Thirty-Two Stories

By Edgar Allan Poe; Stuart Levine et al. | Go to book overview

MS. FOUND IN A BOTTLE

Adventure on the ocean was probably the single most popular genre of fiction in Poe's day. Continental writers had been fishing these waters for years; Poe, in "A Descent into the Maelström," his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and other fiction, tried his hand at it, too; Melville's most commercially successful novels of sea adventure would be published while Poe was alive. Poe, as usual, responded to current interests and trends in fiction.

The tale is told by a somewhat nervous and moody isolated aristocrat whose weird adventure is made at least partially credible by his psychological instability. The narrator of "MS. Found in a Bottle" has been reading works of "eloquent madness"; perhaps the wild experience is simply a vision.

It is interesting to see how soon in his career Poe developed his basic patterns; this is a very early tale (see note I). Yet we recognize devices Poe was to use in almost all his fiction. Though the narrator takes pains to tell us how rational he is, how prone to explain everything in physical and scientific terms, he has been reading that "eloquent" German "madness," is temperamentally restless and nervous, cut off from family and country, and ill- used: enough like the usual Poe narrator to lead us to conclude that Poe most frequent formula for keeping a fantasy at least reasonably credible occurred to him very early in his career.

Poe combined folklore, current pseudoscientific speculation, and material from a well-known contemporary book. The folklore is the "Flying Dutchman" story, which has to do with a fated ship which is supposed to appear as a terrifying omen to mariners whose own ships are about to sink. Any number of authors of Poe's time made fiction of the old superstition; the best-known use of it today is probably Wagner's opera "The Flying Dutchman" ( 1843).

The pseudoscience is the belief that the earth is open at the poles. This was taken seriously enough for an American Congress to appropriate funds for an expedition to find out; the notion was propagated in John Cleves Symmes fiction and in his book Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres ( 1826) (Mabbott 9, II). Poe liked the idea--it is used in his story "Hans Pfaal " (see Levine 4); Poe's episodic novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym also ends with the hero plunging to an unknown fate at the South Pole.


PUBLICATIONS IN POE'S TIME
The Baltimore Sunday Visiter, October 19, 1833
The People's Advocate (Newburyport, Mass.), October 26, 1833
The Southern Literary Messenger, December 1835
The Gift, 1836
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840

-16-

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Thirty-Two Stories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Metzengerstein 1
  • The Duc de L'Omelette 9
  • Ms. Found in a Bottle 16
  • The Assignation 26
  • Shadow 42
  • Silence 48
  • Ligeia 54
  • How to Write a Blackwood Article 68
  • The Fall of the House of Usher 87
  • William Wilson 104
  • The Man of the Crowd 120
  • The Murders in the Rue Morgue 130
  • A Descent into the Maelström 159
  • Eleonora 174
  • The Masque of the Red Death 181
  • The Pit and the Pendulum 188
  • The Domain of Arnheim 200
  • The Tell-Tale Heart 216
  • The Gold-Bug 221
  • The Black Cat 248
  • The Purloined Letter 256
  • The Balloon-Hoax 272
  • The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. 284
  • Some Words with a Mummy 303
  • The Power of Words 318
  • The Imp of the Perverse 323
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar 329
  • The Cask of Amontillado 339
  • Mellonta Tauta 346
  • Hop-Frog 361
  • Von Kempelen and His Discovery 370
  • Bibliography 379
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