Thursday, April 28, 2011

Video Poe

Here are several of the better tributes to Poe found on the wild, wild world of You Tube. (This is the first time I've tried to embed videos, so it will be...interesting, to say the least, to see what happens. Pray for me, good people, pray for me.)

First, there is Jeff Buckley's deservedly well-known rendition of "Ulalume." Buckley does some odd things with the rhythm of the poem, which only adds to the unsettling quality of his performance. It's very understated, too, which I like. I'm heartily tired of recitals of Poe's works where the reader feels the need to put exclamation marks! after every! phrase! believing! that heightens! the dramatic! effect!!! And by the end! they're practically! SCREAMING!!!!

I can do no more than say I think Edgar himself would approve.

Here's Virginia's Valentine poem set to music, with the title, "Ever
With Thee." The results are quite charming, although the selection of images in the video is sometimes a bit odd.

A bit of nostalgia: This is a tune I first heard when I was only two or three years old, and even then it left a great impression on me--a very young Joan Baez singing "Annabel Lee."

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Philosophy of Keywords; Or, What Hath Google Wrought?

Edgar Allan Poe portrait
Allow me to present a few of the recent search terms that have led people to my doorstep:
sarah helen whitman is alive
sarah helen power whitman's children with edgar allan poe
ida grey furniture
was edgar allan poe vegan
hazards of harts
Heywood Summer Undine

Here's one that sums up this entire blog in only three words:

poe scholarship depressing

In all seriousness, I'd really like to know what this person is researching
rufus w griswold poe's wife poison

My personal favorite:
poe killed by family of stella anna lewis
Or maybe it's this:
Elizabeth Poe was pecked to death by crows
And people wonder why Poe drank.
edgar allan poe girl in ashland va
Ashland, a town in the Richmond metro area, has a very confused legend that an anonymous local girl, "a daughter of the Sheltons" was the inspiration for "Lenore."
Folk ballads from the World of Edgar Allan Poe blog
Pleased to oblige.
Edgar Allan Poe folk balladsI actually own a copy of this record, and believe it or not, it's pretty good, if you've ever wondered what it would be like if Roderick Usher hosted a hootenanny
James P. Moss edgar allan poe's friend
Moss makes only one known appearance in the World of Poe, but it is a strange and possibly crucial one indeed. Poe's biographer Arthur H. Quinn provided the most detailed account of this man's story. Quinn heard of him from a friend of his named Dallas Fuguet. Fuguet, in turn, got his account from his cousin Thomas H. Lane (the same man who presided over the demise of the "Broadway Journal.") Lane's aunt was married to Moss. According to this Quinn-via-Fuguet-via-Lane-via-Moss story, Poe stopped off at Philadelphia in 1849, en route for New York. He became ill while there, and was brought to the home of Moss, who was a friend of his. Poe left the next morning, still feeling poorly but insisting that he was able to continue his journey home. Lane assumed that Poe, in his weakened and possibly confused condition, accidentally took the wrong train, which explained how he wound up in Baltimore.

This is a plausible story, to a certain extent, but unfortunately is full of enough hearsay to choke an elephant. We have no way of judging Moss' credibility--or even if he truly was a friend of Poe's. It is impossible to say how this story may have become distorted through these multiple retellings over the years. Quinn himself was obviously a bit dubious about his own anecdote, noting that it was "improbable but not impossible" that he took the wrong route. However, passengers traveling from Philadelphia to New York would first take a ferry to Camden, New Jersey, and then continue the rest of the trip by rail. Quinn noted dryly that "he must have been in very poor shape not to notice that he was taking an omnibus instead of a boat!"

The Moss story is frustrating. If true, it would at least partially fill in those "blank days" between Poe's departure from Richmond and his mysterious appearance in Baltimore. However, the utter lack of first-hand corroboration makes the tale impossible to fully trust.

