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Transatlantic Poe

Eliot, Williams and Huxley, Readers of the French Poe

Maria Filippakopoulou

Was Edgar Allan Poe's work vulgar or a «new specimen of beauty»? Did he represent a critical puzzle for his influential readers or a basis for redefining American literature? This book offers a new understanding of Poe's literary significance by considering the transatlantic reception of the author in French translation.
The translation of Poe into French by Charles Baudelaire ennobled Poe aesthetically and catalysed a wave of critical responses to his work across the Atlantic in the early twentieth century. Readings by T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams and Aldous Huxley here become the focus of transatlantic analysis.
Contrastive close readings of key essays in which these Anglophone writers engaged with the French Poe set out to achieve two things: first, they shed new light on the constitution of Poe's commanding critical reputation; secondly, they test comparative methodology as the primary tool of transatlantic enquiry. Situated within an expanding body of Poe scholarship but atypical in design, this book promises to bring about unexpected insights by systematically relating and comparing French and Anglophone discourses.
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Chapter 1: Hardwiring Poe in global memory


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Hardwiring Poe in global memory

The general aim of this part is to retrieve the Baudelairean encounter with Edgar Allan Poe as a singular discursive event which will come to function as the inevitable first stage of Poe’s literary education in twentieth-century American letters. This formulation implies something of a challenge to the extent that the mainstream account of Baudelaire’s project tends to think of it not as an anomaly but rather as a normal occurrence in the history of Franco-American cultural exchanges. Inevitably, an attempt to examine its articulation against the critical vagaries of transatlantic literary commerce goes in a sense against the grain of institutional canonisation. To take comparative literature, for instance, it has largely integrated the critical success of Baudelaire’s project by eclipsing the terms and stakes it embodies and by unquestionably taking on the mystifications that criticism contemporary to Baudelaire went for.

The Baudelairean project by which Poe was forcibly established in the French literary system comprises translation and criticism. Baudelaire translated the majority of Poe’s work and wrote three extensive critical pieces on Poe’s life and work (basically prefaces and introductions), in a project that was much celebrated in the literature of the period, as well as in reception studies throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.1 If the translations installed Poe in the French letters materially, the critical ← 33 | 34 → compendium has given him a social existence, an organic frame of intelligibility that...

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