The Theme of Initiation in the Four Major Novels of Charles Brockden Brown

Tracy Daniel Connors, University of Rhode Island


Charles Brockton Brown (1771–1810), published prolifically in the late 18th century, in a wide variety of media and contexts, including nine novels (1798-1801). Weiland, Ormond, Edgar Huntly, and Arthur Mervyn – have been the focus of most commentary and criticism, based on their intensity, violence, complexity, and their incorporation of both fiction and historical material. In these four major novels, Brown used the journey of the hero searching for experience and rational maturity—the theme of initiation—as the framework within which he explored the inner life of his characters, and where dramatic action often takes place on the untamed frontier of the newly fledged United States. He was the first major American novelist to penetrate and describe the subconscious, and simultaneously to comprehend and employ a unifying mythological-psychological theme throughout his major novels. Brown’s fictional works reveal a truly American literary alchemist adapting old world literary formulas to a new society, a new constituency of readers, in a New World. He explored new formulations of historical, fictional, and psychological elements that, however imperfect, would serve as guides for other writers who would continue his pioneering efforts. Brown’s major novels can be seen as reflecting the point at which a distinctly American literature began evolving from its European roots. Although Brown was not to win the mythical hero’s "decisive victory" with his writing in his short lifetime, his victory and boon can be seen as his innovative body of work, and the numerous "frontier boundaries" of contemporary fiction he crossed. Charles Brockden Brown was indeed a grenzganger of American Fiction, crossing literary frontiers to open up New Worlds of self-awareness, self-exploration, and a powerful, uniquely American art form for generations of subsequent American authors and readers.

Subject Area

Literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Tracy Daniel Connors, "The Theme of Initiation in the Four Major Novels of Charles Brockden Brown" (1968). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10587686.