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Robert Paul Lamb Flight of the Raven: A Retrospective on the Scholarshipof G. R. Thompson Only where love and need are one, And the work is play for mortal stakes, Is the deed ever really done For Heaven and the future’ssakes. -Robert Frost, “TwoTrampsin Mud Time” (1934) I am honored to present this brief overviewof the scholarly career of G. R.Thompson, for the past four decades both our finest Poe critic and our foremost scholar of nineteenthcentury American narrative aesthetics. The undertaking is a formidable one, though, made daunting by the breadth and influenceof hisachievementsand by my desireto dojustice to a dearfriend,belovedby his studentsand colleagues,whose decency,kindness ,and generosityof spirithavebeen legendary in the profession.Ishmaeltooksix hundred pages toexplainawhale,whilesimultaneouslyconfessing that he could not. I will take considerablyfewer pages to describe the work of a figurative whale. Like Ishmael,I’mdoomedto fail,but ashe bravely and succinctlyput it, I will try. Dick Thompson first rose to prominence for his work on Edgar Allan Poe. In 1968, at the age of thirty and in only his second year as an assis tant professor at Washington State University,he founded the PoeNewskttto;whichsoonevolvedinto Poe Studies. He served as editor and then coeditor until 1979,and remainsa member of the editorial board to this day. From its inception, thejournal played a central role in promoting scholarship on Poe, attracting submissions from established scholars and giving many young professors who would one day become leading literarycriticsan early opportunity to publish. Poe Studies created a dynamic discourse community devoted to the author, as essays and notes in the journal often respondedtoeachother,establishingexcitingand productive dialogues about Poe’s work at a time when he, although nominally canonized,was still viewed as something of a hack in many quarters of the Modern LanguageAssociation. While Dick was engineering the birth and growthof thejournal, his own scholarshipon Poe was appearing in such venues as PMLA, American Literature, Studies in Short Fiction, and Poe Studies itself.He alsomade his presencefeltin the pagesof Amen’canLiterary Scholamhip, writingthe “Themes, Topics,and Criticism”reviewchapterfrom 1969to 1971,and then the Poe reviewchapter in 1972-74 and 1980.In addition, in 1970he edited Harper’s Great Short Works ofEdgarAllan Poe, with a revised versionin 1974,acollectionthat hasbeen continuously reissued and in print ever since and that is regularly assigned in high schoolsand colleges. This phase of Dick’s career culminatedin his first authored book, PoeS Fiction:Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (1973), which was nominated for the ModernLanguageAssociation’sJames Russell Lowell Prize. The influence and significance of PoeS Fiction cannot be overstated,for it appeared at a time when Poe scholarship was mired in a quandary.As Dick diagnosed it: [N]owork of Poe hasfullywon aplacein the listsof classicAmericanwriterssupposedlybecausePoewas unable to transcend the Gothic. Thus it is by a curiousirony of literaryhistory that Poe’sintricate manipulation of the genre has resulted in the criticaljudgment that his was “merely”a Gothic art:the art of the carney fun house: cheap,obvious, tawdry. ...Poe’shighly complexuse of a Romantic genre has become simplified by reductive critics unable to transcend their own preconceptions ofgenre.’ This failure to grasp Poe as anything more than an over-the-top Gothicist had led to another problem with regard to the tales: “[Als a single 2 Poe StudiedDark Romanticism group they seem to lack consistency and wholeness ; the body of his fiction splits disturbingly into two large, seemingly inconsistent groups: flawed Gothic tales on the one hand and flawed comic and satiric tales on the other.” To make matters worse, “it has come to be conventional to explain the curious incongruities in Poe’sworks by means of a pseudo-Freudian biographical approach, as proceeding from his lack of a self-identity”;even revisionist criticismhad “reinforced the older, now traditional, view of Poe asmerelythe schizophrenic genius of the demoniac imagination” (PF,4,5,7). How, then, could a reader viewPoe holisticallyand meaningfully, as something other than a case in pathology? Which was the true Poe-the serious aesthete devoted to ideality and the beautiful, the overly morbid Gothicist, or the odd fellow with an extremely bizarre sense of humor? And even if we were to account for these different...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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