Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Essay

Between Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens

 

Not a short time ago as I acquainted myself with these two renown names in the English literature. There is nothing that can excite your imagination and interest as trying something newthat relates little to you; culture and language ,which has always shorn you of your intellectual sobriety and left you stark inebriated with its quaintness and charm.

I came across Poe by no means of mere chance ; a recommendation that forced me by sheer curiosity to visit the university library and lay my hand deliberately on a group of anthologized tales to rest my eyes on The Fall of The House of Usher. I read with the persuasion of Poe's supernaturalism and macabre that I had read about. The story arrested my attention towards the final lines. Poe's mystery possessed me and provoked the imagination of a student of the English language studying with great expectations. I had formerly had that mental image of Poe which had nothing relative to the moustachedsouthern face and those sharp eyes and flying hair. Luckily he caught, somehow late, the coach of primitive photography nonetheless advanced at the age so we enjoyed a variety of a daguerreotyped Poe posing in different positions and places .His image was not poorly depicted or badly portrayed but an exact image and real despite the passage of relatively a long time.

Poe as a short story author is far ahead of that novelist. The Narrativeof Arthur Gordon Pym,relatively a short novel, falls shorter of elegance and genius than the rest of Poe's works. When we read him in the one he is nonetheless captivating in penning down horrific details of the story but in the other his Muse  is unsurpassed , tipping off the balance.Poe is in many ways more preponderate a poet and a gothic tale writer than a novelist and not in the early last century when critics have put him in his literary proper by exploring the real intention underpinninghis works ,which range from scathing satire to the mocking and hacking ofhis opponents ;so fine the gossamer- like partition that stands between him writing seriously or hoaxingly .But where is Poe at his best, a short story writer or a poet ? That is beyond the scope of these lines.

Charles Dickens , Poe contemporary, is a Victorian novelist , a prolific, monolithic figure cast totally in the mould of long novel which has charmed readers all over the world of English language.

Dickens started his career as a freelance reporter for the House of Commons .That had affected his style in literature ; made it more of a journalism than sophisticated intellectualism, yet this is a fine Dickensian hallmark. He is a writer of thoroughfares and lanes ; inns and coffee houses; abject slums and squalid houses ; courts and jails , simply he is a Victorian photographer and a true documentation of the nineteenth century England. Smoky and foggy London ;filthy streets and muddy lanes; destitute and desperate criminals are an abundant source of his literature through which he stood out as one of the greatest critics and reformers ever against the mercilessly ferocious and grindingmill of the industrial revolution. The abject conditions and inflictions of this menacing leviathan on the society are strewn across his works, and the harshness of the dejected lives , the fatal falls and declines of the human morality are all interspersed throughout his books, mitigated here and there by his sharp biting criticism and comedy. 

Dickens comic pen is achieved by an unusual exaggeration mode of writing, his own not affected .Whenever you see a person behaving weirdly or out of keeping, immediately you think of Dickens world more or less. He presented the world as colourful and weird as any genius would have. Closely he observed with his keen eye every details around him. He stunned the world ever after.

Poe and Dickens both shared the same gloomy fate of poverty-stricken and troubled childhood, both painted true images of their lives throughout their works. In Ligeia , The Raven , Annabelle, Poe who is the bereaved and sorrow-crushed not any other one; behind the melodramatic back drop of his gothic works we perceive the true life Poe had undergone . 

Likewise, Pip or Oliver Twist ,each one is a true Dickens in his childhood. After a simple and a shallow reading of both writers, we easily can have a true revelation of how they had lived and how life harshly had buffeted each . 

Poe lived and died miserably. His brilliant name earned him but little money although he was a profuse writer , only was it enough to furnish him with the bare essentials, that he sold his furniture for living and burned down the rest to warm up his room in the harsh Bostonian winter.At the age of fourty nine, Poe died mysteriously, his life was snuffed out and in the prime of his manhood he left the world. He was buried uncermoniuosly with a few people to attend the funeral.

When Dickens wrote Oliver Twist , not only did he present us his childhood but also he portrayed England the true and inartificial. We could see destitute neighborhoods and unprivileged people; pickpockets and fences ; miserable women and their children; criminals and the lowest classes of that society.

Both wrote to reveal and mock ; to bewail and criticize but each one is distinguished and separate .Dickens is more comic while Poe is more sorrowful and his voice is more mellifluous and poetic although his black comedy pervaded most of his works .

