April is National Poetry Month and the perfect time to celebrate all the poetry in the world around us. Whether we read it in a book or listen to it on the radio, we enjoy poetry in countless forms. In Edgar Allan Poe’s time, when poetry was far more popular than it is today, people experienced poetry in a number of different ways. Much like today, poets gave public readings for their work or published it in books or magazines. Poe and his contemporaries also wrote their poems in ladies’ albums.
Ladies’ albums were popular gifts for girls throughout much of the nineteenth century. The owner would send her album to her friends and relatives who would fill them with poetry and drawings in much the same way today’s high school students sign each other’s yearbooks. In the nineteenth century, however, people put a lot more effort into signing their friends’ albums. Here are three good examples from the collection of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
The first belonged to Lucy Dorothea Henry (1822-1898), the granddaughter of Revolutionary War orator Patrick Henry. In spite of living on a rural Virginia plantation, she befriended some of the leading authors of her day by writing them to request their autographs for her collection. In the process, she befriended New York editor and autograph collector John Keese who gave her this album.
This is Keese’s inscription.
This page contains a poem by American poet Charles Fenno Hoffman.
Here is poem by Elizabeth Oakes Smith that shows off the poet’s beautiful handwriting.
Henry’s daughters donated both her autograph collection and her album to the Poe Museum in 1928.
The next album belonged to Louisa Anna Lynch (1825-1891), who grew up in Petersburg, Virginia. When she was a girl, Edgar Allan Poe gave her a copy of a book and autographed it for her. Read all about it here. When her descendants donated that book to the Poe Museum, they also donated her autograph album, which is full of poems dating to the early 1840s.
Somebody wrote these unsigned captions for the book’s few illustrations. The captions are quotes from various books and periodicals.
The anonymous writer of this Shakespeare quote has given Louisa the nickname Annie.
One suitor thought he could impress Louisa by writing this essay on friendship in her album.
Here are the closing lines of a poem signed “CMF” and the opening verses of a poem signed “Amicus.”
The third album belonged to Amelia Poe, the twin sister of Neilson Poe, the husband of Josephine Emily Clemm Poe Poe, half-sister of Edgar Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm Poe, who was also Edgar’s first cousin. (If that is confusing, you can read about the Poe family genealogy here.) This album is a treasure trove of poetry, artworks, and pressed flowers.
The person who wrote this poem also decorated the page with drawings.
Here is another elaborate decoration.
When writing in a lady’s album, one could either compose an original poem or quote an appropriate poem by a popular author. In the sample below, someone has quoted a couple verses of Scottish poet Thomas Campbell’s 1799 poem “The Pleasure of Hope” and signed it with a dotted line. If you look very closely, someone wrote some initials in pencil on that dotted line. They appear to be “EAP.”
In either 1829 or 1832-1836, Edgar Allan Poe wrote the first stanza of his poem “To Helen” in the album. Today this is thought to be the only surviving copy of that poem in Poe’s handwriting.
Amelia Poe’s granddaughter donated this album and other Poe family items to the Poe Museum in 1930.
This has been only a small sample of the many poems written throughout each of these albums. At a time when writing in cursive is a dying art and when writing poetry in albums has long-since gone out of fashion, we can read through the poetry in the Poe Museum’s albums to get a sense of the role poetry played in people’s daily lives back in Poe’s time.
Millions of students have memorized Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” but what great work of literature did the author of that famous speech memorize? According to one of his friends, John T. Stuart, Lincoln “carried Poe around on the Circuit—read and loved ‘The Raven’—repeated it over & over.” How might Lincoln have sounded when reading Poe’s solemn poem of death and despair? William H. Herndon wrote in an 1887 letter that “Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant.”
Ever since he was young, Lincoln loved reading. His biographer, Michael Burlingame, wrote that among Lincoln’s favorite works were Poe’s mystery “The Gold Bug” and his science fiction/horror tale “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Lincoln even tried his hand at writing his own true-crime story based on a murder trial for which he had served as the defense attorney. The story “Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder” was reprinted over a century later in the March 1952 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
He also wrote a number of poems. Here is one he wrote in his arithmetic book when he was about sixteen:
Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read…
In 1858, Lincoln wrote this poem in his landlord’s daughter’s album:
You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
Pluck the roses ere they rot.
Teach your beau to heed the lay—
That sunshine soon is lost in shade—
That now’s as good as any day—
To take thee, Rose, ere she fade.
