- Toward a Wider Perspective on Poe’s Influence
Poe’s Pervasive Influence is the long-awaited collection that grew out of the Third International Poe Conference in 2009, sponsored by the Poe Studies Association to celebrate the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Despite the delay, these essays have a freshness that warrants the careful attention of those drawn to the international scope of Poe’s work—as well as to Poe’s potential to influence more generally. This collection is about influence in the broadest sense of the term both conceptually and geographically, reaching from Asian and European literature to Anglo-African fiction genres, and much more besides.
It must be said from the outset that Barbara Cantalupo, editor of the Edgar Allan Poe Review and author mostly recently of Edgar Allan Poe and the Visual Arts (2014), has brought to bear on this volume both her accumulated knowledge of all things Poe and her long experience as an editor. The volume coheres in a way that is rare for published proceedings, largely because of Cantalupo’s clarity of vision regarding how Poe has informed and inspired important and original international writers—most notably Edogawa Rampo in Japan, Fernando Pessoa and others in Portugal, and Nikolai Gogol in Russia—as well as how Poe has been taken up and sometimes taken to task by American authors. Cantalupo includes on the international side, for example, the perspicacious argument by Isabel Oliveira Martins that the first Portuguese detective story “has affinities not only with the Dupin tales but also with Poe’s work in general” ), as well as the treatment by Alexandra Urakova, an accomplished editor and Poe scholar in her own right, of Gogol’s translation and abridgments of Poe. As the Poe Bicentennial was no ordinary conference, the initial selection confronting the editor must have seemed an embarrassment of riches, drawing as it did from the work of scholars from fifteen countries. It is evident that Cantalupo discerningly took into account how certain presentations might resonant sympathetically with one another to yield unexpected and productive harmonies, for this is what characterizes the volume.
Consistently across the diverse entries in this volume, each is framed dialogically rather than didactically. To be sure, some of the contributions adopt a teaching angle, especially Diane Smith’s on Poe and Lu Xun, a writer [End Page 109] known for using tropes of psychological disintegration and decay, and Shoko Itoh’s on “gothic windows in Poe’s narrative space,” with its revelatory comparisons to Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Others provide a non-discursive approach, such as the interview with prominent mystery writer Kiyoshi Kasai and a suite of poems, “Poe in Place,” by Charles Cantalupo. All entries, however, set up a dialogue with Poe according to a specific perspective. The collective result is a critical understanding of what might be meant by Poe’s influence. Cantalupo’s authors never overstate the case but judiciously present the affinities and line them up for readers to assess.
Most notably, as regards the latter, Margarida Vale de Gato concludes her tracking of certain “Poesque traits” in Portuguese literature, not by arguing for a definitive line of direct influence, but by suggesting that those traits, passing from Poe through Pessoa, “may have facilitated the processes and techniques which marked early Portuguese modernism” . Further, with respect to the view that Poe influenced American writers for whom detection and puzzles have played a major role, John Gruesser’s “Poe’s Progeny,” beginning with a survey of terms connoting “detection” , assesses with an even hand the echoes of Poe’s use of such terms and narrative strategies in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), Melville’s Benito Cereno (1855), and Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861).
The litmus test of such studies, of course, is the extent to which they help us become better, because more informed and reflective, readers of the literary works under scrutiny. These essays pass with flying colors. Indeed, Cantalupo’s volume makes clearly evident just...