Monday, September 13, 2010

Uncle Johnny's reading list - part 1, Poe

See here for background.

What's not included in the comments is an off-line discussion with Steph in which I marveled at the breadth of Johnny's list and lamented my own illiteracy. That led to Steph's comment that the list could be read in six months and my comment that I was going to give it a try.

I have given various reading lists a go before, with little success, so we'll see.

In the comments to Steph's post I said I was going to start in chronological order (Hawthorne, Three Musketeers, Poe, Tom Sawyer and Prince and Pauper, and Treasure Island).

[All of the background/history noted below comes from my extensive research on Wikipedia or from the introductions to the Poe collection or The Scarlett Letter. The links below take you to the Wikipedia articles.]

Hawthorne and Poe were contemporaries (Poe even reviewed one of Hawthorne's short story collections). Poe died in 1849. Many of Hawthorne's better known short stories were published before then; however, The Scarlett Letter, which I'm reading now, was published in 1850. The Three Musketeers was published in 1844.

I found a Poe short story collection in my bookcase and so started with it. So the initial order will be Poe, Hawthorne, Musketeers, which is close enough to chronological.

Johnny's list called for four Edgar Allan Poe short stories.

I read The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Gold Bug, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter. I started The Fall of the House of Usher, but could not get past the convoluted sentence structure and overwhelming dreariness. How about a little sample?

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth--in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be restated--an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit--an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.
[I'm not going to attempt to summarize the stories or critique them; the Wiki people can do that better than I.]

The first three in the list are very short "horror" stories with a twist at the end. The Gold Bug is one of the earliest "detective" stories and reflects the popularity of cryptology at the time.

The last three in the list star the first private detective in fiction, C. Auguste Dupin.

"As the first true detective in fiction, the Dupin character established many literary devices which would be used in future fictional detectives including Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Many later characters, for example, follow Poe's model of the brilliant detective, his personal friend who serves as narrator, and the final revelation being presented before the reasoning that leads up to it."
Add to those factors the bumbling city cop who relies on the detective for help and you see that Conan Doyle had the structure laid out for him by Poe.

All of Poe can be found on Gutenberg for reasons our copyright attorney can explain.

My general thoughts on reading Poe to follow.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Haven't read any of those Poe stories except for TTH. Interesting about the detective.