Practically every day I see search terms that pursue one particular topic, all of them variations on the following:
lenore hart plagiarism
raven's bride plagiarism
raven's bride very young mrs poe
undine raven's bride

Well, if you insist. Back by popular demand, a few more comparisons--all in the interests of "fair use"--between Lenore Hart's "The Raven's Bride" and Cothburn O'Neal's "The Very Young Mrs. Poe":

Poe, Virginia, and Mrs. Clemm take rooms at Mrs. Yarrington's boardinghouse
O'Neal: "The house, near the southeastern corner of the Capitol grounds, was very much like Mrs. Poore's, set back on a wide lawn with the same Greek portico, the same half-glazed doors. Tom entered without knocking, as Eddy had done, and rang the bell."

Hart: "Mrs. Yarrington's looked so much like Mrs. Poore's...The same neat square of clipped yard and long painted portico, the same half-glazed doors, and Thomas swept in without knocking as if he lived there as well."

O'Neal: "'Mr. Poe is assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger,' Tom went on. 'He has been staying with us, but now that his aunt and cousin have come to live with him, Mrs. Poore doesn't have room for all three of them. We thought you might--.'" "No doubt she thought that Tom's 'we' had included Mrs. Poore as well."

Hart: "He [Tom Cleland] called down the landlady and introduced us. 'Mr. Poe is, ah, assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger, and--well, my mother-in-law hasn't room for, uh, the three of them. So we thought you might.'" "This was very clever, for that we made it sound as if Mrs. Poore herself had sent and thus approved of us."
When--in both books--Mrs. Yarrington tells them that she has a large front room for the ladies and an adjoining one for Mr. Poe, Eddy replies
O'Neal: "'My aunt will decide. Would you show them to her, please?'"

Hart: "'My aunt, Mrs. Clemm, will decide. Would you show the rooms to her, please?'"
Mrs. Yarrington accepts them as tenants:
O'Neal: "'I don't usually rent rooms to women. You never know what you are taking in. But, of course, a widow--I presume you are a widow--and her daughter--a lovely child, I might say--with a male member of the family to look after them. Well, that's different. And with Mr. Poe working for Mr. White on the Messenger. I have two other men on the Messenger living here. They're quiet, hard working, no trouble at all."

Hart: "'I don't usually let to females. But as you are a respectable widow...and with Mr. Poe, a male relative, here to protect the two of you...I have other lodgers who work at Mr. White's establishment. Quiet, hardworking men. No trouble at all."
In both books, Virginia muses over the strangeness of her life
O'Neal: "After they were gone Sissy sat alone before the fire. She tried to read, but she could not keep her mind on a book. Instead her thoughts traveled back over what her life had been with Eddy. It was like a long thin ribbon, sometimes twisted into knots, sometimes into pleasant little bows; or it was a narrow stream winding tortuously through straits and deep, restricted gorges which only occasionally offered a view of wider, happier places."

Hart: "So I sat by the fire waiting, drowsing in the heat, thinking about where our lives had led us. It seemed to me much like the course of the rocky Wissahickon River--sometimes a narrow, constricted stream, at others a wider, wilder torrent rushing on, carving its way tortuously through deep gorges which offered occasionally a glimpse of something finer, more pleasant--such as a country road, or a tame elk."
St. Martin's Press must be so proud. Incidentally, I have forgotten to mention that "The Raven's Bride" is also the name of Elizabeth Crook's 1991 novel about the wife of another famous 19th century figure, Sam Houston. Yes, my friends, even the title is a rerun.

(Header image courtesy New York Public Library.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Literary Anniversary

Edgar Allan Poe Murders in the Rue Morgue
As you may already know, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published on this date in 1841, an event that is generally heralded as the birth of modern detective fiction.

I've often wondered if Agatha Christie would even have had a career if it wasn't for this story. Poirot (note the name well) and Hastings are so obviously built upon Dupin and his narrator/sidekick that Christie should have spent at least half her royalties by building some sort of monument to Poe, by way of penance. Just the other day, I saw an episode of David Suchet's "Poirot" where the dramatic climax was a (badly-done) rip-off of "'Thou Art the Man!'" The solution to "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" was borrowed from "The Purloined Letter." I suspect that if I read more of Christie's stories--I'm not a huge fan of hers--I'd find other examples.

