Thirty-Two Stories

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

THE DUC DE L'OMELETTE

When one serves a fattened, sizzling ortolan cooked over an open flame, one is supposed to wrap the bird's legs in paper so that diners won't get their fingers greasy. If you didn't know that, welcome to the club--neither did Poe until he read about it in a review of a novel (we don't think he had read the novel). But one has to know a few such things to understand this very funny story. It is probably the best example in this volume of a Poe story which is impenetrable without some explanation, and which "comes clear" with the explanation.

Daughrity has figured out what "The Duc De L'Omelette " is about: N. P. Willis at the time was editor of The American Monthly Magazine and wrote for it a column called the "Editor's Table " in which he invited the reader to share the Pleasures of his office: two dogs, a pet "South American trulian" (a bird of his own invention, apparently), perfume for the quill of his pen, crimson curtains, all manner of exotic lounges, ottomans and divans, olives, japonica flowers, and a bottle of Rudesheimer.

Willis was attacked and teased for these affectations; they were well enough known so that James Paulding, in explaining that a group of Poe's tales was rejected because the targets of Poe's satires would be missed by most readers, also said that this story was one of the exceptions--everyone would understand it. Twentieth-century scholars caught on first to a second joke buried in the tale: the Duc's affectations come from The Young Duke by Benjamin Disraeli. Hirsch informed us of another quite private joke: Poe probably never even read the Disraeli novel. Our explication (see note 2 and "A note of explanation," below) adds still another: Poe hadn't read all of his other "sources," either.

A note of explanation : Poe plays with stories of people so precious that they expire from slight offenses to their aesthetic sensibilities. His footnote is meant to be another funny illustration. But it was puzzling in some ways, and unraveling what Poe had done to come up with it gives an unusually good sense of how Poe worked--where his ideas came from, how he tinkered with them, how clever, playful, and even dowrnnright sneaky he could be.

Poe slightly misquotes Gabriel Guéret's Le Parnasse Réformé ( 1668), in which Montfleury ( Zacharie Jacob Montfleury, 1600-67) is made to say,

Qui voudra donc savoir de quoy je suis mort, qu'il ne demande point si c'est de la fièvre, de l'hydropisie, ou de la goutte, mais qu'il sache que c'est d'Andromaque.

In English,

The man then who would know of what I died, let him not ask if it were of the fever, the dropsy, or the gout; but let him know that it was of the Andromache! (Disraeli's translation)

Poe's version translates,

-9-

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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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