3 lesser-known Poe stories to read!

Yesterday was Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday (207 looks good on you, Eddy!) If you know me, you know I’m a huge Poe fan. I’ve celebrated his birthday a few times on the blog, as well as his deathday. And it’s a total coincidence that Matt is from Baltimore and still has family there which gives me a ready-made excuse to revisit the Poe museum! (If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it!!)

I’m sure everyone is familiar with poems like The Raven and stories such as The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, and my absolute favorite, The Cask of Amontillado, but what about his stories that weren’t as widely known? Stories that aren’t still required reading in schools the world around? So in celebration of Poe, here are three stories you might not have heard of, but are definitely worth the read!

MORNING ON THE WISSAHICCON | 1843

But, even of this delicious region, the sweeter portion are reached only by the bypaths. Indeed, in American generally, the traveler who would behold the finest landscapes, much seek them not by the railroad, nor by the steamboat, not by the stage-coach, nor in his private carriage, not yet even on horseback – but on foot. He must walk, he must leap ravines, he must risk his neck among precipices, or he must leave unseen the truest, the richest, and most unspeakable glories of the land.

Initially you would think this is a love letter to America’s natural wonders, but with Poe, nothing is ever as it seems.

THE SPHINX | 1845

I was now immeasurably alarmed, for I considered the vision either as an omen of my death, or, worse, as the fore-runner of an attack of mania.

As an illness tears through the city, a man and takes refuge in a relative’s cottage. One day, while reading, he glances out the window and witnesses a terrible monster – a monster his relative cannot see.

THE SPECTACLES | 1850

It is useless, of course, to dwell upon my joy – upon my transport – upon my illimitable ecstasy of heart. If ever man was mad with excess of happiness, it was myself at that moment. I loved. This was my first love – so I felt it to be. It was love supreme – indescribable. It was “love at first sight;” and at first sight, too, it had been appreciated and – returned.

A comedy – yep, Poe wrote several funny stories! – about a young man who’s too vain to wear glasses…until he falls madly in love.

Are you a Poe fan?? What are your favorite poems? Favorite stories?

Curious about other Poe reviews and posts? They can be found here!

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
Pub. Date: October 1, 2013
Source: Bought
Summary: The triumphant success of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” compels fledgling poet Frances Osgood to meet her literary idol, a mysterious, complicated man who soon has her under his seductive spell in an all-consuming affair. And when Edgar’s frail young wife breaks into their idyll to befriend her rival, Frances fears that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself…
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating:

To say I’m a fan of Poe is a bit of an understatement. At the risk of sounding extremely pompous, I think of myself as an amateur (VERY amateur!) Poe scholar – and even typing that has me cringing. I’ve traveled to his gravesite multiple times, visited his home on numerous occasions, and basically try to read everything about him I can get my hands on. Mrs. Poe naturally caught my eye when it first came out last year, but it wasn’t until my recent vacation (bless you, book jar!), that I finally had the chance to sit down and read it.

As much as I love Biographical Fiction, I was a little hesitant going into this one; that blurb is terrible and makes Poe out to be some sleezy sex god who goes up and down the coast wooing women. While there’s no evidence to support the two had an affair, they wrote multiple poems to each other (both through subtle hints and on full display) and Frances received quite a few letters from her friends (namely Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet who went so far as to insinuate Poe was the father of Frances’s third child) urging her to break contact with the entire Poe family. There was even an instance where Mrs. Sarah Whitman wrote, simply asking about Poe’s health and Frances refused to reply (if you’re curious about any of these letters and would love to read an incredibly in-depth account of Poe’s life, hunt down a copy of The Poe Log by Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson – it’s so worth it!).

I can easily see why a writer would be intrigued and latch onto these two, putting a romantic spin on their friendship. I actually enjoyed Mrs. Poe! Unfortunately, it’s received a LOT of hateful comments and I think people are forgetting the fiction aspect of historical fiction.

