Major survey of Edgar Allan Poe's literary career being held at the Morgan Library & Museum
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Major survey of Edgar Allan Poe's literary career being held at the Morgan Library & Museum
Édouard Manet (1832–1883), Illustration for Le corbeau (The Raven), translated by Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), Paris: Richard Lesclide, 1875. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; PML 140626. Bequest of Gordon N. Ray, 1987. Photography: Graham S. Haber.

NEW YORK, NY.- The works of Edgar Allan Poe have frightened and thrilled readers for over one hundred fifty years. Terror of the Soul, an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, brings together more than one hundred items related to Poe’s poetry, fiction, and literary criticism, and explore his profound influence on his contemporaries and later generations of writers. The objects featured in Terror of the Soul—a phrase and concept Poe introduced in his preface to Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque—are drawn primarily from the Morgan’s holdings and The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at The New York Public Library, two of the most important Poe collections in the United States. A number of exceptional loans from the collection of Susan Jaffe Tane, the foremost private collector of Poe material in the world, also are included. The exhibition is on view October 4, 2013 through January 26, 2014.

Poe’s mastery of multiple writing genres, including his ironic reworking of the Gothic tradition as a vehicle for his psychologically acute and metaphysically ambitious dramatizations of the terrified soul, is elucidated by manuscripts of several of his famous poems and short stories, early printed editions, letters, and literary criticism published in contemporary newspapers, magazines, and journals. On view are such works as “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells” in Poe’s own hand; one of the earliest printings of “The Raven;” the first printing of “The Cask of Amontillado;” and an unprecedented three copies of Tamerlane, Poe’s earliest published work and one of the rarest books in American literature. Lesser-known writings, including A Reviewer Reviewed—Poe’s never-before-exhibited critique of his own work, written under a pseudonym— and the author’s annotated copy of his last published book, Eureka, provide a more complete picture of this complex writer.

Importantly, Terror of the Soul is among the first museum exhibitions to explore Poe’s reception by, and wide-ranging influence on, fellow writers as diverse as Charles Dickens, Stéphane Mallarmé, Vladimir Nabokov, and Terry Southern. Manuscripts by other literary masters on view include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and T. S. Eliot’s manuscript of The Waste Land, annotated by Eliot and his friend, Ezra Pound. Another highlight of the exhibition is the notebook containing Paul Auster’s previously unpublished lecture on Poe’s significance as an American writer and his influence on French literature.

“The common perception that Edgar Allan Poe was a writer solely concerned with tales of the macabre and grotesque fails to do justice to the full range of his extraordinary talent,” said William M. Griswold, director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “Poe was also a superb literary critic, an early pioneer of detective fiction, and a celebrated poet. The arc of his influence includes not only generations of writers, but visual and performing artists as well.”

Poe’s fiction teems with the themes closely associated with his work in the popular imagination: premature burial, madness, and revenge. Among the numerous stories on view are first printings of “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” two of Poe’s most popular tales. William Wilson, an allegorical tale of the soul’s encounter with its own conscience, reflects Poe’s fascination with the theme of the double, and its implications for the idea of human identity. The first printing displayed bears the signature of its one-time owner, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

A first edition copy of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Poe’s only novel, is being shown. Although Poe described his seafaring tale as a “very silly book,” its influence can be detected in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Henry James’s The Golden Bowl, and works by Jules Verne, among others. Also on display is one of only three existing manuscript sheets of The Lighthouse, another terror tale of the sea, which remained incomplete at the time of Poe’s death.

Poe did not originate the detective story, but he did establish the genre’s essential features. On view is an 1843 printed edition of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first of Poe’s three detective tales featuring an impoverished French aristocrat named C. Auguste Dupin, who served as the model for another famous detective character, Sherlock Holmes. This connection is highlighted in the exhibition with the display of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s autograph manuscript of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

In 1844 Poe wrote “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” a satire on current treatments for insanity, on small sheets of paper that he then affixed end-to-end with sealing wax. The resulting scroll was eventually divided into strips, a state in which they remained until the scroll was reassembled in 2013. The twenty-two foot long scroll, which contains several unpublished passages, will be exhibited in its original format for the first time in Terror of the Soul.

