Museum News


Features of The Poe Museum Starting with The Old Stone House


 

Click here to listen to Nate and his second Podcast. The topics include Unhappy Hour, Tours, and information on the Old Stone House.




Charles Cantalupo Reads From Poe In Place


Charles Cantalupo (born on October 17, 1951) is a poet and Professor of English at Penn State. After earning his PHD at Rutgers in 1980, he began his career as a teaching assistant. Cantalupo’s most recent publication is Poetry, Mysticism, and Feminism from the Nave to th’ Chops: An Interview with Barbara Mor. On June 4, 2015, Cantalupo performed his latest poetry series, Poe In Place, at the Poe Museum in Richmond. The poems in the series were inspired by Poe’s life and the cities in which he lived. Cantalupo visited these cities, including Richmond, during the course of his research for the series. While some of the series has been published in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, this is the first time Cantalupo has performed Poe in Place in its entirety.

Click below to see Charles Cantalupo reading at The Poe Museum.




To Fanny


While strolling through the world’s finest collection of Poeana, visitors to the Poe Museum may be intrigued by a collection of items belonging not to the master of the macabre, but to a group of his acquaintances. A brimming manila folder, housed in the Valentine Museum archives, has kindly taken it upon itself to give these acquaintances the collective and slightly euphemistic title: “Women He Knew.” Items belonging to Edgar Allan Poe’s various paramours and female family members truly are gems within the museum’s already impressive collection. After all, we cannot fully understand Poe without understanding the vital roles played by these women. Today, we’re going to focus on one of the earliest members of this elite group: one who has not (for reasons we will explore) had her fair share of the spotlight.

Whom do we picture when we think of the women in Edgar Allan Poe’s life? Young, tubercular, Virginia Clemm? Exquisite, unstable Jane Stith Craig Stanard? Perhaps Elmira Shelton, Poe’s girl-next-door-turned-long-lost-love? We think of these women because they are inextricably linked to Poe’s writing. Individually or collectively, they were the inspiration for Lenore, Annabel Lee, Helen, and arguably every other romantically-inspired female in his vast collection of stories and poems. There is one woman, however, who is generally overlooked. Frances Allan, Poe’s foster mother from the time he was 2½ years old, is difficult to class among the others. Unlike the women mentioned above, Fanny’s life was virtually devoid of the histrionic (and often fictional) tales that make Poe enthusiasts prick up their ears. Reading through Poe’s letters, we see her affectionately, but simply, referred to as “ma.” Throughout her relatively short life, Fanny seems to have led the kind of quiet existence every wealthy Richmond lady might have led. The little we know of her life and her relationship to Poe is pieced together from the few surviving letters written by her, as well as from John Allan’s voluminous correspondence with friends, business associates, and Poe himself.

Born in 1785, Frances Keeling Valentine Allan was the daughter of John Valentine (the prominent family behind the Valentine Museum in Richmond) and his wife, Frances Thorowgood. Like Poe, Fanny was orphaned at a young age. She and her younger sister, Ann, were raised by their half-sister, Sarah Valentine, and her husband, John Dixon. Fast-forwarding to Fanny’s early years as an adult, it is evident that she was a much-admired figure in Richmond. A portrait of her done by Robert Sully depicts an elegant and refined young woman—the perfect match for up-and-coming merchant John Allan. The two were married, according to an announcement in the local newspaper, on February 5, 1803 and lived above the Ellis & Allan store at the northeast corner of Main and Thirteenth streets. It is probable that, like so many other Richmond women, Fanny was extremely fond of the theater, and was familiar with Poe’s mother’s performances. She was one of three women to answer Eliza Poe’s plea for help printed in the Richmond Inquirer.

webfrancesallan

Portrait of Frances Allan by Robert Sully, ca. 1828

weballanhome

The Allan Home

Barely a week after the ladies’ first visit, Eliza Poe was dead and Edgar had been warmly welcomed (by Fanny at least) into the home above Ellis & Allan. Contrary to today’s expectations, the Allans took no formal steps towards adopting the infant Edgar. Many biographers believe that he and his sister Rosalie (cared for by William and Jane Scott Mackenzie) were baptized several weeks after their mother’s death, at which time “Allan” was added to Poe’s full name. The choice not to formally adopt Poe certainly did not come from Frances, who continued in her determination to be the primary provider for Edgar. There is evidence that both the parents and sister of David Poe (Edgar’s father) wrote to the Allans, expressing concern over Edgar’s situation. One particularly poignant letter from Poe’s aunt is addressed to “Mrs. Allan the kind Benefactress of the infant Orphan Edgar, Allan.” In it, Elizabeth Poe gushes:

“Permit me my dear madam to thank you for your kindness to the little Edgar—he is truly the Child of fortune to be placed under the fostering care of the amiable Mr. and Mrs. Allan, Oh how few meet with such A lot—the Almighty Father of the universe grant that he may never abuse the kindness he has received and that from those who were not bound by any ties except those that the feeling and humane heart dictates.”

Despite the effusiveness of Elizabeth Poe’s letter, there is evidence to suggest that both she and Edgar’s grandparents had expected to take care of the young boy themselves. The letter quoted above was the second sent to Frances–written, it would appear, on the assumption that the first had been lost. Suggestions such as this have prompted biographers to speculate whether Fanny purposefully neglected to answer the anxious letters written by Edgar’s grandparents and aunt, or whether the agreement to allow the Allans to continuing caring for Poe was, in fact, mutual.

Roughly three and a half years after Poe’s arrival, John relocated his small family to London in order to establish another branch of Ellis & Allan. Letters written by John during this period have been preserved in the Valentine Museum, and through them we glimpse something more of Fanny’s personality and quirks. Her chronic ill health, in particular, is brought to the forefront following the difficult voyage from Richmond to Liverpool. John Allan’s correspondence makes frequent but vague references to Fanny’s illness, at one point merely saying that she was “complaining as usual.” After reading letters exchanged between the couple, it becomes clear that the legitimacy of Fanny’s indisposition was, at times, questioned (to her annoyance) by the robust and pragmatic John. In one of the only surviving letters between them, Fanny remarks: “I fear it will be long ere I shall write with any facility or ease to myself, as I fiend [find] you are determined to think my health better contrary to all I say it will be needless for me to say more on that subject.” The scolding tone of this passage is, however, quickly belied by jovial hints at her flirtation with a certain “smart Beau” and the resulting need for “a little finery.” The capricious letter reveals a somewhat surprising side of Fanny Allan’s character. Despite hypochondriacal tendencies, it is obvious that Fanny was not without spunk and good humor.

