Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist

Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist (1803–1805) is a fragment of story written by Charles Brockden Brown published over a period of two years. Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist follows the life of a young man by the name of Carwin as he realizes his biloquial, ventriloquist, talents. Carwin develops this ability to perfection, being able to manipulate his own voice to sound like any person he wants.

Brown began his story in 1798, halted his writing, and continued again in 1803. From November 1803 until March 1805, Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist, or Carwin for short, was released in monthly installments in Brown’s Literary Magazine. Brown never completed his story, and it has always remained unfinished, and unresolved.[1]

Carwin is technically the sequel to Brown’s previous work, Wieland; or the Transformation, because Brown wrote it five years afterwards; however, the events in Carwin occur prior to the plot established in Wieland.[2] The common connection to the two novels is the character Carwin and his mysterious biloquial abilities. Carwin attempts to develop the history and background of Carwin prior to his appearance in Wieland as a way of clarifying some of the uncertainty that surrounds Carwin throughout Wieland.

Plot summary

Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist begins with Carwin as a young boy, about 14 years old, living on a farm with his father and brother in Pennsylvania. Carwin is evidently different from his family in that he strives to have an education, especially through means of reading books. His father does nothing but discourages this desire, and expects Carwin to settle for a simple life on the farm. As a way to break away from his father’s repression, Carwin continuously sneaks out into the woods at night with books to read by the moonlight. It is on one of these experiences that Carwin hears the echo of his own voice in the valley, giving him the inspiration to learn how to manipulate his voice. After several nights of practice, Carwin has the “power to impersonate” different people.[3]

Soon after, Carwin learns of an aunt in Philadelphia that wants to promote his further education, but his father refuses to send him. As an attempt to convince his father, Carwin decides to sneak into his bedroom late at night, impersonate the voice of his dead mother, and have her tell his father to let Carwin go to Philadelphia. This is the first scenario in which Carwin wants to use his voice talents to benefit himself, but before he can execute this plan, a barn on the farm starts on fire, disrupting his father’s sleep. After this event, the father decides to give Carwin permission to stay with his aunt.

In Philadelphia, Carwin receives a good education, but has to deal with hard times after the death of his aunt. He is left alone, because his aunt left everything in her possession to a faithful servant. For a second time, Carwin decides to use his ventriloquism, this time to imitate the voice of his dead aunt as a way to convince the servant that he is the rightful heir. Again, however, he fails to carry out his plan. At this time, a mysterious upper-class man named Ludloe decides to take Carwin under his wing. Carwin begins to idolize Ludloe for his way of life and his supreme education. Ludloe invites Carwin to travel to Europe with him, and Carwin, having nowhere else to go, willingly agrees. Throughout this relationship, Carwin never confides his biloquial abilities to Ludloe. Mysteriously enough, Carwin discovers that Ludloe is a member in a secret society, and immediately his curiosity is peaked. Carwin wants to be trusted with information about the society, but Ludloe always keeps him at a distance. Ludloe agrees that in time, Carwin might be able to be let into the society, but in the meantime sends Carwin all over Europe to increase his education. Additionally, Ludloe suggests marriage for Carwin as a step closer to his entrance into Ludloe’s secret society. Mrs. Benington, a recent widow, is the suggested wife for Carwin, because with marriage he would acquire all her land and property. After this, Ludloe claims that he will start to talk to Carwin about the secret society.

At the end of this story fragment, Ludloe requests to speak to Carwin. He demands that Carwin tell him all about his life, with complete honesty. Ludloe argues that the only way to completely trust and have faith in Carwin is to know everything about him. Carwin decides to tell the truth; however, selectively leaves out his biloquial talents. After this conversation, Ludloe admits that he knows an extensive amount of information about Carwin’s past, especially regarding a mysterious murder of a woman in Toledo that Carwin was acquainted with. The story ends abruptly here with no conclusion. The reader only knows that Carwin’s character reappears later in his life in Wieland; or The Transformation.[4]

The Fragment

There have been many editions of Carwin published since it was originally released, and most critics and authors comment on the fragmented and incomplete nature of the story. For many years, Wieland and Carwin were not published together, and at times, it was difficult for readers to make the connection between the two stories. In the mid 1900’s the books finally started being published as a pair, with Wieland always appearing before Carwin, functioning as supplemental pieces of work.[5]

Critics have various opinions regarding the incomplete work, ranging from disappointment that such a great piece of work is left open ended, to Brown having deserted his work. A friend of Brown, William Dunlap claimed that Carwin helped to clear up the mystery left in Wieland and that readers "will regret that [Brown] did not finish a work so replete with novelty and interest".[6] In opposition to this point of view, Carwin is often seen as unhelpful in that it failed to "untangle" any mystery, leaving absolutely no "closure and resolution" for those that read the story.[7] Carwin seems to end so abruptly that it could not possibly provide any satisfaction, rather creates more confusion regarding the character of Carwin. The idea that he may or may not have been involved in a murder of a woman in Toledo only increases the amount of curiosity swirling around Carwin’s past. This sudden and unexpected end can suggest that Brown "lost his first conception of his plot and motif" as well as his "enthusiasm", and he "gave up his struggle" as he "abandoned" his story in 1805.[8] This idea of abandonment of the text is also interpreted as a loss of interest or that Brown stopped writing because "his responsibilities turned his attention to other duties".[9] To give up one piece to do other things suggests a lack of interest or even a failure to feel as though it could ever be complete.

Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist attempts to make a mysterious character a little more understandable, but in never finishing his story, Brown actually leaves the life of Carwin more unexplained and unresolved than it was after the completion of Wieland; or The Transformation.


  1. ^ Pattee, Fred Lewis. Introduction. Wieland; or the Transformation: Together with Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist: a Fragment. By Charles Brockden Brown. 1926. New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1958. ix-xlvi. Print.
  2. ^ Elliott, Emory. Introduction. Wieland; or The Transformation and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. By Charles Brockden Brown. 1994. Oxford: University Press, 2009. vii-xxx. Print.
  3. ^ Manning, Susan. “Enlightenment’s Dark Dreams: Two Fictions of Henry Mackenzie and Charles Brockden Brown.” Eighteenth-Century Life. 21.3 (1997) : 39-56. Web. 20 Nov. 2009.
  4. ^ Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland; or The Transformation and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. Oxford: University Press. 2009. Print.
  5. ^ Barnard, Philip, and Stephen Shapiro. Introduction. Wieland or the Transformation, with Related Texts. By Charles Brockden Brown. 2009. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co, Inc., 2000. ix-xlvi. Print.
  6. ^ Dunlap, William. “The Life of Charles Brockden Brown: Together with Selections from the Rarest of His Printed Works, from His Original Letters, and from His Manuscripts before Unpublished.” Vol. 2. Philadelphia: James P. Parke, 1815. Print.
  7. ^ Fliegelman, Jay. Introduction. Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. By Charles Brockden Brown. 1991. New York: Penguin Group, 1991. vii-xlii. Print.
  8. ^ Pattee, Fred Lewis. Introduction. Wieland; or the Transformation: Together with Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist: a Fragment. By Charles Brockden Brown. 1926. New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1958. ix-xlvi. Print.
  9. ^ Krause, Sydney J., and S.W. Reid. Introduction. Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist. By Charles Brockden Brown. 1978. Kent: Kent State University Press, 1978. vii-xxv. Print.

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