Not the Poe You know

The name “Edgar Allan Poe” typically conjures images of the melancholy and the macabre. Most people only know of Poe as a gloomy man devoted to writing about death and darkness. However, this somber caricature is not a complete picture of Poe or his works. For this reason, I propose an annotated edition dedicated to developing a more well rounded image of Poe by exploring some of the potentially more mundane texts that allowed Poe to make a living as a writer. This edition would feature texts like “The Daguerréotype” (1840) and “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846). As a prototype, I have annotated the preface and introduction of The Conchologist’s First Book (1839). With my annotated edition, I hope to challenge the traditional legacy of Poe as a depressed, morbid author and introduce the pragmatic 19th century writer who took jobs where he could get them.

In order to challenge Poe’s legacy, the reader of this edition needs to be familiar with Poe’s legacy. This edition is intended for readers who are already fans of Poe and who are already very familiar with his life and works. Because the collection of texts would primarily be some of Poe’s less glamorous works, only a devoted fan of Poe would presumably appreciate it. The edition would not include the entirety of Poe’s personal history nor the poems and stories that made him famous. Therefore, the person reading the text would require an existing knowledge of Poe. This collection of works is meant to be an alternative view of Poe for those who have explored the traditional aspects of his life and work and want to learn more.

I chose this reader and this approach because I have personally enjoyed exploring Poe’s lesser known texts through my coursework at Johns Hopkins University and my volunteer work with The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. Because not everyone has the opportunity to take such courses or work with one of the four existing Poe Houses, my edition attempts to make my experience accessible to others.


Poe House 1 by Mitch LeClair via flickr / CC BY 2.0

Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage in the Bronx by Julia Manzerova via flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage in the Bronx by Julia Manzerova via flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Edgar A. Poe Museum, Richmond, VA by Albrecht Conz via en.wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

In an effort to make the edition as accessible as possible, the edition would appear in a print format. While the internet has created a variety of new opportunities to access information, not everyone has easy access to a computer and not everyone has the skillset necessary to operate a computer-based application. In an ordinary book format, the text can easily be purchased from a bookstore or borrowed from a library. Additionally, the book format lends itself to usage in a classroom where computers and other electronic devices may be prohibited.

A possible drawback of choosing a print edition over a virtual format would be greater production costs. These production costs may be augmented by the book’s potentially limited audience. I hope to keep production costs down with my design. The book would be a small, paperback text with black and white ink. Images would be kept to a minimum and when present, would only be printed in black and white. In the model below, the annotations are clearly delineated along the left side of the text and emphasized with bold lettering. They are marked in the text with a simplistic superscript to prevent distracting the reader. All annotations are located on the same page as the text to which they refer.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 10.06.04 AM

Annotated Edition Layout, 10 April, 2017. Photograph by Samantha Smart.

I chose these features with the intention of creating a reader-friendly experience. The annotations, like the format, are intended to make the texts more accessible to the reader. My annotations in The Conchologist’s First Book chiefly serve to provide vocabulary and background information that would make the text easier to read. The average Poe fanatic is unlikely to have an extensive knowledge of conchology or knowledge of the scholars who contributed to the study. Poe frequently uses complex scientific language and references last names of scientists with no other context. While an educated reader of the 19th century may have easily understood this text, the readers of today probably need a little help. The annotations allow the reader to avoid stressing over unfamiliar terms and to focus on appreciating a new side to Poe.

Poe has become a character in his own right. His legacy as a dark, shadowy writer has come to overpower the truth of his life and work. With texts like The Conchologist’s First Book, my annotated edition will challenge this legacy and introduce readers to a Poe they do not know.

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