“I live continually in a reverie of the future.” #edgarallanpoe #baudelaire


Edgar Allan Poe is an author who is perhaps unfortunately pigeonholed because of the fame (or indeed notoriety!) of his horror stories. Tales like “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”, poems like “The Raven”, fall squarely into the kind of writing which is normally read at this time of the year. And I have to confess that I do love his dark, troubling stories and his melodramatic verse! However, his writing does range more widely than this and he’s been responsible for journalism, essays, a scientific prose-poem and of course some of the earliest examples of detective fiction.

I’ve read a lot of his work over the years, but my eye was caught recently on Twitter when someone mentioned a little collection called “The Unknown Poe”. An anthology initially published in 1980 by New Directions, and gathered together by Raymond Foye, it brings together not only some of what they call ‘fugitive wiritngs’ by Poe, but also some marvellous writings on the man by luminaries such as Andre Breton and Charles Baudelaire. The result is a most wonderful collection which I devoured and absolutely loved!

And so, being young and dipt in folly
I fell in love with melancholy

The Poe section contains some fascinating pieces, from a selection of letters, through some poems rarely seen and extract from his ‘Marginalia‘. There are also prose pieces, “Prose, Essays & Reviews” and these were particularly interesting; ‘The Imp of the Perverse‘, which explores that inexplicable human trait of perversity, is perhaps the best known, but it was fascinating seeing him give his thoughts on authors such as Shelley and Shakespeare. After reading all of these pieces, I really feel I want to dig out what Poe I have, and then check out whether there’s any kind of collected edition available; the diversity of his writing is impressive.


It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.

The icing on the cake for me, though, was the supporting material collected in the second section, entitled “The French View“. Here, Foy brings together some writings by Baudelaire on Poe which are exemplary, and as well as throwing light on Poe, also demonstrate the influence the older writer had on the younger. These two substantial pieces were, I believe, forewords to translations of Poe’s work which Baudelaire made into the French, and his enthusiasm and reverence for Poe are clear.

It will always be difficult to exist, nobly and productively, as a man of letters, without facing defamation, slander by the impotent, the envy of the rich, that envy which is their punishment! – or the vengeance of bourgeois mediocrity. But what is difficult in a restrained monarchy or in a regular republic, becomes nearly impossible in a kind of lumber yard where every town sergeant polices his own opinions to the profit of his own vices – or his own virtues, for they are one in the same; – where a poet or novelist in a slave society is a detestable writer in the eyes of an abolitionist critic, where one does not know which is the greater scandal, sloppy cynicism or imperturbable Biblical hypocrisy. (Baudelaire)

The other pieces, by Huysmans, Valery, Lallarme and Breton, are much shorted but equally fascinating and, in their references back to Baudelaire and then Poe, they clearly demonstrate the lineage of influence down from an American author much misunderstood in his own country but revered in Europe. Baudelaire in particular is very harsh about America and its (lack of) culture, chastising the country for not recognising the genius they had in their midst; and, in fact, he goes on to berate society in general for trying to produce a bland and homogenised literature. It’s bracing and fascinating stuff!

As you can see from the amount of post-its sticking out of my book, this small volume (117 pages) was absolutely packed with writing which had my brain buzzing. (It also has a few very nice illustrations…) I’ve tended with Poe to read mainly his stories, but I definitely want to explore the rest of his writing more after reading this. As for Baudelaire, again I have volumes of his prose non-fiction lurking on Mount TBR and they really do need to come off it sooner rather than later! “The Unknown Poe” was an utterly wonderful read, and thank you to whoever happened to mention it on Twitter – I’m so glad I read it! 😀

Clearing the shelves – it’s time for a giveaway or two! :D


The parlous state of my TBR (and in fact my shelves in general!) is probably notorious by now; and the pictures I’ve posted of new arrivals on social media recently probably hint that even more books have made their way into the house. In mitigation, I have sent some off to friends, sold one or two and I have three large boxes in the hall awaiting collection by the Samaritans Book Cave! Nevertheless, I have half a dozen or so lovely titles that I really don’t need (owing to having duplicate copies in the main) and so I thought I would offer them to readers of the blog in a giveaway – it’s a little while since I’ve done one of these! 😀

And these are the books concerned:

Eight in total, now that I count them… Here’s a closer look at some:

These are all lovely Alma Classics editions which I’ve read but are duplicated or I won’t read again; so it makes sense for them to go to someone who would! The Jerome K. Jerome is great fun; Poe and Gatsby need no introduction from me!

