Another characteristic of his style is his generous use of Latin and French words and phrases. In Poe’s day using foreign words enhanced the writer’s reputation, but they may confuse modern students. In addition to this, Poe uses many dashes, capitals, and other devices that often interfere with clarity.
Poe’s best stories have only the essentials, the minimum of characterization, plot, and atmosphere. By ridding himself of everything except what is precisely to the point, he achieves this unity of effect. He was interested in the strange experiences of individuals rather than in the individuals themselves. Poe is best known for the chilling mood and macabre atmosphere he builds so carefully in his stories.
Just fifty years ago, a great master of the supernatural H. P. Lovecraft, decreed that “the appeal of the macabre tale is generally narrow because it demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity for detachment from everyday life.”
Times have changed. Interest in the tales of horror is at an all time high.
The great impact of present day movies; Poltergeist, E.T.
reinforce this. Perhaps my students will share in a period in which imagination is experiencing a rebirth.
Because of his relevance Poe deserves to be examined again now. His works are eagerly reproduced; interest in his personality continues high. Perhaps there is something enticing about his ghoulish characters. Generations have become fascinated by the terrifying dream world fashioned by his imagination. We know revulsion from the horrors he portrays, yet his originality is noteworthy. Others have tried to imitate him-to capture in poetry and the short story the effect of grotesque horror which was his hallmark. He has an awesome uniqueness.
He has helped to sketch the popular image that derives from such works as “The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-tale Heart,” and “The Black Cat.” When these titles monopolize the attention, it is only natural that the central body of Poe’s work should deem to “be a tissue of nightmares-a literary fabric shot with diseases, madness, death, hideous murders, ghastly exhumations, shrieks in the night. It is only natural that the sanity of the author should become suspect, and that he should appear to be a gifted psychopath describing his personal instabilities and abnormalities.”
Hence the ideas—old, persistent and widespread—that the somber figure of Edgar Allan Poe stalks forever through the pages of his stories and poems persists. He is declared to have only one endlessly repeated male character—himself. He is pictured as appearing and reappearing under the guises of his melancholic, mad, protagonists: Roderick Usher, Egaeus, William Wilson, Cornelius Wyatt, Montresor, Hop-Frog, Metzengerstein. This conception of Poe is not merely popular in the sense that it appeals to the reading public at large, it has been alive among literary critics ever since Walt Whitman gave it his support in a passage that never ceases to be quoted:
“In a dream I once had, I saw a vessel on the sea, at midnight, in a storm. It was no great full-rigg’d ship, nor majestic steamer, steering firmly through the gale, but seem’d one of those superb little schooner yachts I had often seen lying anch or’d, rocking so jauntily, in the waters around New York, or up Long Island sound-now flying uncontrolled with torn sails and broken spars through the wild sleet and the winds and the waves of the night. On the deck was a slender, slight, beautiful, figure, a dim man apparently enjoying the terror, the murk, and the dislocation of which he was the centre and the victim. That figure of my lurid dream might stand for Edgar Allan Poe, his spirit, his fortunes, and his poems-themselves all lurid dreams.”
The early nineteenth century was beguiled by things Gothic— quaint folklore, macabre legends, supernatural events, medieval history, forgotten tombs, ruined abbeys. Around these interests grew a whole body of literature profoundly influential in America and in England. The gothic element provided Poe with a literary milieu perfectly adapted to his taste and talent. The elements of the strange, the abnormal, and the weird that Poe singled out for his own purposes, he assimilated into his experience of age-old, legendary, half-forgotten European antiquities.