"Light might possibly be requisite": Edgar Huntly, Regional History, and Historicist Criticism

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Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly, Historicism


Charles Brockden Brown's celebrated novel Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker (1799), set in the Forks of the Delaware region of Pennsylvania, has been related to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the basis of a mistaken understanding that its action takes place during the summer of 1787. The correct date is 1785. The narrative's connections to the local history of Indian relations, however, are systematic and profound. Its villain, the Indian crone "Old Deb," is modeled after an elderly Delaware woman from Chester County, Hannah Freeman. Edgar himself is modeled in part after Edward Marshall, who walked off the measurement for the 1737 Walking Purchase land fraud. Moreover, a pivotal scene between Edgar and the traveler Weymouth is a symbolic reenactment of the midcentury treaty meetings at which the Delaware spokesman Teedyuscung sought restitution for the Walking Purchase. These claims provide an occasion to reflect on the methods of historicist criticism: how connections to history illuminate a literary work.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.