Next up some Russians:

A pair of Turgenevs, which I have duplicated somehow; plus Fardwor, Russia! which was a great read!

And finally a Virago and a fragile Picador:

The Virago is a new style cover. As for the second book, much as it pains me to get rid of a Calvino, I already have the exact same edition from back in the day, so it’s a bit silly to hold onto it. Apart from this one, all of the other books are brand new.

So if you think you’d like to read one of these, give me a shout in the comments and let me know what book or books you might be interested in. I will have to restrict to the UK and possibly Europe, as postage costs anywhere else are going to be a bit awful. But speak up if you’re interested – if I can donate these to new, happy homes I won’t feel quite so bad about the books that keep sneaking their way into the house… ;D

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream…


Tales of Horror by Edgar Allan Poe

Image from plusquotes.com

Image from plusquotes.com

Today, as even someone barely conscious would realise, is Hallowe’en; that time of the year when we fall victim to rampant commercialism, encourage our children to dress up as the most gruesome creatures and go off to terrify local old people into giving them treats. I often think that the fact they give the little dears things that will rot their teeth and give them diabetes is a subtle form of revenge… But I digress. Behind all this commercial mayhem is a much older celebration, All Hallow’s Eve, when a three-day festival remembered the dead. So what more fitting to read than something a little spooky and gruesome!


I’ve been lucky enough to be have been provided with a review copy of the ideal book, “Tales of Horror” by Edgar Allan Poe, kindly sent by Alma Classics and I’ve been dipping into it over the past few days. The volume is a new addition to their excellent Evergreen range of reasonably price classics, all in lovely jackets, and this is no exception – the striking cover features suitably sombre design and of course Poe’s famous bird!

Short story collections are notoriously hard to review in a short blog post, so I thought instead I would pick out some favourites to share with you. And this really is an excellent selection, with all the stories you’d expect to see (“The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”) as well as some lesser known titles which are just as good. In fact, trying to choose the best from here is really difficult, so I’ll just mention a few that really stood out for me.

First up are two of his stories featuring the amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin – “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter” (there is a third, “The Mystery of Marie Roget”, which doesn’t feature here). The two stories were published in 1841 and 1844, predating Holmes by several decades, and it’s fascinating to see the template being set by Poe of the simple sidekick narrator and the enigmatic genius of a detective. Some of the exchanges, particularly one where Dupin explains how he’s followed the thought processes of his Watson and been able to come out with a comment that answers the question in his head, could have come straight out of Conan Doyle. And the mysteries are clever and satisfying. Interestingly, there is a quote from the creator of Holmes on the back of this book pretty much acknowledging his debt to Poe!

Then there’s one of the spooky ones I remember most from my initial reading of Poe, “Berenice”; this features many of Poe’s regular tropes, including catalepsy and epilepsy, premature burial and highly strung narrators. The latter in this case is prey to monomania; as a book obsessive, I can identify with that, though not with the man’s obsession with his beloved’s teeth, and the consequences…. “Eleanora” is set in the Valley of the Many-Coloured Grasses, and is full of highly wrought emotions and beautiful descriptions of the fantasy landscape. “The Man of the Crowd” is most unusual, with the narrator following a man making his way through an urban landscape but unable to fathom what motivates his movements; the conclusion is unexpected, to say the least. And “William Wilson” finds a narrator struggling with a doppelgänger who pursues him throughout his life.


