Author: Charles Brockden Brown
First published: 1798
Time: Eighteenth century
Mr. Wieland, a religious fanatic. He fears a dreadful punishment because he has not answered a “call” to become a missionary. He dies by what seems to be spontaneous combustion: His clothes suddenly burst into flames one night as he meditates. He is Clara and young Wieland's father.
Clara Wieland, the narrator, who writes a long letter telling of the tragedy that is visited upon her family. She is attracted to Carwin, but when he defames her character to drive off a rival suitor, her love ends. Eventually, she marries Henry Pleyel, the brother of her childhood friend.
Mrs. Wieland, Clara's mother. She dies shortly after her husband, leaving Clara and young Wieland to be reared by an aunt.
Wieland, Clara's brother. He, Clara, and his wife, Catharine, live together as friends. He is a somber, melancholy man of a religious turn. When he hears strange voices, he believes he is in communication with some supernatural power. Thinking he is guided by heaven, he sacrifices his wife and their children. Regaining his sanity later and crushed by remorse, he commits suicide by stabbing himself.
Catharine Pleyel, a childhood friend of the Wielands. She marries Wieland and has four children by him. She is killed, along with their children, by her husband, while he is in a fit of madness.
Henry Pleyel, Catharine's brother, a lively young man. Eventually, he and Clara marry, after the death of his first wife, a European Baroness.
Carwin, a stranger who appears dressed like a humorous beggar. He loves Clara but defames her to Henry, out of jealousy. He is accused by Clara of being the “voice” that guided Wieland to kill, because he is a ventriloquist. He assures Clara of his innocence and disappears from the area to become a farmer.