Poe’s first published work was a pamphlet titled Tamerlane and Other Poems, printed in 1827. He wrote “Tamerlane”—an allegorical poem inspired by his thwarted love for Sara Royster, to whom he was engaged prior to his leaving Richmond for the University of Virginia—that same year, but the majority of the other poems were written when he was just fourteen. The pamphlet was published in an edition of fifty copies, only twelve of which are now known to exist. Terror of the Soul marks the first time that as many as three copies of Tamerlane have been publicly displayed in one venue at one time.

A highlight of the exhibition is a letter containing the only extant part of “The Raven” in Poe’s hand (the original manuscript of the poem does not survive). The letter was sent to John Augustus Shea, a journalist associated with the New York Daily Tribune, less than a week after the poem was first published in the January 29, 1845 issue of the Evening Mirror. In his letter Poe requests two revisions to the poem, which were incorporated into the text that appeared four days later in the Daily Tribune.

In addition, autograph manuscripts of other celebrated poems, including “Ulalume,” “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” and Poe’s own annotated copy of Eureka, his philosophical prose poem on the return of all existence to a state of unity, are being displayed.

A significant portion of Terror of the Soul will explore a less well-known side of Poe’s literary career. He frequently reflected on the state of American and European literary culture, and even made several unsuccessful attempts to establish a literary journal of his own.

As the book review editor of Graham’s Magazine between February 1841 and April 1842, Poe established himself as the country’s foremost arbiter of literary standards and taste. Indeed, the quality of Poe’s writing for Graham’s prompted the typically exacting George Bernard Shaw to hail him as “the greatest journalistic critic of his time.” Later, Poe would contribute over sixty literary essays and reviews to the Broadway Journal (he became editor in July 1845; the publication failed within months).

Poe’s criticisms also led to trouble, particularly after his 1840 attack on Longfellow for a “most barbarous class of literary robbery” perpetrated against Tennyson. Poe himself was subsequently accused of plagiarism, an allegation he took up in A Reviewer Reviewed, an uncompleted and never-before-exhibited essay on view. Writing under a pseudonym, Poe used the essay both to defend his work and to engage in genuine self-criticism.

In his 1840 essay “The Daguerreotype” Poe declared that “The instrument itself must undoubtedly be regarded as the most important, and perhaps the most extraordinary triumph of modern science.” Indeed, Poe sat for eight daguerreotype portraits between 1843 and 1849, and two more within a few weeks of his death. Terror of the Soul brings together three of these daguerreotypes and related copies, along with a number of recent representations of the writer.

On view is a rare, early copy of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype, made just four days after Poe attempted to take his own life with an overdose of laudanum. This haunting image would become one of the most celebrated literary portraits of the nineteenth century. Also featured is an albumen carte de visite photograph, a modified version of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype that was long believed to be the work of celebrated photographer Mathew Brady. It was not, but Brady fostered the myth.

Modern artists have found inspiration in these early images of Poe. On display is graphic artist and illustrator Eduard Prüssen’s linocut portrait of Poe, based on the “Whitman” daguerreotype of 1848, and painter and illustrator Michael J. Deas’s oil portrait of Poe, based on the same daguerreotype and commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service for a commemorative stamp to mark the 2009 bicentennial of Poe’s birth.

A key thematic element of the exhibition is Poe’s impact on writers and visual artists. Dozens of manuscripts, typescripts, drafts, and early printed editions reveal Poe’s influence on diverse works, including those by Baudelaire, Manet, and Stephen King. Photographic portraits of many of the writers represented in this section of the exhibition are exhibited alongside their work. Among the highlights is a gelatin silver print of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Irving Penn’s photographs of poet W. H. Auden and Jorge Luis Borges, and Beat scholar Ann Charters’s photograph of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl” at his alma mater, Columbia University, in 1981, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the poem’s publication.

