The Short Story in English

By Henry Seidel Canby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
EDGAR ALLAN Poe

LITERARY masterpieces of the first order in the short story have, so far, been rare. Poe not only added to their number, he made, as it were, two masterpieces to spring after him where one might have grown before. Yet the work of this surprising American rises directly from the welter of sentimental, horrific narrative of the periodicals of his day; it is, in general, of like purpose, and of like substance, and was easily classified by his contemporaries as another variety of the "grim tale." With all Poe's tremendous versatility, his obscure phases of a complex genius, and his manifold debts to universal literature, it is not to be forgotten that, at the beginning of his career, in 1833, he belonged distinctly to the school of romantic emotionalism where the Landons and the Shelleys had been experimenting. Nevertheless, though born of this school, he had already overtopped its most strenuous efforts.

The very pathetic, or very horrible story was, as the last chapter recorded, the ware most readily sold in English periodical-markets of the twenties and thirties. If, at the upper end of its register, one found the powerful Ancient Mariner, or the intensely sensuous tales of Keats, at the other were those prose narratives whose appeal was only to the mawkish sensibilities of a sentimen-

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