Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sources and Resources - Surfing the web for Dickens and Poe

We've not long to go until the second Gothic Reading Group session for this term. In the wake of the previous introductory post on Dickens and Poe's tales of 'madness,' Mark has been hunting around the internet for interesting supplementary materials. Here are a few of his favourites. They might offer a bit of stimulus ahead of the the meeting on Wednesday - if you've found anything interesting yourself, do let us know.


The Personal and Literary relationship between Dickens and Poe

As I mentioned in the previous post, Dickens and Poe were not only aware of each other's work, but corresponded and met briefly in the 1840s. Unfortunately, the vast majority of letters to Dickens were destroyed when the author infamously set alight to his correspondence in a bonfire at his home at Gad's Hill. However, we do have copies of Dickens's own letters to Poe, in which the author replies first to a request for a meeting (which did take place) before politely expressing his inability to assist Poe in acquiring a British publisher. 

You can read all three letters online at the website of the Poe Museum, here.

I find the reference to Godwin's Caleb Williams in the first particularly interesting. It reinforces the degree to which these two authors obviously sensed a shared inheritance in earlier forms of Gothic or mystery fiction. The specific mention of Godwin's creative process - "do you know that Godwin wrote it backwards, — the last volume first, — and that when he had produced the hunting down of Caleb, and the catastrophe, he waited for months, casting about for a means of accounting for what he had done?" - is particularly interesting. Poe is well known for expounding his ideas about the technical process involved in writing for different effects - his essay on "The Philosophy of Composition" is well worth a read for its impressive (though perhaps not entirely honest) account of the way in which "The Raven" is designed to work. With this in mind I find it fascinating that Dickens and Poe may have bonded over a shared interest in constructing supernatural or suspense fiction for effect. Can we see this attitude foreshadowed in the working of "Berenice" or "A Madman's Manuscript"?

The other letters are perhaps a little sadder - I can't help but read them as Dickens's polite attempts to fob-off his less successful acquaintance as Poe struggled to earn a living from his work. This is a little more poignant in light of the many - usually very positive - reviews Poe had written of Dickens's work. There's a nice account of these on this blog, together with an interesting description of the contours of their later relationship and the suggestion that Poe's view of Dickens's may have hardened in the wake of the latter's American Notes (1842).

Finally, there's a fairly old journal article available online here, which offers some thoughts on Dickens's influence on the early Poe.

Re-Mediations of Poe

Despite being one of the lesser known tales, there are plenty of interesting adaptations and reworkings of "Berenice" around the web. One of my favourites is this image by an artist using the Flickr handle Lysander07:

The image graphically re-composes the culminating moment in Poe's tale, leaving Berenice in what seems to be woodland, with the box of teeth near her body. At first the wound put me in mind of Heath Ledger's excellent presentation of The Joker in The Dark Knight, yet this image was taken two years before that film's release. 

There are also a surprising number of graphical adaptations of the tale, in various languages. A fair few of these appear if you perform a google image search on the title. I particularly liked this one, prepared by Nelson Evergreen for a graphical adaptation of Poe's tales. Some sample pages are available along with a brief blog discussing the tale's translation into this visual medium:

I'm not sure if these are finished panels with text to be added later, but the composition suggests the adaptation may be purely visual. I find that pretty intriguing, given the importance of the speaking voice in  tales like "Berenice" which play upon the reader's access to a narrator's interiority - a technique that certainly aids the exploration of 'madness' (and may have been influenced by Dickens's tale, if we recall Poe's Pickwick review). Here that interiority and its obsessions seem almost as effectively conveyed by panels which arrange images of Berenice and her teeth around Egaeus and his reactions.

I'm afraid I've not found quite as much material connected to Dickens's "A Madman's Manuscript" - this may be a reflection of Poe's greater cachet in Gothic adaptations, or it may just be a reflection upon my poor googling skills. It seems the BBC dramatised the tale in 2008, but, alas, this isn't available to listen to anymore. If anyone else has found anything particularly neat related to Dickens (or Poe) do let me know and I'll pop it up here.

Finally, it seems we're not the only reading group to have looked at Poe (shock and verily horror!). One of our members, Richard Thomas, found this interesting write up in The Guardian, recounting the experiences of another band of merry adventurers in the realms of the grotesque and the arabesque.


Mark Bennett is a PhD student in the School of English, working on travel writing and Gothic fiction. He once found a googlewhack, but it didn't involve any authors.

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