"The Assignation"is a convincing exercise in Byronic romanticism. It incorporates a poem which Poe wrote in the style of Byron, and which, as Mabbott (9, II) puts it, "is closely related to lines Byron wrote outfor Mary Chaworth," Byron's first love. It uses details of Byron's well-known biography--that the poet was a good swimmer, that the "visionary" hero who rescues the baby, like Byron, is (probably) an English poet living in a palazzo in Venice. Like Byron, he is in love with the young wife of a villainous old man ( Countess Guiccioli and the Count, who actually threatened Byron). Even the narrator may be identifiable as the Irish poet and friend of Byron, Thomas Moore, though Moore was a good friend, and not just a slight acquaintance. Poe might, in fact, want readers to think that it was Poe who knew Byron slightly, and fished him out of the canal one night in Venice.
Noting the connections between "The Assignation"and Byron's life (which periodicals of the time covered the way ours cover the doings of stars or royalty), Benton (1) argues that the tale is a hoax. Yet though the Byron material is present, we are not sure that "hoax" accurately describes Poe intention: too many elements in the tale suggest serious purpose. Poe was capable of producing stories serious in intent yet filled with satiric or simply "hidden" allusions and referents. He was also a commercial journalist, and the idea of writing a story in which his readers would recognize Byron and his adventures would have been appealing. "Hoax" seems not quite the right word: the Irving-Hughes "autobiography" of 1971 was apparently a hoax, as were the "Hitler memoirs" of 1983; what Poe did in 1834 involves exploitation of a celebrity notoriety, but is in no way an attempt to defraud or even fool anyone. Besides, the story is in its way very beautiful, and certainly successful for many readers, who are carried along by the romantic setting and the operatic plot.
|The Lady's Book, January 1834|
|The Southern Literary Messenger, July 1835|
|Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840|
|The Broadway Journal, June 7, 1845|