Significance of Poe : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

How is Poe's work significant to American Literature? To Literature in General? Does he represent a strand in literature or a tradition, and if so, what modern writer do you think is carrying on this tradition?

-- Anonymous, April 21, 2000


I suppose it's only fair that I jump in first.

Re: The significance of Poe's work to American Literature: he was one of the first American writers to be taken seriously by European writers and readers (i think Beaudelaire was one of the first to translate his work)

When the big surge in pride in American literature came in the l920's, the one that resulted in the elevating of Whitman and Melville's Moby Dick, Poe, by reason of the fact that he was known, also rose in estimation.

Re the significance of his work to literture in general, it is well established that he pioneered the detective story genre. He was not the first to do short stories but he is included in most general anthologies of the short story (his "Fall of the House of Usher" is generally used to illustrate setting) He did not pioneer the gothic genre but was one of its most able practitioners, his "Black Cat" and "Tell Tale Heart" are two of the first pieces in literature to examine the psychology of a character. It has been argued also that he pioneered the writing of science fiction. I'm still working on that one.

What strand or tradition in literature does he represent? I suppose its indusputible that he is at least a foremost writer of short fiction, which was carried on by such as Ambrose Bierce, O Henry, Hemingway, Raymond Carver--who is the foremost master of the short story today I could not say--maybe John Edgar Wideman.

If you could call it thus, the dark or pessimistic, the "blues" tone in much of his tales is evident in all of the above writers, the ironic twist at the end of the tale.

As a writer of the supernatural and macabre he was succeeded by H.P. Lovecraft (A lot of Poe swipes turn up whole in Lovecraft--the poem City Beneath the Sea conjures up nothing if not Great Cthulu, slumbering in his undersea city (I can't recall the name) and Steven King--his "Dolan's Cadillac" is a modern take on "Cask of Amontillado"

-- Anonymous, April 25, 2000


Almost certainly known prior to 1840, recognition in England as an author of some merit apparently came when the English published some of Poes tales around 1840, and criticism was, generally, luke warm. Reluctant to give any American writer credit for originality, most English critics felt that American writers imitated the works of the British authors.

According to Authur H Quinn, Poe was first openly recognized in France in 1845 when a translation of The Gold Bug appeared in the Revue Brittannique. It was signed A B Alphonse Borghers and credited to Poe. It wasnt until 1846 before the first analytical critique appeared of Poes 1845 Tales. Then in September, the Revue Britannique published a translation of Descent Into a Maelstrom under the pen name for E.D. Forgues and also gave Poe his due credit. Baudelaires first translation appeared in July 1848 in the La Liberte de Penser.

I think, perhaps, the surge in American pride had more to do with a resurgence of determination that began in the late 1800s, to establish an American literary self identity and to obscure, as much as practical, the British influence on American Literature in general. That Edgar Allan Poe could have been excluded from recognition in this group is doubtful in the extreme. Not only because of his immeasurable talents but because the British would have crucified the Americans for being so obtuse as to overlook his influence.

Youre quite right that Poe was not the first to write short-stories, it was relatively common in those days. Some short stories were published as penny novels during this period and magazines of the time offered contests to encourage more short stories. Typically, they were more practical for printing in the magazine and the whole story could be included in one or more editions. Besides, they did not often return many of those stories that were not used. However, over time, Poe certainly had an influence on the basics of how short stories were composed.

Edgars legacy is alive and well, even today in one form or another. His works have influenced artists of many disciplines and the evidence can be seen in music, art, literature, film and television. Composers such as Rachmaninov and Debussy have written symphonies and operas; Sir Arthur Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes owes some measure of thanks to Dupin; Alfred Hitchock once said that his love of Poes stories could be seen in his own work. I once even saw a Star Trek that repeatedly triggered some memory for me of Poes Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether. There is even a scheduled performance by Michael Jackson as Poe in an upcoming show. (I shiver at the thought.) I have not read much by Lovecraft and even less by Steven King. King and Lovecraft both seem to have developed their own special following and this speaks to their credit but for my tastes, I honestly prefer Edgar Poe.

Nevertheless, my preference for Poes work does not in anyway diminish my fondness for other authors, especially Melville. In fact, of all Poes expressions of profound passion, in my estimation, none compares with the sheer passion of hatred that Ahab held and nurtured for the white whale.

Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!"

Now thats Passion!

Regards, Tis

-- Anonymous, April 25, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