The novel opens with a newly-abandoned Frances Osgood attempting to pick up the pieces of her life and find a way to get back on her feet. Her husband Samuel, a well-known painter, has left her for someone far younger and richer and will remain gone until he gets bored. Frances is taken in by her friends, providing both Fanny and her daughters with a place to stay. Fanny’s first collection of poetry did reasonably well and she’s trying to recreate that success – unfortunately, these days, the public would rather read frightening tales like Mr. Poe’s than her love poems and flowery prose.

Mrs. Poe reads like a Who’s Who of the 1840s. Every single get-together and lecture is bursting to the brim with name-dropping (from Walt Whitman to Mathew Brady to the inventor of Graham crackers). Personally I enjoyed this and thought it was fun to see just who would show up. It’s at one of these conversaziones that Fanny and Poe are introduced, kickstarting a friendship that would soon lead to something more. Because the two are both married, any public display of affection would not only be frowned upon, but would utterly ruin their reputations. As such, they keep their feelings hidden, passing letters back and forth, publishing poetry, etc. Fanny even makes it a point of becoming friends with Mrs. Poe!

Once the two meet and the affair begins, the rest of the plot falls to the side and the novel turns into scenes where the two are put into situations where they can interact, be it a societal meeting, an innocent calling at the Bartletts’ home where Fanny is staying, or an invitation for a picnic with the Poe family. There seriously isn’t much in the way of plot, but I was okay with that. I don’t know if it was because I was on vacation when I read this and more open to a carefree read, but I truly didn’t mind the book’s focus on getting the two together. There were multiple chapters where Poe simply appears out of nowhere – Fanny’s walking down the streets in New York (not a tiny little village!) and Poe somehow always knows where to find her.

The one thing I didn’t like about the novel was Mrs. Poe herself. Virginia is made out to be a horrible, vindictive, selfish child. She all but throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way and has no problem seeking revenge on those she feels have wronged her. Admittedly she’s a mere 23 to the others’ mid-30s, but this characterization rubbed me the wrong way. In reality Edgar and Virginia were very much in love – here, however, Poe mentions he can’t wait for her to succumb to her illness (“I’ll get rid of her,” and “But when she dies-,” are just two examples) and spurs her every move.

One other minor detail I noticed was a character that might have been Teddy Roosevelt..?

A mustachioed youth sauntered past, twirling a cane and arranging his face in a superior sneer, a task made difficult by the squint that was necessary to keep a monocle to his eye.
[…]
“Oh dear,” I said, “Does young Mr. Roosevelt realize what a ridiculous figure he cuts?”

My first thought was that this was meant to be Teddy. However, that can’t possibly be the case – he wasn’t born until 1858 – nearly ten years after Poe died. His father was also named Theodore and grew up in New York where this novel is set. This ‘young Mr. Roosevelt’ could possibly by Theodore Sr., but he would have only been 14 in this scene. Just who is this person?? Was it all an author error?

Apart from those grievances, I had a fun time reading Mrs. Poe – and that’s high praise coming from a Poe fan. The characters the reader is supposed to root for simply aren’t likable and the villains are completely maligned in their characterization. I suppose it’s odd that sentence comes right after my praise of the novel, but so be it. I feel that as long as you understand this is a work of fiction rather this historical fact, you should have no problem reading – and enjoying – Mrs. Poe.

One final annoyance that has nothing to do with the actual story: at the end of the novel there’s a Reader’s Guide complete with an author interview. While Poe’s name (Edgar Allan) was spelled correctly throughout the book, Simon & Schuster spelled it as Allen MULTIPLE TIMES in their interview questions. Oh dear..

Happy Birthday, Poe!!

birthdayboy

Edgar Allan Poe is, was, and always will be at the tippy-top of my all-time favorite writers. For the past few years now I’ve celebrated his birthday and this year is no different. …or perhaps I just use it as an excuse to make alcohol-infused cupcakes + totally rad graphics. :)

Two years ago I talked about him a bit and reviewed one of his more humorous stories. Since then I’ve posted about him a handful of times (and have visited the Poe House in Baltimore again and again).

Here’s to you, Eddy – happy birthday!

