Text: Roger Forclaz, “A German Scholar on Poe’s Folio Club Tales,” Poe Studies, December 1982, Vol. XV, No. 2, 15:45-46


[page 45, column 2:]

A German Scholar on Poe’s Folio Club Tales

Sybille Haage. Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of the Folio Club” Verssuch der Rekonstruktion einer zyllischen Rahmenerzahlsung. Frankfurt am Main/Bern/Las Vegas: Peter Lang, 1978 (Studier und Texte zur Amerikanistik: Studien, Band 7).

Edgar Allan Poe. “Tales of the Folio Club” and Three Other Stories. Edited, with an Introduction, by Sybille Haage. Frankfurt am Main/Bern/Las Vegas: Peter Lang, 1978 (Studier und Texte zur Amerikanistik: Texte, Band 3).

As its subtitle indicates, Sybille Haage’s monograph, the first book-length study of the “Tales of the Folio Club,” aims at the reconstruction and interpretation of Poe’s first, unpublished collection of stories as a frame narrative. Starting from the genesis and history of publication of Poe’s first tales, Miss Haage traces the development of the “Folio Club” plan from May 1833 to September 1836 in its different stages (and even as early as 1831, for the Saturday Courier stories were conceived as part of some ur-form of the Folio Club symposium). However, in dealing with the extension of Poe’s original scheme from an eleven-story collection to a seventeen-story collection in 1836, she overlooks the existence of an intermediary stage with sixteen stories, which was announced in the August 1835 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger. Moreover, Miss Haage’s conclusions are sometimes in contradiction with the known facts: her assumption that Poe worked at four different manuscripts of his projected book is not supported by the available evidence. She claims that the manuscript submitted for the Saturday Visiter contest in June 1833 was a preliminary stage of the “Folio Club” manuscript, which Poe tried to publish in 1834-35 with eleven stories. According to her, this manuscript, two leaves of which have been preserved, must have been completed around April 1834, a date arbitrarily taken as terminus ante quem for the identification of the stories which were included in the lost book. But she overlooks the fact that in November 1833, Poe had already left his manuscript with the novelist J. P. Kennedy, who then sent it to the publisher H. C. Carey in Philadelphia; it is thus probable that the six tales submitted for the contest were an extract from the “Folio Club” manuscript, and the announcement of the forthcoming publication of the “Tales of the Folio Club” by the Saturday Visiter in October 1833 confirms this hypothesis. The manuscript may even have been completed in May 1833, since at that time Poe sent one of his tales as a specimen to the New England Magazine and offered to forward the whole manuscript of his “Eleven Tales of the Arabesque,” as the projected book was then called.

Miss Haage takes issue with both Claude Richard’s and Alexander Hammond’s studies (respectively, “Les Contes du Folio aub et la Vocation Humoristique d‘Edgar [page 46:] Allan Poe,” in Configuration Critique d‘Edgar Allaun Poe, ed. Claude Richard (Paris: Minard, 1969), and “A Reconstruction of Poe’s 1833 Tales of the Folio Club: Preliminary Notes,” Poe Studies, 5 [1972], 25-32) arguing that their method of reconstruction of the “Tales of the Folio Club” leads them in a few cases to results which are contradicted by the publication dates. But her method of reconstruction of the first version of the lost book — probably the only one for which a manuscript ever existed — on the sole basis of external evidence, in particular ehe publication dates of Poe’s early tales, is open to criticism in view of the fact that several of them were published two or three years after they had been written. Her thesis that the earliest known text must in each case be chosen as the “Folio Club” version is also questionable. An examination of rarer revisions leads her to the conclusion that Poe tried, at least in certain tales, to make of his tales independent works, to be read without reference to a framework: he eliminated exaggerations, similarities with other stories (for example, the devil motif or the setting), or references to the framework. Bur this thesis fails to take into account the fact that at the time he revised his first tales for publication in the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe still planned to publish them in book form; he thus had no reason to eliminate all references to the framework, as the author claims.

