The Haunted Palace Critical Context - Essay

Frances Winwar

Critical Context

The popularity of The Haunted Palace with intelligent young readers since its publication in 1959 demonstrates that young people will read difficult and scholarly material if it is truthful, dramatic, and appealing. Poe has always dwelt on a sort of borderline of literary respectability. It was impossible to dispute that he was a great writer, but at the same time educators were repelled by certain facets of his personal life, such as his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin, his drinking, his reputed drug addiction, and the shocking nature of his stories about murder, incest, and insanity. The fact that The Haunted Palace appears regularly on lists of recommended reading in high school and college literature courses shows that educators have developed a more realistic attitude since the beginning of the turbulent 1960’s.

Winwar obviously admires Poe and has been influenced by him stylistically, but she does not attempt to gloss over his faults. In the spirit of the best modern nonfiction, she attempts to portray her subject warts and all. What is remarkable about her book—and what especially appeals to sophisticated young readers—is the fact that she is able to reveal Poe’s megalomania and moral turpitude and still present him as a sympathetic figure. The candor displayed in The Haunted Palace had an influence on biographies written for young adults after 1959.