Oscar Wilde was a great admirer of Poe, describing him as a “marvelous lord of rhythmic expression,” “lord of romance,” and even a “grand poète celtique.” Wilde adapted the idea of the double from William Wilson and a conceit from Poe’s story “The Oval Portrait” for his The Picture of Dorian Gray, the autograph manuscript of which is being displayed.

Robert Louis Stevenson generally deprecated Poe’s choice of subject matter, but the first reviewers of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde noted the tale’s debt to William Wilson. Writing in the Saturday Review in 1886, Andrew Lang described Stevenson’s novel as “like Poe with the addition of a moral sense” but lacking the “physical corruption and decay which Poe was apt to introduce so frequently and with such unpleasant and unholy enjoyment.”

Although T. S. Eliot lamented Poe’s “carelessness and unscrupulousness in the use of words” in his From Poe to Valerie typescript on view, he acknowledged that Poe’s theories of poetic composition influenced modern French poets, including Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Paul Valéry, and resulted in “the most interesting development of poetic consciousness anywhere in that same hundred years.”

Paul Auster also reflected on Poe’s influence on French writers in a heretofore unpublished lecture, delivered at his alma mater, Seton Hall, in 1982. Unlike Eliot, who described Poe as a “displaced European,” Auster describes him as thoroughly American, confronting “the newness of the place […] the materialistic craziness of it.”

Poe’s impact on twentieth-century writers similarly is explored. Novelist and screenwriter Terry Southern, for instance, acknowledged Poe as a precursor to his revolutionary approach to journalism in the early 1960s. In the typescript draft of his essay “King Weirdo,” also on view, Southern quoted from Poe’s The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym and noted that “this is the sort of totally irrelevant and gratuitous confession of ‘ignorance’ (elaborately reinforced by use of the footnote) which gives an account absolute credibility.” Southern regarded Poe as a “master craftsman” and “prince of supernatch” at a time when Poe’s reputation among literary critics was being questioned. Southern scholar David Tully has called this essay Southern’s “love letter to the Grand Master of the American Grotesque.”

Annabel, step-daughter to Humbert Humbert and the object of his love and lust in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, is an allusion to Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee.” Exhibited alongside a first edition of the novel is Nabokov’s 1960 screenplay of Lolita, which includes even more explicit references to Poe’s poem. In a page on view Humbert quotes from “Annabel Lee,” recollecting his brief time with his step daughter at his father’s seaside hotel: “I was fourteen and she was twelve, in that kingdom by the sea.” Nabokov had dropped his original title for his novel, The Kingdom by the Sea, in preference to the eponymous Lolita. Ultimately, Stanley Kubrick used little of Nabokov’s screenplay in his 1962 film version of the novel.

The pervasive influence of Poe’s fiction is particularly evident in the work of Stephen King, with whom Poe is most often compared. The claustrophobic atmosphere of The Shining (1977) is reminiscent of two of Poe’s “enclosure” tales—“The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”—as are the fates of Poe’s Prince Prospero and King’s Jack Torrance. The exhibition includes a 1949 first day cover postcard that King signed for an admirer in 1980.

Poe’s works have also inspired diverse visual artists, from the nineteenth century to today. Some of the most iconic Poe-related images are the work of Édouard Manet, whose lithographs accompanied Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1875 translation of “The Raven” (Le corbeau). A copy of the first edition and wrapper of the collaborative work—now generally considered to be the first modern illustrated book—is being displayed. Other items on view include an original pen and ink drawing by Harry Clarke for Poe’s “MS. Found in a Bottle” and book illustrator Edmund Dulac’s haunting watercolor drawing for Poe’s “Dream-Land.”

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