Text: Roger Forclaz, “A German Edition of Poe,” Poe Studies, June 1976, Vol. IX, No. 1, 9:24-26


[page 24:]

A German Edition of Poe

Edgar Allan Poe. Werke. Herausgegeben von Kuno Schuhmann und Hans Dieter Muller. Deutsch von Richard Kruse, Fried rich Polakovics, Arno Schmidt, Ursu la Wernicke und Hans Wollschlager. Walter Verlag, Olten und Freiburg im Breisgau. 270 Swiss Francs.

I. Erste Erzahlungen, Grotesken, Arabesken, Detektivseschichten, 1966. 1100 pp.

II. Phantastische Fahrten, Paszination des Grauens, Kosmos und Elchatologie, 1967. 1184 pp.

III. Rezemionen, Briefe, 1973. 890 pp.

IV. Gedichte, Drama, Essays, Marginalien, 1973. 1092 pp.

This four-volume edition is a milestone in the long line of editions of Poe’s works. The result of eleven years of work, this first critical edition of Poe in German will prove useful to the scholar and to the general reader alike. With over four thousand pages, it is probably the most comprehensive edition ever to appear in translation; the amount of work it required can be measured by the fact that all the texts are presented in a new translation. It is especially commendable for the care with which it has been edited; it is superior to the standard edition of Poe’s works in this respect. Its value to the specialist lies chiefly in the numerous and detailed annotations, which take up more than five hundred pages of the whole. Besides clearing up many historical and literary allusions in the tales and in the poems — for the poems the editors understandably rely upon the work done by Killis Campbell and by T. O. Mabbott — the notes to the reviews identify many of Poe’s obscure contemporaries. Prof. Schubmann — who is alone responsible for Volumes III and IV, H. D. Muller having withdrawn in the meantime — also provides in Volume I a forty-page canon of Poe’s writings, claiming that it is the only comprehensive one in print (the bibliographies of C. F. Heartman and J. R. Canny and of J. W. Robertson have since been reprinted). He relies mostly on W. D. Hull’s unpublished dissertation “A Canon of the Critical Works of Edgar Allan Poe . . .” (Univ. of Virginia, 1943), but he does not lay claim to completeness. His canon is questionable in some cases (for example, in ascribing to Poe the Philadelphia Saturday Museum review of Griswold’s Poets and Poetry in America, or in doubting his authorship of the reviews of Macaulay’s Essays and of Tennyson’s Poems in the June 1841 and September 1842 issues of Graham’s Magazine, as well as of the article “Byron and Miss Chaworth” in the Columbian Magazine of December 1844), but it is still of some value to the scholar and more reliable than the notoriously unsatisfactory canon of the Virginia Edition.

