What should my independant research topic on Poe be about?

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Should I do a report on Edgar Allan Poe's life, work, rumors and truths, or childhood into early adulthood? I am 13 and doing this report for one full quarter of a year for two classes of the day(1 hour 20 minutes) every day. I can't decide whether to do one of those things or another and if I do one of those I don't know which one to do. Please help me decide.

-- Anonymous, March 14, 2002


Since his death, and- judging by many of these posts- up to the present, the main issue seems to be demthologizing the slander and showing the whole picture on Poe. This goes to the general effects of lingering slander and popular concepts about Poe. This significantly effects the appreciation of Poe's most known and popular works and unfairly ignores all the rest. At the same time the also unrealistic counterreaction does not serve a real appreciation of his works. Disgust or awe are perhaps out of place in speaking of any human whether genius or not. Check out www.eapoe.org as a good starting point, reading everyhting there and checking out Poe's whole opus. Links to other sites and GOOD biographies and criticisms are invaluable for any topic you would choose. When I did independent study I read a lot beyond the particular topic that I could not include though it all gave depth and detail to the paper. Poe and alcoholism is one interesting controversy as well as the effects of slander(more than stupor)upon the public conception of the artists. Check out Stephen King's "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" as a sideline. King never was controversial and succeeded financially but coping with alcoholism and astutely jusdging its effects on his work make for required reading. NOT that false public assumption assumption that he must be nuts or on something to get all those scary ideas. You can see after a while while Poe made such deep enemies and friends and creates the same split among modern critics.

Then you can get into the real sources and values of Poe's work and mind which is rooted in the new American spirit, the Eurpoean Romantics like Byron and Coleridge, pioneering lierary magazines and poetics, new science and exploration, his particular life experiences, needs and self-presentation. He was a man who chose to completely throw himself into a literary vocation, a brilliant thinker and creator and a unique mind that spawned important innovations and profoundly powerful poetry.

-- Anonymous, March 15, 2002


While noble in scope, an independent research paper on any subject as potentially complex as the subject matter you have chosen is fraught with any number of difficulties, even for a well experienced adult with access to sufficient materials and resources. I shudder to think of the difficulties facing a thirteen year old. This is, of course, presuming your use of the term "independent" was intended to suggest an absence of guidance.

Fundamentally, I am in agreement with Mr. Murphy regarding the influence that slander and libelous vilification of Poe's character has had on the public's perception of Poe's works over the last 150 years. In short, I agree that it has narrowed the public's focus from the more diverse nature of his works to those gothic/macabre tales and poems. And, it is an important point he makes here. If, in any independent study, we are to unravel the enigma rooted in a mind of genius, its causes and effects, would it not be fair; would it not be prudent to consider the whole of his creation. It is sorely regrettable that Poe's genius and his contributions to his art have suffered and most regrettable of all is that no small measure of this slander is still being taught in some classrooms.

However, I will respectfully part with Mr. Murphy when he puts two words adjacent to one another and suggests that "good biographies" of Mr. Poe are readily available. Clearly, there are some that are better than others and I will even go so far as to say that some are, comparatively speaking, wonderfully informative. However, of the hundreds of biographical books, essays, articles, or scholastic papers available, I have read an extraordinary few over the past four decades that offered a truly unbiased and detached assessment of Poe's life, his works or his contributions to literature. But then, perhaps, it is I that suffers a predisposition for skepticism toward this apparent compulsion for psychoanalysis and pigeonholing individuals of celebrity into a comfortable little niche that diminishes their greatness and, so easily dismisses their genius. Perhaps, in another 150 years, we will read of all Stephen King's frailties and failures that had a direct impact on the expression of his art.

So... now that I have "shot my mouth off", what would I suggest? Well.... I do concur, absolutely, that the premiere starting point is the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore website. Not only is it richly informative but it offers additional guidance for off site material and resources. Their overall approach strikes me as singularly mature, unbiased and the least predisposed to psychoanalytical interpretations and esoteric commentary.

Biographical material that tends to best fit this mold are by Thomas Ollive Mabbott, Arthur Hobson Quinn, John Carl Miller, John Ward Ostrum and of course, "The Poe Log: A Documentary life of Edgar Allan Poe" by David Jackson and Dwight Thomas. Authors to avoid or read with some cautionary skepticism are Wolf Mankowitz and Kenneth Silverman. Silverman is an excellent writer but seems compelled to offer unnecessary opinions in the absence of critical and judicious reflection.

Whether you come away from this independent research with reverence or revulsion, it will always remain a basic truth that a study of American Literature, or World Literature for that matter, that ignores the unique contributions of Edgar Allan Poe is doomed to be deficient and incomplete. In either case, best wishes on your efforts.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, March 16, 2002

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