Text: Lewis A. Lawson, “Poe and the Grotesque: A Bibliography, 1695-1965,” Poe Newsletter , April 1968, vol. I, No. 1m 1:9-10


[page 9, column 2:]

Poe and the Grotesque: A Bibliography, 1695-1965

University of Maryland

No name seems more frequently linked with the grotesque than that of Edgar Allan Poe. Yet despite the frequency of such incidental reference, there has been little critical investigation of the relationship, and what little there has been is confusing. The goal of this bibliography is to provide the basic sources for any serious treatment of the subject. Each of the four bibliographies should be viewed as suggestive, not definitive.

I. Possible sources for Poe’s concept of “grotesque.”

1695­Dryden, John. “A Parallel of Poetry and Painting.” 

1773­Bailey, Nathan. Universal Etymological Dictionary.

1788­Flögel, Karl Friedrich. Geschichte des Grotesk-Komischen.

1790­Stieglitz, C. W. Über den Gebrauch der Grotesken und Arabesken.

1791­Fiorillo, Johann Dominicus. Über die Grotesken.

1800­Schlegel, Friedrich. Gespräch über die Poesie.

1805­Knight, Richard Payne. An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste.

1818­Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “On the Distinctions of the Witty, the Droll, the Odd, and the Humorous; The Nature and Constituents of Humor: — Rabelais — Swift — Sterne.”

1820­Hazlitt, William. Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth.

1827­Hugo, Victor. Preface to Cromwell.

1827­Anonymous. “The Continuation of Vivian Grey,” New Monthly Magazine, XIX (April 1827), 297-304.

1827­Scott, Sir Walter. “On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition; and particularly in the Works of Ernest Theodore William Hoffmann,” Foreign Quarterly Review, July 1827. [See Gustav Gruener, “Notes on the Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann upon Edgar Allan Poe,” PMLA, XIX (1904), 1-25; Palmer Cobb, “The Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann on Edgar Allan Poe,” SP, III (1908), 1-104.]

1838­H., C. Review-essay on Tom Hood. Westminster Review, XXXI (April 1838), 62-76. [See Dewayne August Peterson, “Poe’s Grotesque Humor,” Part IV of this bibliography.]

II. Poe’s use of the word “grotesque.”

There is no complete concordance to Poe’s work; thus the following citations of “grotesque,” or a variant, whether a critical term or one of general discourse, should be regarded as suggestive.

1834­Review of  “Zinzendorff, and Other Poems.” [”The conclusion of this is bathetic to a degree bordering upon the grotesque.” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (New York: AMS Press, 1965), VIII, 132.] 

1835­Letter to T. W. White. [”In the ludicrous heightened into the grotesque: the fearful coloured into the horrible: the witty exaggerated into the burlesque: the singular wrought out into the strange and mystical.” The Letters of Edgar [page 10:] Allan Poe, ed. John Ward Ostrom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948), I, 57-58.) 

1835­Letter to Beverly Tucker. [”Moreover — are you sure Jeffrey was never jocular or frivolous in his critical opinions? I think I can call to mind some of the purest grotesque in his Reviews — downright horse laughter.” Ostrom, I, 77.] 

1836­Review of Drake and Halleck. [”But there was, at all events, a shadow of excuse, and a slight basis of reason for a subserviency so grotesque.” Harrison, VIII, 276. “In the second stanza, ‘the thunder-drum of Heaven ’ is bathetic and grotesque in the highest degree — a commingling of the most sublime music of Heaven with the most utterly contemptible and commonplace of Earth.” Harrison, VIII, 306.] 

1836­Review of The Book of Gems. [”And this quaintness and grotesqueness are, as we have elsewhere endeavored to show, very powerful, and if well managed, very admissible adjuncts to Ideality.” Harrison, IX, 94; see also 96.] 

1839­Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (dated 1840). [In the Preface Poe merely wrote, “The epithets ‘Grotesque ’ and ‘Arabesque ’ will be found to indicate with sufficient precision the prevalent tenor of the tales here published.” Harrison, I, 150.]

1841­“The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” [”If now, in addition to all these things, you have properly reflected upon the odd disorder of the chamber, we have gone so far as to combine the ideas of an agility astounding, a strength superhuman, a ferocity brutal, a butchery without motive, a grotesquerie in horror absolutely alien from humanity, and a voice foreign in tone to the ears of men of many nations, and devoid of all distinct or intelligible syllabification.” Harrison, IV, 180-181.] 

1842­“The Masque of the Red Death.” [”Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in ‘Hernani. ’ There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.” Harrison, IV, 254.] 

1845­Review of Tom Hood. [”But his true element was a very rare and ethereal class of humor, in which the mere pun was left altogether out of sight, or took the character of the richest grotesquerie, impressing the imaginative reader with very remarkable force, as if by a new phase of the ideal. It is in this species of brilliant grotesquerie, uttered with a rushing abandon which wonderfully aided its effect, that Hood’s marked originality of manner consisted; and it is this which fairly entitles him, at times, to the epithet ‘great; ’ — we say fairly so entities him; for that undeniably may be considered great — (of whatever seeming littleness in itself ) which has the capability of producing intense emotion in the minds of those who are themselves undeniably great.” Harrison, XII, 215-216.] 

