First edition title page
|Author||Charles Brockden Brown|
|Publisher||H. Maxwell & Co.|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Pages||vi, 224 pp|
Arthur Mervyn is a novel written by Charles Brockden Brown and published in 1799. It was one of Brown's more popular novels, and is in many ways representative of Brown's dark, gothic style and subject matter.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2012)|
Arthur Mervyn is discovered by Dr. Stevens sitting on a bench. He is suffering from yellow fever, and since Dr. Stevens has pity on him, is invited into the Stevens household. A little after he gets better, Mr. Wortley comes over to pay Dr. Stevens a visit, recognizes Arthur Mervyn, and reacts with extreme displeasure at seeing him. Dr. Stevens is of course suspicious of Mervyn now and demands an explanation for Wortley's reaction. Mervyn begins to tell his story in an effort to clear his name in the eyes of Dr. Stevens. This is the frame, and nearly three quarters of the book bring Mervyn's adventures up to this moment in time. The rest of the book continues on after the storytelling, with Mervyn keeping Dr. Stevens informed either in person or via letters of the continuing adventures, all of which revolve around a tightly knit network of people.
Arthur Mervyn is a country boy who lived with his father and their servant, Betty, on a farm near Philadelphia. Betty, however, married the father and Mervyn could no longer remain in the house without conflict (there is a rumor he seduced her). Arthur leaves the farm and heads toward the city, where he ends up entirely penniless, as he has been cheated out of all his money on the way there (by unscrupulous inn owners who.)
Arrival in the city
Upon arriving in the city he seeks out a friend of his father's, but he never ends up meeting him. Instead he meets a man named Wallace who invites him to share his bed that night. Arthur follows Wallace home, and Wallace promptly locks him into a pitch dark room. Realizing that he has been tricked, Arthur tries to escape without being noticed. He does this, but not before he overhears a privy conversation between the true occupants of his quarters. When Arthur does manage to escape, he leaves behind only his shoes and some open doors and windows. Without shoes or money he decides to head home (but can't because he can't pay the bridge toll). He decides to beg money from a man he meets on the street, and is promptly hired by this man.
The man in question is Welbeck, who is a thief and a forger. The encounter will cost Mervyn more than he stood to gain from begging. Welbeck dresses Mervyn in city clothes, introduces him to Clemenza Lodi, a woman he claims is his daughter and tells him that he will start work the following week. Mervyn soon discovers that Welbeck is a thief and a seducer (Clemenza is pregnant). Not a week has passed before Welbeck is destitute, has killed a man named Watson and buried him in the basement, and escaped from Philadelphia via the river, with Mervyn rowing the boat.
Mervyn is of course shocked by all these events, and convinced that Welbeck has drowned himself when Welbeck falls from the boat into the river. Mervyn then heads out of town himself and seeks refuge at the Hadwins' farm for a few months. Not long after, though, the yellow fever comes to town and Susan Hadwin is so worried about her fiancé, Wallace, that Mervyn decides to do her a favor and return to town. There he discovers death and destruction everywhere, as well as Wallace, who is indeed sick with yellow fever. Wallace is too sick to leave the city himself, so Mervyn puts him on a carriage to the Hadwins' farm (Wallace never makes it).
Yellow fever epidemic
Mervyn begins to get sick, and fearing a forced trip to the hospital (a death trap), he decides to hide himself in the old Welbeck mansion. There he discovers none other than Welbeck, who has sneaked back to get the money he left in Father Lodi's book. He is outraged when he finds that Mervyn has already found it and intends to give it back to Clemenza. Welbeck tells him the money is forged and Mervyn promptly burns it. Welbeck has a conniption because he lied about the forgery and Mervyn has just destroyed 20,000 pounds. Welbeck leaves Mervyn to die, and Mervyn eventually wanders out into the street to see if he can make it back to the farm. He collapses on a bench outside Dr. Stevens' home and is rescued by the good doctor.
Thus ends the narrative up to the encounter with Dr. Stevens. After he gets better, Mervyn insists on returning to the Hadwin farm to make sure everyone is safe. After he leaves, though, he doesn't return for weeks and Dr. Stevens becomes very suspicious that Mervyn has escaped. One day, though, he is called to the debtors' prison, and discovers upon his arrival none other than Mervyn, who has summoned him there to tend to Welbeck, who lies languishing in the prison (he ultimately dies there). Before he dies, he gives Mervyn a scroll that holds 40,000 pounds or so that belong to Mrs. Maurice, but were recovered from Watson's dead body.
Helping Eliza Hadwin
Mervyn continues his narrative, recounting what happened after he left Dr. Stevens. Upon his arrival at Malverton (the Hadwin farm), he discovers that all but Eliza and Susan have died of yellow fever. An old man watches over them, but he is of little use. Susan dies the same day, unable to recover from the stress of waiting for her fiancé and the disappointment of finding that Arthur is not the Wallace she had been waiting for. Mervyn, finding no alternative, buries Susan in the orchard. He then tries to house Eliza at her neighbor's farm, but he refuses her. They set out in the freezing weather and almost die, only to be saved by Mr. Curling.
Mr. Curling agrees to take Eliza in until a better situation can be found for her (and her inheritance gets taken care of). Philip Hadwin, Eliza's uncle, turns out to be an awful man who refuses Eliza the inheritance she could have from the farm because Eliza's father took out a mortgage on the farm that belongs to Philip Hadwin. Arthur returns to the city to help Clemenza Lodi, now living in the house of Mrs. Villars, a known prostitute. When Arthur forces his way into the Villars country home, he discovers Clemenza on the third floor of the house, mourning her dying baby. He also encounters Mrs. Fielding, a young widow who had no idea her friends were prostitutes. Arthur goes to Philadelphia to ask Mrs. Wentworth to house Clemenza Lodi and rescue her from her current situation. Mrs. Wentworth refuses, but ultimately agrees to house her if Mrs. Fielding will bear part of the cost.
Next, Arthur “rescues” Eliza from boredom by placing her with Mrs. Fielding. This accomplished, Arthur can finally concentrate on his apprenticeship, but he quickly realizes that he is in love with Mrs. Fielding. This comes as such a shock to him that he actually goes out to the house in the country where Mrs. Fielding is staying and stares up at her window at night. She is frightened, recognizes him, and tells him to see her in the city. The next day they finally admit their feelings to each other and agree to marry.
Characters in "Arthur Mervyn"
Mrs. Althorpe, Francis Carlton, Miss Carlton, Mr. Curling, Mr. Ellis, Achsa Fielding, Eliza Hadwin, Philip Hadwin, Susan Hadwin, William Hadwin, Mrs. Hadwin, Betty Lawrence, Clemeza Lodi, Vincentio Lodi, Fannie Maurice, Arthur Mervyn, Sawney Mervyn, Dr. Stevens, Walter Thetford, Lucy Villars, Wallace, Capt. Amos Watson, Thomas Welbeck, Mrs. Wentworth, Ephraim Williams, Wortley, Caleb, Clavering, Colvill, Estwick, Jamieson, Medlicote,
Arthur Mervyn—The novel's protagonist. His transition from a rural child to a man of urban, eighteenth century America is the substance of the story. He is a rash and acts on his convictions but, oddly enough, he is also a very analytical person. He eventually becomes apprentice to Dr. Stevens and marries Achsa Fielding