Contributions to socitey? : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

Five facts of Poe's contributions to socitey?

-- Anonymous, May 05, 2001



One of the most truly fascinating aspects of a study of Edgar Allan Poe, his life and his art, is the broad variation with which enthusiasts, students and scholars alike, seem to interpret their studies. Of particular interest is the extraordinarily extensive range of adjectives typically used to characterize Mr. Poe or his work. Many of these characterizations are seemly mutually exclusive and were this a modern trend, one might suspect that any given examiner may have been researching two or more different individuals. Alas, the trend is not new and, effectively, began on the very day Edgar Poe was laid to rest in Baltimore on October 9, 1849.

Since that day to this, it would be difficult to find a historical figure that has engendered more mystery with an attendant enduring interest than Mr. Poe. From an ironic perspective, it is profoundly amusing that the perfidious death notice by Rufus W. Griswold and his outrageously slanderous biography of Edgar Poe did as much to propel this brilliant poet into world literary history as, perhaps, Poe's own genius. It is doubly ironic that history recalls the name Rufus W. Griswold only in relation to the very man he mercilessly vilified. More ironic still, is the accuracy with which an anonymous review of Griswold's "Poets and Poetry of America" concluded in the Saturday Museum of January 1843. Written by Poe's friend, Henry B. Hirst, but thought to echo the thoughts of Edgar Poe himself, the review prophetically forecasts Griswold's consignment to the shadows of history. "Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured and insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust." (Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore quoted from James Harrison's "Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe") Perhaps, the most judicious irony of all is that the singular shadow of history cast upon Mr. Griswold is born of the brilliance of the very man he so thoughtlessly slandered.

This is not to say there does not exist some consistency of views, for clearly, there certainly are those opinions that have remained essentially free of contradiction for over one hundred and fifty years. Typically, we accept these as "the facts" and tend to dismiss qualitative and/or quantitative discourse to the contrary as bothersome intrusions into established truths. Yet, even these 'truths' have varying degrees of precision and are, generally, dependent upon our individual definitive understanding and perceptions. While one may pigeon-hole Poe as an incurable alcoholic, to another, he was merely a periodic abuser driven to drink by intermittent despair. While one may point to an addiction to opium and habitual drug abuse, another views his use of laudanum as primarily for medicinal purposes resulting from a sensitive constitution. His alleged 1848 suicide attempt by laudanum, suspicious at best, is incidental to the argument and confirms neither the former or the latter. The ridiculous and tired old notion (and an almost exclusively American one) that true artistic genius finds its genesis in pain and madness is absurd.

Whether you are a fan or foe of Poe or his works, his contributions to society through American literature are undeniable. His innovative and imaginative approach to prose established the modern short story form. His poetic principles and ideals helped to establish a uniquely American identity in a manner that demanded recognition and appreciation world wide. He was the most articulate and discriminating American literary critic of his time. He completely revamped and infused the tired mystery genre and is known today as the Father of the modern detective story and his influence is still alive in modern authors and movie makers. He brought the gothic tale and stories of the macabre forward as a literary art form and has, inadvertently, established a unique culture of its own (though somewhat misplaced in my opinion). His constant struggle to further the cause of literary independence for all authors. His constant call for the establishment and enforcement of effective copyright laws. Of lesser recognition is his social commentary that includes his views on education, government, politics, the law and slavery.

George Bernard Shaw, one of the most respected and admired critics, author and 1925 Nobel prize winner for literature, once said of Poe, "America has been found out; and Poe had not; that is the situation. How did he live there, this finest of fine artists, this born aristocrat of letters? Alas! he did not live there: he died there, and was duly explained away as a drunkard and a failure... He was the greatest journalistic critic of his time... His poetry is exquisitely refined... In his stories of mystery and imagination Poe created a world record for the English language: perhaps for all languages... unparalleled and unapproached... Poe constantly and inevitably produced magic where his greatest contemporaries produced only beauty... There is really nothing to be said about it; we others simply take off our hats and let Mr. Poe go first."


-- Anonymous, May 06, 2001

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