“His sarcasm is subtle and searching. He can do nothing in the common way; and buttons his coat after a fashion particularly his own. If we ever caught him doing a thing like anybody else, or found him reading a book any other way than upside down, we should implore his friends to send a straightjacket, and a Bedlam doctor. He were mad, then, to a certainty.”

– Thomas Dunn English, April 1845

164 years ago..

The above photo was taken on my first trip to Baltimore – a trip I made specifically to visit Poe’s graves (yes, plural!). That was his original resting place – a few years later he was moved to a more prominent area of the cemetery with a much larger marker + his wife and aunt were buried with him.

It was on this day in 1849 that Poe passed away and to this day, 164 years later, no one knows what really happened to him. Numerous authors, historians, and fans have put forth their theories – I personally have a few of my own – but in the end, I think it’s best left unsolved.

Since that initial trip I have revisited Baltimore (haha, I’m sure it’s totally a coincidence that Matt is from Baltimore, right?), and every time I make a point of stopping by both the Poe House and the cemetery.

Some men, I now think, are great in spite of themselves. They can no more help being distinguished than I can help being otherwise. Mr. Poe seems to be of that class. He seems to be entirely unconscious of his extraordinary mental power, and yet cannot fail to discover it to everyone with whom he converses, if but for a moment.

– Bardwell Heywood, June 16, 1849

There was a fascination about him that everybody felt. Meeting him in the midsts of thousands a stranger would stop to get a second look, and to ask, “Who is he?” He was distinguĂ© in a peculiar sense – a man bearing the stamp of genuis and the charm of a melancholy that drew one toward him with a strange sympathy.

– Oscar P. Fitzgerald, August 1849

mini-review: The Man Who Was Poe by Avi

Title: The Man Who Was Poe
Author: Avi (website)
Pub. Date: June 25, 2013 (orig. 1989)
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, SCHOLASTIC!!)
Summary: The night Edmund’s twin sister, Sis, goes missing, the streets of nineteenth-century Providence, Rhode Island, are filled with menacing shadows. As Edmund frantically searches the city, he tries to make sense of what happened: He only left Sis alone long enough to buy bread. How did she vanish in the mere minutes he was gone?

Just as Edmund is about to lose hope of finding her, a stranger appears out of the mist and offers to help. But the man is gloomy and full of secrets. He seems to need Edmund to carry out plans of his own. Can Edmund trust him? And if he doesn’t take the chance, how will he ever find his sister?
Genre: YA, Fiction
Rating:

After being left alone for three days, twins Edmund and Sis have run out of what little food they have. Although they were under strict orders from their aunt to stay indoors, Edmund makes the decision to head out in search of food. Unfortunately, when he returns, he discovers his sister is nowhere to be found. With his mother, aunt, and sister missing, Edmund is on his own with only a strange man to help him. Who is this man, where are his family members, and just what is the man writing?

I went into this thinking I’d have a great time. I know Avi is beloved by school kids the world over, but I honestly can’t recall ever reading any of his works. With the reissue of The Man Who Was Poe, plus the fact that, hello, it’s POE, I figured this would be the perfect place to start.

Boy was I wrong.

I’m all for artistic license and taking liberties when it comes to historical figures, but come on. Avi made Poe seem like a complete lunatic. He was borderline at best, jumping from mood to mood – and even identity! He insisted Edmund address him as Auguste Dupin, one of Poe’s characters. He completely lost it whenever Edmund slipped and called him Poe. He also came across as, well, kind of an ass. One of my most treasured books I own is The Poe Log (a bit hard to find these days & the ones available are a tad bit pricey, sadly). It’s a painstakingly detailed account of every single day of Poe’s life and then some. Letters, articles, conversations are all compiled into one volume and it’s a wealth of information for any fan of Poe’s. On occasion I’ll flip through it (& it was my best resource for some term papers in college!) and any account I’ve read from Poe’s friends and family make mentioned of how soft-spoken and polite he was. He definitely had a drinking problem, but the novel turned him into a Jekyll/Hyde character anytime alcohol was involved.

