Poe's fear of early burial

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Please help me! I need to know where I can find some quotes or information about Poe possibly being afraid of being buried alive. I have seen an article online, but I don't remember where it is. He incorporated this theme into several of his stories such as "the cask of amotiallado" and "black cat". What else? Please help.

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000



You are essentially correct in that Edgar Allan Poe's handling of the terrifying thought of premature burial is the theme for more than at least one of the two stories you mention. What I mean to say is that in the story "The Black Cat", his wife was not alive when he enclosed her corpse in the wall of the basement. Of course, the cat was unknowingly interred alive but I don't think this adds to the human horror of premature burial as much as to the surprising revelation the cat was there at all. Actually, as my poor memory serves, this theme was also used in his tales, "The Premature Burial" and "The Fall of the House of Usher."

I truly hope you find that article and post the address here for I would be quite interested to read it. Frankly, it is my view, after some lengthy measure of study, that there is no historical evidence or contemporaneous testimony to support the notion that Edgar Allan Poe possessed an excessive fear of premature burial. At least, no more so than the public in general. To accept as accurate that Poe had a disproportionate fear of being buried alive merely on the basis of his stories of fiction is remarkable only in its insensibility to fact. Fiction is, after all, mere fantasy, Illusion, imagination, all those things that fail to represent fact. What follows is posted from another thread on this forum relative to the same basic question.

Of course one cannot speak of Poe's motives with first hand knowledge and his use of this theme (premature burial) differs somewhat from story to story. In the tale "The Premature Burial", Poe begins by reciting several actual accounts that had been noted in local newspapers of the time. This is consistent with his technique of using a general truth or facts, however incidental, to support or enhance the fictional elements in the story. This is a very effective technique and is used even today, especially in mystery and science- fiction stories. How many times have we heard the line, "Stranger than fiction" while watching advertisements for some up-coming mystery show on television.

Add to this the fact that a general fear of "accidental burial" did exist in the early 19th century and your readership is all but assured. Medicine was advancing but slowly, epidemics were frequent by today's standards and autopsies were rare if required at all. According to Kenneth Silverman in his book, "Edgar Allan Poe - Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance", he mentions two works dealing with this fear during the period. One was, "On the Signs of Death" in 1834 that went through numerous re-printings and discussed how specific afflictions could mimic death. The other was "The Dangers of Premature Burial" in 1816 by Joseph Taylor. This work opened the subject to public discussion and knowledge by the time Poe's story appeared but it was poorly understood. This made a good recipe for a horrific tale and there is little doubt Poe recognized this. If you were unfortunate enough to find yourself in a coma or catatonic state, in the public mind, there was no assurance your heart beat or breathing would or could be detected nor your condition recognized as anything other than your, shall we say, "final departure."

There can be no question Poe understood the fundamental attraction of incidental truths when artistically mixed with fantasy. He did the same with mesmerism in his tale "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" which was accepted in England as a true instance of arresting the progress of death by hypnotizing a man just prior to expiration. That he did it so brilliantly speaks only to his imaginative genius. That we perceive him, personally, as surely having some obsession with premature burials merely speaks to our dullness.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, November 10, 2000

Fo' sho

-- Anonymous, March 19, 2003

tru dat my nigga

-- Anonymous, December 16, 2004

Poe's fears of premature burial probably did exist in real life as did many aspects of his characters such as the drunkenness of fortunato or the opium addiction of some of his characters which he admitted to in a letter written to an unknown college friend or even his denial of death shown by the many characters who seemed unkillable or rose from the dead.

-- Anonymous, December 16, 2004

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