The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket


In order to present the tale as an authentic exploration, Poe used a number of the travel journals that proliferated at the time he was writing the novel.[1] Poe's most significant source was the explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds,[2] whose work Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas was reviewed favorably by Poe in January 1837.[3] Poe used about 700 words of Reynolds' address in Chapter XVI, almost half the length of the chapter.[4] In 1843, Poe also praised Reynolds in a review of A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States' Exploring Expedition printed in Graham's Magazine.[5] It is unclear whether Poe and Reynolds ever met,[6] but legend has it that shortly before Poe's mysterious death, in his delirium Poe called out the name "Reynolds"; though the incident is possibly apocryphal, one theory says Poe meant Jeremiah Reynolds, reflecting the explorer's influence.[7]

In a footnote to Chapter XIII, Poe refers to the Polly, a wreck which drifted for six months across the Atlantic Ocean in 1811-1812. Poe probably read this history in an 1836 book by R. Thomas, Remarkable Events and Remarkable Shipwrecks, from which he quotes verbatim.[8]

In Chapter XVI, Poe recounts Captain James Cook's circumnavigation of the globe aboard the Resolution that reached 70°10' latitude.[9] He also drew from A Narrative of Four Voyages (1832), an account by Benjamin Morrell that became a bestseller.[10] A Narrative of Four Voyages may have given Poe the idea of the summarized title of his novel.[11] Poe may have used these real-life accounts in an attempt to hoax his readers into believing the novel was an autobiographical narrative by Pym.[12]

In addition to historical sources, Poe was influenced by other writers. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a general influence,[13] and scenes of Pym and Dirk Peters in a cave echo scenes in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe,[14] which many reviewers noted at the time, including London publications such as the Court Gazette and the Torch.[15] The ship of corpses recalls the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ship which is cursed and unable to return home.[16]

Poe also incorporated the theories of Reynolds and John Cleves Symmes, Jr. on the Hollow Earth.[17] The theory of these works was that a hole at the South Pole led to the interior of the planet, where undiscovered civilizations prospered.[16] As Symmes wrote, the earth was "hollow, habitable, and widely open about the poles". This theory, which he presented as early as 1818, was taken seriously throughout the nineteenth century.[18] Symmes' theory had already served Poe when he wrote, in 1831, "MS. Found in a Bottle",[19] based partly on Symmes' Theory of the Concentric Spheres, published in 1826.[20] "MS. Found in a Bottle" is similar to Poe's novel in setting, characterization, and some elements of plot.[21] Other writers who later fictionalized this theory include Edgar Rice Burroughs and L. Frank Baum.[22]

In describing life on a long sea voyage, Poe also drew from personal experience.[23] In 1815, a six-year-old Poe along with his foster-parents traveled from Norfolk, Virginia to Liverpool, England, a journey of 34 days.[24] During the difficult trip, young Poe asked his foster father, John Allan, to include him in a letter he was writing. Allan wrote, "Edgar says Pa say something for me, say I was not afraid of the sea."[25] The family returned to the United States in 1820 aboard the Martha and docked in New York after 31 days.[26] Closer to the time Poe wrote his novel, he had sailed during his military career, the longest trip being from Boston to Charleston, South Carolina.[23]

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