; and it seems to be a parallel to life in early America after the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the novel is a bit of a chore to read, it repeats itself quite a bit, and it takes too long to get going. It’s certainly a book that’s better suited for analysis than entertainment, which makes it an odd book to recommend to a casual reader. While I don’t mind stories that engender analysis, what I look for in a novel above all is story, and the one in Edgar Huntly isn’t sufficient enough to entertain.


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