Thirty-Two Stories

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

A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTRÖM
Poe's story about a Norwegian fisherman and the whirlpool suggests comparison with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"; notes 11, 14, 15, and 20 make connections with the poem which might be summarized, "The mariner salvation is mystical and religious; the fisherman's is rational and secular." But that summary does not tell the whole story, for in the context of other tales by Poe, the fisherman's way of saving himself has mystical and quasi-religious implications, too. If, as Poe said, his aim as artist was to create the beautiful effect, and if "A Descent into the Maelström" is characteristic of that desire, then the description of the wild beauty of the interior of the Maelström on this weird and terrible night should be worth comparing with the scenes of "ideal" beauty in The Landscape Garden. Different as this tale is, its "beautiful effect" is strangely similar. This may be simply because Poe's taste is consistent, but there seem to be other reasons, too. Mystics in all ages have taught that there are multiple paths to enlightenment and have described visions which strongly resemble these "beautiful effects" in Poe: kaleidoscopic unfoldings of complex luminosity. However we explain them, such visions are present in exceedingly dissimilar stories, and characters perceive them in very different ways. Thus, while Ellison in "The Landscape Garden" creates his beauty without difficulty, the fisherman must be frightened into the state of supersensitivity which enables him to find beauty in his strange surroundings. Apparently the more difficult the process of perceiving "beauty," the more complex the plot.A weakness evident in several of Poe's tales shows up in "Maelström": often the language of the "simple fisherman" is not only cool, but also far too erudite to be credible. The sentences at notes 17 and 19 seem especially inappropriate. The trouble may be, as Poe says, haste (see note 12), or it may be that the repertoire of "magazinists" of his day generally did not include effective dialogue. One can read through whole volumes of the magazines in which he published without finding convincing conversations, perhaps because authors devote so much of their effort to description of the fantastic. The era of the "magazinists," as Poe called his colleagues, is a strange period in the history of literature.
PUBLICATIONS IN POE'S TIME
Graham's Magazine, May 1841
Tales, 1845
The Broadway Journal, October 1, 1845

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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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