Ironic, isn't it, how the hero of the "Longfellow War" seems to be a veritable magnet for plagiarism?

Monday, April 18, 2011


Edgar A Poe signatureOur favorite Raven was, of course, born simply as "Edgar Poe," acquiring his middle name after he became the foster-child of John and Frances Allan. (Curiously, during his childhood, he was often known as "Edgar Allan.")

For some years now, a rather quixotic campaign has emerged asserting that he should only be known as "Edgar A. Poe," or "Edgar Poe." The theory seems to be that after his final estrangement from John Allan, his adopted name became so obnoxious to him that it is some sort of insult to his memory to continue to use it.

This is typical of the peculiar nature of Poe studies. While he most often signed his name using just the middle initial, (or, "E.A. Poe,") there is no evidence whatsoever that, however much he may have resented, or even hated, his foster-father, he found the name itself in any way repugnant. If he had, surely he would have simply dropped the "A" altogether. (Just to use one example, Mrs. Osgood nearly always signed her name as "Frances S. Osgood," but I have yet to see anyone suggest that this proves she had a psychological hangup about "Sargent." Ditto for Rufus W. Griswold, George R. Graham, P.P. Cooke, Thomas W. White, George W. Eveleth, etc., etc.) Poe used his full name in print at least once during his lifetime, and to the end of his days, he continued to occasionally sign his complete name--in fact, the title page he designed for his planned collection, "Phantasy Pieces," gives his name as "Edgar Allan Poe." And, of course, his wife used his full name in her acrostic Valentine to him. The envelope where she placed the poem and a lock of her hair was also addressed to "Mr. Edgar Allan Poe," which indicates that she knew he had no objection to his complete cognomen. Speaking personally, if "Allan" was good enough for Virginia, it's good enough for me.Virginia Poe envelope for Valentine poemIn short, if Poe returned to this earth today, I believe he would be far too disgusted by the endless piles of nonsense that have been written about him--the Poe material found in some of the stranger corners of the internet would alone be enough to give the poor man fits--to bother giving two hoots about whether people used his middle name or not. (Just for the record, Wikipedia readers: Poe never published poetry--or did anything else, for that matter--using the name "Edgar T.S. Grey." Lord have mercy.)

Although, considering his fanaticism about typographical errors, the common mistake of calling him "Edgar Allen Poe" would undoubtedly disgruntle him.

Samuel Stillman OsgoodSamuel S. Osgood's portrait of Poe was, for many years after the poet's death, the best-known image of him. The notoriety (fostered largely by his trashier biographers) surrounding Poe and Osgood's wife has only enhanced interest in the picture. Yet oddly, we know absolutely nothing about the painting's history--we cannot even be certain it is painted from life. This lack of information is particularly curious, as Samuel Osgood was a raconteur who enjoyed relating stories of his many travels and adventures. You would think he had something to say about one of his most famous works. It is also strange that his wife never mentioned the picture in her published "Reminiscences of Edgar A. Poe."

We do not even know who, if anyone, commissioned the picture. Osgood himself kept it until the early 1850s, when he either sold or gave it to Rufus W. Griswold (who owned a number of Osgood's other portraits.) Osgood was known to do portraits on his own initiative, sometimes with the hope of finding a buyer later on, sometimes simply out of friendship or admiration. Either may have been the case here. In any case, the picture is strong circumstantial evidence that contemporaries saw Poe and Frances Osgood's acquaintance as entirely innocent. It is hard to imagine Mr. Osgood painting, let alone keeping for any length of time, the likeness of a man who had entangled his wife in scandal. (And if, as has occasionally been theorized, Frances' esteem for Poe inspired her to commission the portrait, that would only further confirm the utter innocuousness of the relationship. Fanny Osgood was an odd woman, but it would take adjectives that go far beyond merely "odd" to describe a wife who could urge her husband to paint a portrait of her new paramour.)

