Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Critical Theory

Critical Theory: The Major Documents

Edgar Allan Poe
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 248
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Critical Theory
    Book Description:

    Edgar Allan Poe's reputation as an enduring and influential American literary critic rests mainly upon the pieces in this edition. Editors Stuart and Susan F. Levine provide reading texts, detailed explanatory footnotes, variant readings, and introductions to show context. They also face frankly the contradictions in Poe's critical opinions. Poe argues both that poetry is for pleasure, not truth, and that poetic inspiration leads to truth. Great works, Poe maintains, result from studied calculation, but also from irrational, supernal sources. Poe, both a biting critic and the doughty defender of American artistic achievement, was contemptuous of democratic art--except when vigorously defending it. Critical Theory highlights such conflicting ideas and suggests why they are present. _x000B__x000B_What was consistent in Poe's work was not a single theory, but rather wit, playfulness, concern for the strong effect, a bin of recyclable allusions, anecdotes and quotations, and a craftsman's discipline. Poe's writing on theory is of a piece with his fiction, poetry, and journalism. The Levines explain how these critical statements also tie tightly to the social, political, economic, and technological history of the world in which Poe lived. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09172-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Stuart Levine

    Writing in 1861, Fyodor Dostoevski said that he was struck by Poe’s Americanness. Comparing Poe to E. T. A. Hoffman, he argued that Hoffman’s fantasy is fantastic, while Poe’s is subject to rational analysis, grounded in fact and detail. He took that grounding to be a national characteristic.¹ What Dostoevski wrote about Americanness and concreteness in Poe’s fiction could be said of some of his critical theory as well. That is one reason Poe appears in histories of criticism. Perry Miller said he was “the first important American critic”; another writer called him “First of the New Critics.”²

    In their...

    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. LETTER TO B———.
    (pp. 1-20)

    In “Letter to B———.” Poe gives an early statement of his critical dictum that pleasure, not truth, is the end of poetry; he attacks the heresy of the didactic. He also reflects writers whose ideas he continued to espouse or dispute throughout his career and employs textural materials—anecdotes, quotations, sayings—which he would recycle in similar or in different contexts in fiction, criticism, poetry, andEureka. Perhaps even some of the contradictions in his critical thought are present in “Letter to B———.,” though the evidence for that is somewhat less certain.

    Poe’s secure place in the history...

    (pp. 21-36)

    Sour experiences working for magazine proprietors and his sure sense that he could make a magazine thrive led Poe to formulate plans for a journal of his own. The magazine would be popular and thereby provide him with a good living, for, as he several times boasted, he knew how to build circulations. But it would also have high standards. When I (SGL) taught this material in Europe, my students were surprised to learn that Poe had enough confidence in the sophistication and taste of the American reading public to feel that popularity and quality were not incompatible.

    In his...

    (pp. 37-50)

    The title “Exordium” is one which editors have provided; they take it from Poe’s first paragraph. When the piece appeared it was simply the untitled first ten paragraphs of the column “Review of New Books” inGraham’s Magazinefor January 1842. Poe had joined the staff ofGraham’sin January 1841; this statement of principle leads off his second year on the job (Poe was to leaveGraham’sin May). It was followed immediately by reviews.

    Poe’s comments on literary nationalism are sophisticated and well-taken, and his brief history of national self-consciousness in literature is accurate.¹ French and Latin American...

    (pp. 51-54)
    E. A. P.

    Although in his “Letter to B———.” (1831) Poe had satirized passages from Wordsworth’s “Essay Supplementary to the Preface,” he plainly was impressed by it and still had it in mind in 1845 as he looked back thoughtfully at his own poetic production. Once one passes the complaints about editors’ “improvements” of his poems, Poe’s single paragraph seems at first perhaps the familiar sort of modest author’s disclaimer. But it might be instead an honest cry from the heart by a man who knew that he had the gift and knew, too, that he had never been able to nurture...

    (pp. 55-76)

    “The Raven” had brought Poe great fame, and although he seems to have been genuinely modest about the quality of his poetry, he did like “The Raven.” In an interesting letter to G. W. Eveleth dated December 15, 1846, he said that he was delighted that Eveleth admired his poem “The Sleeper” (called “Irene” when it first appeared in 1831) because, Poe felt, in “the higher qualities of poetry, it is better than ‘The Raven.’” But, he went on, “‘The Raven,’ of course, is far the better as a work of art.”

    The fame and his confidence in “The Raven”...

    (pp. 77-144)
    Edgar A. Poe

    Viewed in the terms in which we customarily think of English verse, “The Rationale of Verse” seems perverse and not very sensible. If, however, Poe was really hearing poetry very differently, his strange system could be defended. Eric Carlson says that Poe had in mind “the incantory effect of monotone . . . a cumulative expression . . . achieved in the successive waves of distended sound” (“New Introduction,” xv). He wanted to understand meter quantitatively, that is: de-emphasizing accent, emphasizing “the ‘flow’ of the line, as in music.” Carlson goes on to connect this incantory manner of hearing poetry...

    (pp. 145-174)
    Edgar A. Poe

    “Notes upon English Verse” is included here because it is essentially a first draft of “The Rationale of Verse.” Listing the very large number of variants between the two would have made this volume inexcusably ponderous, but omitting the earlier piece would have violated our editorial commitment to show all editorial changes that Poe made himself. We have not provided the usual notes of explication. “Notes upon English Verse” is present, then, as a very long textual note to “The Rationale of Verse.”

    Poe sent it in early 1843 to James Russell Lowell so that Lowell could use it in...

    (pp. 175-212)

    MacLeish’s line line from “Ars Poetica” (1926) and the turn-of-the-century, avant-garde credo “Art for Art’s sake” are only two of the many later rewordings of the important manifesto contained in paragraphs eleven and twelve of Poe’s late lecture “The Poetic Principle.” Taken by itself, that statement is strong medicine. But it is too often quoted out of context. Read in its setting in this piece, it seems far less polemic. And if “The Poetic Principle” itself is placed initssetting, with the other works by Poe to which it is intimately connected, the forceful manifesto does not seem part...

    (pp. 213-218)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 219-230)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-232)