1845­Review of Tom Hood. [”Its effect arises from that grotesquerie which, in our previous article, we referred to the vivid Fancy of the author, impelled by hypochondriasis: — but ‘The Song of the Shirt ’ has scarcely a claim to the title of poem. ” Harrison, XII, 234.] 

1849­Marginalia: Text, Southern Literary Messenger, September 1849. [Essentially a reprinting of the first review (above) of Tom Hood, 1845. Harrison, XVI, 178.]

III. Discussions of Poe’s use of the grotesque.

Little attention has been given to Poe’s understanding of “grotesque” as a critical term. I attempted to establish Poe’s meaning in “Poe’s Conception of the Grotesque,” Mississippi Quarterly, XIX (Fall 1966), 200-205, as “a form of the ideal, as a result of pure imagination . . . and as a source of beauty,” arguing that when Poe entitled his collection of stories Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque [column 2:] he meant “Tales of Imagination and Originality.” As far as I know, all other references to Poe’s use of the grotesque rely upon definitions of the grotesque formulated by others. Even then, little has been said about Poe and the grotesque, and less still in the recent studies.

1850­Peck, G. W. “The Works of Edgar A. Poe,” American Whig Review, XI (March 1850), 301-315. [Speaking of Poe’s fancy, Peck wrote, “Take its pictures altogether, and they belong to a new school of grotesque diablerie. They are original in their gloom, their occasional humor, their peculiar picturesqueness, their style, and their construction and machinery” (pp. 307-308).] 

1854­[Swinton, William]. “Novels: Their Meaning and Mission,” Putnam’s Magazine, IV (October 1854), 389-396. [”Even as in the individual, the fancy precedes, in relation of time, the imagination; so in the adolescence of a national literature, we have the grotesque and arabesque before the lofty idealistic” (p. 393).] 

1860­Whitman, Sarah Helen. Edgar Poe and His Critics, intro. Oral Sumner Coad (1949). [Relying upon Ruskin’s discussions of the grotesque, Mrs. Whitman says as much about Poe’s use of the grotesque as has been said.] 

1946­Kelly, Sr. M. Olive, I. H. M. “The Mechanics of the Grotesque and Arabesque in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe.” Unpub. Master’s Thesis. Duquesne University. 

1962­Peterson, Dewayne August. “Poe’s Grotesque Humor.” Unpub. Doctoral Diss. Duke University. 

IV. Discussions, after Poe, of the grotesque as a concept.

These citations may or may not incidentally discuss Poe. For the sake of brevity many critics who refer to the grotesque only in passing are not cited.

1853­Ruskin, John. Stones of Venice, II, III.

1855­Baudelaire, Charles. “De L ’essence du Rire et generalement du Comique dans les Arts plastiques,” Le Portefeuille.  

1856­Ruskin, John. Modern Painters, II, IV.

1864­Bagehot, Walter. “Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning; or, Pure, Ornate, and Grotesque Art in English Poetry,” collected in Literary Studies (1879). 

1875­Wright, Thomas. A History of Caricature and the Grotesque.  

1898­Bray, Jeremiah. A History of English Critical Terms.  

1933­Mann, Thomas. “Conrad’s ‘The Secret Agent ’,” Past Masters.  

1937­Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History.

1857­Kayser, Wolfgang. Das Groteske: seine Gestaltung in Malerei und Dichtung.  

1959­O ’Connor, William Van. “The Grotesque in Modern American Fiction,” reprinted in The Grotesque: An American Genre (1963). 

1963­Jennings, Lee B. The Ludicrous Demon: Aspects of the Grotesque Post-Romantic Prose.  

1964­Barasch, Frances K. “The ‘Grotesque ’: Its History as a Literary Term.” Unpub. Doctoral Diss. New York University. 

1964­Ciancio, Ralph A. “The Grotesque in Modern American Fiction.” Unpub. Doctoral Diss. University of Pittsburgh.

1964­Lawson Lewis A. “The Grotesque in Recent Southern Fiction.” Unpub. Doctoral Diss. University of Wisconsin. 

1965­Claborough, Arthur. The Grotesque in English Literature.


J. Lasley Dameron and L. C. Stagg have recently published An Index to Poe’s Critical Vocabulary (1966), in which they give the following references for the term “grotesque” in Poe’s criticism: VIII, 132, 276, 299, 306; IX, 67, 69, 94; X, 151, 163; XII, 219. Variants: IX, 94, 96; XI, 138; XII, 216, 234; XVI, 178. Arabesque: XII, 16; XIV, 104, 107; XV, 241. — Ed. Note


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[S:1 - PSDR, 1968]