Etching of Eliza Poe by Alexander Von Jost
Edgar Allan Poe was not the first member of his family to bring fame to the Poe name. His mother, Eliza Poe, who died at the age of twenty-four when Edgar was only two, was a gifted actress and singer who performed throughout the country. Just in time for the bicentennial of her death, the Poe Museum is bringing together some of the few remaining artifacts associated with her life for the exhibit Poe’s Mother: The Untold Story, opening December 2, 2011 and running until April 1, 2012. The exhibit will pay tribute to the talented performer who blazed the trail for future American actresses in a day when acting was still considered immoral and an unsuitable profession for women. Among the artifacts on view will be original scripts from plays in which she performed and a copy of her marriage bond and her only known signature.
Watercolor of Eliza Poe from Collection of the Poe Museum
The exhibit opening on December 2 from 6-9 P.M. will feature a performance by Eliza Poe as performed by Debbie Phillips. The performance will include original songs Eliza Poe is known to have performed. Admission to the opening reception event is free, and warm drinks and live music will be available.
Rare script for play featuring Eliza Poe in the Cast
Photo of Eliza Poe's Marriage Bond Courtesy of the Library of Virginia
Rare Engraving of the Richmond Theater Fire from the Collection of the Poe Museum
Copy of Only Known Letter Written by Eliza Poe Courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana
On December 3, 2011 at 1:00 P.M. at the Parish Hall at St. John’s Church, the Poe Museum will present a lecture by distinguished Poe scholar Richard Kopley on his thirty years of focused research into the hidden meanings of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. Kopley’s forty-five minute talk, “My Adventures with Poe,” will change the way you see Poe and his best-known stories and poems. Kopley’s original perspectives on Poe’s timeless works will provide fresh insights into Poe’s inspirations and creative process.
Richard Kopley is Associate Professor of English at Penn State DuBois and Head of the Division of English for Penn State’s Commonwealth College. He is the author of a forthcoming volume on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, as well as of numerous scholarly articles on Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. He is the editor of Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations (Duke UP, 1992), Prospects for the Study of American Literature (New York UP, 1997), and the Penguin edition of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1999). He is also co-editor of the journal Resources for American Literary Study, past president of the Poe Studies Association, and a trustee of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
Kopley’s scrutiny of Poe’s works and comprehensive understanding of Poe’s life has allowed him to see Poe in new ways. One of Kopley’s theories is that Poe’s detective stories could have been a response to an unsolved mystery in his own life. According to Kopley, “Poe’s biological father abandoned the family 12 months before his sister, Rosalie, was born, and that was a very big deal at the time. I’m inferring that Poe created the detective story and the character of Dupin [hero of Poe’s stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”] to solve mysteries in place of the mystery he can’t solve: who is Rosalie’s father?”
The lecture is free to the public, and copies of Kopley’s limited edition booklet The Very Profound Under-Current in Arthur Gordon Pym will be available for signing and purchase.
In 1887, the promising young artist James Carling was buried in a pauper’s grave in Liverpool. He was only twenty-nine. During his lifetime, he had been celebrated as the “Fastest Drawer in the World” and the “Lightning Caricaturist.” Though his “lightning” drawing skills had brought him from a childhood in poverty on the streets of Liverpool to the acclaim of audiences throughout the United States, he aspired to something greater. Carling sought to outdo the world’s most popular illustrator, the French artist Gustave Dore, by illustrating Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” better than Dore had done in his own celebrated illustrated 1882 edition of the poem.
Comparing his illustrations to Dore’s, Carling wrote, “Concerning ‘The Raven,’ I have been ‘dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.’ As well as Dore, I have illustrated ‘The Raven.’ Our ideas are as wide as the poles. Dore’s are beautiful; there is a tranquil loveliness in them unusual to Dore. Mine are stormier, wilder and more weird; they are horrible; I have reproduced mentality and phantasm. Not one of the ideas were ever drawn before. I feel that Poe would have said that I have been faithful to his idea of the ‘Raven,’ for I have followed his meaning so close as to be merged into his individuality. The series will be more numerous than Dore’s.”
In spite of (or perhaps because of) their originality and weirdness, Carling’s illustrations remained unpublished at the time of his death. He entrusted the drawings to his brother Henry, himself a successful artist. Over fifty years later, in 1930, Henry Carling exhibited the drawings, which were received with such enthusiasm that, six years later, the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia purchased them, for display in a “Raven Room.” Many a long-time Richmonder recalls with a shudder the time, decades ago, they were terrified by the “Raven Room” filled with James Carling’s masterful illustrations. After forty years on display at the Poe Museum, the drawings were taken down and placed in storage to protect them from damage by light and humidity. For some time the drawings were replaced with small black-and-white reproductions, which, over time, were also removed to make way for other exhibits. Since the 1970s the complete set of James Carling’s illustrations for “The Raven” have been in storage, but in January 2012 in honor of Poe’s 203rd birthday and the Poe Museum’s 90th anniversary, the Poe Museum will once again display Carling’s masterpiece for the first time in a generation. The exhibit will open on January 14, 2012 and will continue until May 1, 2012, after which the artwork will return to storage to prevent further deterioration so that the drawings may be safely exhibited for the enjoyment of future generations.