The present edition includes not only the whole body of Poe’s poetical and fictional writings — apart from a few early poems and the unfinished tale “The Light-House” — but also a selection of his reviews, essays and letters. The editors’ goal was to present Poe to German-speaking [column 2:] readers in a new light and, by stressing the importance of the criticism, to span the gap existing between the common, legendary image of Poe and that given by contemporary scholars. In accordance with this purpose — which led to the publication of four volumes instead of the three originally planned — they undertook “to collect material about Poe’s life and work instead of presenting [their] own interpretation” (I, 8). The image emerging from this edition — and especially from the biographical sketch opening the first volume — is that of a hard-working journalist perpetually struggling with financial difficulties. Volumes I and II are devoted to Poe’s tales and novels and to his cosmological essays, including Eureka, arranged thematically and chronologically. There is inevitably something arbitrary in every classification of the tales. The different categories proposed (first tales, grotesques, arabesques, detective stories, fantastic voyages, terror, cosmos and eschatology) are on the whole quite acceptable, although the labelling of “King Pest” and “The Sphinx” as arabesques and of “Mellonta Tauta” and “The Oblong Box” as fantastic voyages is questionable. But the notes are especially valuable; they include, in addition to explanatory notes about literary and historical allusions, bibliographical notes with a list of the different printings of each tale more complete than that of E. H. O’Neill in the Borzoi Poe, and an introductory section about the sources of the tale. It should be said, however, that the editors attach too much importance to this last matter. Although a knowledge of the sources of Poe’s stories is necessary to their understanding, one should not over-emphasize it. Without claiming to settle the question of the sources Poe used in each case, Professor Schuhmann tries to list all the sources that have been alleged for a particular story, even when there is little chance that the writer read them, as is the case for most of the numerous so-called sources in German. (As to the much-debated question of Poe’s knowledge of German and of German literature, Prof. Schuhmann recognizes that we do not know much about the writer’s contacts with Germany, but he suggests as possible sources the numerous articles on German literature published in contemporary magazines.) Although he suggests new sources for several tales, occasionally Professor Schuhmann overlooks some of Poe’s known borrowings; a few important items are missing, as in the case of “The Oblong Box,” inspired by the Adams-Colt affair, and in that of “Descent into the Maelstrom,” suggested by two stories in Fraser’s Magazine and in Le Magasin Universel. More significantly, Prof. Schuhmann fails to distinguish between the borrowings that are certain (for example, in The Narrative of A. G. Pym and The Journal of Julius Rodman) and those that are merely a matter of speculation or even highly improbable, such as Poe’s alleged indebtedness to E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “Der Sandmann” for “Ligeia” or to Eichendorff’s Ahnung und Gegenwart for “The Masque of the Red Death.” In his emphasis on sources, Prof. Schuhmann apparently wanted to react against the image of Poe as a romantic genius which has always been current in Germany. In so doing, he comes to the same conclusion as several Poe scholars before him from Woodberry to T. O. Mabbott, from Regis Messac to Killis Campbell: Poe’s originality does not lie in the invention of the plot, but in his treatment of the theme of a story. [page 25:]

Unlike the discussion of the sources of the tales, the explanatory notes about Poe’s literary and historical allusions deserve unmitigated praise. We are here on safer ground. The notes confine themselves to what is necessary for an understanding of the tales, without purporting to give full commentaries or interpretations. (There are occasional exceptions: for example, Prof. Schuhmann proposes a psychological interpretation of “The Cask of Amontillado” and affirms that Poe’s treatment of the theme of premature burial reflects his fear of being buried alive.) As a matter of fact, the notes contribute substantially to the understanding of Poe’s stories, especially of the grotesques; Prof. Schuhmann rightly underlines the importance of these inferior tales from an historical point of view: they show Poe’s concern with contemporary affairs as well as his mastery of the craft of journalism.

Poe’s close contact with his time appears even more clearly in Volumes III and IV; the first contains a representative selection of his reviews and of his letters. All the reviews included are by no means Poe’s best; they were chosen with a view to setting off the critic’s development from 1835 to 1849 as well as to illustrating his method of reviewing. In addition to notices of works by well-known writers, Prof. Schuhmann rightly includes reviews of books written by forgotten authors, which are useful for a knowledge of the background of Poe’s activity as a critic. The only thing open to criticism is the inclusion of the review of Griswold’s Poets and Poetry of America in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum of January 28, 1843, which was very probably written by Hirst and not by Poe (Prof. Schuhmann recognizes that it is of dubious authorship, but he inclines to attribute it to Poe, alleging the flimsy argument that the violence of this review alone accounts for Griswold’s subsequent hostility towards him) . As regards the letters, Prof. Schuhmann purposely chose those which enlighten Poe’s financial situation and give information about his literary activity; he intended to set off the interdependence and the interpenetration among the literary career, the financial straits, and the personal sufferings. But a choice of forty-seven letters out of some three hundred and sixty in the Ostrom edition is bound to be arbitrary because significant letters must be left out. Thus, the first letter chosen dates back only to 1830, a time when the crisis in the Poe-Allan relationship was well under way. And the selection fails to print Poe’s important letter of April 1835 to T. W. White, the proprietor of the Southern Literary Messenger, in which the author expresses his theories of successful magazine-writing.