Initially Poe – or Dupin – is willing to help Edmund find his sister, but the Crazy Train pulled up. I still don’t know what happened with this one. PoeDupin is writing a story about Edmund’s life and insists it can only end in death, so he decides the sister is dead and gives up his search. Naturally Edmund is distraught and bewildered and I was confused right along with him. Throw in some maybe-maybe-not ghosts, a surprise!stepfather, and a couple of bad guys for good measure and you’ll get The Man Who Was Poe.

Although this was such a short book it was NOT the fun, quick read I was hoping for. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more when I was 8, but to read it as an adult made my head hurt and brought for the rage. The pace was so quick I was overwhelmed and found myself struggling to keep up at times. After a very graphic chapter early on in the book (Edmund has to identify a body found in the river), The Man Who Was Poe shifted gears and was a complete disappointment. I really wanted to enjoy this one.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe

illustration by Arthur Rackham
illustration by Arthur Rackham
If you missed it, yesterday I flailed over the reopening of the Poe House!!

Last year for his birthday I reviewed Poe’s Some Words with a Mummy, a relatively unknown and very silly short story. Believe it or not, Poe was a funny guy!

This time time around I wanted to review Hop Frog – a movie adaptation is in the works with PETER DINKLAGE in the starring role!!

Hop-Frog; Or, the Eight Chained Ourangoutangs was one of Edgar Allan Poe’s last stories. Published in March 1949 – just seven months before his death – Hop-Frog tells the tale of a court jester seeking revenge. Given the moniker by the king’s council who were amused by the crippled dwarf, Hop-Frog finally saw his chance at freedom when the king announced there would be a masquerade ball.

‘I now see distinctly,’ he said, ‘what manner of people these maskers are. They are a great king and his seven privy-councillors, – a king who does not scruple to strike a defenceless girl, and his seven councillors who abet him in the outrage. As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester – and this is my last jest.’

In just six pages, Hop-Frog serves up a gruesome act of revenge. The king and his court all love a good prank and Hop-Frog uses this knowledge to talk them into the trap he had set. First covering the eight men in tar, then coating them in flax, Hop-Frog declares them orangutans. He then chains them together and waits until the ball is well underway before parading them into the room.

Naturally the guests are shocked – some of the ladies fainted! – and attempt to flee. Unfortunately, the king had requested all the doors locked beforehand and only Hop-Frog has the key. As the men make their way into the center of the room, Hop-Frog hooks their chain onto the chandelier’s chain and proceeds to hoist them off the ground. Throughout this ordeal, the king and council still believe it’s all a prank. It’s not until the very last moment do they realize it’s no longer just a harmless joke.

Poe does revenge stories really well. He can also be EXTREMELY graphic and gruesome and the descriptions in Hop-Frog are not for the faint of heart. The story moves a bit too fast for my liking, but with only six pages, I suppose I couldn’t have expected lots of backstory and characterization.

I took the story at face-value, but there are some people who feel Hop-Frog is autobiographical. Hop-Frog was taken from his home and given a new name. Poe was adopted when he was a toddler and given the name Allan. References to alcohol and personal vendettas also seem to be taken from Poe’s life. Whether he intended for the story to hint at his own life or not, I think it’s still pretty interesting.

Hop-Frog is one of Poe’s more well-known stories and at just six pages, there’s no reason not to read it. Especially with the upcoming movie!

Edgar Allan Poe House to be reopened!

poehouse If you’re a regular reader of The Pretty Good Gatsby, you know I kind of like Poe. Truth-be-told, I first discovered him when I was 7 & nearly 20 years later he remains one of my all-time favorite writers.

If I was just a tad more narcissistic I’d say I’m something of an armchair scholar (!!) when it came to Poe. I’ve spent the majority of my life completely immersed in his and one of the best birthday presents I ever received was a 1840s edition of Marginalia.

Luckily for me, Baltimore is just a few hours drive from Pittsburgh (Gettysburg is just a few hours away too! This makes for one happy Leah & some SUPER FUN roadtrips) so I’ve had the chance to visit the Poe House on multiple occasions.

Last year it was announced that, due to a lack of funding, the Poe House would be closing. Naturally I was more than a little upset and made one final trip.

