Brief Lecture Notes on Poe (plain html version)

I. Biographical Background

II. Major Phases of Poe's Career         C. 1841-1849: A return to poetry and essays and fiction on theme of psychic transcendentalism. 1845 was his most successful year. Feb: The Raven appeared in the February American Review after advance publication in the New York Evening Mirror.

III. Types of Works
Through all these phases , Poe wrote

    1. Satiric tales.
    2. Parodies and burlesques.
    3. Grotesques: tales where one aspect of the character is heightened for a marked effect (note that this same concept was later used by Sherwood Anderson in Winesburg, Ohio).
  1. Arabesques: tales involving the supernatural; according to Paul Reubens, "symbolic fantasies of the human condition."
  2. Tales of ratiocination ("The Purloined Letter") that allow rational deduction and logic to counter the irrationality of grotesques and arabesques.
  3. Hoaxes
III. Themes (from Floyd Stovall)
    Stovall called Coleridge the guiding spirit of Poe's intellectual life

    A. Parallels with Coleridge

      1. poetry gives pleasure by being indefinite
      2. music is an essential element in poetry
      3. beauty is the sole province of the poem
      4. poetic beauty has the quality of strangeness
      5. poem must have unity of effect
      6. true poem must be brief
      7. passion and poetry are discordant
      8. tone of the poem must be melancholy
    B. Parallels with Wordsworth
      1. Visionary dreariness (from The Prelude [published in 1850 and unknown to Poe]: Wordsworth writes of "spots of time" that stand as memorials permitting the restoration of our minds when they are "depressed." The power of these moments comes from their revelation that "the mind is lord and master--outward sense/the obedient servant of her will."

      2. "The Fall of the House of Usher" hinges on questions of self-identity and the powers of the mind for restoration" (Cambridge Literary History 659). In German Romantic theory, the sublime derived precisely from the power of the mind over nature; one of its essential qualities is the presence not only of appreciation of nature's beauty but awe in its presence. The true sublime contains an element of fear, of the possibility of danger that resides in nature.

      In "Usher," the narrator's utter depression allows no sense of the "visionary" qualities of dreariness that so powerfully moved Wordsworth . . . In this story the pattern of differentiated repetition shows the power of things, the consciousness of urban fragmentation against which Wordsworth was writing, but from within which Poe writes."

      3. Poe: "As to Wordsworth, I have no faith in him."

    C. Themes
      1. victimization, power and powerlessness
      2. confrontations with mysterious presences
      3. extreme states of being
      4. dehumanization and its cure
      5. relation of body and soul
      6. memory of and mourning for the dead
      7. need for spiritual transcendence and affirmation.
D. Beliefs IV. Poe and Plagiarism V. "The Raven"