Edgar Allan Poe



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Edgar Allan Poe

Critical notes:

Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most controversial figures of 19th century American literature. He was characterized by his psychological instability, bad temper and dissolute behaviour. He became famous in Europe thanks to the traslation of French writers such as Charles Baudelaire. He had great importance in literature, especially in short story, because he introduced innovative elements.
In Poe’s works is often present the theme of the “double”, which he felt so close to himself because on one hand he was an idealist and a visionary, but on the other hand he had great power of ratiocination and was capable of a close observation of mnute details. Poe firmly believed in art as a rigorous and rational application of a series of principles and techniques in order to produce an art object. A poem had to be appreciated as an example of pure poetry completely devoid of any message or moral teaching. The only aim of the poetry is to give pleasure and to reach what he called “the beauty above”, the pure beauty. This induced Poe to write poems notable for their sound and imagery and he gave musical effect because he defined poetry as “the rhythmic creation of beauty”. Poe is best known as a writer of short stories. He used the words grotesque, arabesque and ratiocination to define their characterstics. The grotesque is associated with humor and satire while the arabesque with emotion and imagination. The grotesque implied fear and orror and the ideas of losing control of impulses and ideas, instead the arabesque was the celebration of the power of human being to master, control and organize. The grotesque and the arabesque often intermingled because fear, horror and terror could assume a comic and satirical connotation, while the rational working of the mind could become horror and impotence. An example is The Tell-Tale Heart in wich the protagonist carefully plans a murder, but is defeated by the horror of what he himself has done. The term ratiocination is connected to the detective story. Poe is considered their inventor. He invented Monsieur Dupin, who is a genius who showed all his genius in solving very complicated cases and only him, using reason and intuition, turned vey complicated into comprehensible case. Poe’s short stories have one principle in common and it is the single effect. A skilful writer was to be very careful about the planning of a tale and had to avoid any elements which could disturb the achieving of its effect. The eventsand their combination were to be directed towards single result. The foundamental condition was that the tale had to be quite short and that it could be read all togheter. So the reader could grasp the pattern without having his attention diverted by interruptions. He strongly believed in the development of a national literature and could that a brilliant criticism could help. His works included literary criticism.

Life and works:

Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809 in Boston. His father abandoned the family after his birth and his mother died when he was only two. He was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy merchant. The family moved to London and he was sent to a boarding school. Five years later his parents returned to the Usa. He went to Virginia University, but he had to leave after one year because he had run up many gambling debts and Mr Allan refused to pay them. Poe decided to enjoy the army an started to write poetry. He published Tamerlane and Other poems and Tamerlane and minor poems. He was expelled from the Military Academy after eight months. He moved to New York and he published The Poems: second edition and then settled in Richmond with his aunt Maria and her daughter Virginia. Their life was happy and serene and Edgar wrote incessantly, especially short stories and with Manuscript Found in a Bottle won a competition. The prize helped him since one of the judges helped him to find a work as a book reviewer. He began to drink. In 1836 he married Virginia and their marriage was happy until six years later the girl showed the symptoms of tuberculosis. He moved to New York with Virgnia and her mother. He published the only novel The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Then he moved to Philadelphia where he found a job as co-editor of a magazine in which he published some of his most famous tales. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was a collection of 25 tales. From 1841 there were tales of ratiocination, wich contain all the features of the detective stories (The masque of the red Death). In 1843 The gold bug won the first prize in a competition of a magazine. In the same year Poe wrote the horror tales Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. He continued writing essay of criticism on contemporary American writers. In 1845 he published The Raven. His wife died, he drank heavily and his unstable personality and precarious mental equilibrium came out. In 1848 he published Eureka, an ambitious work in which he wanted to explain his theory of universe. Because of his addiction to laudanum (alchol and opium) his healty bacame very precarious and he died in Baltimore in October 1849.