Thursday, November 13, 2008

Poe and the sea

Today, November 13, is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish author. Coincidentally, I mentioned his name in conversation today, without knowing the significance of today's date. Perhaps best-known for his Treasure Island, Stevenson was not born until just over a year after the death of Edgar Allan Poe.

One of the things I often try to do with Poe is discuss him in new and surprising contexts for people. Today, for example, I mentioned that Poe was one of many participants in the 19th century literary tradition of maritime or sea adventures. This tradition enveloped people like James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Henry Dana Jr., Herman Melville — and, of course, Robert Louis Stevenson.

Edgar Poe himself wrote a fair handful of sea adventure stories. His only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, for example, is set predominantly at sea. Shorter works include "A Descent into the Maelstrom" and "MS. Found in a Bottle." Poe's brother was a sailor, of course, and he himself traveled by sea several times — most significantly as a boy living with the Allan family when they spent several weeks en route to England, where they lived for some five years.

The question is, when people think of Poe, do they think of the sea? Maybe they should.

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