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Poe: The Trauma of an Era

Óscar Xavier Altamirano

Despite the attention lavished on Edgar Allan Poe, his long-standing status as a «critical orphan» endures. He is known as much for a poem, a story and a biographical myth as for his extraordinary body of work, often written off as second rate. He is a writer obscurely cherished by lovers of the macabre, oversimplified and entangled in sophisticated theoretical analyses and judgements that fail to consider the esoteric doctrines central to his work. In other words, lost between the initiated and the profane, Poe has become a gigantic puzzle and one that needs reassembling. His writings remain elusive, while his role in the literary history of our age defies canonicity.

An intellectual history that fills this crucial gap by restoring Poe to his turbulent historical context, this book recovers the philosophical and esoteric complexity of a riddler, a satirist and a biting social critic in his struggle to make sense of the cardinal malaises and dominant ideas of a revolutionary age, confronted with a new and shattering conception of man, nature and the universe. It reconsiders the way we read, study and present Poe to future generations, decoding with exceptional clarity the enigmas of a monumental writer – a cult figure – who is inseparable from the historical consciousness of the modern world.

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Chapter 9: Death and the Maiden


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Death and the Maiden

I have no doubt that some future age will observe a certain fanciful innovation of the eighteenth century, whereby the ladies, instead of the uncouth names of their grandmothers, have designated themselves by the enchanting sounds of Leonora, Evelina, and it will be acknowledged that they have manifested some taste by such a choice: but the wonder will be, whence they got them; until some dealer in literary curiosities informs them that there were then a sort of books that they called novels, that he had actually seen one himself that some how survived the injuries of time; that those books depended very much upon such names for something that the ladies were very fond of … There must have been a vast impetus in those names, or rather in the characters that invested them, to have defied oblivion … and this I attribute (though philosophy should smile at my credulity) to the divinity of that revelation in which they were concerned.

— M. L., ‘Polite Literature’, The Port-Folio (1808)

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