The previous conveners brought up the notion of altruism. In contrast, at the beginning of the second volume we are faced with questions of trust. The question of Steven’s faith in Mervyn and the validity of his story become more prevalent at the beginning of the second volume.
Dr. Stevens regularly emphasizes his unwavering faith in Mervyn’s character and the authenticity of his tale:
“His courage was the growth of benevolence and reason, and not the child of insensibility and the nursling of habit.” (p.167)
We see here that Stevens is very much attached to Mervyn as a heroic figure. Stevens also disregards the notion that people are defined by their social status, upbringing, gender, or race, making a point of saying that the Mervyn’s honesty was apparent through his demeanor (tone, gestures, “looks”):
“Mervyn is the index of an honest mind.” (p.175)
Steven’s fondness towards Mervyn develops to the point where he considers mentoring Arthur Mervyn in the skills of a physician (an idea that comes to fruition by the end of the novel, which is equally interesting considering his ambitions to run a hospital toward the end of the Vol.1):
“By residing with me… he would, in a few years, be fitted for the practice of physic.” (p.167)
This faith in Mervyn’s character translates into a general faith in his story, which, at times, can seem to be contrived. Volume 2 introduces the first, proper discussion and evaluation of the authenticity of Mervyn’s tale. Steven’s contemplations are summarized in the following lines:
“Surely the youth was honest. His tale could not be the fruit of invention; and yet, what are the bounds of fraud” (p.175)
We see throughout the first chapters of Volume 2 a confused Stevens consulting several people regarding Mervyn’s character in an attempt to ascertain the truth. His conversations with the Althorpes and Wortley reveal that there is more to Mervyn’s story than he originally thought. It should be noted, however, that even with this newfound knowledge regarding Mervyn’s story, Stevens remains relatively faithful to Mervyn:
“Suspicions have fixed themselves upon him, which allow him not the privilege of silence and obscurity.” (p.193)
Stevens still sides with Mervyn even when others begin to question his character and his story.
Why is Steven’s so faithful towards Arthur Mervyn and the authenticity of his story? Furthermore, why should we (the readers) believe any of what Mervyn recounts seeing as that, according to Stevens, honesty can only be determined by inspection of a person’s demeanor and body language? The questions brought up regarding Mervyn’s tale aren’t so directed at Stevens as they are directed at the reader. When Mervyn’s narrative resumes once more in chapter V, is the reader to assume what he says is true? Why does the author choose a relatively similar narrative structure the second time around (with Mervyn relaying what has happened to him)?
The previous group of conveners brought up the role of women in Volume 1. It was suggested that women are portrayed as being key figures of power and, in some instances, determine the plot.
In Volume 2 does this trend continue? If so, how? Are they still portrayed as decision-makers?
We are introduced to several new characters (e.g. Mrs. Villars and Mrs. Althorpe) but also the course of the plot is, to a great degree, shaped by the desires and needs of these female characters. We witness several key events involving women such as Susan’s death, Mervyn’s compulsion to help Eliza, and the love that appears between Mervyn and Achsa. One could make the claim that in Volume 2, the desires of women drive the plot, since Mervyn’s actions are governed by the situations of various women (Eliza, Clemenza Lodi, and Achsa).
Do women act more as catalysts for the plot development in Vol.2? Why does Brockden Brown depict women in this way? Is this a counterbalance to the way women were depicted in the first volume? Or is it an expression of his own values regarding the role of women in society, perhaps influenced by his Quaker background? The previous post brought up similar questions and they are even more relevant to the second installment of Mervyn’s adventures.
PS.: Watch out for this guy!
Liam, Rafael, Vlad