Getting to Know Poe

Would anyone believe me if I told you I didn’t know much about Edgar Allan Poe prior to my first semester of Grad school?  Yeah, I knew a few of his more famous works, like “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “A Tell-Tale Heart” but that was pretty much it.

After reading “The Cask of Amontillado” the very first week of grad school for my Critical Reading and Writing: Short Story Fiction course, I decided to choose him for my research assignment.

He turned out to be more interesting than I originally thought.

I began my Edgar Allan Poe journey with his mysteries.

Actually, that’s not true.  I originally tried to read his works chronologically.  And so, I began with “MS. Found in a Bottle.”  This was the first of Poe’s short stories to be published.  He entered it in a contest and won a $50 prize sponsored by the Saturday Visiter, fueling him to continue with the form.

I must admit I could not get into the story and eventually had to abandon trying.

But, even in the passages I did read, Poe’s notable writing techniques were evident: the first person narrator, his beginning with an exposition suggesting the narrator may not be the most reliable, even his word choice.

So, I decided to reroute myself and begin with the mysteries since, as I had already stated in my proposal, Poe’s mysteries inspired other detective writers that I enjoy, like Agatha Christie.

And so, I became acquainted with Dupin, the genre-defining detective with a knack for combining his uncanny observational skills with ratiocination, “the process of logical reasoning.”

In the beginning, I encountered the same problem I had with “MS.”  So many words and not enough story.  Poe began “Rue Morgue” with an explanation of ratiocination and then an example of how Dupin used it to form his conclusions.  The real story doesn’t begin until seven pages in!

Realizing that I couldn’t keep beginning and abandoning Poe’s works, I plowed through the first two mysteries.  I did see what Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and many other detective writers drew from Poe: the less astute sidekick narrator, having all of the clues presented before the detective solves, having the detective ruminate over the clues, connecting them all in the solution, and then having the detective explain to the confused sidekick how he reached his conclusion by logically explaining how all of the clues connected – no gut feelings.  These are some of the rules to establishing a “fair detective.”  These rules were established by the Detection Club, a coalition of British mystery writers (including Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers) created in 1930.

This, and my Prezi presentation outline found here is just a tip of the iceberg for Poe.  I encourage you to check him out.

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