Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As an essay, “A Revenant” opposes two viewpoints, Professor Monk’s and Edgar Allan Poe’s. The professor’s position is equivocal, however, for his theory and his practice are at odds. “He preferred,” the narrator explains, “facts to atmosphere, statements to hints, assumptions, ’I venture’s’, and dubious implications.” However, his lecture is compounded largely of atmosphere, hints, assumptions, and all the rest. His sober academic manner has been, even by the professor himself, mistaken for scholarly method, the dryness of his delivery for depth of understanding, and the constant qualification of his statements for critical acumen. His unfitness—and, by extension, the unfitness of many academics—to venture into the world of literary criticism is evidenced by his discontent with the nature of its subject: “Poetry may, and perhaps unfortunately, must appeal to the emotions and the heart.”

Ironically, Poe’s ghost seems to agree with the remainder of the professor’s statement, that “the expounding of [poetry] is the business of the head.” Quoting Poe’s own essay on “The Poetic Principle,” the ghost asserts that “we must be cool, calm, unimpassioned.” In a sentence deleted from the ghostly quotation, Poe wrote, “We need severity rather than efflorescence of language.” At the same time, however, the specter insists on the aspect of the poetic impulse that Professor Monk finds so unfortunate; he argues, indeed, that “imagination” is no “mere faculty,” but is a “sovereign power,” a “divine energy.” Poe’s ghost further demands of...

(The entire section is 656 words.)