“Tales of Mystery and Imagination” – The enduring legacy of Edgar Allan Poe

October 25, 2008 at 5:45 pm (books, Bouchercon 2008, Historical fiction, Mystery fiction) ()

No song title here – just a straightforward acknowledgment of Poe’s supreme importance to the history of crime fiction.

The panel consisted of:

Daniel Stashower

Daniel Stashower

Louis Bayard

Louis Bayard

Shelley Costa Bloomfield, PhD. [Photo not available] Dr. Costa Bloomfield teaches art and literature at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She is a scholar of crime fiction and has written several mystery short stories. She is also the author of

She resides in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, which seems wonderfully appropriate, considering her area of specialization.

Edward Pettit, moderator

Edward Pettit, moderator

Pettit is a sort of Poe groupie (as you might surmise from the above picture). He maintains a blog on which, among other things, he champions the claim the city Philadelphia has to the furthering of Poe’s genius – and even to his remains! He rode this hobby horse humorously and enthusiastically throughout the session.

This panel was like a really good college seminar, the kind that made you feel as though someone had opened the top of your head and was pouring great stuff – legal stuff! –  into your brain. I was particularly delighted to see Louis Bayard, whose novel The Pale Blue Eye so powerfully evoked Poe’s brief tenure at West Point.

Bayard’s newest work, The Black Tower, is set in Paris and features Eugene Francois Vidocq as the main character. Bayard said that he had become familiar with Vidocq while doing research on Poe.

I first heard of the renowned – if at times, slippery! – founder of France’s Surete Nationale (now called Police Nationale) from Guilty Parties, the colorful survey of the history of crime fiction by the late Ian Ousby.

Bayard mentioned that Vidocq’s notoriously unreliable autobiography is one of the earliest examples we have of “truthiness in memoirs.”

Shelley Costa remarked on the breadth of Poe’s influence on subsequent authors of horror tales and detective fiction. It’s hard, she continued, to overemphasize Poe’s centrality to the history of American literature, despite the fact that his tales seem to float free of a specific time and place.

Daniel Stashower read Poe as a child and found, upon returning to his work as an adult, that it retained its power to thrill and terrify him. I am currently half way through Stashower’s book on Poe and the murder of Mary Rogers.

Panelists went to some lengths to correct the impression that Poe was a wild-eyed maniac, but from what I’ve read so far in The Beautiful Cigar Girl, he appears to have been unstable and erratic. His mood alternated between angry outrage and deep melancholy. Worst of all, he had a fatal weakness for alcohol, which he nonetheless could not stay away from. His feelings for his child bride Virginia were obsessive – “we loved with a love that was more than love…”

Poe was known to have been influenced by a multi-volume chronicle of true crime variously called the Newgate Calendar or Malefactor’s Bloody Register. Who wouldn’t be curious about a work so titled?!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle readily acknowledged his debt to Edgar Allan Poe (Note the date at the bottom of this article):

"Honor Poe in London" [click to enlarge]

New York Times March 2, 1909:

Yet, Conan Doyle apparently could not resist this gentle jibe in A Study in Scarlet:”

“You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories.”

Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his cigarette. “No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,” he observed. “Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends’ thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour’s silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.”

Two stories were singled out that I haven’t read and would now like to: “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” and “The Imp of the Perverse.” The latter apparently illustrates Poe’s unfortunate tendency to shoot himself in the foot with regard to his own best interests.

Louis Bayard stated that Poe was neither a naturalist or a realist. He was primarily interested in fugue states, or “dark symbolic constructs.” Marvelous locution, that, and illustrative of the bracingly high tenor of this panel discussion.


  1. From aerobics, to old - and great - songs, to perversity, to Poe: a post in which Your Faithful Blogger indulges in some free association! « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] the Perverse,” a story by Edgar Allan Poe. It was recommended by the panelists who discussed Poe and his legacy at Bouchercon. I read it for the first time several days ago. It is one of the shorter stories, but […]

  2. Favorite nonfiction of 2008 « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Stashower took part in my favorite panel at Bouchercon, “‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ – The Enduring Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe.&#822… I knew after hearing him speak that I wanted to read this book.  That said, for me at least, it […]

  3. Calvin Luckey said,

    What is Poe’s actual legacy?

  4. The Art of the Mystery: answers to the quiz, questions 1 – 4 « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] recommend Daniel Stashower’s book The Beautiful Cigar Girl. I had the pleasure of attending a panel presentation at Bouchercon in which Stashower and Louis Bayard, among others, […]

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