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The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (Norton Critical Editions) Paperback – 5 Nov 2004
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About the Author
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) wrote tales of the macabre, and invented or contributed to inventing the detective and science fiction genres. G.R. Thompson is Professor of English at Purdue University. He has published several studies of Edgar Allan Poe, including Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales, Essays and Reviews of Edgar Allan Poe, Romantic Arabesque, Contemporary Theory, and Postmodernism and the Library of America edition of Poe's Essays and Reviews.
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But if you want a selection, this Norton Critical Edition is your single best choice. It's far from complete--30 poems, 35 stories, a novel and then a collection of letters and articles. But all your favorites are here, and they are also well annotated, which is not just scholarly fluff but a way of filling you in on all of Poe's now obscure knowledge of pseudo-science, his views about slavery (an issue in The Narrative of Gordon Pym), theories of the mind, 18th century gothic precepts, etc etc. These things really preoccupied Poe and they inform his stories, and knowing about them honors his intentions while only increasing our appreciation for the tales and poems. People in a huff about footnotes can just skip them, and people who wish to know what Poe was drawing on--what often inspired the tales--can read them, and if you know about it already, more power to you. Anyway, these notes are really useful and pretty thorough, often including info about publication, alternate versions Poe later wrote, motives for writing it, plus of course all that now lost cultural context that Poe was so much a part of.
This volume opens with one of my favorite features in any Norton Critical Edition I know, and that is a 37-page overview biography of Poe. It's incisive, analytical, and knowing, and it's broken down further into headings that cover particular segements of his life. It's also written in a lucid, engaging way, and it covers the American history and politics relevant to Poe's own life. It serves as a nice median between an ecyclopedia or anthology bio and a full-scale bio, and I've really enjoyed it.
So you get 65 works by Poe, a novel and other letters and articles, that awesome biography of him, but then you get a great selection of writing ABOUT Poe from the years when he was publishing, reviews and mentions by Whitman, Hawthorne, Baudelaire, Longfellow, Lowell, and many many others. How illuminating to hear the other great figures from the American Renaissance (and from Europe) discussing the man's works as they come out. This volume then offers more in-depth articles, both from the time and from later scholars, concering those "sciences" and brain theories and other issues that Poe filled his writing with, so you can read the sources from his day and voices from our day talking about what fascinated Poe as a writer. If you already just like sitting down and enjoying the stories and poems, this would be a great next step for you. I would liken it to listening to your favorite band's influences, or your favorite director's favorite movies--you read what Poe himself found so compelling, and it lets you "get" him more completely.
Finally, the volume concludes with a great number of more recent discussions of Poe, some of the articles covering a particular story or poem, and some discussing some aspect of Poe more generally. In short, this book offers a total experience of Edgar Allan Poe. While it offers a smaller selection of his writings than a complete Poe does, you still get 75 pages of his poetry and over 500 pages of his prose, and then all the other material! And that other material presents a full picture of Poe's interests, how his contemporaries thought of him, and some views from today. The book itself is handsome, with fine typesets and a generous but portable pagecut that stays open readily (especially when it's laying in your hands) due to a good, flexible binding. All this for 16 bucks? Why wait?
As mentioned already, this edition is helpful if you're interested in getting to know who Poe was as a person, but it also contains a lot of useful annotations and critical essays. Many of the unfamiliar terms and ideas are nicely explained, while the essays at the back provide information fit for lengthy rumination. All the favourites are here: 'The Raven', 'Anabel Lee', 'Ligeia', 'The Fall of the House of Usher', and the revolutionary 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue'. The major works are accompanied by a short introduction, which offers extra information about the publication of the text and popular views of the time. Of course if you want the full Poe then Mabbott is your man, but this edition makes note of any textual deviations from Mabbott's and contains those helpful critical essays.
Thus far my only criticism stems from just how thin the paper is. The problem here is that the text written on the reverse side of the page of the one you are reading can be seen, but it never makes the writing illegible and is of only minute annoyance. It is understandable that Norton wanted to fit it all into one volume and, as such, it is a neccessary drawback. Simply put, if you are looking for a fine selection of Poe's writings with additional material, this is the edition to buy.
Do not overlook "Thou Art the Man", "The Gold Bug", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" which together laid the foundation for the modern detective story. A.C. Doyle owes more to Poe than he was ever willing to admit, and there are echoes of Poe in many modern works.
The opening paragraphs of "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "A Cask of Amontilado" are among the very best at creating a mood of foreboding.
The introductory words of the narrator of "The Teletale Heart" resound with the same power we find in the opening sentence of Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came".
The background and contexts section contains many fascinating letters and articles written by Poe. They bring the reader deeper into the mind of the author, which brings us closer to removing speculation through the observation of his thoughts.
For example, does Poe believe in life after death? His stories, at times, seem to allude to this. Consider "The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar", which Poe clearly presents evidence, in fiction, of the soul's existence apart from the body. "Eureka", which he describes as an "essay on the material and spiritual universe", was written a year prior to his death. In it he postulates on the construct of the material universe and our placement in it. Poe writes existentialistically, leaving us, the reader, to speculate on the true nature of his beliefs.
Suffice it to say, the totality of text included in this compilation is excellent and gives the reader more than a cross section of Poe's body of work. It expands their understanding of Poe's art and influence to existing fictional genres and the creation of new genres.
For the course I'm currently taking, the scope is to reach beyond the classics many of us know. Many of these more popular stories have been created into Hollywood movies, thanks to actors such as Vincent Price. Included in this compilation are many wonderful, lesser-known fictional works. These are too often glossed over. While my course doesn't discuss his poetic contributions, thirty-one poems are also included at the beginning of this compilation.
Granted, all the works in this book are freely available on the Internet through selected websites. While they're easily located online, they're not so conveniently found compared to picking up this book. If you're looking for a compilation of works by Edgar Allan Poe that contains not only his poems and fiction, but also criticisms and reviews, your search can end here.
This book is highly recommended!