Lighten up, Eddie

Another reason the bookchat of late has been less than sparkling on book/daddy's august website is that book/daddy himself has been contacted to give four lectures on Edgar Allan Poe this September. So he's been pouring over Kenneth Silverman's outstanding 1991 biography, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.

Poe is hardly book/daddy's favorite author -- one recalls Henry James' sharp observation that an enthusiasm for Poe is a mark of immaturity in a reader. But he is an exceedingly interesting author, a landmark. He and his writings are very rich sources for cultural analysis. They touch on so many areas: the creation of the classic detective story and changing notions of crime, the origins of much of American pop culture in horror and fantasy and video games, the development of the short story, the explosion of American magazines, the literary competition between Boston and New York and the eventual victory of New York publishing, the critique of America's early boosterish democracy inherent in so much of Poe's "aristocratic," gothic works, etc., etc.

But he's also one vast hell of a depressing subject for biography. book/daddy was perfectly aware of much of Poe's tortured existence, but so far, Poe's young wife Virginia has just died (finally) of tuberculosis -- thus stifling the last, meager chance Poe has for any shred of domestic happiness -- Poe has gone on another one of the blinding binges that will eventually help to kill him, he's outraged and infuriated most of New York's literary crowd, he's so incredibly poor (still) that he's begging money for food -- and there's close to 200 pages yet to go.

Mr. Silverman must have a yen for grim lives -- he won a Pulitzer for his bio on that great stand-up comedian, Cotton Mather -- and he is drily meticulous here on every hemmorhage Virginia undergoes, every one of Poe's batshit benders.

A superb piece of literary scholarship. Highly recommended.

It all makes book/daddy's troubles seem ... even worse. You just want to lie in the (currently flooded) gutter and give up.

July 4, 2007 10:54 AM | | Comments (3)



Well, one way we might feel less despondent about Poe's life is to focus on what rich use he made of it in his writing. Those amazing tales--houses falling in on themselves, characters trying to flee blood-drenched landscapes--have a psychological realism that's directly related to the facts and emotions of Poe's life. The stories seem bizarre and extreme until you study that life; after that, they seem like a documentary, and an astoundingly artistic one. Silverman's book is very good in its analysis of these connections.

Yes, part of all his troubles was Poe's own doing (or undoing). I mentioned the alcoholism and the alienation of most of his literary peers. And they were huge factors in his troubles. Still, it's not exactly his fault that he was an alcoholic and an orphan, that he was never fully adopted by his guardian and so never had any inheritance, had no real family to boost him into a steady profession, that the newspapers and magazines he worked for often failed (despite his increasing their circulation) and that almost every woman he loved and almost every relative with whom he tried to find emotional stability died -- and all this before he was 38.

In short, it's not his fault that he's depressing the hell out of me.

Well, you have to wonder, did Poe help himself all that much? Or Beethoven? Schumann has much in common with these two, but lived a much happier life, short though it was.

Perhaps he looked at the cup as half full...?

Meanwhile, could you all down there send some of that rain our way? We are used to it, tho not usually in 2 digit amounts on any given day. And it has been VERY dry this summer, so far.


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