Text: Claude Richard and Jean-Marie Bonnet, “Raising the Wind; or, French Editions of the Works of Edgar Allan Poe,” Poe Newsletter , April 1968, vol. I, No. 1, 1:11-13


[page 11, column 1:]

Raising the Wind; or, The French Editions of the Works of Edgar Allan Poe

1. Charles Baudelaire, Oeuvres Complètes, Edition établie dans un ordre nouveau présentée et annotée par Yves Florenne. 3 vols. Paris: Le Club Francais du Livre, 1966.

Since the world began there have been two Jeremys. The one wrote a Jeremiad about Baudelaire and was called Yves Florenne. He has been very much admired by Pierre Henri Simon and was a very small editor in a small way. The other gave name to the most important of the Exact Sciences and was entitled the Book Club. Diddling is the most exact of French sciences: what constitutes the essence, the ware, the principle of diddling is, in fact, peculiar to the class that handles pens and quills: the French editors and printers of the works of Poe. A be-Monde d Norman Leslie -like edition of the Complete Works of Baudelaire has been recently published by the Club Francais du Livre: my incompetence prevents my commenting on the two volumes (I and III) devoted to Baudelaire, but I think it imperative to declare bluntly that in spite of, or rather [column 2:] on account of, its scholarly pretensions, Volume II, devoted to Baudelaire’s “intellectual encounter” with Poe, is a thoroughly execrable job.

That a man who labels himself a “Baudelairien” should allow the reader’s eye to meet what for Baudelaire was the ultimate eyesore (Edgard spelled with a d) on the front page is stunning enough, but when we have excused this printer’s error, we stumble upon a most fantastic chronology: it includes, for instance, the date of Elizabeth Arnold’s immigration in America, but neglects to mention Tamerlane and Other Poems; Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems; Poems, 1831; The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. . . . Among useless and legendary anecdotes (an actor inserting the “Nevermore” in his text when he recognized Poe in the audience) we discover that: Allan “forced” Poe to enlist in the army in 1827, that Poe received “un prix de poesie” in 1833, that the “wealth” brought by the Broadway Journal was of short duration and that among the “various angels” Poe flirted with in 1848 were Sarah Royster and Mrs. Shelton.

Having thus reached page xiii, my firmly entrenched distrust turned into disbelief as I examined the abundant and pretentious notes. In the first paragraph of the commentary on “The Raven” and “The Philosophy of Composition,” I was crushed by the brazen show of incompetence. I learned that Virginia was dying in Fordham in 1843-1844, that “The Raven” appeared “no less than three times in three months” (January, February, March 1845), and I was told most peremptorily that “Ingram — not Griswold — must be considered as Poe’s most faithful biographer” (if I am not misled by the beautifully ambiguous sentence, this most reliable biographer seems to have offered his lucid commentary in 1845). After such a show of assurance, nothing really surprised me, neither the statement that “King Pest” had never been published when it appeared in the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, nor the statement that the first printing of “Lionizing” was in the SLM for May 9, 1855.

The number of inaccuracies is so stunning that the one natural question to ask is: has Jeremy ever seen an edition of Poe? The thing is really a fierce orgy of misspelling (”The systemé of Doctor Tarr and professeur Feather” is worthy of Poe’s burlesque gibberish in “The Duc de l ’Omelette”), misdating (the first printing of “Epimanes” was in March 1839; the first printing of “Shadow” was in Griswold’s edition), misprinting (what a delightful shop Graham’s Magazin must have been!), mistitling (”Life and Death” ), elementary errors (Poe will “come back” to the “hyacinth hair” in “To Helen,” which thus follows “Ligeia”; Poe took up his position at SLM in 1837), and peremptory decisions on controversial points (”The Purloined Letter” appeared for the first time in Chamber’s Journal; “A Descent into the Maelstrom” was submitted to the Baltimore Saturday Visitor; Poe got the prize for “The Coliseum”).

I am still wondering at the utility of the fatuous appendix: the editor (who prints extracts from the various readings of Poe’s tales and some early translations into French) seems to intend to demonstrate the high quality of Baudelaire’s translation by inviting a comparison with Isabelle Meunier’s and Borghers ’ less successful one. No one in France (except Lemonnier) seems to realize that the [page 12:] best way of judging Baudelaire’s work is to compare the translations with the original. To my knowledge, none of the hagiographers who have declared Baudelaire’s translations “superior” to Poe’s text have supported their assertion: the notes invariably list the unimportant errors and the variant readings, which only reveal that Baudelaire’s knowledge of English improved constantly.

What is a translation that is “superior” to the original? A translation is accurate or inaccurate, awkward or smooth. Baudelaire’s translation of the so-called “dark tales” is both accurate (in the final version) and smooth. His translation of Eureka is inaccurate and awkward. Baudelaire’s translation had better be forgotten or redone and readers who are interested in Poe’s thought (it is not the case for most of Baudelaire’s editors) might do what Valéry did; get an easily available copy of Wiley and Putnam’s edition or a paperback American reprint. As for the so-called humorous pieces that are puzzling enough in English, the only sound attitude is to return to the pun-sprinkled, coded intricacies of the text, to the “jest with a sad brow” style in which the wit is conveyed in English, if one does not want to give up in bewildered disappointment as Baudelaire did. Most French notes on “Mellonta Tauta,” “The Duc de l ’Omelette” and “Lionizing” are unwittingly hilarious, much more so than the cryptic jokes of “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences,” “The Angel of the Odd,” or “A Tale of Jerusalem,” in which Poe’s purpose was preeminently burlesque and critical. Before any Frenchman attempts a commentary on Poe’s “humor,” he had better get familiar with the works of Henry T. Tuckerman, William Lord, John Neal, Cornelius Mathews, Lewis Gaylord Clark, and Rufus Wilmot Griswold, to say nothing of Simms, Disraeli, Bulwer-Lytton, Horne, and Ainsworth.

