Friday, March 18, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe on Charles Dickens



Edgar Allan Poe was well-known as a savage literary critic, but he had high praise for Charles Dickens. Here are a couple of paragraphs from his 1841 review in Graham's Magazine of Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop:

It embodies more originality in every point, but in character especially, than any single work within our knowledge. There is the grandfather⎯a truly profound conception; the gentle and lovely Nelly⎯we have discoursed of her before; Quilp, with mouth like that of the panting dog (a bold idea which the engraver has neglected to embody), with his hilarious antics, his cowardice, and his very petty and spoilt-child-like malevolence; Dick Swiveller, that prince of good-hearted, good-for-nothing, lazy, luxurious, poetical, brave, romantically generous, gallant, affectionate, and not over-and-above honest, "glorious Apollos"; the marchioness, his bride; Tom Codlin and his partner; Miss Sally Brass, that "fine fellow"; the pony that had an opinion of its own; the boy that stood upon his head; the sexton; the man at the forge; not forgetting the dancing dogs and baby Nubbles. There are other, admirably drawn characters; but we note these for their remarkable originality, as well as their wonderful keeping, and the glowing colours in which they are painted. We have heard some of them called caricatures, but the charge is grossly ill-founded. No critical principle is more firmly based in reason than that a certain amount of exaggeration is essential in the proper depicting of truth itself. We do not paint an object to be true, but to appear true to the beholder. Were we to copy nature with accuracy, the object copied would seem unnatural.

[...]


In truth, the great feature of the "Curiosity Shop" is its chaste, vigorous, and glorious imagination. This is the one charm, all potent, which alone would suffice to compensate for a world more of error than Mr. Dickens ever committed. It is not only seen in the conception, and general handling of the story, or in the invention of character; but it pervades every sentence of the book. We recognize its prodigious influence in every inspired word. It is this which induces the reader, who is at all ideal, to pause frequently, to reread the occasionally quaint phrases, to muse in uncontrollable delight over the thoughts which, while he wonders he has never hit upon them before, he yet admits that he never has encountered. In fact, it is the wand of the enchanter.

It counters the standard vision of Poe nicely, does it not, to think of him chuckling over Dickens?

(Poe's review is reproduced in Robert L. Hough, ed., The Literary Criticism of Edgar Allan Poe, 1965.)

13 comments:

author Scott Nicholson said...

Wow, that's brilliant, thanks for sharing, Kate.

Scott

Suko said...

No critical principle is more firmly based in reason than that a certain amount of exaggeration is essential in the proper depicting of truth itself. We do not paint an object to be true, but to appear true to the beholder. Were we to copy nature with accuracy, the object copied would seem unnatural.
~Edgar Allan Poe

Such a sharp and thoughtful review!

And now I must read The Old Curiosity Shop.

J. Elgey said...

I agree.
Edgar Allan Poe came to my attention earlier this year when I chose to look at one of his short stories for an assignment.

J.

Avid Reader said...

This is fantastic!

Pinwheel said...

I love this.

D.Ryan said...

excellent stuff!

Annie @ButteryBooks said...

Poe is great!!!!
...so is Dickens! Love it!

Keith B. Darrell said...

Thanks for posting this gem, Kate. As a fan of both authors, especially Dickens, it's fascinating to read how Dickens was viewed by a contemporary.

Dust said...

I've only ever read the Raven by Poe, it's great to see another side of him ;)

nosheen birmingham said...

Wow great stuff

C.W. LaSart said...

As a horror writer, I cut my teeth on Poe! My Dad, not much of a reader, so enjoyed Poe that he would read me stories such as The Tell-Tale Heart and Fall of the House of Usher, when I was barely old enough to understand them. It was a wonderful bonding moment that helped shape me into the person I am today!

John Stiles said...

Hey Kate,
I was interested to read the review. I taught "The tell-tell heart" at Ecole Sainte Famille in Mississauga for the grade ten English class in 2002-2003 but didn't know much about Poe, other than I heard Stallone was hell bent on making a film about him. Later I read Peter Ackroyd's biography of him and it was interesting to hear about all of the literary magazines he started up and edited in the US, during his short lifetime. What was also interesting was that though he was known as a US writer, he went to school in Stoke Newington, East End London, as a boy. Best from me John Stiles

Jac Harr said...

That's a really great insight in Poe. But I hate Dickens. :/