Finally, Volume IV is devoted to the poet and to the essayist. The emphasis here lies on literary criticism, with the famous essays of the last years. Bur the volume also contains a selection of the Marginalia and of the journalistic articles, among which are “Maelzel’s Chess-Player,” “A Few Words on Secret Writing,” and “The Philosophy of Furniture,” as well as ten of the articles Poe wrote in the New York Mirror in 1844-45, especially those devoted to the income of American writers (“Authors’ Pay in America,” “The Pay for Periodical Writing,” and four similar articles). Prof. Schubmann underlines the fact that these essays are collected for the first time in any edition of Poe’s works; it is indeed paradoxical that these interesting articles are only to be found in translation if one does [column 2:] not have access to their original printings.

Volume IV also includes the poems, which are published both in English and in a German translation, for the reason that there is always a great distance between the original and the translation in verse. Nowhere does this distance better appear than in the case of “The Raven”: the notes to this volume reprint the first stanza of fourteen different German translations of Poe’s most famous poem, ranging from 1853 to 1946, along with an additional full-length translation, thus allowing a comparison between different German versions of the poem. This leads us to the crucial problem in this kind of enterprise, that of translation. Prof. Schuhmann points out that the translators were faced with considerable problems on account of Poe’s numerous allusions and of the wide range in the quality of his texts. It is to be regretted that the promise, made in the first volume, to specify the principles of translation used by the different collaborators is not kept. The editor simply affirms that he did not establish principles which would be compulsory because translation is an interpretative act. The only principle tacitly accepted by all, we are told, is that formulated by Poe himself in the Marginalia, where he comments about the English translation of Sue’s Les Mysteres de Paris, “We should so render the original that the version should impress the people for whom it is intended, just as the original impresses the people for whom it (the original) is intended.” Baudelaire undoubtedly succeeded in this undertaking, but his success is certainly unique, and it is impossible to make the same claim for this edition, first of all because there is not a single translator, but several. This inevitably entails that the work accomplished is uneven and lacks uniformity. It is not the purpose of this review to enter into a detailed examination of the problem; suffice it to say that the editors were fortunate to find two connoisseurs of the subject in Arno Schmidt and Hans Wollschlager, although Arno Schmidt’s mannerisms (such as his archaic spelling and the consistent use of & for and and of one for the indefinite article) are sometimes disturbing.

Finally, a few inaccuracies should be noted, such as the attribution of the Blackwood tale “The Involuntary Experimentalist” to Samuel Warren, author of Passages in the Life of a Late Physician, and that of the novel Charles O’Malley to Harry Lorrequer (instead of Charles Lever); the labelling of Horace Smith as an American writer (although his nationality is correctly given as English elsewhere); the assertion that George Tucker’s novel A Voyage to the Moon was published in the American Quarterly Review in 1826 (actually, a review of the novel appeared in the March 1828 issue of this journal and the novel itself was published in New York the year before); the identificarion of the philosopher “Furrier” in “Mellonta Tauta” as being the Scottish professor Ferrier (instead of the French socialist philosopher Fourier, a favorite target of Poe’s scorn); and the incorrect title of Thomas Moore’s The Loves of the Angels (given as “Love of Angels”). But these inaccuracies are indeed negligible for such an undertaking, which on the whole deserves praise. The editors can be said to have reached their goal, which was to present Poe to German-speaking readers in a new light and as a distinctly American writer struggling for the birth of a national literature in America. German-speaking [page 26:] readers now have at their disposal a critical edition of Poe’s works which should enable them to understand the man and his work more fully and accurately. This edition is indeed a fitting addition to the body of Poe scholarship in German, in particular to the books of Klaus Lubbers, Franz Link, Armin Staats and Kuno Schubmann himself, which in the last twenty years have contributed much to our knowledge of Poe’s art.

Roger Forclaz, Bern, Switzerland


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