1845 Poe for Today’s College English Class

If I were to create an annotated edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Imp of the Perverse,” I would make it as a small, beautifully bound book meant for college aged readers in a English literature class. I’d create annotations to define scholarly terms, literary allusions, and relevant events in Poe’s life during 1845 when he wrote the tale. The story itself is short and can be read in one sitting (as Poe in “The Philosophy of Composition” tells us it needs to be), so I wanted to make it a cohesive unit: a bound, print book that one can carry around in a backpack.

For my annotated edition, I would choose the version of the “Imp of the Perverse” that was published in The May Flower for 1846 around October 1845. I would pick this version of the tale because it was the last version published before Poe’s death in 1849, and so it allows the reader to review the changes Poe made from his first to his last published version. I also wanted a version published in Poe’s lifetime because it creates authenticity; this is an edition that only Poe and his editors worked on, not a version that had been republished and potentially changed without his permission after his death.

My annotated edition of the tale would be geared towards college aged readers who are analyzing and discussing this tale for a general English literature class. My annotations would not Poe-centric, but rather, add to the story as a piece of literature: defining potentially unknown terms and concepts, centering the piece in a specific time period of literature, revealing insight into the author’s life, and comparing this version to other versions of the same text as a way to open up a discussion about editing literature in the 1840’s. I’d want my readers to see this tale in the context of 19th century literature, not just through the lens of Poe, and hopefully my annotations would help them understand the tale more critically.

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The Mayflower for 1846, in which “The Imp of the Perverse” was published, was a Boston-based annual gift-book, beautifully bound and similar looking to these books from the 1840’s

I’d like to represent the tale as a story that one would find in a book, but also to mimic the style of books being printed during the 1840’s. The font and page size would be slightly smaller than we are used to in modern-day literature – this is meant to represent the page of a book created during Poe’s lifetime. The book would be a small book they would be able to carry to and from class, and there are blank margins for the students to write in their own notes while reading the text. I’d imagine the book bound to mimic the cover and spine designs of a book from the 1840’s, but with easier to read font and pages with more space to write your own notes, making it readable.

Personally I think the best way to read a tale critically is to read it twice: First, by immersing yourself in the emotions and plot of the story; then, by reading all the notes concerning it; and finally, by reading the story a second time critically with the notes in mind. This tale is short enough that it would be possible for the overachieving or curious college scholar to do so, but I also understand that not every student in a general college literature class would want to read a Poe short story twice. Therefore, I would mark my annotations for if the reader wants to read the notes during the story, but not on the same page, so as not to distract the reader who does not wish to read them until the end and ruin the ‘effect’ of the story that Poe intended.

A sample design layout of my pages, complete with the style of the pages, margins, and annotations

I think this annotated edition of “The Imp of the Perverse” will contribute to Poe’s legacy by creating a 21st century easy-to-read version of what looks like a 19th century book, while illuminating what Poe considered to be the perversity of universal human nature. I think it is important when reading literary works to consider the time period in which the author was living and writing, and I think my presentation of the tale would help modern college students wrap their heads around the concept that this story was written over a hundred and fifty years ago, but is still significant to the literary corpus and human nature itself. I think it would reinforce Poe’s legacy by reminding his readers of the fact that his stories must carry a high status if we are still reading them now, especially because with each new version of a Poe tale created, Poe lives on in different and new ways. I hope my annotations add to Poe’s legacy by creating a world around his story that showcase the literary effectiveness of his style, while contextualizing his work in his life and with his other works.

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“The Imp of the Perverse,” a 1935 illustration by Arthur Rackham

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