Thirty-Two Stories

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

THE LITERARY LIFE OF THINGUM BOB, ESQ.

George Graham, like Thingum Bob, bought up and combined magazines; like Bob, he was a very minor poet--even the indefatigable Thomas Ollive Mabbott, who devoted a lifetime of antiquarian scholarship to Poeiana, could find only one poem by Graham. But Graham was not Poe's main target in this funny, angry, affectionate piece. Poe was after the whole petty world of American magazines. The trouble is that you and I are not Americans of the 1840s; if we read the story without some help, it is not especially interesting, let alone funny. Help, however is available. We suggest reading this headnote and browsing through the notes before reading the story.

Fiercely competitive, insecure about their own artistic worth, limited in popularity and influence, the American literary magazines of Poe's day had to create an illusion of importance in order to survive at all, and their editors were, indeed, guilty of the faults which Poe exaggerates in Thingum Bob, such as the tendency to see "the Literary History of America"in terms of their own careers. Whipple (3) has figured out one specific target of Poe's sarcasm. Lewis Gaylord Clark began in 1844 publication of the Literary Remains of the Late Willis Gaylord Clark, his twin brother. Poe's character Thingum Bob represents Willis, but, since Willis is dead, Poe's real target is Lewis and the system of "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" which prevailed in magazine and book publishing circles. Note the similarity in titles. Thingum is still alive (Whipple errs here), but Poe gets the word "late" (that is, deceased) into his subtitle to make it clear to the reader that he has the Clarks' Literary Remainsin mind. A reader of The Broadway Journalcould hardly have missed the connection--there was a piece about Willis in the same issue in which "Thingum Bob"was published.

The bane of the publishing world in Poe's day was "puffing": over-praising the work of friends who would then do the same for you in their magazines. So Thingum Bob's introduction to literature involves "puffery"--his father rewards the editor-poet who praises his hair-oil. When Poe arrived in New York in 1844, he encountered all manner of puffery for Lewis Clark's edition of his brother's work.

There is another related target: Poe's dispute with Lewis Clark stems largely from Poe's famous hostile review of Theodore Fay's Norman Leslie. Fay fought back in a satire which, Pollin shows, was aimed at Poe: He called Poe "Bulldog," made him editor of "The Southern Literary Passenger,"and said that Poe hated successful novelists because his own works were rejected by publishers. And Poe responded with this tale. Pollin (14) spells out the relationship between it and the piece by Fay:

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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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