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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 5: Eliot’s fantasy of Poe

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CHAPTER 5

Eliot’s fantasy of Poe

In 1948, Eliot delivered a lecture entitled ‘From Poe to Valéry’ at the Library of Congress, in Washington.1 It was the same year that he received the Nobel Prize of Literature as well as the year that marks for some the beginning of the Cold War in European relations.2 In this lecture he sought to describe his appreciation of Poe through the prism of three French poets, Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Valéry. The manner in which Eliot treats his subject matter in this essay is the main focus of the present chapter. But Eliot expressed his ideas about Poe’s transatlantic reputation in a number of critical pieces. He iterated his particular viewpoint in a lecture he gave five years later, in 1953, at Washington University, St Louis, Missouri, entitled ‘American Literature and the American Language’.3 His concern there was with the transatlantic reputations of three writers, who stood, as he put it, ‘as solitary international figures’, namely Poe, Whitman and Twain. Even though Eliot’s aim was to extract a broader definition of American literature in its contrapuntal position to British literature, he handled the case of Poe in the same terms as in the 1948 text. These two lectures appear in fact to capture Eliot’s lasting interest in Poe, first expressed in a text broadcast during the Second World War, ‘“A Dream Within a Dream.” T. S. Eliot on Edgar Allan Poe’.4...

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