Text: Burton R. Pollin, “Foreword,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Imaginary Voyages (1981/1994), pp. xiii-xix (This material is protected by copyright)


[page xiii:]


Poe’s Imaginary Voyages: Pym, Hans Pfaall, and Julius Rodman

This volume comprises Poe’s three longest works of fiction: “The Unparalleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaall” (1835), The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), and “The Journal of Julius Rodman” (1840). They can all be fittingly termed “imaginary voyages” and are, save for the short tale called “The Balloon Hoax” (1844), his only ventures in this age-old genre. Each one presents a different type of voyage: the first in the air, the second by sea, and the third by land, and all test the mettle of the protagonist with the most extreme hardships and agonies. Poe entered first upon the most difficult of the three travel-narratives, the moon-flight, which had never been depicted with verisimilar details despite the abundance of moon-fantasies, from the True History of Lucian to Maginn’s “Flight of Daniel O‘Rourke.” “Hans Pfaall” was the product of Poe’s direct response to recent developments in astronomy and in aeronautics. Like all his tales, the imaginary voyages reflected the changing environment in their sources, their allusions, and their narrative themes. The sea-adventure novel Pym showed the growing interest of Americans in expanding their maritime knowledge and their national control over the still unexplored oceans and lands of the world, even to the limits of the Antarctic and the Pacific. Finally, the endless lands of the American West and Northwest, beckoning expansionists and adventure-seekers, gave Poe an attractively exotic setting for “Rodman.” This work, of which six of the planned twelve chapters appeared as magazine installments, and Pym, his only novel, were never republished, presumably because Poe did not greatly esteem them; “Rodman,” in fact, he never even acknowledged as his own. We may surmise that Poe was chiefly concerned with the initial contemporary reaction, not with a subsequent and cumulative favor.

All three narrative topics had the great advantage of leading Poe to large stores of specialized material well adapted to filling out a series of horripilating incidents. The markedly episodic character of the three works has struck many critics as indicating Poe’s inability to shape a long integrated work of fiction according to his own expressed standards of artistic form. His reviews and essays often offer adverse comments [page xiv:] about the epic and the long prose narrative which must obviously forego the objective of giving a unified impression. It is true that we find an episodic quality in several of his tales, such as “King Pest,” “Diddling,” and “The Angel of the Odd,” but Poe took most pride in his well-wrought contemporaneous masterpieces, “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” At the end of this period of six years, he ceased to exploit the theme of geographical exploration, even though it continued to be popular in America’s literary output. He had ignored his implicit promise of a sequel to Pym and to “Hans Pfaall” and had abandoned “Rodman” in mid-journey. The publication of Richard Locke’s successful moon-story hoax soon after “Hans Pfaall,” the increase of knowledge about Antarctica, the tepid response to “Rodman,” and his separation from Burton’s magazine-all were factors in his turning away from the long narrative told as a logbook account or journal. This episodic form enabled Poe to produce sizable narratives even under the considerable pressure and in the distress of his life in the late 1830s. He had resorted to devising a succession of episodes, many of them of similar narrative content and of equal dramatic value. Yet the power of a master writer can be discerned in his early hints of the striking bouleversement in “Hans Pfaall” and in his sectioning Pym into symmetrically balanced units. There are ingenuity and skill in his method of incorporating the adapted factual material into the verisimilar narrative. In his day no one criticized him for his vague and guarded references to merely a few of the sources for the details of his travel narratives.

Since the time that George E. Woodberry first offered mild objections to these borrowings, in his Life of Edgar Allan Poe (1885) and his edition of the works (1894-1895), there has been an increasing scholarly endeavor to trace Poe’s sources for these three voyages. It is certainly an obligation in this edition to show as clearly as possible exactly what is Poe’s text by contrast with Irving’s or Herschel’s or Thomas Dick’s. If the style and the rhetoric of Poe are ever to be thoroughly analyzed, the scholar must know who is responsible for every individual word. For example, in Pym the word “lee-lurch” proves not to be a Poe coinage but a word occurring in a mariner’s chronicle, and “lenticular-shaped” in “Hans Pfaall” seems to come from Herschel’s Treatise on Astronomy; in both cases the Oxford English Dictionary has overlooked the earlier instances. It is unhelpful merely to say of a passage that it “derives” from a given source; this procedure offers a glimpse of a region labeled “Poe” with teasingly ill-defined boundaries. It is frustrating to be confronted with references to source-texts which often can be found solely in multi-million volume libraries. Only when Poe cites material verbatim [page xv:] can the editor avoid presenting it in full in the notes. When details of language and of narrative action in lengthy passages are closely but inexactly followed, the full text must be supplied.

