Thursday, August 29, 2013

1897 Riverside book of works by Poe, complete with footnotes

What a neat and readable book this still is, 116 years after publication.

And practical! Wouldn't you rather have a collection of Edgar Allan Poe works1 that fits in your pocket instead of a sterile e-reader that you have to scroll and click through?

The staplebound booklet was published in 1897 as No. 119 in the Riverside Literature Series, and cost 15 cents.2

Within its 100 or so pages are eight poems (including "The Raven," "The Bells," and "To Helen") and these four tales:

"A Descent into the Maelström" is a story-within-a-story of man who survives a terrible shipwreck and whirlpool.3 Poe's primary inspiration was the Moskstraumen4 in the Norwegian Sea, which is featured — in quite exaggerated form — at the center of this 1539 illustration by Swede Olaus Magnus:

Another neat thing about this small 19th century volume is that it was edited and heavily footnoted by Columbia University's William Peterfield Trent. He displays a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for Poe with his long, sometimes rambling, footnotes.5

And so we are treated to insight such as this:
"Lenore is perhaps the best example of Poe's success in amending his verses by constant experiment, as well as of his pertinacity in clinging to a subject that suited him. We have already seen that he thought the death of a beautiful young woman the most poetic of all themes, so we are not surprised to find the nucleus of Lenore in the stanzas entitled A Pæan, first published in the collection of 1831."
Trent also informs the reader, through footnotes, that Poe's favorite words included tarn and phantasmagoric.

And he discusses Mad Trist by Sir Launcelot Canning, a book that is mentioned within the Poe tale "The Fall of the House of Usher":
"Professor Woodberry has not found this book, and it is more than likely that Poe invented both the titles and the extracts."
So that puts Mad Trist on a list of fictional books alongside such titles as the Necronomicon, The Navidson Record, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Air Dance, The Combed Thunderclap, Chemical and Bacteriological Conditioning of the Embryo, Chicken Cat Ding, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, and Chaldean Roots in the Ancient Cornish Language.

Want more School Days nostaglia? Check out this directory featuring dozens of archived posts.

1. I wrote about a different volume of Poe works in September 2012.
2. That would be the equivalent of about $4 today. Still a bargain.
3. Interesting aside: "A Descent into the Maelström" is said by critics have some resemblance to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which was the subject of a School Days post last August.
4. In addition to the Moskstraumen, other famous whirlpools on our planet include the Saltstraumen, the Gulf of Corryvreckan, the Naruto whirlpools, the Old Sow whirlpool and the Skookumchuck Narrows. Unlike those others, however, the Moskstraumen is located in the open sea rather than in a strait or channel.
5. We don't know anyone like that, do we?

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