john allan portrait for web

Portrait of John Allan by Thomas Sully, ca. 1804

Sadly, we see less of Fanny’s high-spirits during the latter part of the Allan’s stay in England, and even less upon their return to Richmond. The Allan’s departure from London after unexpected financial troubles was delayed repeatedly due to Frances’ indisposition, to the point where John wrote that Frances had “the greatest aversion to the sea and nothing but dire necessity and the prospect of a reunion with her old and dear Friends could induce her to attempt [the journey].” Thankfully, the inducement was sufficient to get Fanny, seasickness and all, across the Atlantic to Virginia. With the Allans back in Richmond, we enter a period of even greater uncertainty concerning Fanny. In his biography of Poe, Hervey Allen suggests that something besides financial woes precipitated Fanny’s more serious bouts of illness, as well as the increased coolness between Edgar and John Allan. He writes “it seems warrantable to infer that Frances Allan was by now aware of the fact that she had not been the whole object of her husband’s affections.” By the time the Allans took in Edgar, John had already fathered two children with two different women. It is impossible to be sure when or even if Fanny learned about her husband’s infidelity, but the sudden tension within the Allan family, coupled with Fanny’s failing health, makes it tempting to agree with Hervey Allen’s theory.

Beginning in this difficult period, Fanny seems to fade weakly into the background. In the meantime, the Allans go from nearly bankrupt to flush with cash after the death of John Allan’s uncle William Galt. As Edgar and John grew farther and farther apart, it is probable that Fanny endeavored to remain as neutral as possible, and it is certain that her affection for Poe remained unchanged. In the same way, even his bitterest communications with his foster father, Poe expressed a desire to be remembered fondly to “ma.” Describing Poe’s dramatic departure from the Allan house after the disastrous stint at the University of Virginia, The Poe Log refers to an idea suggested by several Poe biographers—namely that Fanny wrote not one but two letters to Poe absolving him from blame. Both letters have yet to be found, however, and thus must be taken with a grain of salt. Sadly for poor Fanny, matters between John and Edgar grew steadily worse up until her final days. On March 2, 1829 the Richmond Whig announced her death with an entry reading:“Died on Saturday morning last, after a lingering and painful illness, Mrs. Frances K. Allan, consort of Mr. John Allan, aged 47 years. The friends and acquaintances of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from the late residence on this day at 12 o’clock.”

To his anguish, Poe did not arrive until the night after her burial. It is worth noting, however, that the period immediately following Fanny’s death saw a brief reconciliation between Edgar and John Allan. Out of respect, it would seem, for his dead wife, John relented enough to pen a cold but effective letter to Major John Eaton (the Secretary of War at the time), in support of Edgar’s application to West Point.

It is in these rare moments of softness between the two men that we come closest to understanding Fanny’s role in Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Compared to the other “women he knew” her contributions may seem mundane, but perhaps this is what makes Fanny such a unique and important part of Poe’s life. In a newspaper article printed in 1905, Susan Ingram (a friend of Poe) describes an incident that occurred barely a month before the poet’s death. She says:

“I was fond of orris-root and always had its odor about my clothing. One day when we were walking together he said, — ‘I like it too. Do you know whom it makes me think of? My adopted mother. Whenever the bureau drawers in her room were opened there came from them a whiff of orris-root, and ever since then, when I smell it, I go back to the time when I was a boy and it brings back thoughts of my mother.’”

The recent appearance of the first four pages of Poe’s letter to Maria Clemm gives us hope that we may find more material on Frances Allan. Until then, it might be wise to view her obscurity as a clue rather than a barrier to understanding her character. If she does not seem to belong with the other “Women He Knew,” it may be because her relationship to Poe was of a vastly different nature.  Based on Susan Ingram’s account, it seems clear that Poe did not associate Fanny with some classical ideal of beauty or tragedy, but with something possibly even more indefinable–something that the warm, homey fragrance of orris root could somehow capture. And in the end, perhaps the best description one can give of Fanny is that of a sweet and gentle, if at times intangible, presence in the tumultuous life of America’s famous poet.




Tee Jay Johnson At Unhappy Hour


Tee Jay Johnson is an up an coming singer from Richmond, VA, who came to The Poe Museum for the Unhappy Hour on May 28, 2015. Johnson defines herself as a lyricist not a rapper, who has began her career in Richmond. Unlike many of  today’s rappers she writes her own songs. See below to see her performance at The Poe Museum on May 28, 2015.




April 24 Poe and Other 19th Century Writers at VCU


Murray’s Bio:

Dr. Murray Ellison “retired” a few years ago after enjoying more than a thirty year career as a special education teacher, school principal, and a special education director for several school districts in Virginia. During his last ten full-time working years, he served as the Virginia State Director of Community Corrections Programs for the Virginia Department of Correctional Education. Since then, he has continued to be an active editor for the International Journal of Correctional Education. In 2012, he began pursuing a slow but thorough graduate study of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction at VCU. At present, he is working on his MA thesis on Edgar Allan Poe and Nineteenth-Century Science, which he is hoping to defend in the fall of 2015. He is also presently serving as a volunteer tour guide at the Poe Museum in Richmond and a literature teacher at the Lifelong Learning Center of Chesterfield.

Title: “Edgar Allan Poe and Nineteenth-Century Science: The Art of the Science Hoax.”
Panel on Nineteenth-Century Literature by Four VCU Masters’ of Arts Candidates
Date: Friday, April 24, 2015 at 11:45 a.m. in Hibbs Hall, Room 402—next to the Cabel VCU Library
The Author: Edgar A. Poe grew up in Richmond in the early nineteenth century and took his first full-time job in 1835 as a writer and editor for the Richmond-based Southern Literary Messenger.