Dickens imagery is so striking and his people are dazzling . When he depicts a man as " shorn of his big hat" the image leaves you no other words to describe more effectively. He writes for high classes as well as for the ordinary .His style knows no fixed way to adopt but it keeps varying over a wide range of interests , concerns and viewsDickens had filled his life with.But sometimes we may experience a tinge of uneasiness with Dickens long sentences. The last thing a reader needs is to be thrown headlong down that maelstrom of winding sentences that are separated by comas and semicolons; and running and gyrating endlessly all the way down the page leaving the reader at the end stupefied and mystified about this foggy verbiage all about a single idea a few words can achieve without travelling this long journey. That is a hallmark of his style but when you fail to relate a pronoun to its antecedent through the sheer distance, this is irritating. 

Poe's style is more picturesque and elegant , he draws on a poetic stream and a striking genius in the science of the age, he is a stunning morning lark singing words on pages. It is hard to conceal your admiration of his magnificent elaboration on birds-the narrative of A. G.Pym- ,their habitats and their style of breeding and living in a way only sturdy ornithologists can handle.

Dickens relates more to people than Poe because he draws from life and bustling streets rather than from mouldy books and history, he makes us feel the vibrancy and beat of life. Dickens world is loud ,talking , laughing and crying, all that is in a cacophony of strident voices. His colours are vivid , and they are like flowers in the aftermath of spring shower when they shimmerand glisten under a gentle sun of May.

Poe lives in a dark world; silent, still and gloomy; streets choking with people are no more;his characters are dancing in their fantastic phantasmagoriain places violently lopped off this world; aspects of life and its colours ,tastes and smells all are fused in a dark ball rolling ever towards nothingness and ultimate annihilation which he inherited from the American style of Transcendentalism. His macabre is being acted on the psychological rather than thephysical side; the psyche rather than the senses ;it is not direct and gory like action films, the effect is durable and indelible.

Yet again as in Dickens hoemerriage of lengthy sentences , Poe turns irritating sometimes for his Latinism and Greekism which he opens up some of his tales with.

Dickens sentimentalism too, is one of his setbacks. As he exaggerates in his comedy so does he in his sadness and suffering that in some cases might turn the stomach of the modern reader as they are plunged into tearful anecdotes. Such mawkishness is not an advantage at all.

In poetry, Poe is at his best as he is in tales despite the fact that Ala'arafisn't truly as magnificent as the raven .Poe had written it at the age of fifteen ,immature yet he had stuffed the poem with all the drifts of mythology , a thing which has rendered it unreadable and too mystical for the modern mind. In the raven , Poe is a true genius , unrivalled muse

Dickens handled long novels and exceedingly he was successful in the genre. The time and social conditions of the age allowed that type of long reading. When people were forced throughout long winter nights to stay home by the fireside, the best thing to beguile the still and gloomy solitude of nights was to read and Dickens supplied them abundantly with the material needed.

Best to state some lines about a handful of Dickens and Poe's works as a hurry conclusion of the essay ;unfortunately that is far away from a recondite and profound review.

Bleak House is one of the longest ,Hard Times is one of the shortest, and in both Dickens is outstanding in novel structure and character invention. Great Expectations and Oliver Twist ,Dickens the child is unmistakable even for the untrained reader. When Pickwick Papers appeared for the print, Dickens was young and immature ,but nonetheless we can't dismiss any part of the book for being the product of green age and lack of experience in writing. In one of the best historical novels , A Tale of Two Cities ,Dickens literarily documented the horrifying atrocities accompanied the French Revolution ,we lived the last moments of those condemned as they were rushed in the tumbrils for the Old Guillotine.

The remaining space I will assign for two great gothic works of Edgar Allan Poe: The black cat and Ligeia. These tales reveal some aspects of the preternatural world of Poe. Told in the first person singular ,they intensify the extremely sequestered universe Poe always shrouds his tales in. The two stories are highly gothic but they contradict ; in the one the narrator is a killer while in the other a lover-not to exclude its parallel interpretation- who loved his wife, Ligeia , to adoration.

The Black Cat is what is so called a story of Perverse, when someone , forced through the sheer fiendish pervert mind,commits oneself to acts they regret to do and they know they are doing wrong. When the narrator who loves'' the wife of his bosom '' plunges his axe into her head, that what perverseis.

