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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 3: Papery Poe


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Papery Poe

The previous chapter has established the ghostlike quality of Baudelaire’s original, the imaginative manner in which he shapes the representation of Poe he proposes to the French public alongside the translations. To do that, Baudelaire construes a multi-layered system of overlapping dualities opposing, first, his initial and subsequent ideas of Poe and, then, the domestic (American) and foster (French) perceptions of him. This system becomes receptor of his obsessive spectral idea of the original he aims to reinstate. The entire enterprise acquires hues befitting a labour of redemption dictated by a creative imagination seeking to appropriate. In rapport with Baudelaire’s theory of translation, such labour makes the critical essays a means to protect against the spectre of fragmentary consumption, misinterpretation or oblivion that threatens imported literature in the nineteenth-century publishing industry. In this light, his idea of translation calls for a critical assortment which should join from a different path his higher notion of targeted audience in the form of the ‘French memory’.

The Baudelairean Poe is, in Philippe Hamon’s words, ‘a textual effect’ or ‘l’effet-personnage du texte’.1 This chapter, which completes the mapping of the project that Poe became for the French poet, shall explore Baudelaire’s particular brand of biographical writing by focusing on the kind of textuality that organises his narrative. His approach offers a significant variation to a conventional mimetic perception of textuality which affords too restricted a view of the work by...

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