Abstract: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) lived at the perfect time to observe and to write about several of the most dramatic technological developments recorded in history. In 1898, renowned scientist Sir Alfred Russell Wallace called the “marvelous inventions and discoveries” of the previous one hundred years, “immensely superior to anything that had been developed up until that time.” Within a few decades, the introduction of new Industrial Age technologies such as electricity, telegraphic communications, railroads, photography, balloon-travel, astronomy, and high-speed printing presses, dramatically altered the lifestyles of the American public in ways that few could ever have anticipated.
While employed as an editor and writer at the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe worked to increase its circulation from about 500 to over 3500 paid subscribers and helped make it one of the most important literary journals in America. In 1837, he moved on to write for several of the other important newspapers in America (in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston). Most readers are familiar with his classic poems like, “The Raven” and Anabelle Lee; and his chilling works of fiction, like, “The Tell-Tale-Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” However, fewer are familiar with the important works he produced about science as a journalist.
This workshop focuses on the ways that Poe’s early career journalistic article for the Southern Literary Messenger, “Maelzel’s Automated Chess Player,” reflected the uncertainties of science during the Industrial Age. Poe uncovered the hidden secrets of the “automated” chess player when it toured Richmond, and broke down the illusion that Maelzel had been trying to create with as much skill as Poe later used to create his own fictional hoaxes. He also concluded, through his journalistic investigations, that the public could be deceived by almost any spectacular false notion supported by circumstantial facts. As his career advanced, Poe also became known as the master hoaxer of his generation— both for his non-fiction and fictional narratives. This topic has increased relevance today because many modern science historians and literary scholars have concluded that they could learn more about nineteenth-century culture and science by reading works by authors like Poe, than by scrutinizing the works of professional scientists of that time-period.
Contact Murray at [email protected] for comments.




Love Is in the Air


Poe was known for being quite the ladies’ man in his day. Women including Sarah Helen Whitman, Frances Sargent Osgood, Sarah Elmira Royster, Mary Starr, and especially his wife, were known for having romantic feelings for the writer. He did not woo only these women, however. Continue reading to find out who else Poe left swooning, as well as letters displaying their adoration, if not infatuation, with him.

If you recall a previous blog post, Elizabeth Ellet was notorious for revealing Osgood and Poe’s correspondence, causing a publicity scandal and the end of their friendship (at least, in the public eye). Ellet did not do this because her character was vindictive, however; she may have had romantic feelings for Poe.

Elizabeth Ellet

Elizabeth Ellet

According to World of Poe online, “There are hints from Charles F. Briggs, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, and Poe himself that the attractive young Mrs. Ellet had made some sort of unreciprocated amorous advances towards him. ” However, according to Undine, the author of the blog, we do not know whether this was the case or not. Undine explains that Sarah Helen Whitman is the only source stating that Poe exclaimed that Ellet “…had better look out for her own correspondences.”  Charles Briggs described Poe as displaying Ellet’s letters in his novel, The Trippings of Tom Pepper. According to Undine, “Elizabeth Oakes Smith wrote Whitman a letter in the mid-1870s saying nothing about immodest correspondence, but suggesting that certain ladies who had greatly admired Poe fell into a jealous feud as a result.” A familiar scene includes Ellet discovering Osgood and Virginia laughing at her letters, rousing her into anger. She retrieves her brother and threatens a duel, which ultimately does not occur.

But what became of those letters? According to Undine, it is a bit of a he said/she said situation. Ellet claimed that her letters never existed, where Poe claims that he did, and did not, keep them. What became of these letters is unknown; however, we do have evidence from a few other letters, which display words of affection.

The first letter from Ellet, from around December 15, 1845, according to EAPoe online, ends with a portion of the letter in German, which translates as, “I have a letter for you. Will you not most kindly pick it up or have it sent for after seven o’clock this evening. / O, what a rent you have made in my heart / The senses are still in your bonds / Though the bleeding soul has freed itself.”

This letter is followed by one dated December 16, 1845, which states, “Do not use in any way the memorandum about the So. Ca. College. Excuse the repeated injunction – but as you would not decipher my German manuscript – I am fearful of some other mistake” (EAPoe). Could Ellet have been making her feelings known and then covering it up as a “mistake” afterwards? Their reciprocated or unreciprocated relationship remains unknown.

Another woman whose heart was stolen by the dashing Poe was Mary Elizabeth Hewitt. According to Library Company online, Hewitt was a writer, composing such works as The Songs of Our Land, and Other Poems and The Gem of the Western World. She was notable for editing a memorial of her close friend, Frances Sargent Osgood, after Osgood’s death.

Mary Elizabeth Hewitt

Mary Elizabeth Hewitt

Hewitt and Poe’s acquaintance with one another wasn’t made until 1845, when she wrote a letter to Poe in regard to his poem, “The Raven.” Below are extracts from the letter showing her respect for Poe:

“Dear Sir,

Mr Gillespie tells me that he has mentioned to you the singular coincidence that I related to him, of the simultaneous appearance of your admirable poem, ‘The Raven’, and the receipt of a letter by myself, from a very dear brother resident in Manilla, containing a marvelous history of a ‘white bird’, the which, although the very opposite of the ‘raven,’ struck me as being so singularly like it in ground work as to constitute a ‘remarkable coincidence’.

Mr Gillespie tells me that you would like to see the paraphrase which I have endeavoured to frame out of my subject…”

“…Pray pardon the liberty I have taken in addressing you thus uncerimoniously [sic], and oblige me by returning the letter to my address.

Very respectfully
And truly yours
M. E. Hewitt” (EAPoe).

The letter, which was written March 15, 1845, was replied to promptly by Poe, who responded with the following full text:

“Dear Madam,

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your little package and note.

The coincidence to which you call my attention is certainly remarkable, and the story as narrated by your brother is full of rich interest, no particle of which, most assuredly, is lost in your truly admirable paraphrase. I fear, indeed, that my enthusiasm for all that I feel to be poetry, has hurried me into some indiscretion touching the “Tale of Luzon”. Immediately upon reading it, I took it to the printer, and it is now in type for the “Broadway Journal” of this week. As I re-peruse your note, however, (before depositing it among my most valued autographs) I find no positive warrant for the act — I am by no means sure that you designed the poem for our paper. If I have erred, then, I have to beg that you will point out the penance.

Very respectfully and admiringly

Yours,
Edgar A Poe” (EAPoe).

Edgar’s reply to Mary seems charming and warm. Whether it is admiration, which she shows for him, or flirtation, she has caught Edgar’s attention, regardless, and is reciprocated with this attention.

He went on to take more notice of her works and, in 1848, for example, he reviewed and critiqued her writing in Literary America (EAPoe). Another example includes a manuscript in which he begins by stating, “I am not aware that Mrs. Hewitt has written any prose; but her poems have been many, and occasionally excellent.” He states that a collection of her poems, “…evince poetic fervor, classicism, and keen appreciation of both moral and physical beauty.” Although he goes on to state that they, “…lack unity, totality [and] ultimate effect,” he praises her sonnets. At the end of his critique, he states,

In character, she is sincere, fervent, benevolent — sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament melancholy; in manner subdued; converses earnestly yet quietly.  In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion dark; general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable (EAPoe).

