Poe professed to be surprised that people believed that his "article" about the strange death of M. Valdemar was true. Don't believe him; he concocted his fraud so carefully that he must have known that some readers would think it a piece of extraordinarily interesting news. This despite the fact that most of the impact of " The Facts . . ." comes from the famous horrid "effect " Poe staged at the end, and that setting up that ending is a major artistic project in the tale.
The topic of mesmerism (hypnosis) was very much in the public eye and Poe's; Mabbott (9, III) quotes factual and apparently factual pieces about an operation performed using mesmerism as an anesthetic, of a life prolonged through mesmerism, and of "spiritual" activity at the time of a death under hypnosis, accounts which Poe clearly knew. In a sense, then, "The Facts . . . is a hoax; certainly Poe hoped that readers would consider it true or at least suspend judgment until they had read most of the story. Besides the widespread fascination with mesmerism, Poe capitalized on several other factors:
|The magazines in which he published contained articles as well as stories and generally did not distinguish one from the other through format. It was possible to fool the reader by pretending, as Poe did here, that a story was an article. Indeed, the terms themselves were not yet mutually exclusive; Poe often called a work of fiction an "article."|
|Interest in science was very high, and literary magazines ran numerous items about science, especially when they touched on issues which had to do with certain philosophical matters. In this story, for instance, the possibility that scientific proof has at last been found of the existence of life after death would have been of great interest, not merely on theological grounds, but also because Romantic artists wanted to believe that there was "something out there" with which the inspired mind was in contact. Many Romantic artists hoped that science was on the verge of discovering the force that unifies the universe, thus giving "inspiration" a physical basis (see note 1, "magnetic"). Many thought that the force would be electrical in nature. Thus one literary magazine, for instance, carried accounts of work of the French researcher Magendie on electrical stimulation of the brain, and others noted in 1837 that Andrew Crosse of the London Electrical Society seemed to have created life through the application of electricity to "silicate of potash," HCI, and iron oxide.|
|The line between science and pseudoscience was often ill-defined. Phrenology (reading personality and analyzing psychological problems through examination of the shape of the head) and mesmerism (hypnotism) were both taken seriously. When both "sciences" fell into the hands of|