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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 stunning woman” is “undoubtedly the most poetical subject in the world.” (His perhaps ironic observation triggered Sylvia Plath to compose, over a hundred years later on, “The woman is perfected/ Her dead/ Body uses the smile of accomplishment.”) The sentence originates from Poe’s 1846 essay “The Viewpoint of Structure,” and if this work were only known 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 certainly still be of interest to feminists and academics, though not maybe to the typical reader.

But Poe has a lot more to state that does not involve a romance with dead ladies. The essay delivers on its title’s guarantee. It is here that we find Poe’s famous theory of what excellent literature is and does, achieving what he calls “unity of impact.” This literary “totality” results from a collection of essential components that the author considers important in “building a story,” whether in poetry or prose, that produces a “vibrant effect.”

To highlight what he means, Poe strolls us through an analysis of his own work, “The Raven.” We are to take for given as readers that “The Raven” achieves its wanted result. Poe has no misgivings about that. However how does it do so? Versus commonplace concepts that authors “compose by a types of fine frenzy– an ecstatic intuition,” Poe has not “the least trouble in recalling to mind the progressive actions of any of my structures”– actions he thinks about nearly “mathematical.” Nor does he consider it a “breach of decorum” to pull aside the drape and reveal his tricks. Below, in condensed form, we have listed the significant points of Poe’s essay, covering the aspects he thinks about most required to “effective” literary structure.

“Nothing is more clear,” writes Poe, “than that every plot, worth the name, should be elaborated to its dénouement prior to any thing be attempted with the pen.” Once writing commences, the author needs to keep the ending “constantly in view” in order to “provide a plot its essential air of repercussion” and inevitability.

Poe contends that “if any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we need to be content to do without the tremendously essential result derivable from unity of impression.” Force the reader to take a break, and “the affairs of the world interfere” and break the spell. This “limit of a single sitting” confesses of exceptions, obviously. It must– or the book would be disqualified as literature. Poe mentions Robinson Crusoe as one example of a masterpiece “requiring of no unity.” The single sitting guideline uses to all poems, and for this reason, he writes, Milton’s Paradise Lost stops working to achieve a continual result.

The author needs to decide beforehand “the choice of impression” she or he wants to leave on the reader. Poe presumes here a significant quantity about the capability of authors to control readers’ emotions. He even has the audacity to claim that the style of the “The Raven” rendered the work “generally considerable.” It may be so, however perhaps it does not widely influence an appreciation of Charm that “delights the delicate soul to tears”– Poe’s preferred effect for the poem.

Poe claims the highest ground for his work, though it is arguable whether he was entirely serious. As “Appeal is the sole legitimate province of the poem” in general, and “The Raven” in specific, “Melancholy is therefore the most legitimate of all poetical tones.” Whatever tone one picks, however, the strategy Poe utilizes, and recommends, most likely uses. It is that of the “refrain“– a duplicated “key-note” in word, phrase, 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 claims that his choice of the Raven to provide this refrain arose from a desire to fix up the unthinking “dullness of the exercise” with the reasoning capabilities of a human character. He initially considered putting the word in the beak of a parrot, then settled on a Raven–“the bird of ill prophecy”– in keeping with the melancholy tone.

Here Poe makes his claim about “the death of a beautiful female,” and adds, “the lips best matched for such topic are those of a bereaved lover.” He picks these particulars to represent his style–“the most melancholy,” Death. Contrary to the techniques of lots of a writer, Poe moves from the abstract to the concrete, selecting characters as mouth pieces of concepts.

In “The Raven,” Poe says, he “had now to combine the two ideas, of an enthusiast lamenting his deceased girlfriend and a Raven continually duplicating the word ‘Nevermore.'” In bringing them together, he made up the third-to-last stanza first, allowing it to identify the “rhythm, the metre, and the length and basic plan” of the remainder of the poem. As in the planning stage, Poe advises that the composing “have its start– at the end.”

This element of any work seems the apparent place to start, Poe holds it to the end, after he has already chosen why he wishes to put specific characters in place, stating specific things. Only when he has clarified his function and broadly sketched in advance how he plans to acheive it does he choose “to position the fan in his chamber … highly provided.” Reaching these information last does not mean, however, that they are afterthoughts, but that they are suggested– or undoubtedly follow from– the work that comes in the past. In the case of “The Raven,” Poe tells us that in order to carry out his literary plan, “a close circumscription of area is definitely essential to the effect of insulated incident.”

Throughout his analysis, Poe continues to tension– with the high degree of repetition he prefers in all of his writing– that he keeps “creativity constantly in view.” Originality, for Poe, is not “a matter, as some expect, of impulse or intuition.” Rather, he writes, it “demands in its attainment less of innovation than negation.” Simply put, Poe recommends that the author make complete usage of familiar conventions and types, but varying, integrating, and adapting them to suit the function of the work and make them his or her own.

Some of Poe’s discussion of technique relates specifically to poetry, as his own prose fiction testifies, these steps can similarly apply to the art of the brief story. And though he insists that representations of Appeal and Death– or the melancholy appeal of death– mark the highest of literary objectives, one might certainly adapt his formula to less obsessively morbid themes too.

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