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Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Allan Poe’

Staff Picks: Dreamers, Dealers, Kidney Donors

October 16, 2015 | by

An illustration by Gustave Doré for Poe’s “The Raven.”

The two things I like most about annotated classics are the annotations and the pictures—which are really the point, if you think about it: you can read the text itself in any edition. Truth be told, sometimes the annotations aren’t very interesting, but the pictures rarely disappoint. Such is the case with the new Annotated Poe from the Belknap Press. Some are illustrations that were made to accompany Poe’s works: there’s great stuff from Arthur Rackham, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, and Gustave Doré, such as his very cosmic (very Little Prince) depiction of a line from “The Raven”: “Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” But the book also includes art that was influenced, sometimes obliquely, by Poe: a still from Batman in 1966 shows Adam West quoting a line from Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise”—a nod perhaps to the fact that Bob Kane, Batman’s creator, came up with the idea for the masked detective while visiting the Poe Cottage in Fordham, New York. And still other art in the book feels simply like a wonderful excuse to draw connections across time: a moody photographic close-up by Lisette Model of a pair of legs striding the nighttime pavement made the cut because Poe’s description of a man’s “agitated restlessness” in “The Man of the Crowd” prefigures Model’s candid street photography, which appeared a century later. —Nicole Rudick

As a child, I understood the harrowing effect of my sullen and unloving behavior on my parents, yet continued to behave rottenly anyway. Ben Marcus’s story in this week’s New Yorker, “Cold Little Bird,” about a ten-year-old boy who suddenly begins to withhold affection from his parents, is a chilling evocation of the pressure-cooker tension that can arise in family life. Marcus teases striking images out of dense thickets of metaphor; here his writing is spare, the story proceeding in a series of clipped passages. He captures the subtle features of relationship maintenance; one of the best scenes involves the advance-and-retreat dynamics of tactical apologies. In its refusal to diagnose, the story offers no release valve. I persevered to the end and felt uncomfortable, then guilty, then gladdened by the knowledge that I had never been as bad as this little shit, then embarrassed by that thought, then terrified of my own (nonexistent) child; then impressed that Marcus had been able to provoke in me a parent’s anxiety I had never known existed. —Henri Lipton
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Beardsley’s Poe

August 21, 2015 | by

Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, made to accompany Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Beardsley, born on August 21, 1872, favored the grotesque and the erotic in his drawings and had a large influence on the developing the Art Nouveau style, though he lived only to twenty-five. He also illustrated work by Oscar Wilde and Alexander Pope and helped found The Yellow Book.

     From “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

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The Machinery of the Universe

July 1, 2015 | by

Poe’s vision of the cosmos and the art it inspired.


Alfred Jensen, Physical Optics, 1975, oil on canvas, 7'2" x 12'9". Image via Pace Gallery

Since adolescence, Edgar Allan Poe had been picking fights with science. His second collection of poetry, published when he was all of twenty, opened with a mischievous sonnet needling what he called that “true daughter of Old Time”:

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?

By the time Poe wrote Eureka: A Prose Poem, the last major work he published before his premature death in 1849, his attitude toward certain men of science had softened. He eagerly absorbed—and sometimes rejected—theoretical works by the brilliant astronomer Sir John Herschel, the popular scientist J. P. Nichol, and the towering, eccentric naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, to whom Eureka was dedicated. He was still capable, on the other hand, of caustic put-downs such as the one he attributes early in the book to a scientist from the distant future. It’s in that figure’s prophetic voice that Poe chews out most of his contemporaries for “their pompous and infatuate proscription of all other roads to Truth than the two narrow and crooked paths—the one of creeping and the other of crawling—to which, in their infinite perversity, they have dared to confine the Soul—the Soul which loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable intuition which are utterly incognizant of path.” Read More »

Gloriously, Preposterously Impractical, and Other News

January 28, 2015 | by


George E. Ohr’s pottery workshop in Biloxi, Mississippi, 1901.

