Charles Brockden Brown’s four major novels, all written between 1798 and 1800, are devoted to the conundrum of moral complicity—the impossibility of pinpointing moral accountability for harms in a world where intersubjective life makes it impossible to separate one person’s action from the actions of others. This essay argues that for Brown, this conundrum constituted the narrative precondition of fictional storytelling and served as the source of his fiction’s formal innovation, theoretical self-consciousness, and gothic weirdness. This essay suggests, too, that the conundrum of complicity served as the prompt for a synoptic mode of reading that Brown introduced to American fiction.

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