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The Colloquy of Bayard and Pearl: On Poe at 200 LOUIS BAYARD MATTHEW PEARL L ouis Bayard, author of The Pale Blue Eye: A Novel, and Matthew Pearl, author of The Poe Shadow: A Novel, converse on the occasion of Poe’s bicentennial year. LB O ne of my favorite Poe stories is “William Wilson,” in which a man is stalked by his own doppelganger, from grammar school to Eton to Oxford and well into adulthood. So infuriating is this double, and such a constant reproach, that the narrator is moved finally to stab him to death—only to realize he has murdered himself. I confess, Matthew, I gave more than a passing thought to “William Wilson” when I learned you and I each had a Poe-inspired novel coming out— not just in the same month or week but on the same day (6 June 2006)! The Wilsonian precedent did not bode well. I had visions of us locked in a mutually canceling war for readers, which could end only with our joint destruction. Well, I’m glad to say it didn’t work out that way. Having gone through the review mills together and, of course, seeing our books repeatedly confused with each other, we’ve emerged from our conjoined-twin experience as friends. Poe might have been disappointed by such a humanist outcome, but I daresay he would have grinned at the thought that, two hundred years after his birth, writers are still trying to penetrate his mystery. MP W hen I taught a seminar on copyright problems in the nineteenthcentury literary world, I assigned “William Wilson” as a reflection of the anxiety about plagiarism and pirating in Poe’s era. The double at one point is the “copyist.” But “William Wilson” is more visceral. It seems the manifestation of every writer’s shared nightmare, maybe novelists in particular: someone, somewhere, right now, is writing the same book you C  2009 Washington State University P O E S T U D I E S , VOL. 42, 2009 7 L O U I S B A Y A R D A N D M A T T H E W P E A R L are. I thought it had happened with my first novel when I got a call that another Dante-inspired novel was appearing before mine. Who could assume they had any right to Dante (except me)? After some hyperventilating and (legally) getting hold of an early copy of the other novel, I found it was a completely different take. And when it came to writing a Poe novel, I was confident the same thing couldn’t happen. Lightning can’t strike the same novelist twice, right? Like you, Louis, my inner William Wilson roared out when I heard about your Pale Blue Eye. The Pale Blue Eye, I considered that exact wonderful title! (Not really, but that’s the kind of thing your inner Wilson thinks.) Poe at West Point, I had thought of doing that! (Again, no.) How dare they (some shadowy cabal called Harpercollins) publish on the same day as me! One of my personal goals in writing a Poe novel was to understand Poe as a person better than when I began, and one of those things that struck me when researching him was how much trouble he had trusting other writers. So many that could have been friends—Charles Dickens and James Russell Lowell, for instance—became alienated and hostile because of Poe’s enmity or paranoia, at least in part. Maybe this lesson led me to contact you out of the blue, and what a relief to discover that you are as gracious, open, and collegial as I could have imagined. In our little replay of “William Wilson,” the Wilsons can now sit down and chat—far more fun than running each other through with blades—and grapple with the real mystery man who chases and taunts fiction writers: Poe. LB Y ou’re right, making enemies was one of Poe’s true gifts, and his greatest enemy was not Rufus Griswold, the executor who savaged Poe’s postmortem reputation, but Poe himself. When you follow the man’s...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 7-13
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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