Werner's Reviews > The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe

The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe
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Jun 21, 08

bookshelves: classics, mystery-crime-fiction, science-fiction
Recommended for: Fans of 19th century fiction
Read in January, 1998

My five-star rating only applies to Poe's fiction, which was the part of the book I read ten years ago; when I decided recently to review the book, I resolved to read the poetry as well, but a couple of sessions caused me to abandon that idea! I do appreciate "The Raven," and some of Poe's other shorter, mature poems; but I'm not a big fan of Romantic poetry, and in the main, Poe's work in that form has all the besetting faults of its school: opacity, overblown verbosity and sentimentality for its own sake, an excessively self-referential quality, and a preference for style over objective substance. To me, it has more of a soporific effect than a sleeping pill; and when you have to fight sleep all the while you're reading a book, it's time to get a different book. Poe's fiction, though, is a very different matter!

A lot of popular perceptions about Poe are untrue; for example, he wrote very little supernatural fiction, and even some of that is tongue-in-cheek. That brings up another misperception: not all of his writing is grim and horrific. A fair amount of it is dryly humorous (though at times the humor is gallows humor); in that respect, he differs from the Romantic pure type, which was deadly serious. And his frequent evocation of situational horror in his writing was not the product of a distorted, morbid imagination, nor was he a deranged drug addict; though he did drink heavily at times, he was much more normal and well-adjusted than popular imagination gives him credit for, and his horrific themes were normal staples of Romantic fiction, employed by many authors of the day because of their ability to evoke strong emotion. (Poe just evokes it more effectively than most.) Nor was he an infidel; while not necessarily a Christian, he was definitely a theist and a believer in immortality, who sets forth his beliefs on these subjects in some detail in "Mesmeric Revelations." (The despair towards the idea of life after death in "The Raven" is the narrator's, not the author's, and a literary conceit for emotional effect.)

Only four of Poe's 62 short stories are mysteries (and one of those, "The Mystery of Marie Roget," is not as effective as the others, IMO) but those four essentially created the genre and established some of its basic conventions. The Dupin stories set the pattern for Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon (though the description of the crime scene in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is not for the squeamish), and "The Gold Bug" is the first and one of the best hidden treasure type mysteries, even though marred by the racially insensitive and invidiously stereotypical treatment of the slave Jupiter.

His only long fiction, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and a fair number of his stories are in the science fiction genre; his work in this mode is presented with careful "verisimilitude" and attention to cutting edge science of his day, and he found scientific concepts handy vehicles both for satiric humor and more often for horror. Some of the ideas he employs are a lunar voyage by means of a balloon, mesmerism, psychic survival of death, destruction of the earth by a comet, the world of the far future (2848), Egyptian mummification as suspended animation, and the theory of a hollow earth with openings at the poles. (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym treats this theme; and without engaging in a "spoiler," my opinion is that the ending is NOT abrupt and incomplete, but rather exactly as Poe wanted it to be for the effect he meant to create.)

Many of Poe's general fiction stories find the everyday world a source of profoundly terrifying situations: murder, insanity, premature burial, the tortures of the Inquisition, deadly epidemic disease, the life-threatening, heart-stopping experience of being sucked into a whirlpool. Stories like "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," "Berenice," and "The Pit and the Pendulum" are some of the most powerful and unforgettable works in this vein ever penned.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Pam (E.P. Scott) Very good review! I didn't know all these things about him. I have learned something new today. Thank you! :)


Werner Glad to hear that, Pam; thanks! When it comes to fiction, I count him as one of my favorite authors (you can probably tell :-) ).


message 3: by Jean (new)

Jean Great review - and so nice to read a review of Poe which can make me smile - as much of his quirky fiction does :) I've been enjoying reading and reviewing Poe this Winter too.


Werner Thanks, Jean. (I'll have to check out your reviews, too!)


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