Ending Edgar Allan Poe

Well, not literarily.  Given that he’s already been dead for well over a hundred and fifty years it would be a rather pointless aim anyway.  No, what I’m wondering is whether there is anyone reading this who is enough of an expert on Poe to be able to tell me if any research has been done on the way in which he brings his stories to a conclusion.

I know very little indeed about either Poe or his works.  When I was teaching first year undergrad literature we used to give the incoming Freshers one of his short stories, The Oval Portrait, episode by episode, posing questions along the way, to get them used to having to think about a work while they were reading it as opposed to being told what to think.  (All too common in ‘A’ level studies these days, I’m afraid.)  I always had a problem with that story because it ends so abruptly.  I used to feel let down and some of the students would comment that they felt the same way.

Until recently, however, that was the only Poe text that I knew.  Then, a couple of years ago, I decided that as I was so fond of crime fiction I really ought to go back to its roots and read the grand-daddy of them all, The Murders in the Rue Morgue.  I think elsewhere I may have posted about it because I seem to remember saying at the time how much the ending annoyed me.  I like my crime fiction to be, at the very least, realistic.  Just in case you haven’t read it, I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say that realistic wasn’t the first word that I would have used to describe the denouement.  If one of my ten year olds had written it, I would have praised their creativity, but Poe wasn’t ten.

Anyway, this morning I sat down to read my third Poe story in preparation for a lecture next week on narrators, which I know is going to draw on his tale, The Tell-Tale Heart.  Now I can see why the speaker might have chosen this text as illustrative of the use of narrative voice as a technique for indirectly imparting a great deal of information relative to the story.  It isn’t a question of whether the narrator is reliable or not, so much as whether he is stark, staring mad or not and that is seriously important.  But, when the ending comes, again it comes very quickly and it thumps you the unsuspecting reader over the head with one of the very planks the villain is tearing up from the bedroom floor.

To be fair, I actually think this story is a small master-piece and works much better than the other two I’ve read, but the ending still feels…well, I want to say that it feels as if it weighs wrong in respect of the rest of the story.  I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s how it feels to me.  Which is why I wondered if there is anyone else out there who knows more about Poe than I do who can tell me if what I’m feeling is valid.  Over to you.

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8 thoughts on “Ending Edgar Allan Poe

  1. I’m no expert on Poe, but I have read some of his ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ and was disappointed by the endings. When I read ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ some of the descriptions turned my stomach and as for the identity of the murderer – well, I couldn’t believe the fantastical sequence of events. ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ was terrifying for me, but apart from that his ‘Tales’ are let-downs as far as I’m concerned. The ending of The P & P was a relief!

    I’ll be interested to see what others think – as far as I’m concerned your feeling is valid.

    1. I’m glad it’s not just me, Margaret, especially as you seem to be better read round Poe’s works than I am. I do wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I only read Poe when circumstances dictate. I’m not a great lover of gothic fiction, whatever era it comes from and I think this may have something to do with my reaction.

      1. Poe had intrigued me from being a child. My mother had a copy of ‘Tales’ and warned me not to read them when she saw me taking the book out of the bookcase. Of course, that made me more interested and I sneaked a look, which did scare me. So many years later I started to read the book again.

        Thinking about the tales, I think my main feeling is how predictable they are – but that might be because I’ve seen films with similar storylines – lifted from Poe, I expect.

  2. Alas, I’ve read a few Poe stories but nothing about the man or his writings. I’d be interested to know what you turn up, though. My memories of his work are very dim and distant but I do think I recall the unsatisfactory endings.

    1. The only other contact I’ve had with Poe was through Andrew Taylor’s book, ‘The American Boy’ where Poe is the eponymous boy. He is painted as pretty normal there but something seems to have happened along the way. I know I shouldn’t read biography into narrative but I don’t get the feeling his mind worked along the same line as make does. Mind you, who’s to say whichne of us is marching to a different tune?😊

  3. Here’s an article I found that might help:
    Poe’s Sense of an Ending
    Paul John Eakin
    American Literature , Vol. 45, No. 1 (Mar., 1973), pp. 1-22

    Poe’s endings all tend to come up fast. I think it is the lead up, the build up of terror/horror, that is most important in his stories than the endings themselves. In the US, Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontilado, and Masque of the Red Death are the stories nearly everyone knows (many had to read them in school) and his novella The Fall of the House of Usher gets more attention than Rue Morgue (though it is a close second). Then of course there is his poem “The Raven,” a poem which everyone knows about and can quote from (quoth the raven, “nevermore!”) but very few have actually read.

    1. Stefanie you are the very best! I shall get a copy of this tomorrow and read it before the class. Thank you. Poe is rarely taught here. I’ve never yet come across a student who knows his work. However, you’re right about ‘The Raven’ , most of us can croak ‘Nevermore’.

  4. I haven’t read a lot of Poe, but I did read ‘The Murders on the Rue Morgue’ and I also found it disappointing, and his other detective stories were even worse! I wonder if some of my disappointment came from having expectations based on a genre that didn’t really exist at the same time, but it’s interesting to hear that the endings of some of his other works are also disappointing.

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