An alternative and very similar form of this same compliment, as written by Poe, according to Library Company, found in the 1846 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book, states,

In character she is sincere, fervent, benevolent, with a heart full of the truest charity— sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament, melancholy (although this is not precisely the term); in manner, subdued, gentle, yet with grace and dignity; converses impressively, earnestly, yet quietly and in a low tone. In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion also dark; the general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable.

According to Netherlands Poe scholar, Ton Fafianie, “Poe thought Mary a very attractive woman, and she was a nice and talented lady, but she took advantage of him in an effort to promote her poems while he was connected to the Broadway Journal.” In my conversation with him, he continued to explain, “He [Poe] was patient with her as a poetess, and there was one famous woman in educated society who noticed this: Margaret Fuller. Hewitt helped Poe and his family during the dreadful winter of 1846-47. They entertained a spiritual connection but were not ‘in love.'”

Was their connection spiritual, or was there more blossoming between the two?

Finally, another woman made such an impression on Poe, he wrote a poem just for her titled, “For Annie.” But just who was Poe’s “Annie”?

Nancy "Annie" Locke Heywood Richmond

Nancy "Annie" Locke Heywood Richmond

According to World of Poe’s Undine, Nancy Locke Heywood Richmond was the wife of Charles Richmond. She and Poe first met July 1848, and then met again in October of that year and in the spring of the next. According to Undine, however, “…intimates believed the two were no more than friendly acquaintances.” Letters written by her brother indicate no romantic interest between the two, however, Richmond told John H. Ingram, a Poe biographer, that Poe had been deeply in love with her, Undine goes on to explain. The only evidence of this is through copies of letters Poe allegedly had written her.

According to Undine,

These strange, hysterical, poorly-written letters depict Poe as consumed by an unbalanced, obsessive passion for the woman he, for reasons unknown, rechristened “Annie.” This passion, according to the letters, persisted throughout his brief, ill-fated 1848 relationship with Sarah Helen Whitman–who was simultaneously receiving similar letters expressing Poe’s undying love for her. “Annie” apparently was either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that by revealing these letters, she was making Poe look not just like a horribly untalented letter-writer, but an insincere, disloyal human being.

According to the Poe Museum website, Richmond legally changed her name from Nancy to Annie, after the death of her husband in 1873.

Below is the poem, “For Annie,” which portrays Poe’s romantic feelings for her.

Thank Heaven! the crisis,

The danger, is past,

And the lingering illness

Is over at last—

And the fever called “Living”

Is conquered at last.

Sadly, I know

I am shorn of my strength,

And no muscle I move

As I lie at full length—

But no matter!—I feel

I am better at length.

And I rest so composedly,

Now, in my bed,

That any beholder

Might fancy me dead—

Might start at beholding me,

Thinking me dead.

The moaning and groaning,

The sighing and sobbing,

Are quieted now,

With that horrible throbbing

At heart:—ah, that horrible,

Horrible throbbing!

The sickness—the nausea—

The pitiless pain—

Have ceased, with the fever

That maddened my brain—

With the fever called “Living”

That burned in my brain.

And oh! of all tortures

That torture the worst

Has abated—the terrible

Torture of thirst

For the naphthaline river

Of Passion accurst:—

I have drank of a water

That quenches all thirst:—

Of a water that flows,

With a lullaby sound,

From a spring but a very few

Feet under ground—

From a cavern not very far

Down under ground.

And ah! let it never

Be foolishly said

That my room it is gloomy

And narrow my bed;

For man never slept

In a different bed—

And, to sleep, you must slumber

In just such a bed.

My tantalized spirit

Here blandly reposes,

Forgetting, or never

Regretting, its roses—

Its old agitations

Of myrtles and roses:

For now, while so quietly

Lying, it fancies

A holier odor

About it, of pansies—

A rosemary odor,

Commingled with pansies—

With rue and the beautiful

Puritan pansies.

And so it lies happily,

Bathing in many

A dream of the truth

And the beauty of Annie—

Drowned in a bath

Of the tresses of Annie.

She tenderly kissed me,

She fondly caressed,

And then I fell gently

To sleep on her breast—

Deeply to sleep

From the heaven of her breast.

When the light was extinguished,

She covered me warm,

And she prayed to the angels

To keep me from harm—

To the queen of the angels

To shield me from harm.

And I lie so composedly,

Now, in my bed,

(Knowing her love)

That you fancy me dead—

And I rest so contentedly,

Now in my bed

(With her love at my breast).

That you fancy me dead—

That you shudder to look at me,

Thinking me dead:—

But my heart it is brighter

Than all of the many

Stars in the sky,

For it sparkles with Annie—

It glows with the light

Of the love of my Annie—

With the thought of the light

Of the eyes of my Annie.

(Source: Poetry Foundation.)

Ultimately, what do you think? Were Poe’s feelings sincere for these three distinctive women, or were their feelings sincere towards him?

Feel free to comment below and share your ideas!




Nevermore Opens January 14


His Darkest Story Was His Own…

Now in performances in the heart of Broadway at New World Stages!

Following Sold Out Runs at London’s Barbican Center
and The New Victory Theatre

Previews Begin Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Opening Night Set for Sunday, January 25, 2015

November 19, 2014 (New York, NY) – NEVERMORE – The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, a unique theatrical experience combining haunting music, poetic storytelling, and stunning stagecraft to tell the fascinating and moving life story of iconic American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), will begin performances at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) on Wednesday, January 14, 2015, with an official opening night scheduled for Sunday, January 25, 2015.

Beautiful and bizarre, playful and perverse, NEVERMORE- The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe is a whimsical and chilling musical play about the enigmatic writer who has fascinated the world for more than a century. A literary rock star in his day, Poe struggled with tragedy and addiction, poverty and loss, yet produced some of the world’s most original, visionary and enduring literature before dying in mysterious circumstances at the age of 40. At once gorgeous and grotesque, NEVERMORE blurs the line between fact and fiction, exploring the events that shaped Poe’s character and career and giving powerful expression to Poe’s words “all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

NEVERMORE is written, composed, and directed by Catalyst Theatre’s (Edmonton, Canada) Artistic Director, Jonathan Christenson. The physical world of NEVERMORE – including sets, costumes, and lighting – is designed by Bretta Gerecke. The production features choreography by Laura Krewski and sound design is by Wade Staples.