Another reason for giving the full text stems from Poe’s role in forwarding the genre of science fiction. We need to study precisely how Poe used varied materials to lend verisimilitude to these fictional works. It was chiefly “Hans Pfaall,” especially when translated into French in 1853, that stimulated tales of flight. Poe himself was to explore the field of science fiction again in his tale of Scheherazade (1845), in which he underplayed the narrative element and highlighted the stark wonder of technological development. In the imaginary voyages, the equipment and processes used in numerous fields add a graphic “minuteness of detail,” as Poe proudly said, for “lifelikeness” or “lifelikeliness” — to use his new coinages. It is necessary also to estimate the extent to which his information was bona fide according to contemporary knowledge as a determinant of his tone or intention. In no standard sense of the word are “Hans Pfaall” and “Rodman” hoaxes, and in view of the contradictions of the introduction and epilogue, Pym could scarcely merit that term, although Poe may have cherished a weak hope that some reviewers and general readers might believe in the reality of “Mr. Arthur Gordon Pym.” Only the British Gentleman’s Magazine gave him the courtesy of acknowledging his brief existence in an index which listed the book as a true voyage by “Mr. Pym”; this error perhaps manifested the effect of a few alterations in the text of the pirated edition which were intended to increase credibility. In all three works Poe’s attitude can be characterized by “banter,” a word which he himself used in the “Note” to “Hans Pfaall.” This type of humor demands from the author a stock of information and from the reader a willingness to examine critically the plausible and contrived elements of setting and atmosphere. Just as Poe attributed to his “air of method” the success of his detective fiction, so too, in these narratives, his “air of method” underlies the realism and persuasiveness of the narrative, but Poe would have approved our attempts to sift the true from the false, the historical accounts from the rumors, and the natural science from the spurious and fantastic explanations. In the Broadway Journal he derided a mesmerist who wished to consider Valdemar’s “Case” a clinical history (2:390-91). Every effective work of fiction engages the temporary belief of the reader, he might have said; stories of exploration into unknown areas merely require more unconventional corroborating “evidence” than those exploring the realm of man’s age-old fears and frustrated desires. [page xvi:]

Another caveat might have seemed too obvious to Poe to need plain statement — that he was primarily creating narratives for the sake of the story line, for their entertainment or spell-binding value, not for their implied philosophical commentary on life or on man’s “condition.” It has been necessary to consider and evaluate the many critical theories about Poe’s deliberate or implied or subconscious “purpose,” but not to regard an all-embracing theme as basic to Poe’s conception or aesthetic intention with the following exception. Early in his career and up to the time of the first publication of “Hans Pfaall” in 1835, Poe devoted his efforts to writing and promoting the publication of a set of literary satires, to be called “Tales of the Folio Club.” It is clear that Poe accepted satire as a legitimate purpose for a literary work. Using the devices of subtle innuendoes or broader parody, an author may gently mock or deride the style or the method or the characteristic subject matte of another author or his “school.” As a consequence, in these three long narratives of 1835-1840, the target of the satire as well as the narrative models can be found in such genres as the popular travel-memoir (that of Benjamin Morrell), the sea narrative (exemplified by Cooper), and the crude “mariners’ chronicles.” It is true that mockery of an author’s subject matter implies criticism of his basic point of view about the moral values prevalent in the life of men and that the door is thereby opened to the undercurrent of meaning that Poe would term a nonaesthetic or nonnarrative motive. When the entire structure of a fine work predisposes all sensitive, intelligent readers to this sort of inference, as with “The Haunted Palace,” Poe admits the correspondence between symbolic elements in the narrative and the broad realm of normative human behavior. He would, however, strongly object to an interpretive selection of specific elements to form a preconceived pattern, illustrating rather the critic’s viewpoint about moral issues than the conscious aims or conception of the writer. In general, he said, the best and the most effective literary works do not clearly evidence this form of overall philosophical or moral pattern, to which he gave the term “allegory.” His strictures against allegory are well known. His craftsmanship was consistently developed in terms of his own quite different aesthetic principles. Poe, being basically dramatic, would assert, along with, Hamlet, that “the play’s the thing,” or rather “the tale,” and not the thesis or moral.