  • In 1849, not long before he died, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book called Eureka, the goal of which was nothing less than to outline the origins of the universe. “It’s like a nineteenth-century version of the many manuscripts I have received over the decades from brilliant but deranged autodidacts … Imagine what you might get if you toss Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Newton’s Principia in a blender along with scoops of gothic rhetoric and romantic philosophy.” Did Poe unwittingly anticipate modern cosmology? Well, no—but his book is still fun to read.
  • On writing and bravery, or the lack thereof: “Although I acknowledge it can be scary to set down what you think and feel, I’m not sure brave is the operative description … This is my problem with brave and other words like it: They do not engage but rather insist. They are singular, anti-conversational, self-congratulatory even; they pre-digest our experience, before we get a chance to have it for ourselves.”
  • Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”
  • How did pottery become art? A new exhibition in Boston tells the story of American ceramics: “Sometimes art is defined by uselessness. An object that remains functional never quite gains the aura that is normally associated with the highest creations of the imagination … For a century and more, many ambitious ceramicists have labored to lift the status of their craft. In the process, they have left behind any notion of utility, creating objects that, while they may nod to their antecedents in the cup, the jug or the storage jar, are gloriously (and often preposterously) impractical.”
  • Joe Franklin, who “presided over one of the most compellingly low-rent shows in television history,” died last weekend at eighty-eight. He left behind an office overflowing with memorabilia and historic clutter, “mounds formed by stacks of old reels of silent films, publicity photos and press copies of books. There were playbills from the Booth Theater from the 1920s and a VHS tape of the comedian Sarah Silverman … somewhere in there was Bing Crosby’s hat, along with a lipstick-smeared drinking glass Marilyn Monroe sipped from on the show. Also somewhere was the tie clip that Ronald Reagan gave Mr. Franklin.”


A Parish for Slang Bedouins, and Other News

November 4, 2014 | by

John Frederick Lewis, A Bedouin, ca. 1841.

  • Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Here’s a long list of his debts, with creditors listed in Philadelphia, Richmond, and New York, and orderly columns of numbers that grow large enough to give you a sympathetic panic attack.
  • “If ambitious writers work at the boundaries of the written language (as they should), then they ought do it from a path of mastery, not ignorance; broken rules carry no power if writers and readers don’t notice the transgressions. Proper usage shows us where the earth is, so that, when the time comes, we know what it means to fly.”
  • Not unrelatedly: “Dickens published an essay on slang, probably by George Augustus Sala. The 1853 article expressed the view that either slang should be ‘banished, prohibited’ or that there should be a New Dictionary that would ‘give a local habitation and a name to all the little by-blows of language skulking and rambling about our speech, like the ragged little Bedouins about our shameless streets, and give them a settlement and a parish.’ ”
  • In which Ann Patchett reminds readers of the New York Times that she’s not married to her dog.
  • “I found it odd that there had never been a scientist as a Man Booker judge. There have been many non-literary types amongst the judges: a former spy, a former dancer, a Downton Abbey actor—but science, apparently, was a step too far. Until this year, when I joined the judging panel.”



October 3, 2014 | by


The frontispiece from Edgar Allan Poe: A Centenary Tribute, 1910.

On October 3, 1849, a delirious Edgar Allan Poe was found in a Baltimore ditch dressed in clothes that were, reportedly, not his own. He died four days later at Washington Medical College. There are numerous theories, but the exact cause of death remains a mystery, as does his presence in the ditch.

If Poe interests you, you wish to commemorate him, and you happen to be in New York, be sure to go to the Grolier Club and catch the public exhibition “Evermore: The Persistence of Poe,” which consists of the extensive Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane. In addition to manuscripts, first editions, personal effects, and letters belonging to the writer, the show has a section devoted to Poe’s portrayals in pop culture, which include everything from John Cusack’s unfortunate turn in 2012’s The Raven to the Unemployed Philosophers Guild’s ubiquitous Poe doll. Particularly arresting is a poster for 1944’s The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, a film that was unknown to me. But I rushed home to remedy that at once, and, luckily for all of us, the whole thing’s available on YouTube: Read More »