Even though Poe and Lincoln were born a few weeks apart in 1809, they never met. One wonders what might have happened if they had.
The First Printing of “The Raven” from 1845
On February 11 from 7-9 p.m. at the Patrick Henry Pub and Grille in Richmond, the Poe Museum will team up with James River Writers to bring back the grand tradition of the salon, an intimate setting to meet & fraternize with local authors as they in turn guide you in your own writing practice. Whatever your genre, this will be a great way to connect, to learn, and to philosophize. There is no cover charge. We welcome writerly types of all experience levels and readers, thinkers, and artists of every sort. To top it off, the building in which we will be meeting was the home of J.W. Fergusson, Poe’s assistant at the Southern Literary Messenger and one of the few people to attend Poe’s wedding. The theme for the first salon will be “The Secret Heart–Considering the Dark Side of Romance” with speaker Slash Coleman.
Here are the Details:
February Topic: The Secret Heart – Considering the Dark Side of Romance
Speaker: Slash Coleman
Thursday, February 11, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Patrick Henry Pub & Grille, in the upstairs salon
2300 East Broad Street (free street parking)
About the Speaker:
NPR calls award-winning storyteller Slash Coleman “Extremely provocative and entertaining,” and WGBH says the NYC based author, “has the power to change the way people think.”
The author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash), Slash is best known for his PBS Special The Neon Man and Me and is currently creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. Slash’s performances have been featured in American Theatre Magazine, Backstage Magazine, The Washington Post, and most recently on the NPR series How Artists Make Money.
Click here for more information.
Already the world’s largest celebration of author Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, the Poe Museum of Richmond’s annual Poe Birthday Bash will outdo itself this January 16 from noon to midnight with twelve straight hours counting down Poe’s greatest hits with performance, film, music, readings, exhibits, and more for just $5 per person.
New exhibits opening that day include the interactive “Poe’s Greatest Hits” in which the visitor gets to be part of a Poe story. There will also be a display of original artwork from the new film Extraordinary Tales. Live music includes fan favorites The Embalmers and more great bands. There will be readings and performances throughout the day in addition to neighborhood tours, museum tours, and historical interpreters. We will be joined by James River Writers and Sisters in Crime for readings and the announcement of the winner of the inaugural Poe Inspires Award for flash fiction and poetry at 5:30 p.m. Guests will vote for Poe’s greatest short story, and the winner will be announced at 6 p.m.
There will be crafts and games for the kids, a sad poetry reading contest for all ages, and a midnight champagne toast for the adults. Other highlights of the day include a screening of the film Extraordinary Tales, The Embalmers playing live music to accompany screenings of silent Poe films, a walking tour the neighborhood by Poe’s mother, and readings by members of Sisters in Crime. A cash bar will be provided by Center of the Universe.
Here is the schedule so far:
11:00 a.m. to Dark
Walking Tour with Poe’s Fiancee Elmira Shelton
Begins and ends at Poe Museum and includes a stop at St. John’s Church.
Noon to 1:30 p.m.
With Margot MacDonald
“The Conqueror Worm”
Performed by Dean Knight
Walking Tour of Shockoe Bottom with Poe’s Mother
Begins and ends at Poe Museum with a stop at the oldest continuously used Masonic Lodge in the country.
Sisters in Crime
Talk and Book Signing
Talk by the Poe Museum’s curator
Birthday Cake Served
See some little known oddities and rarities from the collection taken out of the vault just for this event!
Sad Poetry Reading Contest, Reading Activities
“Poe Inspired” Contest Presentation with Poe Museum and James River Writers
Poe’s Greatest Hit Countdown Announcement
6:30 p.m. Walking Tour
Poe’s Last Night in Richmond
Retrace Poe’s path during his final night in Richmond, just over a week before his death.
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
With Ocean Versus Daughter
7:00 p.m. Museum Tour
“Berenice” Reading by Dean Knight
“The Raven” Reading by Michael Fawcett
8:00 p.m. – 9:15 p.m.