It is assumed the portrait was done sometime in 1845, but that is unproven. Poe's biographer Mary E. Phillips believed he sat for Mr. Osgood in July of that year, when the painter and his wife were living in Providence, RI, but she offered no other information. About the only thing that can be said for certain about the painting comes from Samuel's niece, a Mrs. M.E. Porter, who wrote Phillips, "My uncle and aunt's married relations were exceedingly congenial, and had there existed any unpleasantness which would naturally arise from undue association of my aunt's name with that of Edgar A. Poe we should certainly have heard of same. Both my uncle and his much beloved wife were held in highest esteem by the entire Osgood family...I know well that there never would have existed a portrait of the poet from my uncle's brush had there not been a kindly feeling between them." This is one of those very rare statements in Poe's biography that has the ring of common sense.

(For what it's worth, John Sartain, who made a well-known engraving of this portrait, wrote that when he saw Poe in 1849, the poet stated that he wanted Osgood's work to go to Mrs. Clemm after his death. If there is any truth to the story, it shows that neither Poe nor his aunt felt the picture carried any uncomfortably "improper" associations.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

On the Dangers of Corresponding With Mrs. Ellet

"What chance--what one event brought this evil thing to pass, bear with me while I relate."
-"William Wilson"
Elizabeth F. Ellet and Edgar Allan PoeIt is well known that a particularly lively section of Hell was stirred up early in 1846 when Poe accused Elizabeth F. Ellet of having written to him certain never-described but evidently highly discreditable letters. Unfortunately, we know virtually nothing of their acquaintance before that fateful moment when Virginia Poe--for reasons hidden from us--displayed to Ellet a letter (contents also unknown) written by Frances S. Osgood. Whatever happened during this meeting, it left Ellet with a vengeful hatred of Poe, Osgood, and--a highly pertinent fact that is universally ignored--Virginia herself.

Our lack of knowledge makes it highly difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the truth about Ellet's prior dealings with Poe. We know he had published some of her poems in the "Broadway Journal," along with effusive words of praise about her work (praise he naturally bestowed upon all the contributors to the "Journal," whether their writings were good, bad, or indifferent.) There are hints from Charles F. Briggs, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, and Poe himself that the attractive young Mrs. Ellet had made some sort of unreciprocated amorous advances towards him. Otherwise, we are left groping in the dark--not an unusual position when studying the World of Poe.

We do not even know exactly what Ellet did to prompt Poe to make this inflammatory revelation about her letters. Rufus W. Griswold's "Memoir" claimed Poe borrowed money from Ellet, and then "threatened to exhibit a correspondence" which "would make the woman infamous" if she did not drop the matter. (Griswold, in order to make Poe look as black as possible, claimed that, "of course" these letters never existed. He never bothered to explain how Poe could blackmail Ellet with letters she would have known were nonexistent.) Sarah Helen Whitman said that Poe, indignant that Ellet had instigated a demand that he return Frances S. Osgood's letters, impulsively blurted that Ellet had better look out for her own correspondence. (It must be noted that she is the only source to give anything like this version of the brouhaha.) Charles F. Briggs, who satirized the scandal in his novel "The Trippings of Tom Pepper," depicted Poe as actually displaying Ellet's letters to his acquaintances, as proof that she had tried to seduce him. Elizabeth Oakes Smith wrote Whitman a letter in the mid-1870s saying nothing about immodest correspondence, but suggesting that certain ladies who had greatly admired Poe fell into a jealous feud as a result. Smith was said to have spread another story indicating that Ellet's ire was aroused when she caught Virginia Poe and Mrs. Osgood laughing together over a love letter Ellet had written Virginia's husband. Margaret Fuller, in a letter written to Elizabeth Barrett Browning soon after Poe's death, indicated that several women imagined themselves infatuated with him, but their emotions were no more than a "romantic illusion" which merely amused him. (It should be emphasized that none of these nosy little chatterboxes depicted Poe as returning the affections of these ladies, who were obviously Ellet and Osgood.)

