Thirty-Two Stories

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

HOW TO WRITE A BLACKWOOD ARTICLE

Poe writes here in an old form of literary satire which might be called "The How-to-Do-It Piece." A writer in a tight spot turns to someone more knowledgeable for advice about how to succeed in an established literary genre. Poe likely had two "How-to-Do-It" satires in mind when he wrote this burlesque of the standard practices of sensational fiction-writing--the Prologue to Part One of Cervantes's Don Quixote, in which Cervantes has his "author" beg advice from a friend about how to deck his work out in proper literary finery, and Frederick Marryat's "How to Write a Fashionable Novel," in which a poor student author, who knows nothing of "fashionable" life, is hard pressed for time to produce a "fashionable" novel under contract, and asks his friend what to do. The satires are very different, but in each the friend says, in effect, "Don't worry--just remember these simple formulas and start writing."

Such satire is funny for any reader who knows the formulas and clichés of the genres being satirized. Poe knew Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine very well, and greatly admired many aspects of it. But he knew also that the "intensities," the special stories of sensation which it had pioneered, had often fallen into the hands of less gifted writers than Blackwood's best, and that the formulas were easy to copy badly. "Mr. Blackwood's" advice to the Signora Psyche Zenobia is filled with errors and misattributions, but it is not impossibly bad advice--Poe, after all, followed it carefully himself in some of his best work. It's just that Poe, unlike Zenobia, had the skill and the erudition to make high art of the formulaic materials of then-popular periodical fiction. So "How to Write a Blackwood Article" is an important document of Poe's professional attitude toward his material. High art often results when genius comes to a commercial field of entertainment, as Shakespeare to Elizabethan popular theater, Keaton to silent film comedy, Verdi to Italian opera, or Poe to magazine fiction.

A note of explanation: McNeal, working on circumstantial evidence, identifies Zenobia as a caricature of Margaret Fuller, scholar, literary critic, and "leading female light" among the Transcendentalists of Boston, Cambridge, and Concord, writers at whom Poe sniped whenever the opportunity arose. Specialists are by no means certain that McNeal is right; Poe invented "Zenobia" before Fuller was famous. Our notes point out some of McNeal's evidence. It is interesting that when Hawthorne in 1852 wrote a novel about New England Transcendentalists, he named his female lead "Zenobia" and was so certain that readers would take her for Fuller that he inserted a careful disclaimer.

There is no point in trying to hide Poe's offensive racism. References to blacks in his works are almost universally stereotyped, condescending, or even

-68-

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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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