9:30 p.m. Museum Tour
10:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Live Music by Embalmers and Silent Films
Champagne Toast in the Poe Shrine
From the man who sneaked into his dead wife’s crypt to spend the night on her corpse to the woman who believed she was in communication with Poe’s spirit after his death, colorful characters seemed to flock to Edgar Allan Poe. But Stella stands out even among this crowd. It is said that, when he saw her approaching his front door, Poe fled through the back door to avoid her. She may have even convinced her husband to pay Poe to write positive reviews of her work. In spite of that, she told Poe’s biographer John Henry Ingram she had been Poe’s good and trusted friend, and she boasted that she had been the inspiration for his poem “Annabel Lee.” The Poe Museum now owns a strange letter she wrote to one of Poe’s biographers. Because it reveals some entertaining insights in her personality and her relationship with Poe, we have named it the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month.
Estelle Anna “Stella” Lewis (1824-1880) was a moderately successful writer and the wife of lawyer Sylvanus Lewis. She first became acquainted with Poe around 1846. She soon joined a group of Poe’s female admirers in helping the poet, his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, and his gravely ill wife Virginia in a time of need. After Virginia’s death in January 1847, Stella continued to visit Poe and his mother-in-law. According to Stella, she became his trusted confidant, but other sources believed she was really trying to bribe him to write complimentary reviews. Meanwhile, Stella’s “trusted confidant” Poe wrote in a June 16, 1848 letter to Annie Richmond, “If she [Stella] comes here I shall refuse to see her.”
Poe was close enough to Stella to write the following acrostic poem for her. The first letter of the first line, the second of the second, and so forth spell out her name.
“Seldom we find,” says Solomon Don Dunce,
“Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.
Through all the flimsy things we see at once
As easily as through a Naples bonnet—
Trash of all trash!—how can a lady don it?
Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff—
Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.”
And, veritably, Sol is right enough.
The general tuckermanities are arrant
Bubbles—ephemeral and so transparent—
But this is, now,—you may depend upon it—
Stable, opaque, immortal—all by dint
Of the dear names that he concealed within’t.
Unlike many of the poems Poe addressed to women, there is no hint of romance in this one. He also had this daguerreotype of himself made for her.
He gave Annie Richmond another, very similar, daguerreotype taken at the same session.
Stella later told John Henry Ingram, “I saw much of Mr. Poe during the last year of his life. He was one of the most sensitive and refined gentlemen I ever met. My girlish poem — ‘The Forsaken’ — made us acquainted. He had seen it floating the rounds of the press, and wrote to tell me how much he liked it: ‘It is inexpressibly beautiful,’ he said, ‘and I should like much to know the young author.’ After the first call he frequently dined with us, and passed the evening in playing whist or in reading to me his last poem.”
On his last night in New York before starting his ill-fated trip to Richmond, Stella invited Poe and his mother-in-law to her home for dinner. As Stella told it, “The day before he left New York for Richmond,” continues Stella, “Mr. Poe came to dinner, and stayed the night. He seemed very sad and retired early. On leaving the next morning he took my hand in his, and, looking in my face, said, ‘Dear Stella, my much beloved friend. You truly understand and appreciate me — I have a presentiment that I shall never see you again. I must leave to-day for Richmond. If I never return, write my life. You can and will do me justice.’ ‘I will!’ I exclaimed. And we parted to meet no more in this life. That promise I have not yet felt equal to fulfil.” Poe died a few months afterwards. Stella died three decades later without fulfilling that promise.
In the years following Poe’s death, Stella invited his mother-in-law to live with her. It seems that, in order to endear herself to Stella, Mrs. Clemm told her she had been the inspiration for “Annabel Lee”—even though nothing in the poem suggests this. Stella almost immediately told her friends, and the rumor appeared in the papers not long after that. Another of Poe’s friends, Frances Osgood, responded in the December 8, 1849 issue of Saroni’s Musical Times that Poe’s wife was the only woman he had ever loved and was unquestionably the true subject of “Annabel Lee.” Osgood continues, “I have heard it said that it was intended to illustrate a love affair of the author; but they who believe this, have in their dullness, evidently misunderstood or missed the beautiful meaning latent in the most lovely of all its verses…” Most people now agree with Osgood.
Poe’s ex-fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman, however, (who also thought she had been the inspiration for “Annabel Lee”) was so insulted by Stella’s claim that she spread the rumor that a New York writer familiar with all the parties involved told her Maria Clemm had only been flattering Stella to repay some favors and that Osgood had invented the claim that Virginia was the real Annabel Lee solely to spite Stella. (In case you’re counting, that’s three possible Annabel Lees in this blog post.)
Just to make sure her role in Poe’s life was recorded for posterity, she befriended his enemy and biographer Rufus W. Griswold. She still failed to convince the public she could have been the real Annabel Lee.
