Poe and His Literary Standards

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An Examination of Poe’s Literary Standards In Comparison with His Own Writings

Edgar Allan Poe, in addition to being a poet and master of the short story, proved to be extremely successful as a literary critic during the early nineteenth century. Possessing the innate ability to distinguish truly remarkable writing from the ordinary and unimpressive, Poe definitively asserted his views regarding the importance of certain aspects of the short story and poetry in several of his literary reviews, specifically his review of Nathanial Hawthorne’s text Twice Told Tales as well as his essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” Poe especially stressed the importance of “unity of effect,” originality, as well as the revelation of truth in the short story and beauty in poetry. However despite his assertions regarding the importance of these aspects in literature it can be seen that Poe did not always adhere to his own critical standards. Poe asserted several things in his review of Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales the first of which claimed the short story to be one of the greatest form of prose in that the ‘tale,’ as he referred to the short story, “afforded[ing] the best prose opportunity for display of the highest talent” (Review). He believed that all good literature should be short enough to be read in one sitting but still maintain enough length to have lasting impact. He disliked the novel, and asserted that because of its immense length it did not have the ability to profoundly affect the reader on an emotional level, instead preferring poetry and ‘tales’. In his opinion these forms of literature possessed the ability to evoke an instinctual reaction of the baser instincts, which should be the objective of fictional literature. In this same review Poe asserted the importance of “unity of effect” in writing. He praised Hawthorne citing his writing as “purity itself” and that “his tone was [is] singularly effective- wild, plaintive, thoughtful, and in full accordance...
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