The Flow of Narrative: Misleading Structures and Uncertain Faiths in Wieland



A lingering question in criticism of Wieland asks why the narrator, Clara, uncharacteristically withholds knowledge of events and perpetrators—a decision making for exciting reading but showing a baffling artifice. Why does this traumatized protagonist spend so much time imparting her past ignorance when the eventualities are known to her at the time of her writing? Some suggest that Clara withholds the facts in an attempt to impart a feeling to readers, enlisting their sympathy and casting Carwin as the villain. Others read Clara's narrative strategies as a product of mental instability, perhaps even insanity. But there exists another possibility: I suggest that Clara's narrative logic is part of a larger theory of causality, accepted with complete faith by Clara and her companions, and characterized most often by a conceptualization of “flow” in the text.

This term flow, and related ones like “chain” and “train”, are used with almost neurotic constancy to describe the connections between precedents and antecedents, defining the actions of the present in terms of past inertia and predicting the future with prophetic surety. Likewise, these terms feature heavily in the long, pregnant passages regarding the drift of consciousness in the interior life of the narrator. Clara's retention of the eventual facts need not be read as an artificial device of story-telling, nor a manipulative tool in the prosecution of Carwin, but instead as emblematic of the novel's interrogation—and ultimate critique—of Enlightenment faith in perfect continuity, a faith which would justify Clara's dogged commitment to revealing events only in their original sequence. Ultimately, I argue that Brown's novel gestures toward the possibility of a more open Gothic model of events and thoughts, which could address the problematic ambiguities that remain despite Clara's attempt to impose a rigidly causal and chronological narrative.

Keywords: Uncertainty, Gothic, Faith, Religion, Narrative, Supernatural, Misleading

How to Cite: Cosner, J. D. (2014) “The Flow of Narrative: Misleading Structures and Uncertain Faiths in Wieland”, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. 16(1). doi: