Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Contributing Editor: William Goldhurst
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Students confuse Poe's narrator with the author, so that in stories
involving drug addiction and murders, students often say "Poe this"
and "Poe that" when they mean the narrator of the tale. Poe's
reputation for alcohol abuse, drug abuse, poverty, and bizarre personal
habits--all exaggerated--often comes up in classroom discussion and should
be relegated to the irrelevant. Students ask: "Was he an alcoholic?"
"Was he a drug addict?" "Was he insane?" I quickly
try to divert attention from such gossip to the themes of Jacksonian America,
asking them to ponder the nature and value of Poe's vision.
I have a slide lecture, largely biographical, which always is well received.
Lacking such materials, I would recommend a line-by-line reading of the
major poems, with explanations as you go along. Particularly "The
Raven" and "Ulalume" are understandable by this method.
I would also prepare students for effects late in "Ligeia," then
have them read aloud the last few pages of this tale. I always prepare
the class for the Poe segment with a quick review of President Andrew Jackson's
policies and what is meant by "Jacksonian Democracy." I believe
this to be essential for a study of Poe.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Stress Poe's affinities with mainstream America. He was culturally informed,
rather than isolated, reclusive, and warped. I have spent years studying
his ties to Jacksonian popular culture. It is unrealistic to ask all teachers
to be informed to this extent; but the point should be made, and repeatedly.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Poe's fictional architecture is unparalleled. Stories such as "The
Purloined Letter" and "Ligeia" have definite form and symmetry.
On another level, while most critics align Poe with the Gothic tradition,
I emphasize his links with the sentimental writers of his time and earlier.
The "cycle" form practiced by many painters of his time is
reflected in poems such as "The Raven."
It is important to establish the fact that death literature was common
in Poe's day, owing to the high mortality rate among the young and middle-class
citizens. In some ways Poe participated in the "consolation"
movement of this time, by which he attempted to comfort the bereaved.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
Poe compares with James
, Charles Brockden
, Wm. Gilmore Simms, Donald G. Mitchell--in fact, he relates in
revealing ways to most of his contemporaries.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. I always ask students to express their concept of Poe the man and
Poe the author before we begin our studies. Later, I hope they have changed
their image from the stereotype to something closer to reality. I also
ask the students to mention more recent figures who compare to Poe. If
they say Stephen King, I argue the point. I try to introduce them to Rod
Serling and Alfred Hitchcock.
2. Explain the steps involved in the "Initiation Ritual,"
and then ask the students to trace the initiation pattern in Poe stories.
It works out very well for all concerned.
Editions of Poe
The standard edition is the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
edited by T. O. Mabbott et. al., 3 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1969. Volume 1 of this edition is the best edition of Poe's poems.
Poe's critical and aesthetic works are collected in Edgar Allan Poe:
Essays and Reviews
. New York: Library of America, 1984.
contains texts and elaborate notes for Poe's
, and Julius Rodman
, edited by Burton
Pollin. Boston: Twayne, 1981. "Eureka" is included in the Penguin
Edition of The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe
, edited by Harold
The best student edition is The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe
edited by Stuart Levine and Susan Levine. Urbana: University of Illinois,
Of Primary Importance: "Annals" in T. O. Mabbott's Vol. 1
of the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
. A year-by-year summary
of Poe's activities, reliably documented.
The Poe Log
, edited by Dwight Thomas and David Jackson. Boston:
G. K. Hall, 1987. The most complete documentary of Poe's professional and
Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography
by Arthur Hobson Quinn.
Appleton Century, 1941, reissued New York: Cooper Square, 1969. Still the
best Poe biography by a conscientious scholar.
Poe's letters have been brilliantly collected and edited in two volumes:
The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe
, 2 vols., edited by John Ward Ostrum.
New York: Gordian Press, 1966.
Two recent biographies contain some of the old patronizing and sensational
features of nineteenth-century commentary and should be approached very
Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance
Silverman. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy
by Jeffrey Meyers. New York:
Reviews and essays about Poe during his lifetime are collected in Edgar
Allan Poe: The Critical Heritage
, edited by I. M. Walker. London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1986.
More recent criticism is collected in The Recognition of Edgar Allan
, edited by Eric Carlson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
Poe Studies: Dark Romanticism
, a periodical published at Washington
State University in Pullman, Washington, publishes up-to-the-moment bibliographies
listing critical articles on varied aspects of Poe.
The best and most complete critical book ever published is the recent
release Companion to Poe Studies
, edited by Eric Carlson, Greenwood
Press, 1996. Twenty-five chapters by Poe scholars on different aspects
of Poe's fiction and poetry, including his influence overseas. Many interpretive
essays, all on a relatively high professional level. For Poe overseas,
supplement the Companion
with Carl Anderson's excellent Poe in
, Duke, 1973.
An extraordinary collection of Poe photographic portraits and daguerreotypes
has been assembled in The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allen
, collected by Michael J. Deas, University of Virginia Press, 1989.
Much attention has been given recent psychoanalytic and deconstructive
Poe criticism. Central arguments in these areas are collected in The
, edited John Muller and William Richardson. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Concentrated criticism of Poe's one novel is collected in Poe's Pym:
, edited by Richard Kopley. Durham: Duke University
Myths and Reality: Thy Mysterious Mr. Poe
, edited by Benjamin
Franklin Fisher IV. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 1987. Contains
thoughtful essays on the tales and the life.
The Rationale of Deception
by David Ketterer. Baton Rouge: LSU
Press, 1979. Contains some insightful commentary on the tales.
Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales
by G. R. Thompson.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973. Reads most of Poe's effects
as humorous satires or hoaxes.
A delightful review of Poe correspondence, clippings, and early criticism
is found in John Henry Ingram's Poe Collection at the University of
, edited by John Carl Miller at Charlottesville, 1960.
The standard bibliography, but active only to 1967, is Edgar Allen
Poe: A Bibliography of Criticism
, edited by J. Lasley Dameron and Irby
Cauthen, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974. As mentioned
earlier, recent criticism is regularly listed in Poe Studies: Dark Romanticism