Frederick S. Frank & Anthony Magistrale, eds. The Poe Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press, 1997. ISBN: 0313277680. Price: $89.50.[Record]

  • Henri Justin

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  • Henri Justin
    Université d'Orléans

This pleasantly presented volume is first of all, as the preface puts it, 'a compendious assemblage of all branches of Poe knowledge'. The alphabetically arranged entries carry the reader into the minutest details of Poe lore. An average of five entries per page, developing over 380 pages, must result in something like 1900 entries. Poe's cat is here (under 'Caterrina') as well as the Jesuit priest who allowed Poe the use of the library of St. John's College at Fordham (under 'Doucet, Father Edward'), together with every single person or animal, real or fictitious, that Poe ever mentioned in writing by its, his, or her name. The titles of the three indexes give some idea of the scope of the whole: 'Index of critics, editors, and acquaintances' (where the famous Poe critic Burton Pollin hobnobs with one Catherine E. Poitiaux, a long forgotten companion of Poe's childhood), 'Index of authors, artists, and titles', and 'Index of themes, subjects, and characters'. These indexes share the matter of the book between them, it seems to me, somewhat confusingly (or why is Hegel an 'author' and Kant a 'subject'? and how can one find the entry for the theme of the devil, except by chance, under 'Encounters, satanic-demonic, theme of'?), but if you get the hang of them they can often carry you a long way. They are completed by six pages of selective bibliography, and the 'Abbreviations' list in which the most consistently quoted reference sources are recorded. This reference work is the first in the series and offers no survey article, say, on Poe and psychoanalysis, or Poe and New Criticism. This is partly compensated by the 'subjects' dealt with in the corresponding index—the long and rich entry on Poe's influence on other writers and artists completed by the one on the French response, for instance. But the priority goes to exhaustive reference. Within these (flexible) limits, the 450 pages of this 'eclectic reference aid' (p.ix) are brimming with information. The Poe Log and the best biographies, in particular, have been tapped unremittingly and, more interestingly, Frank and Magistrale give an exhaustive listing of everything that Poe wrote, except the letters (without discussing their choice of a canon). For each text, they give a summary often completed by some comment on the possible readings. It is an ambitious task, performed with some degree of success. The entries do give interesting openings to the Poe student, and may offer the occasional surprise to the Poe scholar, but they cannot be fully trusted. In too many cases, one point or other invites strong reservation. It is not true that the narrator of 'The Imp of the Perverse' has been condemned for 'perverse crimes' (p. 174) ; only his confession is presented as perverse by Poe. Or again, only the omission of the famous 'I am dead' in the summary of 'the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' can leave the tale in 'the tradition of gore-gothic' (p. 125). As to the disingenuous curtailing of the conclusion of 'Lionizing', it does indeed give the tale an 'absurd moral' (p. 205). To me, the most useful part of the encyclopedia is the itemization of other writers, the obvious ones but also, for instance, Charles Brockden Brown or Voltaire (commented on by Poe), W.H.Auden or Isaac Asimov or Paul Claudel (commenting on Poe), or Victor Hugo (with references working both ways). The entries are generous enough, giving us the gist of what one would probably find by going to the sources. The only reservation is that, in the case of post-Poe writers, we are not …