The story is all about ' a mere cat ' that was loved and kept as a pet by his wife , but after some irritating misdemeanor of the beast ,the narrator first plucks its eye then takes its life ,later to have the whole house demolished in a great fire. All along he nurtures a feeling of regret and is plagued by tormenting moodiness. The sudden appearance of the' destroyed ' catdoesn't shock him ,and the element of supernaturalism here is that no one claims the cat which follows him back home. It kept insisting on leaping to his chest and tried to plunge its paws in his chest. Is it not his crime symbolized in the cat to seek revenge ?

He grew irritated as the cat started to drive him mad andthe highest degree of his fury came when he took an axe to hack the cat but his hand was arrested by his wife to have the tool buried in her head instead of exterminating the fiendish creature. He perversely plunged his axe into her head because of a deep regret for killing the cat this reading is quite obvious.

He was arrested and the whole tale was a confessional narration' to unburthen my soul ' during the night of his pending execution. It is easy to detect the element of high symbolism in the tale in the form of a black cat with a contrasting white spot serving to intensify the blackness of the sin which followed the sinner to consign him to the gallows.

Even though he walled up the body of his wife ,he walled up the cat , the sin of his crime too but to no avail .

When the police came to interrogate him , ironically he stood where the corpse had been andas the police were leaving the premises he stopped them for a short address about how stiff and well constructed his walls are , beating meanwhile as an act of bravado , at the newly plastered wall to be answered to his horror by that hideous shriek from the inside, to have the secret revealed to the police.

 

Poe's weaving of the tale is supreme from its commencement ,putting the reader quickly in its framework of supernaturality and intrigue. It is the '' mere cat '' that has elevated the tale , that has laid the underpaint for the picture and heightened the element of the chasing wrongful doing. He chose the black cat to highlight the superstition of witches as being reincarnated as black cats so Poe used it as a tool to add to the mystery of the tale.

Once again as we read the tale we never feel there is another world beyond the one Poe had created around the story line. There is no named city ,people or life of any form even the cat is named Pluto ,a far away planet to further sequester the atmosphere of the tale. The pronoun I kept reverberating throughout the whole scene to develop that feeling of oneness, being the pivot the events of the tale are turning around, that small and closed universe ,the dark subterraneous realms of the grave.

 

Ligeia is one of Poe's best. It is his master piece . When Poe penned down Ligeia , he was silently lamenting and crying ; crushed in his grief and solitude .Like the Raven , Ligeia is an ill omen for Poe to portend the demise of his wife , Virginia Clem, who was like Ligeia succumbed to a fatal malady.Poe is famous for that kind of writing of beautiful ladies died young, Annabelle, Ligeia, Morella ,Berenice are examples .The tale has an undercurrent reading of a mad person , opium eater who had killed his two wives and the events we read are the hallucinations rendered by opium and madness. Both readings are acceptable any way.

As death is one of element Poe adroitly used in his works, we find Ligeia as one of these works that turns around the death of a beautiful lady and her ghostly return to the bereaved husband.

But as much beautiful and adorable ,Ligeia is a monster, a demon; dominating and controlling as we see towards the end of the tale when Lady Rowena fell ill and experienced uneasiness and discomfort in the house .

The narrator opens the tale with lines of Joseph Glanvill, an English philosopher Ligeia used some of these lines before she died. As the narrator reveals details about his beautiful wife whom he doesn't know when or where he met ,we are put in that world of beauty and transcendental learning of Ligeia , her grace, slime figure and charm. Tall, with black eyes and raven black hair, Ligeia is so charming and adorable for the husband who loves her beyond limits. Her beauty is mesmerizing and dazzling that her demise crushed him to madness.

To have after all died and renounce '' her frequented paths '' is the ultimate shock and bereavement the husband would suffer the endurance of.

The husband is destroyed and grieved beyond description and during his long and silent nights he kept calling upon her name .

He married Lady Rowena whom he '' loved but little''. He took her to an abbey in" the fairEngland"which he had made some repairs to .But Rowena was attacked by a strange illness then she recovered to relapse and to die .When she died she came back to life but in the ghost of Ligeia .The narrator saw that tall figure then recognized the beautiful eyes of Ligeia so as he tried to grab the bandages around her head the raven black hair streamedforth and his eyes met those black and beautiful eyes of his dead wife .

The tale is but a perfect example of a well elaboratedgothic story signifying the idea of metempsychosis, soul immigration from one body to another .

The backdrop of the tale in its second half in England intensified the subtlety and quaintness of its Gothicism ,the stunning and terse

, Poe's style in the tale has made it inspiring and preternatural.

Probably despite his relatively short life, Poe has done enough for the world to produce The Raven and Ligeia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: August 22, 2021

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