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  • Abstracts for the PSA Panel at the American Literature Association
  • Poe and Childhood

Notes on Poe and Lolita (Charles Grimstad, Columbia University)

When asked in a 1965 interview what scenes from history he would like to have filmed, Vladimir Nabokov included William Shakespeare in the role of the ghost of King Hamlet, the beheading of Louis XVI, Herman Melville feeding a sardine to his cat, and "Poe's wedding." Nabokov doesn't elaborate on the last choice, though attentive reading of his 1959 novel Lolita shows just how obsessed he was with Edgar Allan Poe. The novel is packed with references to the American writer, starting with its original title, A Kingdom by the Sea, taken from Poe's lyric ode to his child love, "Annabel Lee." What is the link between Poe's youthful real-life bride Virginia, who was thirteen when Poe married her, and Nabokov's stylistically exhilarating and deeply disturbing novel about an middle-aged émigré lusting after, possessing, and repeatedly violating his own child bride? What can we learn from the novel's obsessive references to Poe—from the original title, to Humbert Humbert's registering as "Edgar" in the various hotels where he takes his captive, to the novel's nods to the detective story, to the film version having Humbert recite "Ulalume" and refer to the "divine Edgar"? Is Nabokov's novel about a sex captive linked to other aspects of Poe such as his tales of terror and trauma? My paper will explore these questions and the question of Poe and Nabokov's relation more generally.

A Neglected Book from Poe's Childhood (Richard Kopley, Penn State DuBois)

Scholars have identified and assessed a variety of the books from Poe's childhood, but one of the books that has not yet been mentioned is Evenings at Home by John Aikin and his sister, Mrs. Anna Laetitia Barbauld. It is listed in a bill for "Sundries" for John Allan, one incurred at the booksellers Fitzwhylson & Potter on February 18, 1815, when Edgar was just six years old. Allan had just bought a toy, "a pair of trammaels for Edgar," for seventy-five cents; Evenings at Home is listed, among a variety of books, at $1.75. It is the one that is clearly for children. The work was a popular collection of highly moralistic pieces. Through a series of short narratives, the child is taught to do good, to accept limits, to avoid hubris, to be loyal, to be obedient, to accept one's lot in life, and so forth. This is a book of practicality and prudence. It offers "the heresy of the didactic" with great conviction. Mixed with the moralistic pieces are informative ones, about [End Page 171] the world of nature. A careful reading yields a number of possible connections to Poe, including pieces on drinking, gambling, and greatness. Perhaps of greatest interest is a tale of detection about a broken window, which exculpates the good and punishes the bad. This volume, doubtless Allan's gift to Edgar, seems a rich assortment of that which Edgar may come to resist and reformulate.

A Child Adrift: Finding Family at Sea in Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Michelle Pacht, CUNY)

Abandoned by his father, orphaned by his mother's death, and separated from his siblings at a young age, Edgar Allan Poe's sense of dislocation began early in life. His childhood was spent in transit and his works can reflect a desire to create the familial comforts he lacked in the unlikeliest of places. Often used as a metaphor for the journey from innocence to experience, the sea voyages in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym work also as a return to innocence for the childlike narrator seeking parental guidance and support. Pym opens his narrative by sharing his lineage—an effort to place himself within a domestic sphere, even as he rejects home for a life at sea. Though he leaves land-based society, the teenaged Pym constructs homey spaces and family units during his travels. The seas he sails and the South Pole he approaches represent the mother—womb-like, nurturing, and the ultimate source of...


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pp. 171-172
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