Monday, May 25, 2009

Reader's Diary #494- Charles Brockden Brown: Somnambulism



Back in 2004, Jason Priestly starred in Sleep Murder, a made-for-TV movie set in Iqaluit. I remember enjoying it, but it may have had a lot to do with the setting. The movie was about an Inuk man accused of murder. Jason Priestly plays a lawyer from the south, making the case that the accused was sleeping when he did it, therefore not conscious of his actions, therefore innocent.

Apparently homicidal somnambulism, or sleepwalking murder, is not a new phenomenon (in fact, it has been a successful legal defence here in Canada), though I had previously not been aware of it.

However, American author Charles Brockden Brown seemed to have a fascination with it way back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was the focus of his novel Edgar Huntly, Or, Memories of a Sleepwalker and his short story "Somnambulism: A Fragment."

While "Somnambulism" has the earmarks of a schlock horror story (night haunts, damsel in distress, etc), there is a larger psychological element at play. Althorpe, the narrator of the story, is overly rigid. In fact, his stiff manner of "talking" made the story difficult to read at first:
No doubt part of my despondency flowed from the idea of separation, which, however auspicious it might prove to the lady, portended unspeakable discomforts to me.
This guy would write government documents with ease, don't you think?

But, once I got used to became accustomed to his manner of speaking, I appreciated all the more the breakdown in his psychology. To me, this reads as a tale of a man who tries so hard to be rational that he stifles his perceived lower instincts until they make him act out in a subconscious and unacceptable manner. It was written over a century before Freud would coin the terms that defined our psychic apparatus, but I think it's a perfect description of a faulty ego.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link below. If Mister Linky is not working (they've been having issues), just leave your link in the comment section.)

6 comments:

Ali said...

First one I've done since February? Really? Wow, time flies.

I wrote about Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth.

Lynda said...

Sounds good ;0)

Lizzy Siddal said...

I had a recent binge on Scottish Short Stories. My post is here.

raidergirl3 said...

I was hoping for more Jason Priestly. You teased me with that opening paragraph. He does such interesting work.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love this kind of stuff. I will head over to read it now, since I am already partially accustomed to his manner of speech.

JoAnn said...

This sounds interesting...once you get used to the style. I'm a day late this week because of the holiday. http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com/2009/05/everyday-use-by-alice-walker.html