In order to illustrate the public reception of Edgar Allen Poe’s work over time, I will create an exhibit that displays various incarnations of perhaps his most famous work, “The Raven”. I chose “The Raven” because I think that in order to capture the full range of Poe’s fame, fans and critics, it is important to choose a work that is very much talked about and well known. Poe is a complex figure with an image as shadowy and tarnished as it is compelling and inspirational. While much is known about Poe there is very little that is known for sure, as the opinions and accounts of his contemporaries are varied and often conflicting.
What we do know about Poe is that he was wildly popular and his work continues to be celebrated today. I hope to present some interesting and thought provoking snapshots of different facets of that popularity, through the lens of “The Raven.”
My first item is Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, : Including Some Poems Not Hitherto Introduced In His Works. To Which Is Added a Full and Impartial Memoir of the Poet, with Original Notes and Explanatory Remarks to the Poems. Published in 1882 shortly after his death, this book honors Poe and his works. The beautiful details of the pages and illustrations are well done, as exemplified by the drawing of the Poe Memorial included in the exhibit, indicating a level of care and enshrinement reserved for only very respected literary figures. “The Raven” is prominently featured in the edition as it is the first work of his listed in the table of contest.
Also included in this collection is a copy of The American Review: A Whig Journal Of Politics, Literature, Art, And Science from 1845, the original printing of “The Raven”. Reading that poem from the middle of a busy page of print is an incredible experience. To consider how far those words have come from the moment they were printed on that page is humbling, and reminds us that everything timeless has a beginning.
Selected Poems is another incarnation, this time from 1874. The poem was published in pamphlet form along with some other works. Pamphlets like this were accessible because they were not as expensive as books and more people could afford them. This is representative of the work’s popularity among the common person.
The Raven and the Philosophy of Composition is an interesting, somewhat later printing of the poem. The title of the poem within the book title reminds us of the work’s prominence. This book is a beautifully printed and bound edition from the early 1900’s and harkens back to the days of artisan printing before nineteenth century industrialization. The fact that this work was selected for presentation in this way tells us something about the kind of people who were a fan of this poem in this time period.
Lastly, my exhibit will examine a parody of “The Raven” printed in 1852. “Spirit Rappings in Maine” makes light of the work and really exemplifies its pop culture status.
All images and materials provided by the Sheridan Libraries and Johns Hopkins University.
Stay tuned for links to our online exhibit coming in early May!