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.