In 1858, Stella divorced her husband, began a feud with Maria Clemm (who apparently sided with Sylvanus Lewis in the divorce), accused another writer of stealing from her, and headed for Europe. About this time, Martin Van Buren Moore (1837-1900), a young reporter from Tennessee, wrote her for assistance in writing an article about Edgar Allan Poe. In her response, she boasts that Poe himself had entrusted her to be his biographer, calls Maria Clemm the “black cat” of Poe’s life, talks about her divorce, and asks Moore if she should change her name to La Stella or Anna Stella. She eventually settled on the name Stella. Here is a photo of this note.
The text of the letter reads:
I had not time to reply to you [sic] letter which reached me the day before I sailed for Europe. I called at Mr. Scribner’s on my way to the vessel and told his brother to say to you that I would write the notice of Poe–I will if you can wait. It was his last request of me– “Write my life–you know better than anyone else.” he said. If any one else should write it do not permit the name of that old woman who calls herself his mother-in-law to appear in it. I have heard that she is not his mother-in-law–That she has something else on him. Any how. I believe that she was [the] black cat of his life. And that she strangled him to death. I will tell you about it when we meet. If you get the work out before I return to America put Poe first, and Stella next in the Poets of Maryland. You cannot get it out till next year as it ought to be– do wait–that is a good Van.
I intend to drop the name of Lewis–but cannot do it at once–What do you think of La Stella or Anna Stella. Call me Stella on all occasions–ring on it in biographical notice– You know that the Divorce was all in my favor–That is after trying for a year they could not get anything against me–and gave it up–say this in the notice–say that I stood unscathed against the treachery of a half dozen Lawyers. Let me hear from you the moment you get this. Direct to care of Mr. John Monroe, Banker, no 5, Rue de La Paix, Paris—
After leaving the United States, Stella meandered around Europe before settling in London around 1874. While there, she provided information about the poet to another of Poe’s biographers John Henry Ingram. At the same time, Poe’s nurse Marie Louise Shew and his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman were also supplying Ingram sometimes contradictory accounts of their own relationships with Poe.
Stella still found time to write poetry and plays. Her major works include the tragedies Helémah, or the Fall of Montezuma (1864) and Sappho of Lesbos (1868). The latter was printed in seven editions and translated into Greek to be performed in Athens. The Poe Museum owns a autographed copy of this, her most celebrated work. In 1865 she composed a series of sonnets about Poe. Her other works include The Child of the Sea and other Poems (1848), The Myths of the Minstrel (1852), Poems (1866) and The King’s Stratagem(1869).
Stella died in London in 1880. By then, the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine deemed her the “Female Petrarch” while Ingram considered her merely a “harpy” who had preyed upon Poe in his final years.
Martin Van Buren Moore eventually wrote his essay about Poe. The manuscript for it is also in the Poe Museum’s collection. His grandson Otis D. Smith of Richmond, Virginia donated both the Stella letter and the manuscript to the Museum in 1979 but kept the envelope because he thought he might be able to sell it to a stamp collector.
On this page from Moore’s manuscript, he acknowledges the assistance of the “brilliant” Stella to whom he is “indebted for many of the facts in regards to Poe’s life” that were used in the essay. Among these facts, he continues, “She stated positively that Poe was born in Baltimore and not in Boston.” Click here to find out where Poe was really born. Fortunately, Moore’s essay makes no attempt to promote the discredited claims that Stella was the real Annabel Lee.
While the Poe Museum owns a number of Edgar Allan Poe’s letters, most visitors do not realize the collection also holds several rarely seen letters from the people in his life. While these are rarely anthologized and seldom read, they nevertheless provide value insights into Poe’s life and work as seen by his contemporaries. Since this Stella letter was written to a person researching an article about Poe, the document reveals the way in which Poe’s biography was shaped (or distorted) by the biases and self-interests of the people who knew him as they provided information of varying quality to his biographers.
Join us on Wednesday, October 7 at 6:00 PM at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond as we mark the 166th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death and honor his legacy.
Be Among the First to Get a Copy
As a fitting tribute to Poe’s genius and his continued influence on contemporary literature, authors J. Madison Davis, Nancy Kilpatrick, and Caro Soles will be here to read from and sign copies of nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre—an anthology of 21 original stories inspired by Poe’s works.
