- Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul by Isaac Gewirtz, with contributions by Paul Auster and Susan Jaffe Tane
The catalog of the Edgar Allan Poe exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York from October 2013 to January 2014, Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul, reproduces about half of the hundred images on display, adding eight more illustrations. Drawn from three collections, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, and the private collection of Susan Jaffe Tane, the exhibition, which was co-curated by Declan Kieley of the Morgan Library and Isaac Gewirtz of the Berg Collection, balanced three significant aspects of Poe: his writings, illustrations of his work, and his influence on other writers. The same balance is followed in the exhibition catalog, edited by Isaac Gewirtz, with an introduction by the novelist Paul Auster, a memoir by Poe collector Susan Jaffe Tane, and an important essay by Gewirtz.
In the opening essay, Auster burnishes Poe’s reputation by reminding us of his major influence, together with Walt Whitman, on modern French and American poetry in the tradition of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Valery Larbaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, John Ashbery, and Frank O’Hara. In the closing section, Tane recounts her career as a Poe collector, beginning with her decision to invest heavily in a rare first edition of Tamerlane, leading to her recent acquisition of the Dimmock daguerreotype at auction. (The latter was donated to the Player’s Club of New York in 1895, disappeared nine decades later, was subsequently discovered in a shop in Walnut, Iowa, and, after being identified on the Antiques Roadshow TV program, was returned by the FBI to its owner.) In the major central essay, Gewirtz offers not a catalogue raisonné of the exhibit but rather an original reading of fifteen Poe tales, in which he groups each according to the nationality and social class of its narrator (see the color-coded chronological chart of these types on p. 198), establishes its context in the intellectual milieu of European and American Romanticism, and interprets Poe’s terror and horror as serious attempts to exploit literary Gothicism to explore human consciousness and the awareness by the self of the anxiety of human existence.
The reproductions in Terror of the Soul include nine Poe MSS, five daguerreotypes or period photographs, and, in nearly equal quantities, page images of Poe’s first appearances in print, illustrations by a variety of artists [End Page 87] of his works, and evidence of his influence on modern writers. The Poe manuscripts are “Dreams” and “The Lake,” “The Lighthouse,” “Ulalume,” “A Reviewer Reviewed,” and “Eulalie.” (The reproduction of “Eualaie” [fig. 54, inside back cover] is less legible than the darker version in Tane’s exhibition catalog, Nevermore: The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane [Cornell University Library, 2006, pl. 4], but presumably is more faithful to the current condition of the original.) The five daguerreotypes or period photographs are the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype (fig. 1, front cover), the Lowell daguerreotype (fig. 4), the “Annie” period albumen copy of the Lowell daguerreotype (fig. 2, inside front cover), the Players Club daguerreotype (fig. 46), and an albumen carte de visite attributed to Matthew Brady (fig. 52, full page). In addition, there are generous reproductions of illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, Harry Clarke, Felix Octavius Carr Darley, Gustave Doré, Edmund Dulac, Édouard Manet, and Alan James Robinson. For researchers, the most interesting item in the exhibition may be the reproduction of Poe’s penciled annotations at the end of his own copy of Eureka.
The strength of Gewirtz’s essay, which repeats the title used by both the exhibit and the catalog, is that it contextualizes Poe’s tales in the background of European Romanticism rather than referring them to the American Renaissance. In this, Gewirtz argues that Poe’s tales are serious explorations of the inability of the sciences in his day...