Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

 
They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~ Edgar Allan Poe, from Eleonora

There are few persons, even among the calmest thinkers, who have not occasionally been startled into a vague yet thrilling half-credence in the supernatural… ~ Edgar Allan Poe, from The Mystery of Marie Roget

Edgar Allan Poe’s short life was a mixture of personal tragedy, economic hardship, physical illness, and self-destruction. He achieved popular and critical acclaim during his lifetime, that did not equate to financial success or personal peace. He died in 1949 at the age of 40, just four years after publication of The Raven – his greatest literary success.

In spite of his too-short life, he is one of America’s most original, and influential writers. He wrote one novel, dozens of poems, and dozens of short stories. I was reading from The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. I previously read and reviewed his POETRY and his one NOVEL. This review is of his short stories.

My edition, divides his short stories into three categories: Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Tales of Humor and Satire, and Flights of Fancy.

And although those are fair designations, I would categorize them a bit differently: Tales of the Macabre; Humor and Satire; Fantasy and Absurdity; and Detective Stories. There is also a fair bit of what I would call crossover between these categories.

I’ve read Poe, now and then, on and off, over the years, but this is the first time I dedicated myself to reading the complete collection of his short stories. My admiration, even loyalty to him, causes me some reluctance to admit, that I’m not a huge fan of the humor or fantasy stories. It isn’t very surprising that I would find his macabre tales his best, as these are what he is best known for (apart from that one poem).

A couple excerpts from two of his best known macabre tales:
A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. ~ The Cask of Amontillado
I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. ~ The Tell Tale Heart

Poe’s humor has its moments. A few excerpts:
Mr. Crab first opened his eyes, and then his mouth, to quite a remarkable extent; causing his personal appearance to resemble that of a highly agitated duck in the act of quacking… ~ The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq, Late Editor of the Goosetherumfoodle
If there is any thing on earth I hate, it is a genius. Your geniuses are all arrant asses – the greater the genius the greater the ass – and to this rule there is no exception whatever. ~ The Business Man
The Dutch have, perhaps, an indeterminate idea that a curtain is not a cabbage…The Yankees alone are preposterous ~ Philosophy of Furniture

Or this bit of satire, that I couldn’t help but think was aimed at some of his contemporary detractors:
There is no just ground, therefore, for the charge brought against me by certain ignoramuses – that I have never written a moral tale, or, in more precise words, a tale with a moral. ~ Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral

Similarly, his fantasies have some amusing moments and beautiful prose:
As if by some sudden convulsive exertion, reason had at once hurled superstition from her throne. ~ The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion

His detective stories, though few, are superb. Poe is said to have invented the genre, and his French detective, C. August Dupin of No. 33, Rue Dunot, was in part, the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Holmes even mentions Dupin in A Study in Scarlet. Just as Sherlock has Watson, Dupin has a friend and colleague, unnamed, who recounts his cases, which are solved by Dupin’s fastidious powers of observation. And like Sherlock, Dupin often comes to the aid of the police, whom he holds, to some degree in contempt.
“That is another of your odd notions,” said the Prefect, who had a fashion of calling every thing “odd” that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of “oddities.” ~ The Purloined Letter

All in all, a very good read – which owing mostly to the macabre tales, I read for R.I.P 14.

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2 comments:

  1. Having only read a couple of Poe's short stories, I realize I hardly know his works! I never thought there was an ounce of humor in him; though no wonder it would come out as satire or sarcasm.

    BTW, I totally think your categories are so much more interesting and probably even fitting.

    Personally, I believe it is helpful to know a little about the man, Poe, before one reads his works. Then one would understand him so much better.

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  2. Same for me...I didn't know he wrote anything that could be considered humor. Poe was a fascinating, and rather pitiable person.

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