Poe's Short Stories


Literary influence

During his lifetime, Poe was mostly recognized as a literary critic. Fellow critic James Russell Lowell called him "the most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America", suggesting—rhetorically—that he occasionally used prussic acid instead of ink.[105] Poe's caustic reviews earned him the epithet "Tomahawk Man". A favorite target of Poe's criticism was Boston's then-acclaimed poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was often defended by his literary friends in what was later called "The Longfellow War". Poe accused Longfellow of "the heresy of the didactic", writing poetry that was preachy, derivative, and thematically plagiarized.[106] Poe correctly predicted that Longfellow's reputation and style of poetry would decline, concluding that "We grant him high qualities, but deny him the Future".[107]

Poe was also known as a writer of fiction and became one of the first American authors of the 19th century to become more popular in Europe than in the United States.[108] Poe is particularly respected in France, in part due to early translations by Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire's translations became definitive renditions of Poe's work throughout Europe.[109]

Poe's early detective fiction tales featuring C. Auguste Dupin laid the groundwork for future detectives in literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, "Each [of Poe's detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"[110] The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards for excellence in the genre the "Edgars".[111] Poe's work also influenced science fiction, notably Jules Verne, who wrote a sequel to Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket called An Antarctic Mystery, also known as The Sphinx of the Ice Fields.[112] Science fiction author H. G. Wells noted, "Pym tells what a very intelligent mind could imagine about the south polar region a century ago."[113]

Like many famous artists, Poe's works have spawned imitators.[114] One trend among imitators of Poe has been claims by clairvoyants or psychics to be "channeling" poems from Poe's spirit. One of the most notable of these was Lizzie Doten, who in 1863 published Poems from the Inner Life, in which she claimed to have "received" new compositions by Poe's spirit. The compositions were re-workings of famous Poe poems such as "The Bells", but which reflected a new, positive outlook.[115]

Even so, Poe has received not only praise, but criticism as well. This is partly because of the negative perception of his personal character and its influence upon his reputation.[108] William Butler Yeats was occasionally critical of Poe and once called him "vulgar".[116] Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson reacted to "The Raven" by saying, "I see nothing in it",[117] and derisively referred to Poe as "the jingle man".[118] Aldous Huxley wrote that Poe's writing "falls into vulgarity" by being "too poetical"—the equivalent of wearing a diamond ring on every finger.[119]

It is believed that only 12 copies of Poe's first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, have survived. In December 2009, one copy sold at Christie's, New York for $662,500, a record price paid for a work of American literature.[120]

Physics and cosmology

Eureka: A Prose Poem, an essay written in 1848, included a cosmological theory that presaged the Big Bang theory by 80 years,[121][122] as well as the first plausible solution to Olbers' paradox.[123][124] Poe eschewed the scientific method in Eureka and instead wrote from pure intuition.[125] For this reason, he considered it a work of art, not science,[125] but insisted that it was still true[126] and considered it to be his career masterpiece.[127] Even so, Eureka is full of scientific errors. In particular, Poe's suggestions ignored Newtonian principles regarding the density and rotation of planets.[128]


Poe had a keen interest in cryptography. He had placed a notice of his abilities in the Philadelphia paper Alexander's Weekly (Express) Messenger, inviting submissions of ciphers, which he proceeded to solve.[129] In July 1841, Poe had published an essay called "A Few Words on Secret Writing" in Graham's Magazine. Capitalizing on public interest in the topic, he wrote "The Gold-Bug" incorporating ciphers as an essential part of the story.[130] Poe's success with cryptography relied not so much on his deep knowledge of that field (his method was limited to the simple substitution cryptogram), as on his knowledge of the magazine and newspaper culture. His keen analytical abilities, which were so evident in his detective stories, allowed him to see that the general public was largely ignorant of the methods by which a simple substitution cryptogram can be solved, and he used this to his advantage.[129] The sensation Poe created with his cryptography stunts played a major role in popularizing cryptograms in newspapers and magazines.[131]

Poe had an influence on cryptography beyond increasing public interest during his lifetime. William Friedman, America's foremost cryptologist, was heavily influenced by Poe.[132] Friedman's initial interest in cryptography came from reading "The Gold-Bug" as a child, an interest he later put to use in deciphering Japan's PURPLE code during World War II.[133]

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