Poe, O. Henry and the
In their respective essays, 'The Painter of Modern Life' (1859) and 'The Storyteller' (1936), Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin praised the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Yet, paradoxically, it was Poe who established the framework for the 'well-made' stories of commercial writers in the early twentieth century, such as O. Henry. The popular success of O. Henry's fiction, and the subsequent critical controversy, mark an important episode in both the development and the reception of the short story. O. Henry established a working model for the short story that has endured with magazines such as The New Yorker. Yet, the critical opposition to his success reveals underlying concerns, especially in the United States, surrounding the short story's cultural position, anxieties to do with taste, discernment and respectability.
Poe saw himself, primarily, as a poet in the Romantic tradition, especially in the fantasies of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Frequently penniless, Poe wrote stories in order to support his family, his drinking and his ruling passion for poetry: a tactic that, to some extent, paid off with the publication of 'The Raven' in 1845. It was only after his death, in 1849, that Poe's stories gradually received acclaim; ten years earlier, his first collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, had sold poorly. By contrast, no contemporary work of short story criticism would omit Poe's name since he is almost universally regarded as supplying the basis for the modern short story. In his day, Poe was a marginal figure, but arguably his distance from commercial and critical respectability allowed him to divine the future development of the short story.
Poe's self-image as an artist was contradictory. On the one hand, he saw himself as an aesthete, a poet and intellectual, but on the other hand, he regarded himself as a jobbing writer, who wrote tales of