Text: G. Richard Thompson, “The Poe Case: Scholarship and ‘Strategy’,” Poe Newsletter­, April 1968 (no. 1), 1:3


[page 3, column 1:]

The Poe Case: Scholarship and “Strategy”


The origin of the Poe Newsletter lies principally in the response that Poe, both as writer and as literary personality, is able to generate. Despite or because of his sometimes odd techniques, Poe manages to send the mind spinning off in strange vagaries of thought, to touch as no other writer does the deep-lying apprehensions of his readers even while appealing to a coldly rational element in them. But of equal importance is the body of critical and scholarly writing extant. Certainly the volume of writing on Poe justifies a separate publication for the study of the man, his works, his career, his place in his times, and his reputation. A recent bibliographical survey for the years 1949-1965 by Howard A. Simonides (1) resulted in a list of 49 books from nine different languages, printed in eighteen different countries. In addition to the book-length works published during these seventeen years, Simonides also tabulated 358 articles. In all, the total for the period was 407 items. For 1965 and 1966 the PMLA listings total 70 items. A startling enough volume of writing, especially in view of Poe’s rather ambiguous reputation among professional critics and literary historians. Even more startling, perhaps, is the bibliographical file of one of the editors of the Poe Newsletter, whose listings of Poe items now total nearly 9,000.

A third force in the creation of the Poe Newsletter is the increasing sense, among Poe’s serious followers, of the miscellaneous and even directionless quality of Poe studies. This opinion was expressed three years ago by Stuart Levine in his essay “Scholarly Strategy: The Poe Case” (2) and is again voiced by J. Albert Robbins in “The State of Poe Studies,” with which this issue of the Poe Newsletter opens. Levine suggests that the scholarly “strategy” of the humanities generally should be “cumulative.” Humanistic scholars, Levine complains, often fail to build constructively on one another’s work: particularly in Poe studies do the same dreary errors, half-truths, and blatant misperceptions continue.

It would be absurd for the Poe Newsletter to try to act as a final arbiter on the proper “cumulative” value of any particular Poe study or to try to dictate the “strategy” of all future Poe studies, but we do intend to say what we think is valuable in Poe studies, and what is not. We intend to indicate what we think are the directions in which major efforts might go and to support such efforts, by publication or by publicizing and critiquing such work. Thus, despite the small size of the Poe Newsletter, we intend to have a fairly extensive review section, even to the extent, occasionally, of reviewing single articles. We intend, further, to publish annotated bibliographies and bibliographical review-essays. Perhaps the primary function of a “newsletter” is simply to report on what is going on; but in doing so we hope to encourage the art of the critique, in which genre Poe himself was preeminent. We hope also to encourage the concise essay and note as a rigorous form of scholarly writing. [column 2:]

Eventually, we hope to be able to publish concise essays on Poe in the larger context of international Romanticism and even short, pointed essays on the larger issues of Romanticism itself, its theory and history, its psychology and philosophy, even though such essays might have only general relevance for the study of Poe. Indeed, we feel that it is in this direction that Poe studies must go, though hand-in-hand with current semantic and structuralist sophistication — which Poe himself possessed in abundance. It is time, in short, for a thorough revaluation of Poe’s writings and Poe scholarship, and of Poe both as a contemporary presence and as a 19th-century Romanticist.

In this connection, a major direction which the Editor feels Poe studies should take is in source studies, or more precisely, context studies for Poe’s satires. If we are ever to understand these pieces, and come to a true evaluation of Poe’s much maligned “humor,” we must know the contexts which presumably once made the humor clear, which made the satire pointed, even if only for other editors and magazinists. The Poe Newsletter therefore invites short studies of Poe’s satire and humor, not only with reference to specific journalistic and social contexts but also to larger Romantic issues — for the explanation of why the body of Poe’s work splits between serious and the humorous surely does not lie in the simplistic assertion that Poe was a “split-personality,” half demon and half imp. Rather, an explanation is to be sought through careful investigations of the thematic relationships among the works, and through considerations of Poe in the context of Romanticism, especially the theories of the Grotesque, the Arabesque, and the Ironic.

Having declared thus bluntly these biases, I hasten to add that it is not our intention to restrict the subject matter of the Poe Newsletter. Any aspect of Poe the man and writer, or of his times, or of his intellectual tradition, we consider our proper sphere of interest — even to the extent of contradicting the principles voiced by Professor Robbins, with which we mainly agree. For when dealing with one’s literary hero, even items which are eccentric, quirky, and impressionistic sometimes have value for the true believer — and even Robbins cites D. H. Lawrence.

We hope, of course, that the principle of the perverse will not operate too tellingly. Because the Poe Newsletter is dependent on what is in the air and on the cooperative efforts of many, something of a miscellaneous quality cannot be entirely avoided. It may be objected that we are fostering a sub-genre of criticism on criticism. But if we take seriously what we are doing and have any belief in a “cumulative” strategy at all, such dialogue is essential. Indeed, I am reminded in this of the title of the last book by an occasionally eccentric critic, whose essay on Poe was seminal: T. S. Eliot’s To Criticize the Critic.



(1)  Col. Simonides compiled this list as a graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso under the direction of Professor Haldeen Braddy. I am indebted to Professor Braddy and to Mr. Cornell Jaray of the Kennikat Press for permission to make use of material from the new “Introduction” to Glorious Incense: The Fulfillment of Edgar Allan Poe (1953), the second edition of which is to be issued early this summer.

(2)  American Quarterly, XVII (Spring 1965), 133-134.


Associated Article(s) and Related Material:

  • None


[S:1 - PSDR, 1968]