Last week, however, articles began reporting Poe Baltimore would be taking over. The group plans on reopening October 4 (just in time for the 164th anniversary of his death. Unfortunately, it will only be open weekends until spring 2014 when it will full reopen. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, there were be new additions made to the collection of Poe’s belongings, including a lock of his hair!! THIS IS SERIOUSLY EXCITING GUYS.

If you haven’t visited the house before, I definitely recommend it! It’s extremely tiny, but absolutely fascinating!

In addition to my collection of Poe-related books, I have a copy of The Poe Log, a painstakingly-researched book that provides an account of nearly every day of Poe’s life. Letters, conversations, sightings, lecture notes, his romance woes, you name it it’s in this book. This passage comes from a young Charles William Hubner (he later went on to become a poet in his own right) and it has always resonated with me:

While on my way to art school, when about fourteen years old, I passed a hospital, a plain coffin was being taken to a hearse standing at the curb, two gentlemen stood, with bared heads, while the attendants placed the caskets into the hearse. With boyish curiosity I asked of one of the men:
“Please sir, who are they going to bury?”
He replied: “My son, that is the body of a great poet, Edgar Allan Poe, you will learn all about him some day.”
The two men entered the only carriage which followed the hearse. I watched them as long as they were in sight.

Tell me: Are you a Poe fan? Have you visited the Poe House? Would you like to?

:) & be sure to check back tomorrow for a review of one of his short stories!

movie review; the raven

Title: The Raven
Director: James McTeigue
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve
Release Date: April, 27, 2012
Summary: When a madman begins committing horrific murders inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s works, a young Baltimore detective joins forces with Poe to stop him from making his stories a reality.
Movie Rating: R
Runtime: 1 hour 51 minutes
Genre: Mystery
My Rating:

Anyone who knows anything about me is well aware of my admiration and love for Poe. When I first heard about this movie there was no question I’d be seeing it. Last night Matt & I went and…it sucked.

A good actor is one who leaves no doubt that they are the character/person they’re portraying. Unfortunately, John Cusack did no such thing. Instead, I felt like I was staring at Cusack playing dress-up for TWO HOURS. A sloppy goatee and incessant swearing while channeling Sherlock ≠ Poe. Thrown in a pet raccoon named Carl that eats human hearts while you’re at it.

On the drive home Matt and I discussed the movie and I spent nearly the entire time separating fact from fiction for him. Cusack did an astoundingly terrible job and it came as such a huge disappointment.

The premise sounded fantastic and I did enjoy the references (blatant and subtle) to Poe’s works, but ultimately the movie was a disaster.

happy birthday, edgar allan poe!

Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. Today means an awful lot to me: since discovering Poe when I was in 3rd grade, he has had such a tremendous impact on me. For my 21st birthday I took a trip to Baltimore where I had a marvelous time despite the rain (while it definitely would have been far more enjoyable with nicer weather, the rain really set the mood for my Poe trip). I toured his house and both graves and it was simply an amazing experience (& a trip I look forward to taking many more times! Baltimore is only a few hours away from Pittsburgh, after all~)

I always celebrate Poe’s birthday with cupcakes a reading or two of his work. I opted to forgo my usual picks and my favorites and instead chose a short story often overlooked: Some Words With a Mummy. Some Words With a Mummy is among Poe’s latter works, this one being published in 1845, just a few years before his death. One thing I love about the Victorian era is what was considered a fun hobby: the occult and mysticism (as mentioned in my review of The Gathering Storm) as well as Egypt. I love the idea of socialites and other well-to-do members of society all gathered around someone’s living room to poke and prod at mummies. I. Love. It.

The application of electricity to a mummy three or four thousand years old at the least, was an idea, if not very sage, still sufficiently original, and we all caught it at once. About one-tenth in earnest and nine-tenths in jest, we arranged a battery in the Doctor’s study, and conveyed thither the Egyptian.

From what I’ve seen, people who don’t read Poe outside class immediately write him off as a horror writer. While it’s obviously true he wrote extensively for the genre, he also had a penchant for satire and humor and Some Words With a Mummy is the best of both.