Deliver a Poe Eulogy
In addition to the reading, we’ll also give Poe mourners an opportunity to say a few words about the dearly departed with our Open Mic Eulogies. In this open forum, we invite everyone to share their thoughts and memories of Poe with all of us. Whether you have a favorite story or poem of his that particularly moved you or his work has inspired you in some way, we welcome your responses!
Solve the Mystery of Poe’s Death
Poe’s death in Baltimore at the age of 40 remains something of a mystery. There are at least 27 different theories as to the cause of death…care to submit your own theory? We’ll have “Death Clues” scattered around the museum—these excerpts from primary documents detail the circumstances surrounding Poe’s last days. Read the clues and form your own theory about what happened all those years ago. A small prize will be awarded to the most original theory.
Experience New Exhibits
As always, the museum’s exhibits will be open. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum boasts the world’s largest collection of Poe memorabilia and artifacts. Last week saw the installation of a new exhibit, “The Poe Code,” all about Poe and cryptograms, which will be displayed until November 29. The special exhibit “Buried Alive: Poe’s Tales of Premature Burial” will remain on view only until October 18. Don’t miss them!
This event is free of charge. For more information, call 804-648-5523.
Praise for nEvermore!
from Publishers Weekly:
“Poe accomplished what only the greatest writers are capable of achieving: the creation of a world. His was a world of twisty tales and dark comeuppances, his people haunted by the past and love denied. And this is what you’ll also find in nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre, a world of its own authored by a talented crew who have fallen under Poe’s spell and brought chilling and distinctive documents back with them. Pleasures abound.” — Andrew Pyper, author of The Damned and The Demonologist.
“The stories in nEvermore! truly capture the macabre, mysterious essence of Poe. It’s a wonderful read for all Poe fans.” — Susan Jaffe Tane, Curator, The Persistence of Poe, the finest collection of Poe-related material in private hands
“I was genuinely delighted by the originality of Kilpatrick and Soles’ nEvermore….It was with great relief that I found the presence of Poe looming large in this anthology. Most importantly, the authors truly honor his spirit.” — Elaine Pascale (The Horror Review)
“Probably the most formally ambitious story in the collection is “Afterlife,” a collaboration between William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock and Sunni Brock, which synthesizes aspects of Poe’s legend and biography with his late cosmogonic poem Eureka, putting the results under a kind of amnesiac erasure.” – Postscripts to Darkness
On Friday, June 26 from 7-8:30 p.m., the Poe Museum at 1914 East Main Street in Richmond, Virginia will host a reading and reception at which the students of the 2015 Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference will read the works they produced during the week-long residential writing conference. This year’s students will be coming from Virginia, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Michigan, and Puerto Rico to learn the craft of writing from professionals in the field and to be inspired by the places featured in Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems. Admission to the reading and reception is free.
About the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference
From June 21-27, 2015, a select group of eleven high school students from across the country will come to Richmond, Virginia to learn from and to be inspired by American author Edgar Allan Poe at the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference. Among the speakers addressing the students during the conference will be Pollack Prize and Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award winning novelist Gigi Amateau; novelist and blogger Julie Farley; author and journalist Harry Kollatz; poet Joanna Lee; and Theresa Pollack Award-winner and New Virginia Review Editor Mary Flinn. When not attending lectures and writing workshops in the Parish Hall at St. John’s Church (where Poe’s mother is buried), the students will seek inspiration by visiting a number of Poe sites including the the cemetery in which his foster parents and first love are buried, the setting of his short story “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” and the locations that inspired some of Poe’s best-known stories and poems. The students will also visit major Poeana collections including that of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, where students will conclude the week with a reception and reading.
The attendees of this unique conference will follow in Poe’s footsteps, visiting the places his lived or worked and seeing the places that inspired his poems and short stories. Founded in 2004 by Edgar™ Award-winning author and Poe relative Dr. Harry Lee Poe, the conference has attracted students from California to Massachusetts over the years.
Illustration for the 1843 first printing of “The Gold-Bug”
Poe was much more than the Master of the Macabre. He was also the Master of Mystery, the inventor of detective fiction, and an avid cryptographer who introduced puzzles and codes into his poems and short stories. His short story “The Gold-Bug” features an encrypted treasure map and a search for clues and codes that set the standard for such popular films as National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code. This spring the Poe Museum planted a new Gold-Bug Garden modeled after this setting of this important story. In honor of the opening of the new Gold-Bug Garden at the Poe Museum in Richmond, on Tuesday, June 23 at 6 p.m., Poe scholar Richard Kopley will deliver “Decoding the Gold-Bug,” a talk about Edgar Allan Poe’s influential treasure hunt mystery “The Gold-Bug.” Admission is free.
