Cosmopolitan Poe: An Introduction

By Esplin, Emron | The Comparatist, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Cosmopolitan Poe: An Introduction

Esplin, Emron, The Comparatist

The work and life of Edgar Allan Poe maintain an international presence shared by few if any of his compatriots. Consider the near worldwide commemoration of Poe's recent bicentennial in 2009. Tousands of scholars, readers, and Poe aficionados celebrated Poe's birth across Europe, Asia, and the Americas throughout the entire year in a convincing tribute to Poe's continued popular and literary potency, his cosmopolitan presence, and the increasingly global nature of his appeal and influence. Analyzing Poe's international connections is certainly nothing new, but as Lois Davis Vines suggests in her introduction to Poe Abroad: Influence, Reputation, Affinities, any study of Poe's influence abroad begs another study (4).

With this cluster of papers originally presented in a seminar entitled "Cosmopolitan Poe" at the 2010 meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association, we seek to expand the international dialogue surrounding Poe and his work that has been growing since the 1840s. The seminar included presentations that placed Poe's works in conversation with authors from China, the Caribbean, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Italy and papers that read Poe alongside (or, as a part of) the African-American trickster tradition, the genre of nautical biographies, and post-structuralist philosophy. The cluster contains four of these papers--Jenny Webb's comparative analysis of Poe alongside Italian author Italo Calvino, Renata Philippov's reading of Poe and Brazil's Machado de Assis, Genevieve Amaral's analysis of the monstrosity of "foreign" texts in Poe's "The Man of the Crowd," and Caroline Egan's examination of Horacio Quiroga's re-writings of Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." As a whole, these essays place Poe in a global context that emphasizes the mutual influence of Poe on the world and the world on the current image of Poe. This continued influence underscores the growing cosmopolitan nature of Poe's legacy; the literary and theoretical junctures between Poe and the various authors, themes, and genres presented here highlight the ease with which Poe moves through an international audience, an audience that continually finds itself in the familiarity of Poe's writings.

Poe first appeared "outside the English-speaking world" in "an imitation of his 'William Wilson' that appeared in La Quotidienne in December 1844," and several of Poe's works were translated into French while Poe was still alive (Vines, "Poe in France" 9). The French not only hold the credit for being the first "foreign" stop on the subsequent world tour of Poe's writings, but also serve as a primary catalyst for Poe's long-term success as a world writer. (2) In his well-known treatise on Poe's relationship with France--The French Face of Edgar Poe--Patrick F. Quinn juxtaposes Poe's reception in France with the cold treatment Poe's work received in the United States during the first century after his death in 1849: "our critics, far from pushing Poe onto the stage of world literature, have rather insisted that his name be retained exclusively as a minor one even in the cast of American letters. [...] His American contemporaries were reluctant to pay him merely conventional homage; for his French admirers the problem was to find a language of praise sufficiently sublime" (11-12). As Quinn, Vines, and countless others note, the translations of and general advocacy for Poe by French poet Charles Baudelaire and the continued importance of Poe in the work of the French Symbolists forever launched Poe into the global literary marketplace.

At least some of Poe's global success must be attributed to his foreign advocates rather than to Poe's work itself. Peruvian novelist, politician and recent Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called Poe, regardless of the difficulties he faced in life, a lucky writer: "Aunque su vida estuvo marcada por la desgracia, Edgar Allan Poe fue uno de los mas afortunados escritores modernos en lo que concierne a la irradiacion de su obra por el mundo" [Even though his life was marked by misfortune, Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most fortunate modern writers in what concerns the radiation of his work throughout the world] because two talented translators (also famous authors in their own right) spread Poe's fiction abroad in both French and Spanish--Baudelaire in the nineteenth century and Julio Cortazar in the twentieth (19). …

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