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  • Psychology in Edgar Allan Poe ed. by Gerardo Del Guercio
  • Marta Miquel-Baldellou (bio)
Gerardo Del Guercio, ed. Psychology in Edgar Allan Poe. Berlin: Logos Verlag Berlin, 2019. 164 pp. Paper $41.00.

From the advent of psychology and psychoanalysis, founders and proponents of these academic disciplines have shown interest in both Poe's creative genius and his fictional works. As a case in point, in his early psychoanalytic study of the figure of the double, The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971), Otto Rank stated that, upon using the theme of the double, Poe established a precedent for subsequent treatments. In the foreword to Marie Bonaparte's seminal volume, The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation (London: Imago, 1949), Sigmund Freud referred to Poe as "a great writer with pathological trends" (xi). In his collection of seminars, Écrits (London: Tavistock, 1977), Jacques Lacan produced a most influential interpretation of Poe's "The Purloined Letter" to analyze the concept of the symbolic chain. Although critics such as Jean Starobinski in The Living Eye (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989) have warned that psychoanalytic criticism has often shown two basic tendencies—on the one hand, the attempt to psychoanalyze authors, and on the other hand, the application of preconceived theoretical assumptions—the framework of psychology and psychoanalysis has always proved particularly fruitful to approach Poe's works. In the introduction to his volume Psychology in Edgar Allan Poe, its editor, Gerardo Del Guercio, who specializes in nineteenth-century American literature, argues that this book arises as a result of his realization that "nothing on Edgar Allan Poe and psychology had come around in many years" (7). All the essays compiled in this volume address psychology, but they also pertain to multifaceted disciplines, ranging from popular culture to comparative studies, while at the same time examining a representative selection of Poe's works. Although each essay presents a diverse degree of complexity, some of these chapters resort to intricate concepts pertaining to psychoanalysis, and so it is implied that the target audience of this book should be somehow familiar with this theoretical discourse. Given the manifold themes tackled in the different chapters, this volume presents no predetermined structure, and in the introduction the editor mentions that the reader need not peruse the chapters in any particular order. Precisely as a result of its manifold themes, this book makes a significant contribution, as not only does it demonstrate the enduring validity of psychology as an effective discourse to reexamine different aspects in Poe's [End Page 290] works, but it also contributes to updating this discipline and ratifying it as a valuable framework for contemporary literary studies.

In the first chapter of this volume, Karen J. Renner points out that, in the decade of the 1840s, Poe published, on the one hand, his Dupin trilogy, which gave birth to the detective genre, and on the other hand, the stories "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat" and "The Imp of the Perverse," which consist of three confessional accounts narrated by murderers. These two sets of tales respectively portray the fictional figures of the detective and the killer that contributed to cementing Poe's intrinsic duality. Poe and his detective Dupin turned into prototypes for the criminal profiler, characterized as an individual particularly gifted at gaining insight into the criminal's mindset, precisely owing to the profiler's own moral ambiguity. Likewise, Renner claims that Poe and his tales have left an indelible footprint not only on the way serial killers are depicted in fiction, but also on how actual murderers shape their own identities. Poe paved the way for serial killer fiction, since, although he never wrote about serial killers strictly speaking, central features of serial killer fiction can already be traced back to Poe's tales, namely the killer's capacity to pass unnoticed, the emphasis on deciphering the killer's psyche, and his infamous motif of killing in order to play God. Moreover, the archetypal figure of the morally ambiguous profiler in serial killer fiction can be traced back to Poe's tales, as personified by Dupin. One of...