Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Imp of the Perverse

Was he an
imp of the perverse?
This is my 100th post and I thought it would be a good opportunity to write about Edgar Allan Poe. The title of this blog is a play on Poe's piece "The Imp of the Perverse." I've used the term "piece," because it is sort of a mixture of story and essay.

If anyone in reading this blog has sought out "The Imp of the Perverse," you have my apologies. It's not very good. When I decided to play off the name, I went and read it. I had probably read it in the past, but it's not the sort of thing to stick in the mind.

"Imp of the Perverse" reads like a rough draft for "The Tell-Tale Heart." A man commits a crime and then cannot keep it a secret. The only probably is that Poe wrote "Tell-Tale Heart" before he wrote "Imp of the Perverse." Either he tossed it off quickly to make some money or fulfill an obligation, or he was trying something new and it just didn't work.

It's a shame, because I really do like Poe. He was the whose work I just burrowed through. When I was in my teens, I found my public library had a set of Poe volumes (probably from the first couple decades of the twentieth century) in which the works were arranged thematically. In school, I had already read a story or two (undoubtably "The Tell-Tale Heart" and possibly "The Cast of Amontillado"). Poe is famous for these macabre tales.

In my teens, I discovered the funny Poe. There are stories like "Some Words with a Mummy" (the mummy's name of Allamistakeo should indicate the tone). When people think of Poe, they don't think of "Spectacles," which is about a vain young French nobleman whose refusal to wear glasses leads to his being duped into proposing to this great-grandmother.

There are also stories that mixed the comic with the macabre. "Lack of Breath" is humorously macabre (a man has the breath literally knocked out of him, after which he is taken as a corpse and suffers some comic misadventures). In "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," the a traveller stops at an asylum where the treatments are somewhat unorthodox.

Poe's gothic stories are his greatest achievement, and they fit in better with the morbid Poe of the popular imagination (this a creation of his biographer, a man who didn't like him). So in celebration of 100 posts on this blog, I'm toasting Edgar Allen Poe, and thanking him for helping me come up with a name for the thing.

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