The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey

By Fred Lewis Pattee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
EDGAR ALLAN POE

I

The chief literary contemporary of Hawthorne in America, his earliest adequate critic, and his most able colleague in the development of the short-story form, was Edgar Allan Poe. The two began their literary career at almost the same moment, they contributed to the same periodicals, they worked in the same atmosphere of romanticism--the wild German Mährchen world which had been dignified by Scott and sentimentalized by Byron and Bulwer and Disraeli, and both were destined permanently to enrich that shortened form of fiction which circumstances had placed in their hands: yet in spite of all this the two men were as absolutely unlike as North and South.

Hawthorne fundamentally and unalterably was a New- Englander. As completely as even Poe was he a romanticist and a worshiper of beauty, and yet so redolent was he of his native region that he could make of romanticism a thing accepted by even the straitest sect of the Brahmins, and do it, moreover, in the form of short fiction. Never was he able to forget that everything, even art, must have its moral connotations. To him, sensitive with inherited conscience and trained from childhood to peer beneath the surfaces of life, into the sources of action, into the recesses of the heart, a tale was a problem in the mathematics of human living, with its a and b and x and its inevitable resultant.

From this point of view no man could have been farther away than Poe. He was anti-Puritanical, anti-New England and all its content. His inheritance and training had been the direct opposite of Hawthorne's. He was nomadic, restless, temperamental-- it was in his blood. His grandfather, born in Ireland, became a general in the American Revolutionary War, and later settled in Baltimore; his father, when not yet of age, had thrown down his law books, joined an itinerant company of actors, and had married the sprightly little variety artist of the troupe, an English

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