In regard to the fate of these letters, we again are given multiple conflicting accounts. A letter Poe allegedly wrote Whitman in 1848 claimed that he returned Ellet's letters to her--whereupon she sent her brother to demand he produce these missives. Thomas Dunn English described Poe as telling him that he still had Ellet's letters in his possession, but that he refused to produce them under duress. (English, anxious to whitewash his friend Mrs. Ellet, claimed that Poe simply lied about possessing any letters from her--as if he would know.) Rufus Griswold, despite what he wrote in his Poe memoir, stated privately that he obtained these legendary documents after Poe's death--letters which he said were indeed highly indecent--and returned them to that indiscreet lady. It is anyone's guess what the truth may have been.

Ellet herself, naturally, asserted that no such letters ever existed. In fact, she claimed Poe had written her a note of apology acknowledging that he had lied about receiving letters from her. There is no record of anyone else having actually seen this alleged note, and Poe himself certainly never admitted making such a humiliating confession. Despite the absence of any confirmation for Ellet's claims, many of Poe's biographers accept them. Largely ignored, however, is the fact that two brief notes of hers to him survive, and one of them is strange enough to suggest that Poe's accusations against her were all too true.

The notes--which came into the hands of Griswold after Poe's death--were written in mid-December of 1845. The first one (which is signed simply, "E,") is largely businesslike, even curt, dealing with some article about a certain college that was to be published in the "Broadway Journal." Then, on the second page, she writes in German that she had a letter for him, and that he should send for it or pick it up himself after seven o'clock that evening. Under that--still in German--is a quotation from Schiller which translates as:

"O, what a rent you have made in my heart
The senses are still in your bonds
Though the bleeding soul has freed itself."

The second note, evidently written a day or two later, is unaddressed and unsigned, and says only: "Do not use in any way the memorandum about the So. Ca. College. Excuse the repeated injunction--but as you would not decipher my German manuscript--I am fearful of some other mistake."

These notes raise some intriguing questions. The message about the letter she asked him to pick up was obviously something she wanted kept a secret between them, as she wrote it out in a foreign language. She also obviously did not trust this mysterious letter to the postal service, as she was so specific about how he should obtain it. Whether she herself was the author of that letter or not, it was clearly something she wanted kept very private. The rather startling lines from Schiller hint that she may indeed have been guilty of some impropriety. And what did Ellet mean by her complaint that Poe "would not"--as opposed to "could not"--pay heed to what she had previously written? Did that mean he had chosen to ignore her message?

Most unfortunately, we know nothing more about their correspondence. These two notes, however, possibly hint at why Mrs. Ellet was later so desperate to convince the world that this correspondence never existed.

A footnote: It is universally assumed that Mrs. Ellet spent the rest of her life (which came to an end in 1877) spreading vicious reports about Poe. However, aside from Ellet's assertion that Poe admitted he had lied about her letters, I know of only one other extant first-hand comment from her about the poet. It is a letter she wrote George W. Eveleth in 1856, in response to what was evidently his request that she give her opinion about her old antagonist. (Eveleth was in the habit of writing interrogatory letters about Poe to complete strangers--and oddly enough, they generally answered him.)

Ellet disclaimed any real personal knowledge about Poe, saying only that "I always understood that Mr. E.A. Poe, though a man of genius, was intemperate, and subject to attacks of lunacy. He was frequently in the asylum..."

There is a little epilogue to their acquaintance which is even more curious. In the 1850s and '60s, Mrs. Ellet frequently raised money for various charities by giving public readings of poems and other dramatic works. She often closed these performances with a well-regarded recitation of..."The Bells."

Make of that what you will.

(Image courtesy New York Public Library.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Name of Annabel Lee (Part Two)

Annabel Lee Manet4. Frances Sargent Locke Osgood

In Osgood's case, it has not been suggested that she herself was the inspiration for "Annabel Lee," but that one of her poems was. In 1983, in the journal "Studies in the American Renaissance," Buford Jones and Kent Ljungquist published a strange little article, "Poe, Mrs. Osgood, and 'Annabel Lee,'" where they made the argument that Osgood's "The Life-Voyage" was a source for Poe's work.

