While writing my Cattarina Mysteries, I’ve uncovered many interesting facts about the Master of the Macabre and his work. Here are a few:
The Tell-Tale Heart
Poe never names the gender of his first person narrator, and it’s hotly debated whether or not the protagonist could’ve been a woman. Since Poe never made sloppy choices (as far as his work was concerned), and he took such care to omit gender, I suspect provocation and speculation was his goal. He achieved it mightily since we’re still having the conversation a hundred and fifty years later. I won’t tell you which path I chose for my own novella, The Tell-Tail Heart, since I don’t want to spoil the surprise!
The Gold Bug
Poe was accused of plagiarizing the story line for “The Gold Bug” from a thirteen-year-old girl. She’d written about pirate treasure being buried under a tree, too. The theme is a fairly common one, but Poe’s detractors were looking for any excuse to drag his name through the mud. Competing publishers even rushed to print the schoolgirl’s stories – a “thin volume” of two – just to keep the brouhaha going. Why doesn’t this surprise me?
“The Raven” catapulted Edgar Allan Poe’s career. But the poem wouldn’t have been half as compelling if he’d kept the original bird he wanted: a parrot. He initially chose a parrot because of the bird’s ability to “talk.” He then thought about using an owl because of its reputation as a “wise” bird. He finally settled on a raven because it suited the poem’s theme more than the other two. Though “The Raven” wasn’t published until 1845, he actually showed an early version of the work to his friend, Mr. Graham, in 1843, proving (if historical records are to be believed) he wrote the poem in Philadelphia. This is important since my upcoming novella, The Raven of Liberty, is set in Philadelphia!
The Black Cat
Many people rightly attribute Poe’s own cat, Cattarina, for providing some inspiration for this story. Except he did not, in fact, own a black cat – at least not when he wrote this story. Cattarina was a tortoiseshell! And while I delve into numerous flights of fancy in my own novella, The Black Cats, the true thrust behind Poe’s story was temperance and the ills of drinking. He struggled much of his life with alcoholism, especially during his marriage to Virginia. And I do touch on this in my story. Yet I painted Poe, not as a drunkard, but as a complex man who tries to solve his problems (the wrong way).
To the River
This is a little known poem by Poe, yet it fit so well with my short story, “To the River – Rescue by the Schuylkill.” So I would be remiss in not mentioning it. “To the River” was one of several works published in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems by Edgar A. Poe – when Poe was only twenty years old. Literary critic of the day, John Neal, had this to say about Poe’s work: “The following passages are from the manuscript-works of a young author, about to be published in Baltimore. He is entirely a stranger to us, but with all their faults, if the remainder of Al Aaraaf and Tamerlane are as good as the body of the extracts here given —— to say nothing of the more extraordinary parts, he will deserve to stand high —— very high in the estimation of the shining brotherhood. Whether he will do so however, must depend, not so much upon his worth now in mere poetry, as upon his worth hereafter in something yet loftier and more generous —— we allude to the stronger properties of the mind, to the magnanimous determination that enables a youth to endure the present, whatever the present may be, in the hope, or rather in the belief, the fixed, unwavering belief, that in the future he will find his reward.” Prophetic, no? May we all find the reward we seek.
To me, these “behind the scenes” glimpses of Poe’s work are just as fascinating as the work itself and add so much depth to his already-complex stories. I hope this encourages you to read some of them today.
What about you, dear reader? What is your favorite work by Poe? Mine is the poem, “Annabel Lee.”