Thirty-Two Stories

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

VON KEMPELEN AND HIS DISCOVERY

Because its outrageous humor is of a sort which is popular again in our commercial media, this story suggests how modern Poe's United States was: linked together by electric communication, with a largely literate populace served by printed periodicals of all sorts, it was a society which knew and discussed the daily news. Such a place was ripe for a joker who could exploit current events. "Von Kempelen and His Discovery" is a precursor of the news- comedy we associate with The New Yorker, television news-parody, and the political-humor "comics." Poe said that his piece was pure hoax, designed only to deceive, and that deception was his only goal in it. He wrote it early in 1849, at the height of the Gold Rush, calculating that it would create a considerable "stir." Yet his "exercise" (as he called it) in fooling readers is also filled with private jokes and references to people whom Poe knew-- Burton Pollin (5) patiently worked them all out. Does this mean that "Von Kempelen and His Discovery" should be called a satire aimed at small targets and not a broad hoax? Our sense is that the broad joke was more important, but that in searching around for fictitious names and places, Poe naturally thought of issues and people he was concerned with or troubled by; there is even--see note 7--a private reference to the sad death of his young wife. The result is a dense web of plausible but elusive allusions and references, as well as picky quarrels about points no reader could be expected to follow because they are generated primarily out of Poe's professional experience and memory. An annotated edition should explain such references, but we do not want to give the impression that they are what the story is "about," for it remains a hoax. Lurking in it are some private jokes for those very familiar with Poe's life and works, but for almost all readers even in his own day, the story is a media gag which capitalizes on the California Gold Rush of 1849.


PUBLICATION IN POE'S TIME

The Flag of Our Union, Boston, April 14, 1849

-370-

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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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