About Richard Kopley:
Richard Kopley is Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Penn State DuBois. He is the author of Edgar Allan Poe and the Dupin Mysteries, as well as numerous articles, chapters, and reviews on Poe. He is the editor of Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations and the co-editor, with Jana Argersinger, of Poe Writing, Writing Poe. He has spoken on Poe widely in the United States, and he has given papers on Poe in Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia, and (by DVD) Japan.. He is a former president of the Poe Studies Association, organizer of several Poe conferences, co-organizer of the recent Fourth International Edgar Allan Poe Conference in New York City, and a member of the program committee for the next international Poe-Hawthorne Conference, scheduled for June 21-24, 2018, in Kyoto, Japan.
About the Poe Museum’s Gold-Bug Garden:
Designed by Riely and Associates, the firm that restored the gardens at the Virginia Executive Mansion, Monticello, and the University of Virginia, the Poe Museum’s Gold-Bug Garden recreates the Low Country setting of “The Gold-Bug” with an unusual combination of palms, umbrella plants, fatsia, and banana shrubs. This garden is only one stage in the Garden Club of Virginia’s restoration of the Poe Museum’s gardens, which date back to 1922.
David Lupton, illustrator of the Folio Society’s new edition of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, took a few minutes from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his work and his interest in Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe Museum: I have seen your illustrations for “Dracula’s Guest,” “Death & the Myrmidon,” and “The Monkey’s Paw.” What accounts for your personal interest in illustrating dark subject matter?
David Lupton: I’ve always had a predilection for a darker and melancholy subject matter. I’m not entirely sure where this comes from, but from an early age I had a love of gothic horror fiction (stories, film, artwork etc…) and I remember being particularly obsessed with the old Universal and Hammer horror films. As I grew older my love for genre fiction grew deeper and I knew that I wanted to create work that existed within the boundaries of the horror and gothic genres. I think also that I’ve always empathised with the characters of gothic fiction, who tend often to be outcasts or outsiders, and I strive to evoke a narrative that concerns these characteristics within my illustrations. My work also tends to have fantastical element (usually of a macabre and unsettling nature) and for this reason I have always created drawings and sought out commissions that would allow me to indulge in my love of this subject matter.
PM: Do you have a personal interest in the works of Edgar Allan Poe? If so, what does Poe’s work mean to you?
DL: As a lover of old horror films my first exposure to Poe’s work was through the films of Roger Corman often starring Vincent Price in the lead role (The Pit and the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher being particular favourites). Although these films now seem a little schlocky they were a good inroad into his actual writing and for me to further explore the themes and ideas contained within his work.
I feel that Poe’s interest in death and the questions that surround death (physical and spiritual) have directly influenced my drawing style and the content of my work. I think that influence is evident in my attempts to create expressionistic work that represents themes of life and mortality, albeit within macabre and gothic trappings.
PM: Had you read any of his works, including The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, before taking on the project?
DL: I had read a number of the short stories but I wasn’t actually aware of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym before taking on this project. Reading Poe’s only full length novel was interesting though and although the book is a bit more of a straight forward adventure narrative, it still contains Poe’s constant themes of death and mortality (not to mention a fair amount of bloody violence and cannibalism).
I would love to go on and illustrate other works by Edgar Allan Poe. The Masque of the Red Death is a particular favourite of mine and to explore it’s visual detail; the castle setting, colour coded interiors and general atmosphere of dread would be a joy for me as a visual artist.
We look forward to seeing Lupton’s future projects and hope he will have the opportunity to illustrate more of Poe’s works. To learn more about this new edition of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, click here.
The Poe Museum recently received a small slip-cased volume in the mail. While most of the books that cross my desk contain Poe’s tales of terror (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” and the like), this case holds an edition of the only novel Poe ever finished, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket Comprising the Details of a Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on Board the American Brig Grampus, on Her Way to the South Seas, in the Month of June, 1827. With an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivers; Their Shipwreck and Subsequent Horrible Suffering from Famine; Their Deliverance by Means of the British Schooner Jane Guy; the Brief Cruise of This Latter Vessel in the Antarctic Ocean; Her Capture, and the Massacre of Her Crew Among a Group of Islands in the Eighty-Fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude; Together with the Incredible Adventures and Discoveries Still Farther South to Which That Distressing Calamity Gave Rise. (Let’s just call it Pym.)