Our narrator wakes up one morning and receives a letter from Doctor Ponnonner expressing excitement over having received permission to unwrap a mummy. Said narrator is one of the few special guests invited to attend the unwrapping.

Once the mummy is indeed unwrapped, Ponnonner begins his experimentation: attaching a battery to it! First the experiment with the forehead. After a few moments of…nothing, the men decide to head home for the night. However, our narrator then realizes the mummy’s eyes are nearly closed (when they had previously been wide open).

I cannot say that I was alarmed at the phenomenon, because “alarmed” is, in my case, not exactly the word. It is possible, however, that, but for the Brown Stout, I might have been a little nervous. As for the rest of the company, they really made no attempt at concealing the downright fright which possessed them. Doctor Ponnonner was a man to be pitied. Mr. Gliddon, by some peculiar process, rendered himself invisible. Mr. Silk Buckingham, I fancy, will scarcely be so bold as to deny that he made his way, upon all fours, under the table.

In a flurry of excitement, the group tests the mummy’s foot. The mummy promptly rears back and delivers a swift kick to Ponnonner’s stomach. The assault actually sends the poor man through the window and down to the streets below. Hee!

The rest of the men immediately rush outside, fully convinced they’ll find Ponnonner’s mangled corpse lying in the street. However, they wind up meeting him on the staircase full of vigor and very eager to proceed with the experiments.

When the men return to the room, they discover the mummy is very much alive:

Morally and physically — figuratively and literally — was the effect electric. In the first place, the corpse opened its eyes and winked very rapidly for several minutes, as does Mr. Barnes in the pantomime, in the second place, it sneezed; in the third, it sat upon end; in the fourth, it shook its fist in Doctor Ponnonner’s face; in the fifth, turning to Messieurs Gliddon and Buckingham, it addressed them, in very capital Egyptian, thus:

“I must say, gentlemen, that I am as much surprised as I am mortified at your behaviour. Of Doctor Ponnonner nothing better was to be expected. He is a poor little fat fool who knows no better. I pity and forgive him. But you, Mr. Gliddon- and you, Silk — who have travelled and resided in Egypt until one might imagine you to the manner born — you, I say who have been so much among us that you speak Egyptian fully as well, I think, as you write your mother tongue — you, whom I have always been led to regard as the firm friend of the mummies — I really did anticipate more gentlemanly conduct from you. What am I to think of your standing quietly by and seeing me thus unhandsomely used? What am I to suppose by your permitting Tom, Dick, and Harry to strip me of my coffins, and my clothes, in this wretchedly cold climate? In what light (to come to the point) am I to regard your aiding and abetting that miserable little villain, Doctor Ponnonner, in pulling me by the nose?”

Oh. Snap.

From then on, it’s really nothing but a lovely sit-down with the mummy (Count Allamistakeo – haha!). The men ask Allamistakeo about his world and try to impress him with theirs (steam? BAH! Fancy machines? POO!) It’s pretty cute, really. Allamistakeo reminded me of a lovely, wizened father figure humoring these supposed modern men.

At the end of the night the narrator returns home and climbs into bed. After only a few short hours, he pens his thoughts (which eerily hold true today):

The truth is, I am heartily sick of this life and of the nineteenth century in general. I am convinced that every thing is going wrong. Besides, I am anxious to know who will be President in 2045. As soon, therefore, as I shave and swallow a cup of coffee, I shall just step over to Ponnonner’s and get embalmed for a couple of hundred years.

Some Words With a Mummy is a super quick and very fun read and highlight’s Poe’s strength as a writer of humor.

Favorite Quotes:

A light supper of course. I am exceedingly fond of Welsh rabbit. More than a pound at once, however, may not at all times be advisable. Still, there can be no material objection to two. And really between two and three, there is merely a single unit of difference. I ventured, perhaps, upon four. My wife will have it five; — but, clearly, she has confounded two very distinct affairs.

“Why, it is the general custom in Egypt to deprive a corpse, before embalmment, of its bowels and brains; the race of the Scarabaei alone did not coincide with the custom. Had I not been a Scarabeus, therefore, I should have been without bowels and brains; and without either it is inconvenient to live.”