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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 2: Poe, Baudelaire’s spectral original


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Poe, Baudelaire’s spectral original

The previous chapter explored the ways in which Baudelaire has sketched out different types of audiencehood and in particular demonstrated their rhetorical configuration as the interplay between universalistic and nation-centred inflections. It was argued that the two different genres of narratives – the translator’s note and the filial letter – advance two different plot lines, one tending towards the concrete and the particular, the other towards the universal. The advantage of showing the regulating power of this duality is that it also disrupts a representation of translation as a privileged one-to-one interaction that automatically excludes agents other than the translating and the translated writer.1 In Baudelaire’s invocations of readership, a number of parameters are seen to enter the translation site such as, for instance, the hegemonic pretensions of nineteenth-century France, the urbanisation of the literary institution and ascriptions of national belonging and difference played against one another. The manner in which these forces are deployed against an ideational universalism constituted the main site of analysis in Chapter 1.

The next step is to consider the project from the standpoint of its original. The extent to which ‘original’ refers to the historical person of Poe, which is what these texts also claim, is the test case of the present chapter. The commonsensical use of the term ‘original’ stems from the metatextual nature of the critical and biographical notices that Baudelaire provided, the fact that they were meant...

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