Originally produced by Catalyst Theatre of Edmonton, Canada in 2009 to commemorate the bicentennial of Poe’s birth (January 19, 1809), NEVERMORE has toured extensively, including sold out limited engagements at London’s Barbican Center and New York’s New Victory Theatre in 2010. NEVERMORE has been expanded since its first New York appearance in 2010, with several new songs added and structural revisions made to the original script.

Six of the seven original NEVERMORE cast members will return for this engagement – Gaelan Beatty, Shannon Blanchett, Beth Graham, Ryan Parker, Garett Ross, and Scott Shpeley. Casting for the seventh and final role will be announced in the coming weeks.

NEVERMORE is produced by Radio Mouse Entertainment (M. Kilburg Reedy and Jason E. Grossman), Martin Hummel, Caiola Productions, Terry Schnuck, Susan Jaffe Tane, and Hernreich-Horvath Productions in association with Catalyst Theatre. The associate producers include Fireboat Productions, Carol L. Bixler, and Deepa Desai.

NEVERMORE – The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe will be performed on the following schedule at New World Stages (340 West 50th street, between 8th and 9th avenues): Monday at 7:00pm, Wednesday at 8:00pm, Thursday at 2:30pm and 8:00pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:00pm, and Sunday at 3:00pm.

Tickets, priced $75 – $95, can be purchased at Telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. A limited number of $30 rush tickets for each performance will be available for purchase by audience members under 30 years old (valid ID required at box office) two hours prior to each performance while supplies last.

CREATIVE TEAM BIOGRAPHIES

JONATHAN CHRISTENSON — Writer/ Composer/ Lyricist/ Director – Jonathan is a director, playwright and composer and the artistic director of Canada’s Catalyst Theatre. His plays – Vigilante, The Soul Collector, Nevermore – The Imaginary Life & Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, The Blue Orphan, and The House of Pootsie Plunket, to name a few – have appeared at theatres throughout England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, the U.S. and Canada and at such festivals as the London International Festival of Theatre, Luminato, Le Carrefour, The High Performance Rodeo, The PuSh Festival, and Magnetic North. His work as a writer, director and composer has been honoured by Canada’s Sterling, Betty Mitchell and SAT Awards, Scotland’s Fringe First and Herald Angel Awards, and the City of Edmonton’s Salute to Excellence Awards. He has also received multiple nominations for the UK’s Stage Awards, the Dora Awards, and the Alberta Book Awards. In 2011, Venture Magazine named him one of “Alberta’s Fifty Most Influential People” and Alberta Playwrights Network chose him as one of Alberta’s one hundred most significant theatre artists of the past one hundred years. His plays have been published by Playwrights Canada Press and Newest Press and his work has been featured in American Theatre, Canadian Theatre Review, PRISM International, Canada World View and All Stages Magazine. Last year Bayeux Arts published his first children’s book, Maximilian’s Mistake.

BRETTA GERECKE – Production Designer (Costumes, Lighting, Set) – graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Interior Design and from the University of Alberta with a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Design. She is the resident designer at Catalyst Theatre, where she has designed world premieres that have toured internationally to Great Britain, Australia, and the U.S. and across Canada. Bretta also works at The Citadel Theatre, Canadian Stage, Edmonton Opera, Calgary Opera, Theatre Calgary, The Globe Theatre, The Stratford Festival and Cirque du Soleil. She is the recipient of over twenty Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards, Jessie Richardson Awards, Betty Mitchell Awards and SAT Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Set, Lighting and Costume Design; The Enbridge Award for Best Emerging Artist; The Global Women of Vision Award; Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40. She designed a summer home on Devil’s Lake, Alberta, is a marathon runner and continues her work as an Archaeological Illustrator.
LAURA KREWSKI – Choreographer – has choreographed original musicals Frankenstein, Hunchback and Vigilante for Catalyst Theatre. She recently choreographed Enron (National Arts Centre), Spamalot (Citadel Theatre), Next to Normal (Citadel Theatre/Theatre Calgary), Chicago and Footloose (The Mayfield), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Belfry Theatre and Vancouver Arts Club), Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore (Edmonton Opera), The Forbidden Phoenix and As You Like It (Citadel Theatre), and new musicals RICH and Rapa Nui (Manitoba Theatre for Young People). Laura also produced and choreographed FreeFall and Jazz Playground and is currently developing a new work as an independent artist. She is involved with Orchesis Dance Group at the University of Alberta, the Citadel/Banff Professional Theatre Program and the Canadian College of Performing Arts. Laura has received the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Arts and Culture, three Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards and a Betty Mitchell Award for Outstanding Choreography.
RADIO MOUSE ENTERTAINMENT – Lead Producer – Founded by M. Kilburg Reedy and Jason E. Grossman, Radio Mouse Entertainment’s theater credits include the Broadway production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (winner of the 2013 Tony, Drama Desk, NY Drama Critics, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Play), the Broadway and National Tour productions of Peter and the Starcatcher (nominated for 9 Tony Awards; winner of 5 Tony Awards) and The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway. In London, Jason and Kilburg co-produced the Olivier Award nominated West End production of Lend Me A Tenor, The Musical.

