Monday, October 5, 2015

RIP X: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, by Edgar Allan Poe

 This is a two-volume collection of Poe's early stories, published in 1840.  He said that the meanings of "grotesque" and "arabesque" were clear, which they most certainly are not, and people have been arguing about it ever since.  Does one mean horror and the other terror?  Is grotesque more comic or satirical, and arabesque more psychological?  I rather thought that the grotesque stories might be the ones with a scary atmosphere, and the arabesque ones the more fanciful, but apparently I'm even wronger than most.

Only a couple of these stories belong in the super-famous category; Fall of the House of Usher and MS in a Bottle are both here.  Otherwise, I don't think I had ever read any of the other 23 stories.  Several of them are very nearly not stories at all--they are more like atmospheric vignettes, scenes that evoke a feeling.  Others are long but verbose and convoluted, so that they are hard to follow.

What surprised me was that so many of these stories are comic.  They are just plain funny, or outright silly.  They are weird-funny, such as the Man Who Was Used Up, about an incredibly handsome and dashing war veteran who turns out to be made entirely of prosthetic pieces, but they aren't scary or even vaguely menacing.  I was particularly tickled by The Signora Zenobia.

You see a lot of Poe's talent with words here.  This is clearly the same guy who wrote the Bells poem, throwing around oddball words with abandon and bringing off wild effects with them.

Read all at once, it was a little too much Poe for me.  I guess I prefer him in smaller doses.  After a while his unbelievable verbosity gets to me.  But it's a fun collection and much of it is different than your stereotypical Poe.

1 comment:

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Several, possibly many, years ago I made a graph of Poe's production of comic stories. He wrote a lot of them.

I believe "arabesque" just describes Poe's prose. Or perhaps that is "grotesque."