‘And much of Madness and more of Sin
And Horror the Soul of the Plot’
When I was younger, if I heard the name Edgar Allen Poe, I used to think of a little, curly black haired, bespectacled creature chanting poetry at a raven. The best way to dispel this image is to read his work. Poe certainly was an odd figure, and his life was full of dark, depressing events and hardship. To me, he was pretty much the gothic equivalent of poor, tortured genius. Not that he was a saint, far from it, in fact his frankly creepy relationship with his scarily young cousin made me feel very uncomfortable about him before I’d even read his first piece.
The volume of works I have is comprised of a selection of his poetry, short stories and then essays and reviews. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of poetry anyway, but I found that the only two poems I’d heard of before, ‘The Raven’ and ‘Annabel Lee’, were the only two I really enjoyed reading. Although, I have to be honest, I did enjoy the story behind ‘Al Araaf’. It seems to me that Poe’s poetry comes from his soul, and his soul is a very black and bleak place full of grief for lost loves. It makes for beautiful, yet very depressing work. Personally if I read poetry I prefer to read of love and joy, in fact pretty much the only poet I can stand who wrote sad poetry that I enjoyed was W.H. Auden.
For me, Poe’s short stories are really where he comes into his own. The detective stories starring the fabulous Dupin are brilliant, although I wasn’t particularly enamoured by the solution to ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’. In fact, I adored all of his short stories present in this collection, especially ‘William Wilson’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘The Gold-Bug’,’The Purloined Letter’, ‘The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado’. In my opinion, Poe was at his very best when he was writing short tales of strange occurrences. Although I have to say I did get a little tired of Poe repeatedly introducing his characters by explaining what personality trait they were always known for since childhood, but that might have been just because I was reading them all one after the other.
I didn’t think I’d enjoy the essays at the back of the collection, but actually they were very insightful. I even found some really good quotes about writing and critiquing. Poe as a reviewer is almost as entertaining as Poe as an author and his criticisms of contemporary American Drama was intriguing and provided a unique perspective on an era of theatre I knew almost nothing about.
Basically, there’s a good reason so many people still know Poe’s name. He was a sensational writer who wrote some truly entertaining and thought provoking stories. Although they’re not quite as terrifying as their author’s reputation would lead one to believe, the stories are still fascinating. In fact, more than that, they’re just damn good stories. An absolute pleasure to read, I can 100% see myself coming back to this volume a lot to revisit some of the tales.