College of Liberal Arts

Department of English



Eric W. Carlson
"The Transcendentalist Poe: A Brief History of Criticism"

This essay was prompted in part by derogatory allusions to the term "Poe's transcendentalism" in Poe studies by scholars unaware that, when Chivers asksed Poe why he so disliked the transcendentalists, Poe replied: "You mistake me in supposing I dislike the transcendentalists—it is only the pretenders and sophists among them. My own faith is indeed my own" (10 July 1844). Although I based my 1969 MLA paper "Poe's Vision of Man" largely on this Poe letter, identification of Poe with classis (Platonic and "psychal") transcendentalism seems to have escaped may Poe critics. The history of mainstream Poe criticism since 1850 provides evidence of a long, continuous, unmistakable recognition of "the transcendentalist Poe." In my recent Companion to Poe Studies (1996), ten of the twenty-six contributors recognize and illustrate the "visionary" or transcendental philosophy, epistemology, and aesthetic at work in Poe's poetry, fiction, and criticism. In Lois Vines's Poe Abroad (1999), national surveys show this view of Poe tohave prevailed among the Poe critics of Europe (France, Belgium, England, Italy, Romania, Spain), Russia, Latin America, Japan, China, and India. Thirty American critic/scholars from 1925 on—Margaret Alterton, William Mentzell Forrest, Floyd Stovall, Arthur Hobson Quinn, Patrick Quinn, Allen Tate, Jacobs, Carlson, Levine, Halliburton, St. Armand, Wilbur, Mabbott, Casale, Bickman, Stauffer, Cantalupo, and Hovey, among others—are represented in the present essay at greatest length, with enough specific examples and analysis to comprise a casebook on Poe's major works.

During the past ten years several groups of Poe scholars have proposed "New Directions in Poe Studies," such as the cultural criticism of gender, race, slavery, lyric theory, and so on, as opposed to "insular author-driven accounts that place Poe's consciousness at the center of the discussion." This essay by contrast places Poe's philosophic perspective and theory of poetry at the center as the base line for the application of literary parrallax (triangulation) in practical criticism of Poe's work.





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The Poe Studies site is normally maintained by Tanya Gonzales. Please feel free to e-mail comments, queries, and suggestions.

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