Monday, September 14, 2009

On Poe Biography

edgar allan poe biography
"History is the bunk."
-Henry Ford

I have become convinced that one of the main reasons most books about Edgar Allan Poe are so bad--aside from the fact that most of his biographers are incredible dunderheads--is that he has been written about strictly as either a literary figure or a psychological case-history--never as a historical figure. So far as I know, no serious, trained historian has ever studied him to any extent. His biographers have been either professors of literature (Thomas Mabbott, Arthur Quinn) cheap novelists who see him as lurid source material (Hervey Allen,) overenthusiastic amateurs (John Henry Ingram, Mary E. Phillips, William Gill,) hacks (Kenneth Silverman,) eccentric psychologists who have studied way too much Freud (David Rein, Marie Bonaparte,) or outright cranks (J.H. Whitty, John Evangelist Walsh.) I suspect if some modern-day Francis Parkman or Edward Gibbon began researching Poe's life, starting from scratch and carefully weighing and judging the evidence--once they recovered from the shock of all the patent balderdash they'd have to wade through--the result would be a Poe we'd scarcely recognize. I'm certain that sources like Susan Talley Weiss would be laughed completely out of court. There would be a halt to endless attempts to interpret every work of fiction or poetry he ever wrote as a mirror of his personal life. (I'm continually reminded of the words of his friend C.C. Burr: "Of all authors, ancient or modern, Poe has given us the least of himself in his works. He wrote as an artist.") There would be an end to this practice of blindly repeating the statements of other authors without bothering to ascertain if there is any truth to them (e.g. Virginia Poe was a childlike simpleton with the personality of a wax doll, or that Frances Osgood was estranged from her husband in 1845.) Speaking of Osgood, Poe's relations with her would be judged on something other than measuring the physical placement of her poems in the "Broadway Journal." In short, there would be a recognition of the fact that people can lie, memories can deceive, and letters can be forged.

Well, a poor-devil blogger can dream, can't they?

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