The unusual title suggests something of its strange contents which feature cannibalism, a sea voyage to the Antarctic, and a ghostly white figure.
Poe printed the first installments of what was intended to be a serialized novel in the Southern Literary Messenger just before he left the magazine. After moving from Richmond to New York, Poe completed Pym while adding a preface to explain that the parts that appeared in the Messenger had been written by Poe on behalf of Arthur Gordon Pym while the rest of the book was written by Pym himself. The preface, signed by “A.G. Pym,” further confesses that Poe and Pym had previously pretended the first installments were fiction. Since “A.G. Pym” states that all the details in the novel are absolutely true, some readers believed it might be a real account. The Evening Post noted, “The air of reality in the narrative is assumed with no small skill.”
Others were unconvinced and assumed it was just another hoax by Richard Adams Locke, author of “The Moon Hoax” a few years earlier. In a December 1838 review of Pym in Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine, William Burton declares, “A more impudent attempt at humbugging the public has never been exercised; the voyages of Gulliver were politically satirical, and the adventures of Munchausen, the acknowledged caricature of a celebrated traveller. Sindbad the sailor, Peter Wilkins, and Moore’s Utopia, are confessedly works of imagination; but Arthur Gordon Pym puts forth a series of travels outraging possibility, and coolly requires his insulted readers to believe his ipse dixit.”
Poe saw this criticism and later wrote Burton, “You once wrote in your magazine a sharp critique upon a book of mine — a very silly book — Pym. Had I written a similar criticism upon a book of yours, you feel that you would have been my enemy for life, and you therefore imagine in my bosom a latent hostility towards yourself.”
Some reviewers were more positive in their assessments. The New York Gazette called Pym “a very extraordinary volume purporting to be a narrative of ‘Arthur Gordon Pym,’ who it is said [is] lately deceased in some melancholy way, and his adventures as well as his death are referred to as of perfect notoriety.” The New-Yorker declared it “a work of extraordinary, freezing interest beyond anything we ever read.” The Morning Courier wrote, “the volume is highly interesting in the story, well written, and to the lovers of marvellous fiction will be quite a treasure.”
Harper and Brothers published an unknown number of copies in New York in 1838, but sales were disappointing. Within a year, the book was reprinted in England where it saw its first success. When the first British edition sold well, a number of British bootleg versions appeared in a multiple editions. Herman Melville’s brother was one of many who bought one of these unauthorized copies for which the author received no compensation.
Although Americans were mainly unconvinced by this apparent hoax, some English readers believed it was a true story. George Putnam recounted, “The grave particularity of the title and of the narrative misled many of the critics as well as ourselves, and whole columns of these new ‘discoveries,’ including the hieroglyphics (!) found on the rocks, were copied by many of the English country papers as sober historical truth”
The edition now on my desk was published earlier this year by the Folio Society, which has been printing finely bound and illustrated books since 1947 because—according to their website—they believe “great books deserve to be printed in a form worthy of their contents.” Their books are designed to be read, collected, and cherished by those who love great literature. With an astute introduction by novelist Marilynne Robinson and illustrations by David Lupton, the Folio Society’s edition is sure to be a collector’s item.
The Folio Society’s Editorial Director Tom Walker explained that this new edition of Pym was originally proposed by a reader. “We then wrote to a large number of our customers about a wide range of novels and this consistently came top of their list of books they wanted to see in a Folio edition. I think that is partly because we have already (some years ago now) published many of Poe’s short stories, and this underpublished novel was seen as a natural next step. Our readers of course admire Poe as one of the greatest of nineteenth-century authors, and the combination of classic status with horror and seafaring was I think irresistible for them!”
An admirer of her work, Walker chose Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson to write the introduction, which he deemed “all I hoped it might be – intense and broad reaching itself, and cleverly bringing the novel into the light of [Poe’s last book] Eureka.” Walker was also pleased with Lupton’s “dark, brooding” illustrations.
Aside from the fine illustrations (see below), the Folio Society’s Pym is notable for its craftsmanship, its sturdy binding designed to be handled and read by generations of readers, and its small size—in imitation of the small size of Poe’s first editions from the 1830s and 1840s. Click here to find out more about the book. To read an interview with the illustrator David Lupton, click here.