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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars poe: a life distorted, 23 Feb 2008
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This review is from: Poe: A Life Cut Short (Hardcover)
Mary Devereaux - `Baltimore Mary' - thought to have had a passionate love affair with Poe. She didn't, and all the stories grown up around her were based on a single magazine article written when she was in her seventies. Among many other similar stories, this was discredited and laid to rest. Until, that is, Peter Ackroyd came along.
In this short book, Mary pops up on several occasions, and it is such a lack of serious research which makes this book especially disturbing. `For some reason', he says, Poe called his wife's mother `Muddy' - ignorant that `Muddy' was diminutive for `mother'.
Bit other errors are less trivial. During Poe's entire journalistic life he was involved in a war to promote American literature against the literature Mafia of the day - the Northern cliques. This brave and exciting battle is ignored in this book.
Errors of detail abound. Near the end of his life we see him wooing Helen Whitman, Annie Richmond and Elmira Shelton, even though Poe did not come across Elmira again until the love affair with Helen was well and truly over.
Again, Ackroyd paints Poe as a waster and a alcoholic, unaware that Poe actually fought hard against his drink problem, even enrolling in the Richmond Temperance Society in his last year.
The growing North- South divide and its effects on Poe is not even touched upon - even though soon after Poe's death it had escalated to the proportions of Civil War.
The appearance of Poe in the middle of the magazine golden age is not discussed.
The Longfellow War is sketchily touched upon, and Ackroyd insists that Poe wrote the articles penned by `Outis' - even though Poe spent months of venom attacking Outis' comments in the press.
Poe's friends are mentioned in passing by name only and his strong relationships with them are ignored.
Griswold's treachery - or the extent of it - is (unbelievably) barely touched upon. The important events after Poe's death are ignored. His background is the merest sketch.
These are just a few of the points which make this book a `public imposition'. There are more. Suffice it to say that this work has been hastily cobbled together - possibly on request - and gives a coloured and highly distorted picture of Poe. Anyone interested in his life should avail themselves of the excellent book by Professor Quinn and leave this dreadful trash well alone.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Mar 2008 20:40:01 GMT
I. Jamieson says:
Wow! Both bitter AND twisted.

Posted on 24 Mar 2008 12:35:29 GMT
PDC says:
It's not clear if the previous comment refers to Mr. Ackroyd's book or to NB's review of it. Regardless, though I've yet to read the book myself, I'm quite prepared to accept NB's evaluation given all the conspicuous omissions and distortions he outlines. But it does shock me that this could be the work of the same author who penned the definitive -- and exhaustively researched -- biography of Charles Dickens. Hard to believe Ackroyd could be that sloppy and lazy when it comes to poor old Mr. P. Ah well, Eddy always DID have trouble getting the respect he so richly deserved!

In reply to an earlier post on 25 May 2008 13:47:03 BDT
What shocks me about Ackroyd's book is that he paints a vivid portrait of a periodic alcoholic and then denies that Poe was indeed an alcoholic. What does this say about author and subject, I wonder

Posted on 26 Jun 2008 22:58:00 BDT
Saw this book in Waterstones near the Strand and almost vomited when I saw what a hastily, ill-researched and plainly ignorant biography it is. It reeks from cover to cover of a publisher-led demand of the author to pen something about a historic figure (just pick one, it doesn't matter) in order to get it on the shelf and start selling. This tiny book sells in Waterstones for over £15, and reads like the kind of crap that Peter Carey produced in his 'writer for hire' travel book, '30 days in Sydney'. I fully agree with the reviewer of this book and must warn those readers who have a real appreciation for the extraordinary art and craft of Poe to avoid this singularily narrow-minded book that is fraudently passing itself off as a biography. Ackroyd's Poe has as much substance as one of those Bluffer guides. Do yourself a favour and stop lining the pockets of the mediocre Ackroyd and his offensive little publisher. I hope, I. Jamieson, that this is suitably bitter and twisted for you.

Posted on 3 Feb 2010 01:15:48 GMT
Karen says:
I'm surprized that PA would write a bad book but I believe NB & I'll avoid reading it.
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