As regards the list of the stories to be included in the “Folio Club,” Miss Haage’s book differs from previous studies on some points: she includes “A Tale of Jerusalem,” but not “King Pest,” on account of its late date of publication, and she considers “Epimanes” as a satire of Andrew Jackson and, at the same time, of the historical novel. Furthermore, contrary to the Richard-Hammond thesis (see Claude Richard, “Poe and the Yankee Hero,” Mississippi Quarterly, 21 [1968], 93-109, and Hammond, “Reconstruction,” pp. 26-27), she does not include “Raising the Wind” in the “Folio Club.” On the basis of internal evidence, she claims that the tale could not have been written as early as 1833; according to her, the original story has been lost. But elements of the “lost” tale are present in the three “business stories” (“The Business Man,” “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences,” and “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.”) which are “companion-pieces”; the striking similarities and cross-references to be found in them can only be accounted for, she argues, by the hypothesis that the three stories have a common origin and are variants of the original “Folio Club” tale.

If Miss Haage’s reconstruction is sometimes open to question, her analysis and interpretation of the tales themselves and her study of their relationship with the framework, which take up a substantial part of the book, are much less debatable. Her assessment of Poe’s still-born first work of fiction and her study of the place of the “Tales of the Folio Club” in Poe’s prose work are of particular interest. Whereas previous studies have tried to identify the stories which were part of the “Folio Club” by means of the membership list in the so-called prologue, Miss Haage considers the narrator of the prologue as the key for an understanding of the lost book: his characterization makes of the “Tales of the Folio Club” a unified whole he is a fictional character with a highly subjective outlook, who is involved in the satirical design, and he is exposed [column 2:] to the reader’s mockery, like the other members of the club. But, because of the absence of a set of values serving as a frame of reference for the reader, the basis for satire no longer exists: what appears to be a satire is rather a burlesque, and nothing is to be taken seriously. The originality of the scheme lies in the fact that it provided the young writer with an “experimenting field”: his choice of the form of the “framed story-cycle” was best suited for his first experiments as a writer of fiction. The burlesque framework guaranteed him absolute freedom for attempting all the current modes of short fiction in whatever form he wanted: imitation, parody, satire, burlesque, even “serious” horror stories.

Poe’s first tales cannot thus be understood and interpreted apart from the framework of the “Folio club” of which they were part. The significance of this unpublished book for the writer’s development has too often been underrated: far from being an isolated curiosity, it is crucial for an understanding of his later fiction as well as of his critical work, not only because motifs typical of the mature Poe already appear in these tales, but above all because his logical bent of mind first expressed itself in his imitation of current models, an imitation often verging on parody. The scheme of the “Tales of the Folio Club” also accounts for the importance of satire in Poe’s conception of literary criticism as well as for his claim, made in 1845, that each of his tales had been written with reference to its effect as part of the whole. Thus, in spite of some questionable points, Sybille Haage’s monograph is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of Poe’s first still-born book of fiction. It sheds new light on the subject, and it conclusively demonstrates the necessity of interpreting Poe’s early tales in the light of the overall design of the “Folio club,” as well as the importance of the projected book for an understanding of Poe’s career as a short story writer and as a critic.

One of the reasons for the neglect of the “Tales of the Folio Club” by Poe scholars (a view that does not, however, take into account Hammond’s extensive study of the subject — “Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Folio Club: The Evolution of a Lost Book,” Univ. of Pennsylvania Library Chronicle, 41 [1976], 13-43) rests, according to Miss Haage, in the absence of an edition of the earliest versions of Poe’s first stories. She has therefore edited the reconstructed “Tales of the Folio Club” in a companion volume to her study. She does not, however, attempt a reconstruction of the manuscript, as Hammond has undertaken; starting with the prologue, her arrangement of the tales is chronological, conforming to the sequence of their genesis or first publication. Unfortunately, the text is not always reliable (for instance, “nare” is replaced by “hare” in the motto chosen by Poe). The edition also includes the first versions of the three “business stories” because they are considered to be based on the eleventh “lost” tale. Needless to say, such a reconstruction mNst necessarily remain a hypothesis in view of the questionable assumptions underlying it as regards the identification of the stories or the choice of the first versions of tales such as “Loss of Breath” and “Bon-Bon” (which differ materially from the revised versions) for inclusion in the “Folio Club.”

Roger Forclaz, Bern, Switzerland


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]