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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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I have explored in this volume Edgar Allan Poe’s literary reputation by revisiting two separate historical moments of its re-inscription: the mid-nineteenth-century French and the early twentieth-century Anglo-American critical discourses. The selected contexts presented a number of differential readings of the work of Poe which, I have argued, carry sufficient cultural weight so as to ‘provide the framework for an enduring pattern of “response”’.1 Those readings by Baudelaire, Eliot, Williams and Huxley constitute a virtual text accounting for Poe, their ‘original’, in relational terms. Given that Baudelaire’s translation of Poe’s work was the actual motor of cross-Atlantic exchange, my overriding task here has been to examine the limit or border2 that Baudelaire’s project constituted for the early twentieth-century reception of Poe in Anglophone modernist discourse. Over time, Baudelaire’s campaign triggered so much transatlantic resistance that it caused Poe’s meaning in American letters to evolve; its peculiar effects are witnessed and examined in detail in the essays by Eliot, Huxley and Williams that make the focus of this study.

The concluding chapter should be read in conjunction with the introductory part so as to demonstrate the end results of the rationale announced early on. The introduction explicitly pronounced my main interest to be the conflation of what I called the method and the content value. It, therefore, makes sense to look now for the achievements of the approach on the whole. To look for them in the light of what the case study brought forth is...

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