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There might be no more a macabrely misogynistic sentence in English literature than Edgar Allan Poe’s contention that “the death … of a gorgeous female” is “certainly the most poetical topic worldwide.” (His perhaps paradoxical observation prompted Sylvia Plath to write, over a hundred years later, “The woman is improved/ Her dead/ Body wears the smile of accomplishment.”) The sentence originates from Poe’s 1846 essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” and if this work were only understood for its literary fetishization of what Elisabeth Bronfen calls “a visually pleasing corpse”– marking deep anxieties about both “female sexuality and decay”– then it would indeed still be of interest to feminists and academics, though not perhaps to the average reader.

However Poe has a lot more to state that does not involve a love with dead females. The essay provides on its title’s pledge. It is here that we discover Poe’s well-known theory of what excellent literature is and does, attaining what he calls “unity of result.” This literary “totality” arises from a collection of important elements that the author considers vital in “constructing a story,” whether in poetry or prose, that produces a “vivid impact.”

To highlight what he suggests, Poe walks us through an analysis of his own work, “The Raven.” We are to take for given as readers that “The Raven” achieves its preferred effect. Poe has no misgivings about that. How does it do so? Against commonplace concepts that authors “make up by a species of fine craze– a happy instinct,” Poe has not “the least trouble in remembering to mind the progressive actions of any of my structures”– steps he considers nearly “mathematical.” Nor does he consider it a “breach of etiquette” to pull aside the drape and expose his techniques. Listed below, in condensed type, we have noted the significant points of Poe’s essay, covering the components he considers most necessary to “efficient” literary structure.

“Absolutely nothing is more clear,” writes Poe, “than that every plot, worth the name, need to be elaborated to its dénouement prior to any thing be attempted with the pen.” Once composing commences, the author should keep the ending “continuously in view” in order to “provide a plot its essential air of consequence” and inevitability.

Poe competes that “if any literary work is too long to be checked out at one sitting, we must be content to do without the tremendously important effect derivable from unity of impression.” Force the reader to take a break, and “the affairs of the world interfere” and break the spell. This “limitation of a single sitting” admits of exceptions, of course. It must– or the book would be disqualified as literature. Poe points out Robinson Crusoe as one example of an artwork “demanding of no unity.” However the single sitting rule uses to all poems, and for this reason, he writes, Milton’s Paradise Lost stops working to accomplish a sustained impact.

The author should choose in advance “the option of impression” he or she wishes to leave on the reader. Poe presumes here a significant quantity about the capability of authors to manipulate readers’ emotions. He even has the audacity to claim that the style of the “The Raven” rendered the work “widely appreciable.” It might be so, however possibly it does not generally inspire an appreciation of Charm that “excites the delicate soul to tears”– Poe’s wanted impact for the poem.

Poe declares the highest ground for his work, though it is arguable whether he was entirely major. As “Charm is the sole genuine province of the poem” in general, and “The Raven” in specific, “Melancholy is therefore the most genuine of all poetical tones.” Whatever tone one chooses, however, the method Poe utilizes, and advises, most likely uses. It is that of the “refrain“– a duplicated “key-note” in word, expression, or image that sustains the mood. In “The Raven,” the word “Nevermore” performs this function, a word Poe chose for its phonetic as much as for its conceptual qualities.

Poe declares that his choice of the Raven to deliver this refrain arose from a desire to reconcile the unthinking “uniformity of the workout” with the thinking abilities of a human character. He initially thought about putting the word in the beak of a parrot, then settled on a Raven–“the bird of ill omen”– in keeping with the melancholy tone.

Here Poe makes his claim about “the death of a gorgeous female,” and adds, “the lips best matched for such subject are those of a bereaved enthusiast.” He picks these details to represent his style–“the most melancholy,” Death. Contrary to the techniques of lots of an author, Poe moves from the abstract to the concrete, picking characters as mouthpieces of ideas.

In “The Raven,” Poe says, he “had now to integrate the 2 concepts, of a fan lamenting his deceased mistress and a Raven continuously repeating the word ‘Nevermore.'” In bringing them together, he made up the third-to-last verse first, enabling it to figure out the “rhythm, the metre, and the length and general plan” of the rest of the poem. As in the planning stage, Poe advises that the writing “have its beginning– at the end.”

This element of any work seems the apparent place to start, Poe holds it to the end, after he has actually currently decided why he wishes to put specific characters in place, stating particular things. Just when he has clarified his function and broadly sketched ahead of time how he means to acheive it does he decide “to position the enthusiast in his chamber … highly supplied.” Reaching these details last does not suggest, however, that they are afterthoughts, however that they are recommended– or undoubtedly follow from– the work that comes previously. When it comes to “The Raven,” Poe tells us that in order to bring out his literary plan, “a close circumscription of area is absolutely required to the impact of insulated event.”

Throughout his analysis, Poe continues to tension– with the high degree of repetition he favors in all of his writing– that he keeps “originality always in view.” Creativity, for Poe, is not “a matter, as some expect, of impulse or instinct.” Rather, he composes, it “demands in its attainment less of development than negation.” To put it simply, Poe suggests that the author make full usage of familiar conventions and forms, but differing, integrating, and adapting them to match the purpose of the work and make them his or her own.

Some of Poe’s conversation of strategy relates specifically to poetry, as his own prose fiction affirms, these steps can equally apply to the art of the brief story. And though he insists that representations of Beauty and Death– or the melancholy appeal of death– mark the greatest of literary objectives, one might certainly adapt his formula to less fanatically morbid themes too.

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