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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 14

York, who in a mad vision had heard himself commanded to destroy all his idols, and had murdered his wife and children with ferocious brutality. With this theme Brown involved the story of Carwin, the “biloquist,” to make the “voices” seem less incredible than in the original. It may be assumed that ventriloquism did not seem a pinchbeck solution in 1798, when it was a trick little known or practised; and Brown, too much an artist to make his ventriloquist a mere instigator to murder, makes him out a hero-villain whose tragedy it is that he has to sin, not as the old morality had it, because of mere wickedness, but because of the driving power of the spirit of evil which no man can resist and from which only the weak are immune. Yet though Carwin by his irresponsible acts of ventriloquism in and out of season actually sets going in Theodore Wieland’s mind the train of thought which terminates in the crimes, he does no more than to arouse from unsuspected depths a frenzy already sleeping in Wieland’s nature. These were cases of speculative pathology which Brown had met in his Godwinian twilights, beings who had for him the reality he knew best, that of dream and passion; from them comes the fever in the climate which gives the book its shuddering power. To a notable extent Wieland fulfills the rules Brown had laid down in his announcement of Sky-Walk. Ventriloquism, religious murder, and a case of spontaneous combustion make up the “contexture of facts capable of suspending the faculties of every soul in curiosity.” These were for the unlearned. The apparent scene of action is laid upon the banks of the Schuylkill; this was patriotic realism. But for those of his readers who might have



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