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Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar…

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe has long been my favourite writer. I love his gloomy descriptions of old houses and sinister people, his weird macabre stories, his literary landscapes and the bizarre world he imaginatively creates. My favourite stories are the Fall of the House of Usher, an elaborate haunted house tale, the Tell-Tale Heart, where we get an inside look at the mind of a murderer and the Masque of the Red Death, where we meet the diabolical Prince Prospero and his palace of distinctly coloured chambers. ( )
  AmiloFinn | Jun 12, 2015 |
I remember visiting the Edgar Allan Poe museum the last time I was in Richmond, Virginia. At the time I don't think I had read any of his work, except perhaps The Raven. The museum was a creepy place, as you might imagine, with a lot of dark wood and eerie pictures and a strange garden that seemed to be in permanent shadow. It was a strange place and he was a strange man – a hard writer to pin down: distinctly American, but hugely influential in European letters; not technically a very brilliant writer, and yet the founder of half a dozen new literary genres.

Reading him feels, to me, like an act of almost shameful self-indulgence; rich but sickly; you feel you need a brisk walk afterwards. His weird stories mark a bridge between the Gothic and the new movements of symbolism and decadence and, later, the genres that would become known as horror and science fiction. He also invented the modern detective story.

I think of him as one of those writers that translates easily. In the same way, Tolstoy is venerated by non-Russians while native speakers find his prose mediocre. French speakers often say something similar about Victor Hugo. And the French were, it must be said, quite obsessed with ‘Edgar Poe’, particularly after his works were translated by Baudelaire.

Quelque chose de monomanique was the shrewd judgement of the Goncourts. Hard to argue with that. The predominant theme is death, but death elevated to a supernatural vividness and importance. The archetypal image of his works, for me, is the image of the young, beautiful, dead woman. This trope features heavily in ‘Morella’, ‘Berenice’, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘Ligeia’ – and indeed in Poe's own life, because he married his thirteen-year-old cousin and she went on to die of tuberculosis when she was twenty-four. The death clearly left a lasting imprint on him.

So, yes: thanatophilia. I'm rolling out the long words. But it's true. Have a look at how he chooses to end ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, for instance:

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Sleep tight, kids! Another story ends: ‘the grave was still a home, and the corrosive hours, co-mates.’ Another ends: ‘there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putridity.’ Another ends – well you get the idea.

Poe's prose is melodramatic and rococo and makes full use of Grand Exclamations! And italicised phrases of dread! Oh the Horror and the Agony! And nothing but the drear grave and the worm for evermore! And so forth. But he is also imaginative and, sometimes, positively economical, setting the scene brilliantly in just a few short sentences and creating an atmosphere all his own (what Allen Ginsberg called his ‘demonic dreaminess’). His vocabulary, steeped as it is in the high-flown tradition of dark romanticism, was a constant delight to me, built of ornate items like sulphureous, pulsation, exergue, faucial, chasmal, cachinnatory, asphyctic and many more goodies besides.

Jorge Luis Borges said that Poe's writings as a whole constitute a work of genius, although each individual piece is flawed. This is a very appealing assessment. He is an important writer, and often a very fascinating and enjoyable one – but that said, I don't really feel the desire to spend all that much time in his company.

However, make sure you get a version with Harry Clarke's angular, Beardsley-esque illustrations. They are superlative. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Sep 9, 2014 |
Some of these are classics, and I love them more with each reading. Others could be 20 pages shorter. ( )
  teeney | Mar 14, 2014 |
Some of these are classics, and I love them more with each reading. Others could be 20 pages shorter. ( )
  teeney | Mar 14, 2014 |
Some of these are classics, and I love them more with each reading. Others could be 20 pages shorter. ( )
  teeney | Mar 14, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (51 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Poe, Edgar Allanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ayrton, MichaelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clark, HarryIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colum, PádraicIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thal, Herbert vanEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Many years ago I contracted an intimacy with a Mr William Legrand.
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Book description
Contains the following short stories:

The Gold Bug

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar

MS. Found in a Bottle

A Descent into the Maelstrom

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Mystery of Marie Roget

The Purloined Letter

The Fall of the House of Usher

The Pit and the Pendulum

The Premature Burial

The Black Cat

The Masque of Death

The Cask of Amontillado

The Oval Portrait

The Oblong Box

The Tell-Tale Heart


Loss of Breath

Shadow - A Parable

Silence - A Fable

The Man of the Crowd

Some Words with a Mummy
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0760748721, Hardcover)

Hardcover: 456 pages Publisher: Barnes and Noble; 1st Collector's Library edition (2003) Language: English

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:23 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Short Stories. Horror fiction. The eerie stories of Edgar Allan Poe remain amongst the most influential works of American fiction. The celebrated tales found in this collection include two of the finest detective stories - "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter" - and others that will make your hair stand on end.… (more)

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