In one word, this careless, pretentious and expensive edition lays bare the traditional flaw of French studies of Poe: a total neglect of his American background. Students of Baudelaire seem to take it for granted that Poe was “created” by Baudelaire. No one will deny that Poe’s reputation in France is almost entirely creditable to his translator. But if we, the French, are ever to reassert Poe’s permanent value, it will require what seems to be too much for our ticklish historical pride: Poe must be studied outside his French context or, as Patrick F. Quinn has magnificently demonstrated, beyond his French context.

Claude Richard


2. Oeuvres Imaginatives et Poétiques Complètes d ’Edgar Allan Poe. 6 vols. Paris: Editions Vialatay, 1966. Limited to 2500 copies.

This is an ambitious edition. The editor, Charles Moulin, has gathered together the translations of the tales made by Baudelaire and has added the rest of the tales which had not been translated by Baudelaire. These translations are taken from Contes Grotesques d ’Edgar Poe, traduction d ’Emile Hennequin (Paris: Ollendorff, 1882) and from Derniers Contes par Edgar Poe, traduction de F. Rabbe (Paris: Albert Savinne, 1886). [For a list of the tales translated by Hennequin and Rabbe, see Edgar Allan Poe, [column 2:] Oeuvres en Prose, ed. Y. G. Le Dantec (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, 1951), p. 158.] The poems are given in Leon Lemmonier’s translation, and the editor has added in an appendix some translations by Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus and Rollinat. It is an “edition de luxe,” as the price shows, and it is illustrated by an outstanding surrealist artist, Leonor Fini.

The illustrations made by Leonor Fini are remarkable; the work of the editor is not. He presents Poe in a light which is both traditional and absurd. Moulin’s introduction is a farrago of nonsense; he seems completely unfamiliar with the work done in Poe studies the last twenty-five years, for he indulges in errors which should not be made in the mid-1960’s. But to make a list of these factual errors would be fastidious and not to the point. We shall instead devote our attention to his manner of introducing the author. M. Moulin still sees Poe through Baudelaire’s translations, and his appreciation of Poe is typical of a certain kind of bad French criticism: he persists in regarding Poe as an inveterate drunkard and “dope-fiend” alienated from his country.

M. Moulin has undoubtedly summed up his ideas in the first sentence of his introduction: “Je placerai l ’oeuvre de Poe sous le signe des ivresses: ivresses des paradis artificiels de l ’alcool et de l ’opium . . . .” Now it is astounding that a critic should write such a sentence in such a recent edition of Poe’s work. That Poe was not always sober has been admitted by the most responsible scholars; but that he was always drunk is false. Nor did he write any of his tales or poems while drunk: according to Professor Mabbott, an inspection of his literary Mss. shows a normal handwriting quite different from the one found in a letter written while he was on a spree. Poe’s use of opium has been denied by Thomas Dunn English, a physician, and, it will be remembered, a man who had no special reason to like Poe. Poe may have taken opium medicinally, but he was not a drug addict. It would seem that our editor indulges in deliberate confusion between Poe and his narrators. (Indeed, not so uncommon a confusion generally.)

The editor is also wrong when he comes to the question of Poe’s relationship with women. Naturally, he thinks that Poe’s marriage to Virginia was not consummated, that it was only “un geste,” but no evidence is given to support this statement. To explain Poe’s “morbid” love for dead women, M. Moulin quotes the famous “I could not love, except where Death/Was mingling his with Beauty’s breath . . . .” He then agrees with Marie Bonaparte who saw in these lines a candid avowal of necrophilia. If our editor had given the quotation in full, he would have made his readers understand that the meaning of these lines is slightly different:

I could not love except where Death

Was mingling his with Beauty’s breath —

Or Hymen, Time, and Destiny

Were stalking between her and me.

In this introduction, the editor has repeated the most common and most erroneous thoughts about Poe without even trying to verify them. He does not make a single contribution to the advancement of Poe studies — and forces us to think of Dupin’s statement in “Marie Roget,” [page 13:] made in reply to the narrator’s request for the detective’s opinion concerning an article in Le Soleil: “That it is a vast pity its inditer was not born a parrot — in which case he would have been the most illustrious parrot of his race.” M. Moulin has made the “gross but common” error of thinking that Poe was, once and for all, explained. But the Poe case is one of the most controversial. M. Moulin is but another of these critics who read Poe in French and regard Marie Bonaparte’s and M. Lanvrière’s books as definitive. It is a vast pity indeed that the French still do not have a true perception of the real achievement of Poe. And we shall not, so long as we produce such editions as this.

Jean-Marie Bonnet


Associated Article(s) and Related Material:

  • None.


[S:1 - PSDR, 1968]