The unique craftsmanship of Edgar Allen Poe
In the genre of American detective fiction writing the name of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) carves its own niche. He has inspired a whole gamut of literary successors making a high watermark in style, theme and presentation of the horror, gothic, detective and suspense fiction of the world. The devoted admirers of his kind of fiction have credited him for the invention and dexterous use of the detective short story form to which Poe’s contribution is immense.
Poe’s personal life has always remained controversial because of his occasional bouts of depression, alcohol abuse, drugs, and suicide attempts and his death, at rather an early age, is still shrouded in mystery. There are many controversial and mutually contradictory autobiographies of Poe written by friends and acquaintances and literary professionals. Born in Boston, he has traveled around the world and his literary works have influenced the fiction writers of the world including Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, A.C. Doyle, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jules Verne, Clark A. Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, R. L. Stevenson.
Poe was an ardent exponent of the ‘Art for Art’s sake’ Romanticism. He had always supported the pure aestheticism in art and denounced all sorts of didacticism and forced moral straightjackets. According to him the aesthetic purposes of a short poem can be made properly doled out if it is truly short because the unadulterated joy people derive from poems can last only for a limited period. As per him, long epic poems should preferably be chopped up into short yet interconnected pieces. He had expressed such views in his essays “The Poetic Principle”, “The Philosophy of Composition” etc. his theories are widely used by Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, the Russian novelist Nobokov where as T. S. Eliot, Mark Twain and others despised Poe as a fiction writer.
The literary genre in which Poe undoubtedly mastered excellence is the detective and horror short stories. His stories embody an unnatural horror, death and ruin which grab the attention of the readers from the beginning to the very end of the episode.
In Doyle’s Holmes stories the readers experience the cool, objective, analytical observations by the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his dry scientist-like commentaries on human nature in general and criminal psychology in particular. Poe’s crime stories vividly depict the pathological psyche of the criminal, lending a different sort of chill and eeriness to travel down the readers’ spine. The nightmarish sequences, mental violence, brutality portrayed in his stories fill us with inexpressible fear. Out of his vast literary corpus, a number of famous stories deserve mention like, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Mystery of Marie Roget”, “The Purloined Letter”, “The Gold Bug”, “Haunted Palace”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, “The Black Cat”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque”. In the vast ocean of detective and suspense literature, Poe’s fiction continues to stand unparalleled even today.