ACTOR BIOGRAPHIES

GAELAN BEATTY first encountered Catalyst Theatre through Nevermore several years ago and was immediately struck with a desire to join the team. A graduate of Studio 58 in Vancouver, he has toured the country from Whitehorse to Montreal and performed in musicals and Shakespearian plays as well as on TV and in commercials. He’s worked with Bard on the Beach, Electric Company Theatre, Arts Club Theatre, Gateway Theatre, Globe Theatre, Carousel Theatre, and Green Thumb Theatre, and appeared in Man of La Mancha at the Globe Theatre (directed by Max Rieme), among others.
SHANNON BLANCHET – A graduate of the University of Alberta’s BFA Acting program, select credits include: Whiplash Weekend (Teatro la Quindicina), A Picasso (Chorus Productions), Shatter (The Maggie Tree), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Freewill Shakespeare Festival), PopTart (Pony Productions), and Von Mitterbrink’s Second (ACME Theatre). She is a two-time Sterling Award winner for her performances on Edmonton stages and was named one of 2014’s Top 40 under 40 by Avenue Magazine. She is an Artistic Associate with Teatro La Quincidina and a member of the Canadian Comedy award-winning improv troupe, Die Nasty.
BETH GRAHAM – Catalyst credits: Nevermore (UK Lift Festival, Luminato, Magnetic North, New Victory Theatre, Vertigo Theatre, and Persephone Theatre), Hunchback (Vancouver Playhouse), The Blue Orphan, Twelve, Fusion: Let There Be Light and Sticky Shoes. Other selected theatre credits include: The Penelopiad, The Drowning Girls, Death of a Salesman, A Christmas Carol (Citadel Theatre), The Wizard of Oz, Strawberries In January (Globe Theatre), Victor and Victoria’s Terrifying Tale of Terrible Things (Kill Your Television), Cause and Effect (Teatro la Quindicina). Beth is a graduate from the University of Alberta’s BFA acting program. She is the co-creator of several plays including: The Drowning Girls (national tour) and Mules. Her most recent play, The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, has been produced in Edmonton (Theatre Network) and Toronto (Factory Theatre).
RYAN PARKER – Ryan is a graduate of the Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts Program and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from the University of Alberta. Selected credits include Three Sisters (Broken Toys Theatre), Eros and The Itchy Ant, East of My Usual Brain (Teatro La Quindicina), Mesa (Globe Theatre), Buddy, …Spelling Bee (The Mayfield Theatre), Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew (Free Will Players), and What the Butler Saw (Studio Theatre). Ryan is a co-creator/member of the ukulele comedy band The Be Arthurs and a Gemini/Canadian Screen Award nominated writer for the sketch comedy television series Caution: May Contain Nuts. Most recently he’s been seen in Barefoot in the Park for Teatro La Quindicina, The Craze/Musical Direction in One Man, Two Guvnors for Citadel Theatre.
GARETT ROSS – Garett is a graduate of the Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts Program and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from the University of Alberta. Garett has been with the Nevermore company since the show began six years ago. He has also worked with Catalyst Theatre on Soul Collector and Vigilante. Some of the other shows in which he’s performed include Liberation Days (Theatre Calgary), Jack Goes Boating (Sage Theatre/Shadow Theatre), Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet (The Citadel Theatre), Hairspray, Shear Madness, Chicago, The Wizard of Oz (Mayfield Dinner Theatre), A Year in Winter, That Darn Plot, Beginning of August (Shadow Theatre), Uncle Van, and The Old Curiosity Shop (TheatRepublic/ Poorman’s classic Co-op). Garett has been nominated for Sterling Awards for his work in Jack Goes Boating (Sage Theatre), That Darn Plot (Shadow Theatre), The Old Curiosity Shop (Poor Man’s Classic Co-op), and The Raven and the Writing Desk (Acme Theatre).
SCOTT SHPELEY – Scott is an actor, singer, and multi-instrumentalist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting from the University of Alberta. He has been with Nevermore since 2008, and has performed with the show across Canada and in London. Scott was part of the first two Canadian productions of One Man, Two Guvnors as the drummer/washboard player in Calgary, Alberta, and the bassist in Edmonton, Alberta. Other credits include You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Alberta Theatre Projects); Sweeney Todd and Rope (Vertigo Theatre); Peril in Paris (Lunchbox Theatre). Scott is the lead singer and bassist in the electro-dance band The Play Plays.

For more information, please visit WWW.NEVERMORESHOW.COM




Poe as a Popularizer of 19th-Century Sceince


During the Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century, there was a need for a new class of writers who could write about emerging scientific information in a way that the new consumers of science information could understand. The emerging class of professional scientists in the United States was neither equipped nor interested in communicating about science with the public. Lightman refers to the nineteenth century literary writers who did attempt to communicate to the public as the “popularizers of science.” He also suggests that “Their success was partially due to their ability to present the huge mass of scientific fact in the form of compelling stories” (188). He contends, therefore, that it is essential for our current understanding of nineteenth-century culture to explore writers like Edgar Allan Poe, who skillfully and prolifically commented on many of the most significant scientific trends of his lifetime. Many other scholars (Gewirtz, Hoffman, Willis, and Tresch) acknowledge that Poe was one of the most important leaders in developing both the genres of science fiction and detective fiction. Similarly, John Limon writes that Poe engaged in literary “negotiation with science,” asserting that his works both foreshadowed and critiqued several emerging scientific developments and trends of the future (19). As such, Paul Faytor argues that “there was a two-way traffic between science and science-writers in the nineteenth century. He notes that many of the inventions and writings of professional scientists helped to shape science fiction and that many ideas imagined by science fiction writers found their way into actual scientific inventions. (256). His works in those areas provide abundant example that he anticipated forecasted future developments in technical areas such as exploration of the Poles, astronomy, physics, space travel, photography, electronic communications, and the forensic sciences.  Limon argues that lay writers like Poe and Hawthorne, or those without “letters” who were interested in writing about science, struggled with professional scientists to establish their authority to speak about the newly emerging scientific issues (19).  Poe had not received much formal training as a scientist but had considerable exposure to technical subjects in his early education, in his technical experiences in the military, and through his exposure to science news as a journalist. He believed that an observant and skilled writer did not need professional science training or to be sanctioned by an official science accreditation organizations before writing about science.

Poe,however, looked not only to the events of his era to inform his view of truth in his science writing, but he was also inspired and informed by several of the most renown philosophers and science writers of antiquity. In his 1848 culminating science narrative, Eureka: A Prose Poem, he outlined the development of scientific thinking from antiquity through his era. A list of the ancient writers of science and the philosophy of science he commented on in Eureka includes Archimedes, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Newton, Kepler, and Francis Bacon. Also in Eureka, he discussed the works of philosophers and scientists closer to Poe’s lifetime such as Auguste Comte, Sir John Herschel, John Stuart Mill, Pierre Simon La Place, and Friedrich Heinrich Humboldt – to whom Poe dedicated Eureka. This culminating work of Poe’s science narratives will be discussed in a blog that will be written in the future.  However, there are several important contextual influences pertaining to science and literature that were in place by the early nineteenth century that likely influenced Poe’s choice to embark on a career that focused on science narrative writing. These influences will be discussed in the upcoming monthly Poe in Science Blogs.

Contact Murray Ellison at [email protected] or at [email protected] for comments or questions.

Partial List of Sources:

Faytor, Paul. “Strange New Worlds of Space and Time: Late Victorian Science and Science Fiction.” Victorian Science in Context. Ed. Barnard A. Lightman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Gewirtz, Isaac. Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul. New York: New York Public Library, 2013.

Lightman, Bernard. Victorian Science in Context. Ed.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.19C Printing Press

Limon, John. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge Press, 1990

Tresch, John. The Romantic Machine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.




Poe’s Actress Mother-Part One


“For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.”

