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Poe’s Ugly American: “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” Michael J. S. Williams University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” first published in Godey’s (April 1844), surely qualifies as one of Poe’s more neglected tales; the paucity of studies would seem to affirm Patrick F. Quinn’s judgment that it is “not intrinsically of interest” as an example of Poe’s fiction.’ The tale in effect embodies two narrative lines-an outer frame narrative set in nineteenth-century Charlottesville, and an inner narrative recounted by the central character, Augustus Bedloe, set in eighteenth-century Benares. Events in the narrative(s) can be briefly outlined. In the outer narrative, the narrator describes Bedloe as a strikingly ugly man who has long suffered from repeated “neuralgic attacks” ( Works, 3:940); his doctor, Templeton, treats him by mesmerism, and he treats himself with opium and morning walks. One day, he returns late, “in rather more than ordinary spirits” (942), to explain his absence with a story the substance of which comprises the inner narrative. He recounts his being somehow translated from the Ragged Mountains outside Charlottesville to an “Eastern-looking city” (945), where he literally becomes a participant in a conflict between a vast Indian crowd and a small party of soldiers. He is struck in the right temple by a poisoned arrow and dies. A series of electric-like shocks restores him to his former self, and he returns home with this account. Templeton , much disturbed, then identifies events as those of Cheyte Sing’s insurrection in Benares in 1780 (in fact 1781),2and Bedloe’s role as that of the doctor’s former “dearest friend” Oldeb; he confesses that Bedloe’s detailed likeness to his former friend has previously afforded him a “not altogether horrorless curiosity” (949). The tale ends with a newspaper account of Bedloe’s death about a week later-from Templeton’s mistaken application of a poisonous leech to his right temple. A misspelling in Bedloe’s name renders it a perfect palindrome of Oldeb, and possibly prompts the narrator to a belief in metempsychosis and/or mesmeric reve~ation.~ Such commentary as has been offered has tended to focus almost exclusively on one narrative line or the other. That addressing the outer taleof the narrator’s meeting with the unfortunate Bedloe; the latter’s relationship with Doctor Templeton ; and Bedloe’s ultimate reported deathhas debated variously whether the tale is primarily concerned with metempsychosis, mesmerism, or animal magnetism,* or whether, perhaps, all these factors operate in a multilayered ironic narrative at the heart of which is Templeton’s psychotic murder of his ~ a t i e n t . ~ Studies addressing the exotic inner narrative of Bedloe’s Indian experiences have most often examined Poe’s use of his sources-primarily, the nature of his appropriation from Thomas Babbington Macaulay’s 1841 review of G. R. Gleig’s Memoirs of the Life of Warren Hastings.6 The most recent extended analysis of “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” by Richard Kopley, is primarily concerned to demonstrate that the tale shares with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym both the symmetrical structural pattern of the “Providence Tradition” and the expression of “desire for reunion with his much beloved dead mother and dead b r ~ t h e r . ” ~ However, the comparison with Pym is also significant for other reasons, particularly in light of Dana D. Nelson’s analysis of that text’s interrogation of the psychological, epistemological , scientific, and economic mechanisms of colonialism.8 The crucial central episode of the tale, after all, purports to depict a violent engagement between British imperial forces and the populace of Benares in 1781-a conflict precipitated by Warren Hastings’s attempt to extort money from Cheyte Sing, Raja of Benares, and subsequently the basis of one count in Hastings’s impeachment in 1788.’ Andrew Horn has suggested one way in which Poe’s use of this episode may be read: that is, in his version of events in Benares, Poe is offering a “political allegory” of circumstances in contemporary America. Horn argues that Poe was hostile to the Indian participants because he shared the...


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pp. 51-61
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