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Edgar A. Poe

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

There have been several stimulating reinterpretations of Poe’s writing in recent years, but a full-fledged, accurate, scholarly and readable life has not been available. Kenneth Silverman has remedied this deficiency by producing an engrossing life of the artist, rooted in a sensitivity to psychology and sources, an providing succinct, perceptive reading of the entire Poe canon.

As his subtitle indicates, Silverman traces the biographical thread in Poe’s poetry, criticism, and fiction, contending that he never recovered from his mother’s early death and his ambiguous plight as an orphan supported but never actually adopted by John Allan. Over and over again, Poe returns to the death of the loved one, the ideal woman, beautiful and maternal, the ethereal creature to whom Poe and his various narrators look for sustenance even while dreading the inevitable approach of death and the reanimation of the beloved dead one in the imagination of the bereaved one.

Silverman is no heavy-handed Freudian, and his biography is not thesis-ridden. On the contrary, he approaches Poe’s life and work as a single story upon which Poe worked an extraordinary number of variations. In the notes, Silverman reveals the body of psychological theory on which his interpretation rests. It is too important to ignore, but he does not claim more for it than he can demonstrate in his narrative.

Silverman also solves the problem of potting the plots of Poe’s work by giving summaries in several appendices. Poe aficionados, on the other hand, can relish the narrative as it plunges directly into interpretation which assumes basic familiarity with plot elements.

This is an exemplary biography, a major contribution not only to Poe scholarship but to American literary biography.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLXVIII, December, 1991, p. 127.

Boston Globe. November 10, 1991, p. 14.

Kirkus Reviews. LIX, September 15, 1991, p. 1210.

Library Journal. CXVI, October 15, 1991, p. 82.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 24, 1991, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, December 22, 1991, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, September 27, 1991, p. 50.

The Village Voice. November 19, 1991, p. 71.

The Wall Street Journal. December 27, 1991, p. A8.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, November 24, 1991, p. 1.

Edgar A. Poe

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

There have been several stimulating reinterpretations of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing in recent years, but a full-fledged accurate, scholarly, and readable life has not been available. Kenneth Silverman has remedied this deficiency by producing an engrossing life of the artist, rooted in a sensitivity to psychology and sources, and providing succinct, perceptive readings of the entire Poe canon.

As his subtitle indicates, Silverman traces the biographical thread in Poe’s poetry, criticism, and fiction, contending that Poe never recovered from his mother’s early death and his ambiguous plight as an orphan supported but never actually adopted by John Allan, a prosperous businessman and landowner. Silverman does a superb job of gleaning from meager evidence a picture of Allan as a hard man who nevertheless wanted to do right by his charge, believing that Poe should have a good education and a reasonable amount of monetary assistance. At the same time, Allan seems to have resented supporting a child not his own, holding the view that somehow Poe should make his own fortune as Allan had made his—although Allan, in fact had also dealt with a grudging guardian who deprived him of the advanced education and other refinements that befitted a man destined for success.

For his part, Poe seems to have resented his ambiguous status in the Allan home, at once demanding that he be treated like a son and yet remaining aloof, finding it hard to hold a place in his heart for Allan, who Poe sensed had made no room in his own for him. On the one hand, Allan made it possible for Poe to attend a year at the newly established University of Virginia. On the other hand, Allan shorted Poe...

(The entire section is 2,245 words.)