There is no need to present a survey or bibliography of the varied criticisms of these three works, since annotated bibliographies are now available, such as those of J. L. Dameron and Esther Hyneman, along with special symposia issues of journals (see the winter 1978 issue of [page xvii:] ATQ devoted to Pym). Correlatively, it has been my purpose to try to establish the way in which Poe’s contemporaries saw his works, since their understanding and acclaim were the determining factors in the way that Poe, as a journalist and “magazinist,” shaped his tales. It seems necessary to give space and attention to this important question in the introductions.

My aim in this edition has been to present a text as close as possible to the form that Poe conceived and wished known. I have avoided any unnecessary tampering with his language. No effort has been made to normalize Poe’s spellings, punctuation, or diction in any way. Any allowed spelling has been retained, even if it appears odd or is inconsistent with another allowed form of the same word in a different passage of the same work or another one by Poe. Comments on these matters are made in the notes. Inconsistencies and apparent errors are indicated, as are the few editorial corrections for definite typographical blunders or those inferred from a comparison with other authorized printings. Editorial changes in the probably house-styled punctuation and spelling might have been judged desirable in places, but Poe himself presumably had access to the journals and the publisher issuing all the forms of these three works save the final one of “Hans Pfaall.” Therefore, all have been collated for the variants which have been recorded for the reader’s analysis. It would have been useful to include numerous charts and illustrations to explicate the geographical, astronomical, and technological data in Poe’s text, but space did not permit.

In order to facilitate ready cross-referencing and a distinction between the texts of the works themselves and of the extensive commentary notes, an innovative system has been used. All paragraphs of the three works have been printed with an assigned number, which in combination with the chapter numbers for Pym and “Rodman” will indicate the location of a textual passage in references in the Introductions and notes. Thus an item under discussion in “Pym, 12.3” can be found at once in chapter 12, paragraph 3. All the notes are given consecutive capital letters; thus, “‘Rodman,’ 5.4C” designates chapter 5, paragraph 4, third note. Since all the chapter and paragraph numbers for the two longer works are indicated atop the pages of the text and of the referential notes, the latter of which also have guide words carried over from the text, the location of the text-passage being discussed is facilitated. There will be much less need for skimming over two printed pages for a small superscript in pursuing a cross reference or tracing a note back to its source-passage. In all the introductory material, including the two charts of cruxes and sources for Pym, and in the commentaries the system enables [page xviii:] the writer and the reader to differentiate at a glance between a reference to a passage in the text or to a note. Thus “Pym, 14.2” and “Pym, 14.2B” immediately discriminate between the text and the note to that text. Since the superscripts for notes are in very small capitals and for the variants (chiefly in “Hans Pfaall”) are in lowercase letters, no confusion is likely.


ATQ: American Transcendental Quarterly

AL: American Literature

DAB: Dictionary of American Biography

Dictionary or Poe Dictionary: Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works, edited by Burton R. Pollin (Da Capo Press, New York, 1968)

DNB: Dictionary of National Biography

ESQ: Emerson Society Quarterly

MC: Mariner’s Chronicles

ML: Mariner’s Library

MLN: Modern Language Notes

OED: Oxford English Dictionary (A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles)

PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association

PN: Poe Newsletter (later Poe Studies)

Poems: Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott (Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), Vol. I, Poems

PS: Poe Studies

RS: Remarkable Shipwrecks

SAF: Studies in American Fiction

SLM or Messenger: Southern Literary Messenger

Tales: Collected Works etc. (see above under Poems), Vols. II and III (1978), Tales and Sketches; but, for purposes of citation throughout this book, these two volumes, which are paged continuously (1:1-713; 2:715-1392), are designated under arabic numbers “1” and “2” with the page numbers following a colon, the title of the tale having been given first.

TSLL: Texas Studies in Literature and Language

UTSE: University of Texas Studies in English [page xix:]


The copy-texts of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and “The Journal of Julius Rodman” used capital Roman numerals for chapter headings. To accord with the note system all of these have been editorially changed to Arabic numerals, with the period after each omitted.

The double numbers in Pym of the twenty-third chapter have been differentiated through the editorial insertion of “bis” for the repeated number.

All brackets are Poe’s save those around a single letter or a portion of a word which needed editorial emendation.






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