This line was written on a watercolor painting of Boston, painted by Eliza Poe in 1808, which was gifted to Edgar on her deathbed (Poe Boston). Although Edgar was not able to know his mother extensively, and despite his mother dying when he was just the age of two, he gathered information from relatives and friends who knew Eliza, and felt she was very much a part of him. To Edgar, his mother was an esteemed actress, who he was proud of and stated in his Broadway Journal, “The writer of this article is himself the son of an actress – has invariably made it his boast – and no earl was ever prouder of his earldom than he of his descent from a woman who, although well-born, hesitated not to consecrate to the drama her brief career of genius and of beauty” (EAPoe).

But who was Edgar’s mother? Who was this woman who most likely inspired her son with his writing and instilled a kind, gentle and empathetic character in him?

Elizabeth Arnold

Elizabeth Arnold, born in England, sailed to America with her mother in 1796 at the age of nine. Her mother, also Elizabeth Arnold, an actress, had been given an opportunity to perform in Boston under Charles Powell at the Federal Street Theater. Powell, suddenly out of a job, abandoned the elder Elizabeth and her young daughter, along with their pianist, Charles Tubbs, and left them in the new and unknown city of Boston. They, fortunately, were able to find work at the Federal Street Theater, hired almost immediately into a prestigious group. It is here that young “Eliza” made her first appearance in theater, singing “The Market Lass.” Thus began young Eliza’s apprenticeship, according to Geddeth Smith (15-20).

Federal Street Theatre

After the season closed, Eliza and her mother performed a week later in the theater’s ballroom, with Eliza singing “The Market Lass” and adding “Henry’s Cottage Maid.” Young Eliza was a success among the theater goers, and she was proclaimed an actress. In order to advance her daughter’s career, Elizabeth took her and Mr. Tubbs, now their manager, to Portsmouth. Upon arriving, they performed in a concert on August 3, and that September, Mrs. Arnold arranged to put on a production. By November, young Eliza impressively played twelve different roles. In the meantime, her mother had begun planning to build her own theater, and the three set off for Portland, Maine. After a successful period there, and Mrs. Arnold now married to Mr. Tubbs, the trio set back for Portsmouth, where they reunited with Joseph Harper and opened in the “Assembly Room” on February 1, 1797. Eliza played every night that their Assembly Room was opened. Her notable roles included Little Pickle from The Spoiled Child and Prince Edward in Margaret of Anjou (20-31).

A year after her debut, now ten years old, Eliza had performed successfully in a plethora of roles and was working under the direction of Louisa Fontenelle Williamson, who had taken Eliza’s role as Little Pickle, while Eliza performed as Little Pickle’s sister. Williamson had been praised by Robert Merry and Robert Burns, who wrote several poems for her, so Eliza was under someone with great influence. Despite her previous success as Little Pickle, Eliza considered it an honor working under Williamson, and she received a good amount of her training this way (33).

Leaving Hartford, where Eliza had worked with Williamson, Eliza and her parents moved to Charleston, South Carolina. She was met with disappointment; however, because Sollee, the gentleman who had been leading the group of actors from city to city during this time, chose another actress over Eliza to play the role of Little Pickle. Eliza did not debut in Charleston until a week later singing “The Market Lass.” Her last appearance with Sollee’s group was as Julia in Henry Siddon’s The Sicilian Romance.

A bitter dispute had occurred between Eliza’s step-father who claimed he, his wife, and Eliza were not being paid enough for their performances, among other dissatisfactions. Sollee eventually gave under pressure. That and other circumstances forced him to resign; and he handed the company over to three of his trusted actors.

Eliza and her parents, after a brief string of performances in Wilmington, North Carolina, returned to join the “Charleston Comedians”, which had been formed by the former actors and actresses who had rebelled and left Sollee’s company. The leader of this group was an Edgar, who cast Eliza in significant roles and most likely later inspired the name of her second son.  Now eleven years old, Eliza ended the season just before May, by performing alongside her mother in Rosina. According to Geddeth Smith, Eliza’s biographer, “She had stepped squarely into the professional world” (38-42).

Elizabeth Arnold Portrait, owned by the Harry Ransom Center

In 1798, eleven-year old Eliza and her parents set out for Richmond to find acting roles. By mid-July, however, in Halifax, North Carolina, Eliza’s mother had fallen ill. Elizabeth’s last recorded performance was Maria in The Citizen. That summer, Eliza lost her mother to what is believed to be a yellow-fever and came under the supervision of her step-father, Charles Tubbs, who was described as being temperamental (43-44).

In 1798, Eliza made her debut in Richmond, and it is said, “Eliza was able to find a place for herself very quickly in the Virginia Company’s repertory,” based on the guidance her mother had given her. Eliza soon landed what is said to be the most important opportunity yet to have come her way (45-46).

By 1799, the yellow-fever epidemic had subsided and Thomas Wignell, manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, had noticed Eliza’s expertise as a young actress. Geddeth explains she had a repertoire of twenty-five parts and would prove to be an asset to Wignell, who hired her immediately. She now was playing with one of the most prestigious companies in the country, marking her independence from Tubbs.

Chestnut Street Theatre

In January 1799, Eliza arrived in Philadelphia, what was often called the “Athens of America” (47-49). She did not debut in Wignell’s company until March 18, however, when she played as Biddy Belair in Miss in Her Teens. This required Eliza to perform as a comedienne rather than a singing actress, however she took on the role of a sixteen-year old character swimmingly (49-50). At this time, Eliza was now completely on her own, having left Tubbs behind and with her mother deceased. Wignell took care of her, however, and guided her as an actress, offering for her to return for the following season in his company, which she accepted (51).

According to Geddeth,

When Eliza began her second season at the Chestnut Street Theatre, she was barely thirteen, and she was beginning to blossom into a very beautiful young woman with delicate features, abundant curling hair, and large, brown, glowing eyes. Her figure was small and graceful, as it was to remain for the rest of her life, and this was to prove an advantage for her, because it meant that she could continue to play children’s parts while she was growing into an ingénue and young leading lady (51-52).

During the middle of Eliza’s second season with the company, a young man, named Charles Hopkins, joined the company and would soon debut onstage. Hopkins played one of the most famous comedic roles, Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer, and was very successful. He and Eliza soon began performing in productions together and the troop traveled to Washington in the summer of 1800. Their opening night was August 22, where they performed Thomas Otway’s tragedy Venice Preserved, in an historic event, the opening of Washington’s first theatre. Following the performance in the tragedy, Eliza again played the lead role of Little Pickle. The season ended in mid-September and the company returned to Philadelphia (52-54).

