Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
In the last twenty-five years there has been a boom in scholarship on Charles Brockden Brown that connects his work to social developments that occurred in the early American republic. Brown scholars often read him as a man ahead of his time as his writing addresses, hints at, or even inverts social mores. The scholarship around Brown's novel Edgar Huntly has concentrated on how the narrative addresses westward expansion and white settlers' relationship with Native Americans or the ways in which Edgar Huntly connects to Revolutionary society. Kate Ward Sugar engages with this narrative in a different way, exploring the dynamic of sleepwalking as a way to address male homosocial bonds. Scholars though continue to side step the eroticism within this narrative and the implications of somnambulism's status as a mental illness being tied to an unnamed desire. My thesis will therefore address this gap in the scholarship by integrating a queer and historicist reading of Edgar Huntly to suggest that Brown's use of sleepwalking is done to reflect a social fear of the homoerotic.
It is the goal of my thesis to explore Edgar Huntly as a narrative that weaves the danger of sodomy to sleepwalking, suggesting an implicit relationship between madness, illness, and same-sex desire. In order to fulfill this goal this thesis will employ a queer historicist approach, which aims to engage with the ambiguity of Brown's work to reveal insights into the early American republic. After all as Brown wrote in Edgar Huntly, "There are two modes of drawing forth the secrets of another, by open and direct means and by circuitous and indirect" (4). To develop this paper's argument, I will need to explore the casual relationship between the loss of Waldegrave's letters and Edgar's emotional distress as the cause of his sleepwalking. Brown himself described this as, "...a supposition not to be endured. Yet ominous terrors haunted me", as Edgar's dread is fixated upon the potential of an unauthorized reader seeing these texts (91). Furthermore, close readings of Brown's description of Edgar's fixation on Clithero will highlight his unspeakable desire. This relationship will also allow us to later compare their fates as Clithero becomes, "a madman whose liberty is dangerous, and who requires to be fettered and imprisoned as the most atrocious criminal," while Edgar leaves for Europe with his fiancé (193). Finally, drawing upon medical and legal texts from this period will show how Edgar Huntly suggests a pathologization of sexuality within the time period, in particular the developing figure of a secularized sodomite. This reading of Edgar Huntly not only expands the scholarship on sexuality in Brown's writing, but also the history of sexuality, pointing towards a social development currently unexplored by scholars of the early American republic.
Number of Pages
Campbell, Kyle Joseph, "Walking With A Ghost: Sodomy, Sanity and the Secular" (2016). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 538.