Reading Sanctum: Flight of the Raven #2

During the Halloween season this year, after feeling like I needed a hefty dose of autumn, I received Edgar Allan Poe: the Complete Collection for free from Amazon Kindle and invited followers of the Mustache and the Beard to readalong. Just to reiterate, the book is one of the Beelzebub Classics with Poe on the cover and is a whopping 4912 pages that I will be reviewing for the blog over the course of years, probably.

I wrote about the introduction a couple of months ago, and intend to write about the first five stories, here. Metzengerstein is the first Edgar Allan Poe short story ever published. He had submitted five stories for a writing contest at the Philadelphia Saturday Courier of which he did not win, but had this one published January of 1832.

The narrative is essentially about two rival Hungarian families: the Metzengerstein and the Berlifitzing. Frederick Metzengerstein is the surviving heir to the family. He is a wealthy noble, but in his moments of mourning it is whispered, he may have done some criminal things, not the least of which is the possible immolation murder of Count Wilhelm Berlifitzing. The Gothic story, though brief is rife with symbolism.

There is significant prose expended on setting and mood which would become hallmark tropes that Poe would repeatedly revisit in much of his writing such as the prophetic foreshadowing at the story’s onset and the closing missive. The initial foreshadowing and closing missive would become paradigms of Poe’s gothic writing. I don’t believe that I have ever read this story before, but I consider it a perfect beginning to any exploration of Poe.

The editor of the Philadelphia Saturday Courier was smart enough to choose the perfect story to highlight the work of this brilliant “new” (at the time) writer.

Initially, it wasn’t clear if “The Complete Works” that I’m reading intended to keep to the order of publication; however, The Duc De L’Omelette is a satirical and amusing short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It is the second of his tales ever published, part of the five stories submitted as entries into a writing contest that he never won and although published he was not compensated for the story. The Philadelphia-based magazine Saturday Courier printed the story on March 3, 1832.

The narrative consists of the Duc who dies and finds himself in hell. Surprised that the sum of his actions merited hell, he invites the devil to play a card game in order to escape punishment. The satirical piece supposedly is a direct shot against Nathaniel Parker Willis who was already annoyed by Poe’s literary criticism. It is my understanding that the relationship never improved, and this is just one of the reasons Willis essentially dances on Poe’s grave in “Death of Edgar A. Poe” (a work in the introduction to this tome that I have already written about.)

This was a difficult story to judge, because it’s satire and Poe meant the satire in a mean-spirited way and I personally find haughty and nasty to be character-diminishing traits. Still, classic; still great, but not loving the intent.

This story was published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in June 9, 1832. It is the third of the five submissions made by Edgar Allan Poe for a literary contest that he did not win and run by the magazine. It must be read as a satire of the contemporary work called “Zillah, A Tale of Jerusalem” written by Horace Smith. Here, Poe takes full sentences from the popular work and rearranges the order to tell a very different, mean-spirited, religiously insensitive, and parodic tale.

It is my personal opinion that this is one of the those stories that contributed to Poe’s reputation as “not a nice guy.” Just as a for-instance, recognize the backdrop of this story being amid the Jewish community and what a gift of a living pig might mean to this community. Then, you might be able to recognize that this is a story told to a primarily Christian readership as a “joke” with a “just kidding” aggregation. (Probably with an inappropriate wink and a nod.)

Not one of my favorite stories, but it is an objective classic that when viewed in historical context must have contributed to Poe’s reputation (and probably not in a good way.) On the positive side for Poe’s legacy, this story is a largely forgotten piece.

Although I despise the heart by which this tale is written, I do agree that this is an objective classic.

Some people are critical of Loss of Breath as schlocky mimicry of the contemporary horror stories of the period. Although others see this as parody, I think Poe was being critical of the developing genre while simultaneously admiring it from afar.

The very beginning is about a newly married couple on their wedding night, and how the man is incensed about something (insert inferences here) and screaming almost irrationally at the top of his lungs, insulting remarks to his wife. He loses his breath in his anger, and then begins the horror portion of the story.

This is the fourth story published by the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. It was published on November 10, 1832. It was one of Poe’s five submissions for a literary contest run by the magazine, but he did not win and was probably never paid for the story. Despite the fact that most people may relate to the loss of breath, Poe begins to explore the fear in fascinating ways that may have initiated zombie narratives with his visions of “possible” walking dead. I love this story and will be sure to include it for re-reading for future Halloweens. IMHO it is nothing short of brilliant!

It is an eye-opening experience to recognize that a favored author has a very human, mean-streak as part of his personality evidenced by his works. In Bon-Bon, which was originally named The Bargain Lost, Poe demonstrates just such a trait of being a bit of a douchebag (maybe more than a bit). The Bargain Lost was the fifth story published by The Philadelphia Saturday Courier printed in the December 1, 1831 edition.

Bon-Bon is about a chef who is also a philosopher that gets into an argument with the devil. The story is meant as a satire on the pretentious nature of philosophers, and mentions Plato, Aristophanes, Hippocrates, and Voltaire by name with an epigraph by Shakespeare where even the Bard may be included as part of the targeted. Imagine the sheer audacity of a new-up-and-coming writer tearing into established “sacred cows” and decrying their work as pompous including Shakespeare in the bargain.

IMHO, this is what Poe is doing here and in a rather ostentatious way, as well. I enjoyed the narrative on its face, but even more when coupled with the research in order to enhance my understanding. This story fits with my three criteria for a classic: longevity (older than 50 years), paradigm altering (making a mark on the genre), and exceptionalism (Poe raises some eyebrows here with his irreverence toward the giants of philosophy. 4 and a half very ballsy Grey Geeks.

Allright, you wonderful Geeks, and Freaks, I think we will end this post here. I will continue looking at this tome from time to time along with all the other stuff we have going on. Thanks for your prayers and good wishes. It’s great to be back for our fourth year doing this stuff. I love you! God Bless! Peace!

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