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R E V I E W BRETT ZIMMERMAN Poe’s Style: From “A” to Zimmerman Edgar Allan Poe: Rhetoric and Style. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 2005. xxii, 408 pp. $80.00 cloth. E ven critics and scholars disposed to acknowledge Poe’s signal achievements—his contributions to the gothic tradition, his pioneering efforts in the short-tale genre, and his impact on the Aesthetic and Symbolist movements—have sometimes been tepid in their evaluations of his prose style. While Brett Zimmerman does, in his illuminating study, quote or mention most of what he calls Poe’s most “censorious inquisitors,” including Mark Twain, Henry James, Yvor Winters, T. S. Eliot, Julian Symons, and Harold Bloom, he does not engage in a point-by-point refutation. The tone throughout this examination of stylistic and rhetorical strategies is affirmative rather than defensive: Zimmerman convincingly argues that Poe’s prose is more varied and nuanced than his detractors claim by highlighting the way he matches language to the agitated moods, manias, and obsessions of his characters. Previous commentators, to be sure, have anticipated Zimmerman’s general point, but the painstaking demonstration of his thesis through five thoroughly detailed chapters—supported by an extensive catalog of Poe’s rhetorical devices—adds rich texture to his overall argument and advances our understanding of several key works in the Poe canon. It may not strike readers as original to pair for analysis, as Zimmerman does in his second chapter, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat,” a linkage that invites examination of two deranged narrators who appear to use reason to defend horrific acts. But Zimmerman’s essential distinction between the outer-directed appeal of the speaker in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” reflecting an attempt to persuade an audience, and the more inner-directed rhetoric of the narrator in “The Black Cat” seems valid. The latter narrator appears to struggle to convince himself that there is a natural set of reasons for what transpires in the tale. His repeated recourse to the language of folklore, religion, and the supernatural suggests a growing internal terror that belies his indirect or defensive references to witches and his denial of demonic agency. Contrary to interpretations of the tale that view the references to superstitions and nightmares about cats and devils as window dressing or gothic cliché, Zimmerman C  2009 Washington State University 144 P O E S T U D I E S , VOL. 42, 2009 R E V I E W cleverly argues that they effectively represent the narrator’s strenuous attempts to resist the palpable force of the supernatural. He also offers penetrating commentary on the structure of “The Black Cat,” which he essentially sees as a conflict between rationality and fear, represented by the tale’s contrasting references to craft and witchcraft. In a subsequent chapter, Zimmerman builds on Jean Paul Weber’s treatment of time in “The Masque of the Red Death” [Weber, “Edgar Poe or the Theme of the Clock,” in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robert Regan (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 79-97]. Accordingly, Poe’s description of the abbey approximates half a clock face or dial plate, and the phantom becomes the hour hand and Prospero the minute hand. What may appear by this summary to be too literal a reading of Poe’s multilayered tale quickly acquires greater complexity via Zimmerman’s attentive handling of the cadences of Poe’s prose, the reliance on biblical rhythms, and a variety of rhetorical turns or windings that match the unfolding events in the narrative. Here, in contrast to the views of David Ketterer and other critics, the arrangement of the palace’s rooms reinforces the careful handling of time, an allegorical reading of the tale that does not literally link characters and events to abstract themes. Rather, the time motif in “Masque” serves a more subtle allegorical message, joining Prospero to existential themes and unfolding in each successive sentence and paragraph through Poe’s rhetorical effects. In his gothic fiction, Poe’s use of exaggeration or hyperbole may reflect his connection to the tall-tale tradition, his use of repetition may suggest the obsessive temperament of an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 144-147
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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