Anastacia's Reviews > Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography

Edgar Allan Poe by Arthur Hobson Quinn
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's review
Dec 01, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012, history, non-fiction
Read from November 26 to December 01, 2011

I don't write many reviews, as I don't write them well. I find it difficult to describe how I feel about a work of creativity -- for me it's like describing what water tastes like. I don't really enjoy putting those feelings and stirrings into actual words, anyway. I write this in defense of what I feel are some unfair comments that I feel misrepresent the book.

If you're ever in the mood to read a 900 page biography of Edgar Allan Poe, by God, read this book. I read this by accident; reading on a Kindle offers both a blessing and curse of not being as able to judge a book by its cover. Or, in this case, its heft. If I knew, I don't think I would have bought it in the first place. By and large as a voracious reader, I am loathe to make such a commitment. I want something new; I need instant literary gratification. I am happy I didn't realize its length until much later or I'd have missed a tremendous opportunity to dig in to Quinn's meticulously researched presentment of the "true" life of one of history's finest minds.

I object to comments that suggest that Quinn merely worked to discredit every slander against Poe. Quinn adroitly examines Poe's life and writings and while it is clear he deeply admired the man, there is no hesitation by Quinn to point out Poe's faults and weaknesses. In my mind, it is a stunning offering of judiciousness and integrity in a sea of cheap recitation of supposed scandal and ill-repute. This is one of the strongest arguments for reading it at all; Quinn had to know the length of his book would not work to his favor, and yet he exhaustively pursued facts to great lengths. These truths are indeed far less exciting to contemptuous minds, but he reported the life of Poe with conviction. I don't see him trying to prove the rumors false because of sheer idolatry, I see this as the work of a true scholarly historian: one who struggles to tell the TRUE story. He is tender but fair.

It is certainly true that Quinn spends an awful lot of time on tedious details, the most unfortunate of which is the book's own beginning. It's a shame, because so many readers (myself included) will grow impatient and will shelve the book out of complete boredom. I purchased the book several months ago and did just that; it was only because I had nothing else to read that I gave it another chance. There is such a thing as too many details, and here Quinn fails. For those who can get through the beginning, I think it's an extraordinary read. I respectfully disagree that one must be "hyper-literate" to understand Quinn's writing. I cannot help but note the irony of a complaint of "flowery" and "hyper-literate" language in a 862 page biography of Edgar Allan Poe, a literary legend. I'm at a loss for words to defend such a complaint, but it made my day. (Oh, irony! Is there anything you can't do?)

It's also a lesson to all of us that words and insults are powerful and the wounds they cause may never heal. Poe wasn't a perfect man, but who among us are? What's remembered of him is sadly tinged with baseless slander, and that's a damn shame because there is so much more to him than I would have ever known had I not read this book. It's not for everyone, but it's truly amazing in its humanness. In this regard, it is probably the best biography I have ever read, and I think history is better for Quinn's conviction and integrity.

*Just a note: As much as I enjoyed it, I was relieved to find that a not insignificant portion of the book (the end) is appendices and references. For the reader on the fence, know that the end comes quicker than expected. Unfortunately the same can be said of Poe's own end, no zing intended.
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