Text: Solveig Hansen, 2022
Edgar Allan Poe, his life and work, and his rivalry with Rufus Griswold: A most entertaining reading project.
I was lucky to stumble upon the rivalry between Edgar Allan Poe and Rufus Griswold and I wanted to know more. All I knew about Poe was that he wrote horror tales and was the man behind “The Raven.” The dive into his writing and the history of his life turned out to be a highly entertaining one, with the great Christopher Lee’s recitation of “The Raven” as the highlight — see the video at the end of this post.
Among Poe’s horror stories, The Tell-Tale Heart became one of my favorites. The narrator/killer hides his victim under the floorboards, while at the same time trying to convince the readers of his sanity: “If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismember….” Then he starts hearing the dead man’s beating heart from under the floor, louder and Louder and LOUDER. Thump! Thump! Thump!
Actor James Mason has the perfect voice for a Poe tale, as heard in this creepy 1953 animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart:
Another favorite is The Murders in the Rue Morgue, introducing us to C. Auguste Dupin who thanks to his deductive skills cleverly solves murders. His friend narrates the story. Holmes and Watson, right? Poirot and Hastings. Before Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, there was C. Auguste Dupin.
Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle both give a nod to Poe.
Christie’s Third Girl opens with Poirot having finished his Magnum Opus, an analysis of great writers of detective fiction. “He had dared to speak scathingly of Edgar Allan Poe.”
In Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, Watson compares Holmes to Dupin: “You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.” Holmes disagrees and calls Dupin an inferior fellow. “He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.” Doyle himself said that it wasn’t he but Sherlock Holmes who criticized Dupin.
Poe and Griswold
The infamous Rufus Griswold, literary critic and editor, and Poe’s arch nemesis. The feud between the two is almost like a Poe story, and one is hardly mentioned without the other.
While Griswold was putting together the anthology that would become The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe submitted several of his poems, of which three were included in the collection. Griswold paid Poe to write a review of the book but didn’t get the praise he had expected. Poe questioned Griswold’s choice of poets, and the rivalry was on. The already strained relationship didn’t improve when Griswold not only succeeded Poe as the editor of Grahams Magazine but was paid more. And what did Poe do? He openly attacked Griswold in a series of lectures.
Fast-forward a few years. Poe dies, and Griswold writes a less than flattering obituary, signed Ludwig. It starts like this: “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”
The story doesn’t end there. Griswold somehow became Poe’s literary executor. And what did he do? He attempted character assassination of his bitter rival by writing a biographical article in which he depicted Poe in a very negative light, based on lies and half-truths — a view that has since been rectified.
This is a clip from The Poe Museum: “Griswold’s distorted image of Poe created the Poe legend that lives to this day while Griswold is only remembered (if at all) as Poe’s first biographer.”
As I said, a highly entertaining experience. Who says research is boring?
Comedy Central’s Drunk History team dramatized the feud between Poe and Griswold in their own way, with a narrator telling the story in an inebriated state and actors re-enacting it:
And finally: Here’s Christopher Lee and “The Raven.” Enjoy!