This remarkably silly thesis was quickly demolished in a rebuttal by John E. Reilly ("Mrs. Osgood's 'The Life-Voyage' and 'Annabel Lee,'" "Poe Studies," June 1984.) Despite this, it still has a few adherents among Osgood's modern-day champions, who fondly cherish a revisionist fantasy of her as an unappreciated feminist genius. However, all one has to do is read "The Life-Voyage"--something, incidentally, I do not really recommend doing, as it is a lengthy and quite tedious experience--to realize that it is as unlike "Annabel Lee" as anything calling itself a poem could possibly get.

5. Sarah Anna ("Stella") Lewis

After Poe's death, Mrs. Lewis was reputed to have said that she was the poem's inspiration, with one version of the rumor claiming that she had heard this directly from Mrs. Clemm. It is not clear whether we have anything first-hand from Mrs. Lewis herself about the matter, but in any case, the idea of a connection between "Stella" and "Annabel Lee" is something not even Poe scholars have been able to take seriously. It is highly questionable that even Mrs. Lewis did.

6. Nancy Locke Heywood ("Annie") Richmond

The similarity of Mrs. Richmond's adopted first name to that of Poe's heroine has led some of the more fanciful biographers to speculate on a possible connection. However, "Annie" herself found no personal significance in the poem. In fact, she wrote John H. Ingram that Mrs. Clemm always maintained that "Annabel Lee," a poem which Mrs. Richmond claimed not to "understand," was written for Virginia. She added rather puzzlingly, "I think myself, that it has very little significance, if it was intended for anyone else, but his bride."Annabel Lee Manet Poe7. Nobody

Chief spokesperson for this theory was Susan Archer Talley Weiss, who claimed that during the summer of 1849, Poe made a point of telling her that "Annabel Lee" (which was, of course, unpublished at the time,) had no connection to his late wife, or any other woman.

8. Everybody

Kenneth Silverman opted to cover all the bases by suggesting the poem "represents all of the women he loved and lost."

9. Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe

A couple of the nuttier disciples of Freud have made hazy speculations that Poe had his long-lost mother in mind when he wrote the poem. Which brings us into pop-psychological waters I refuse to even wade into.

10. Maria Scott

That ever-industrious fabulist Susan Weiss at times blithely ignored the story she gave in #7 above, instead stating that "Annabel Lee" was this Miss Scott, an early love of Poe's who entered a convent and died young. (Weiss also wrote that at the age of ten, Poe wrote "To Helen" for this same girl.) Needless to say, there is no other evidence whatsoever that "Maria Scott" ever existed.

11. Mary J. Leland

I discussed this particular historical atrocity here.

12. Annabel Lee Ravenel

This is among the plethora of Poe legends that has absolutely no basis in reality, but refuses to die a decent death. In Charleston, South Carolina, there is a local legend (started, I suspect, by tour guides who had a few too many,) that when Poe was stationed there during his army career, he had the obligatory ill-fated love affair with a local belle, which, years after her untimely death, inspired his famous verses. Although the Ravenels were a genuine Charleston-area family, there is no evidence Poe knew any of them, and, as with the case of Mrs. Weiss' Maria Scott, there is no reason at all to believe anyone named "Annabel Lee Ravenel" ever so much as walked the face of the earth. But why let a little detail like that keep a good story down?

13. Jane Stith Stanard

Mrs. Stanard reputedly acted as friend and mentor to Poe during his boyhood, and her tragic descent into insanity and death when he was fifteen was believed to have been a serious blow to him. She was supposedly the inspiration for his first "To Helen" poem--which would be curious, as the lines are so obviously describing Helen of Troy, and have no discernable connection to the ill-fated Richmond matron. One or two literary critics have suggested that Mrs. Stanard was also the model for "Annabel Lee," (and, like most of the other women on this list, "Lenore,") but any possible link is far too tenuous for serious consideration.

So, there you have it; a veritable Army of Annabels. I am not aware of any stories arguing that the poem was inspired by Maria Clemm, Elizabeth Ellet, his landlady at 85 Amity Street, or Catterina, but if there are such claims, please do not tell me about them.

(Images courtesy New York Public Library, Wikipedia.)