Eliza and Charles grew extremely fond of one another, frequently working beside each other in complimentary roles. Their company moved to Baltimore from late April to early June (55). Growing tired of feeling restricted with his current company, Charles accepted an offer with the Virginia Company for the 1801-2 season, which meant that he and Eliza would be separated. Charles left for Virginia and Eliza left for Philadelphia, in low spirits. The couple were separated for over a year until Eliza decided to leave her current group; and after four seasons of performing for Wignell, she joined Charles that summer in Virginia (57-58).

Southwark Theatre

Before joining Charles, Eliza performed briefly for Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia, which comprised of a majority of her fellow actors from the Chestnut Street Theatre (59). Due to a reported break out of yellow fever, Eliza immediately left immediately after two weeks of performing and joined Charles in Alexandria, Virginia. Eliza almost immediately married Charles; fifteen-year-old Eliza had become Mrs. Hopkins (59).

Follow Eliza’s adventure with her first husband, discover her second, and well known husband, and, finally, read about her three children, particularly Edgar, in the next installment! Meanwhile, you can visit the following links to learn more about Eliza Poe from the Poe Museum:
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/a-tour-of-poe-sites-in-boston-and-providence/
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/poes-mother-visits-unhappy-hour/
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/poe-museum-acquires-documents-related-to-poes-parents/
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/two-new-paintings-of-eliza-poe/
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/bicentennial-of-poes-mothers-death-commemorated-at-poe-museum/
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/new-exhibit-reveals-untold-story-of-poes-mother/
http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/debbie-phillips-as-eliza-poe/




Poe as a Popularizer of Nineteenth-Century Sceince


Sir Isaac Newton Working on Geometric Problem – 1795 Ink and Water Color by William Blake (Public Domain Image from www.blake.archive)

Poe as a Popularizer of Nineteenth-Century Science

Several important modern-day science historians have conceded that their present understanding of how Industrial Age technologies affected society is limited, and some have started to focus their research on this period. Bernard Lightman argues “Scholars have barely scratched the surface in their attempts to understand the popularization of Victorian [nineteenth century] science” (206). He writes, “As scientists became professionalized [during the nineteenth century] and professional scientists began to pursue specialized research highly, the need arose for non-professionals, who could convey the broader significance of many new discoveries to a rapidly growing…reading public” (187). He proposes that the nineteenth century “popularizers of science” may have been more important than that of Huxley or the Tyndall [important nineteenth-century scientists] in shaping the understanding [of science] in the minds of the reading public…” (188).

During this period, there was a need for a new class of writers who could write about emerging scientific information in a way the new consumers of science information could understand, and in ways that was relevant to their daily experiences. The newly emerging class of professional scientists in the United was neither equipped nor interested in communicating with the public. Lightman refers to those writers who did attempt to communicate to the public about science as the “popularizers of science,” and suggests that “Their success… was partially due to their ability to present the huge mass of scientific fact in the form of compelling stories…” (188). Therefore, he suggests that it is essential for our present understanding of nineteenth-century culture to explore writers like Edgar Allan Poe, who skillfully and prolifically commented on many of the important popular scientific trends of his lifetime. John Tresch asserts, “Poe’s writings force us to reconsider the relationship between science and literature” (The British Journal of Science, 275-276). Also, in Between Science and Literature, Peter Swirski argues that Poe’s “writing may be a suitable barometer of the role that science and philosophy had on nineteenth-century society… and that he threw “literary bridges over to the scientific mainland,” These bridges, he concludes, were just as important in helping is to understand how scientific changes influenced society as they are in helping us to understand how literature started to change to reflect scientific developments (X-XI). John Limon, writing in The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science writes that Poe engaged in literary “negotiation with science,” asserting that his works both foreshadowed and critiqued several emerging scientific developments and trends of the future (19). Faytor also argues “there was a two-way traffic between science and science-writers in the nineteenth century. He notes that many of the inventions and writings of professional scientists helped to shape science fiction and that many ideas imagined by science fiction writers found their way into actual scientific inventions. (256). Most scholars acknowledge that Poe was one of the most important leaders in developing both the genres of science fiction and detective fiction. His works in those areas provide abundant examples that he anticipated and forecasted future developments which are accepted today in a variety of technical areas such as exploration of the Poles, astronomy, physics, space travel, photography, electronic communications, replacement of body parts, and the forensic sciences.

During Poe’s lifetime, lay writers or those without “letters” who were interested in writing about science struggled with professional scientists to establish their authority to speak about the newly emerging scientific issues. Poe had not received much formal training as a scientist but had considerable exposure to science ideas in his early education, in his technical experiences in the military, and through his exposure to science news stories as a journalist. He believed that an observant and skilled writer (like himself) was more qualified to interpret and discuss the meaning and impact of the newly emerging sciences and technologies than most professional scientists.

Poe looked not only to the events of his era to inform his view of truth in his science writing, but he was also inspired and informed by several of the most renown philosophers and science writers of antiquity. In his 1848 culminating science narrative, Eureka A Prose Poem, he outlined the development of scientific thinking from antiquity through his era, and provided his own unique theories about the creation, operations, and destiny of humanity and the Universe. A list of the ancient writers of science and the philosophy of science he commented on in Eureka includes Archimedes, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Kepler, Francis Bacon, and Sir Isaac Newton. Also in Eureka, he discussed the works of philosophers and scientists closer to Poe’s lifetime such as Auguste Comte, Sir John Herschel, John Stuart Mill, Pierre Simon Laplace, and Friedrich Heinrich Humboldt – to whom Poe dedicated Eureka. Several contextual influences in the areas of literature and technology likely influenced Poe’s subsequent choice to embark on a career that emphasized science narrative writing. These will be discussed in the November 2014 posting. For comments, contact [email protected] or [email protected]

Sources:
Faytor, Paul. “Strange New Worlds of Space and Time: Late Victorian Science and Science Fiction.” Victorian Science in Context. Ed. Barnard A. Lightman. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997.
Limon, John. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Lightman, Bernard. Victorian Science in Context. Ed. University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Swirski, Peter. Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem, and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science, and Literary Knowledge. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000.
Tresch, John. “The Potent Magic of Verisimilitude: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mechanical Age.” The British Journal of Science 3.3 (1997): 275-90. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
_______. The Romantic Machine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Sir Isaac Newton Working on Geometric Problem