These are just some of the riches, and in fact calling the book “Tales of Horror” perhaps does it a slight disservice, as there’s such a wide variety of stories on view here, covering ghosts, mesmerism, crime, love, death, the supernatural in general and even reincarnation. Poe has a reputation for being a bit grim and dark and melodramatic, and certainly these are elements in many of the stories. However, what’s not often realised is that he can be quite funny, and in several of the tales seems to be sending up the whole genre. The wonderfully fantastical “The Devil in the Belfry”, set in the strange village of Vondervotteimittiss (try pronouncing it out loud carefully….) with its residents who are obsessed with cabbages and clocks is pure joy. It took me a second read to pick up all the clever little elements Poe had built into the story and it was an unexpected highlight of the book. Likewise, “Some Words with a Mummy” is very tongue-in-cheek, as is “Never Bet the Devil in your Head”.

Poe’s imagination knows no bounds, taking us all over the world to real places in Europe and America as well as fantastic landscapes that never existed, and this collection really showcases what a wonderful storyteller he was. “Tales of Horror” is a fabulous read, particularly for this time of year when the nights draw in, full of shivers, laughs and wild fancy. You could do not better than pick up this lovely Evergreen edition for a perfect Hallowe’en experience; me, I’m off to the Internet to listen to Basil Rathbone’s wonderful rendition of “The Raven”!

A Birthday Poe-m!



Today is the birthday of the great writer, Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve rambled about him on here before – one of the progenitors of the detective story, poet, writer of great scary stories, the man was multi-talented.

Of course, “The Raven” is one of his best-known works, having been filmed, recited and parodied over the years by all and sundry. This is one of my favourite readings – the wonderful Basil Rathbone has just the right tones for the poem, and brings all his talents as an actor to the recital:

Happy birthday Poe!

A Poem by Poe: A Dream within a Dream

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Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?


Recent Reads: The Journal of Julius Rodman by Edgar Allan Poe


I’m always pleasantly surprised when I stumble across a book by one of my favourite authors that I never realised existed, and this happened recently with Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve read Poe off and on over the years, always amazed by the amount of work he produced in his short life and also the variety of his writing – progenitor of the detective story, classic Gothic horror stories, science fiction, adventure tales – you name it, Poe seems to have written it! As well as this he managed to have an exciting and dramatic life so it’s quite incredible how prolific he was.

I discovered the existence of “The Journal of Julius Rodman” recently when I was rambling across links online in a psychogeographic kind of way and came upon Pushkin Press, who publish the lovely little illustrated edition I immediately purchased. Wikipedia describes the book thus:

The Journal of Julius Rodman, Being an Account of the First Passage across the Rocky Mountains of North America Ever Achieved by Civilized Man is an unfinished serial novel by American author Edgar Allan Poe published in 1840.

The Journal of Julius Rodman is a fictionalised account of the first expedition across the Western Wilderness, crossing the Rocky Mountains. The journal chronicled a 1792 expedition led by Julius Rodman up the Missouri River to the Northwest. This 1792 expedition would have made Rodman the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains. The detailed journal chronicles events of the most surprising nature, and recounts “the unparalleled vicissitudes and adventures experienced by a handful of men in a country which, until then, had never been explored by ‘civilised man’.

I have a weakness for the concept of early American settlers travelling west and finding the untamed wilderness there – just take a look at any of the paintings by the Hudson River Group and you’ll see the kind of images this sort of travel writing puts in my head! The book itself, as well as being a beautifully produced little volume, is a good read. Poe composed the stories for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and as he left their employment before completing the series of tales, they were unfinished. But what does exist is a great read!

There is an introduction giving a little back story to the main protagonist, and then the tale gets underway with Rodman gathering a group of adventurers to set off upriver with him on his expedition. Ostensibly they are going trapping to get pelts to sell for money, but the expedition soon becomes more of an exploratory adventure, striking into the heart of the West and the trapping is little more than an excuse for the jaunt. On the way they encounter Native American Indians (both friendly and hostile types), a variety of wildlife and some very scary bears. The narrative breaks off after a dramatic encounter and the reader is left wishing Poe had been able to continue his tale.

What is fascinating about this book is that the story is a complete fiction and is regarded as a great literary hoax. Poe’s skilful narrative was so convincing that the tale was widely believed and even quoted in some official documents, which is a real tribute to his powers as a writer. It’s a lovely little book and a great read if you want to dream of the untamed American West!

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