Introduction Cosmos



Charles Baudelaire was so deeply impressed by the opening scenes of “William Wilson” that he quoted without interruption nine consecutive paragraphs from the beginning of Poe’s story in the 1852 Revue de Paris essay where he first attempts to explain Poe’s appeal to a growing circle of French readers. Like many critics and biographers since, Baudelaire finds himself drawn to the poignant disaster of the life. All of Poe’s work is autobiographical, he explains, and offers a rich sample from “William Wilson” to illustrate his claim. But the illustration itself seduces Baudelaire from his journalistic task. “What do you think of this passage?” he demands of his reader, much as a teacher today might address a classroom filled with students, suddenly required to surrender the pleasurable distractions of twenty-first century American life for the uncanny atmosphere of a quaint old schoolhouse “in a misty-looking village of England” two hundred years ago. “For my part,” Baudelaire quickly insists, “I feel that this picture of school life gives off a dark perfume.”


Wild Boar Scientific Perception Opening Scene Fictional Detective North American Literature 
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  1. The first epigraph to this book comes from a letter that Kepler wrote to his daughter’s fiancé in 1628, cited in David Park’s recent cultural history of optics, The Fire within the Eye: A Historical Essay on the Nature and Meaning of Light (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1997), p. 171.Google Scholar
  2. Richard Wilbur’s classic essay, “The House of Poe,” has been reprinted many times but it first appeared in Anniversary Lectures, 1959 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1959).Google Scholar
  3. Throughout the introduction, I have quoted Baudelaire from the useful collection of his commentaries on Poe’s life and work prepared by Lois Hyslop and Francis E. Hyslop, Jr.: Baudelaire on Poe: Critical Papers (State College, PA: Bald Eagle Press, 1952).Google Scholar
  4. Richard Holmes addresses the issue in Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1804–1834 (New York: Pantheon, 1998), pp. 378–412.Google Scholar
  5. Louis Masur’s concise national portrait, 1831: Year of Eclipse (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001)Google Scholar
  6. The entomological details that lie behind “The Sphinx” are quite likely to have interested Poe. He may have helped one of his acquaintances, Thomas Wyatt, translate and abridge the work of the French naturalist Pierre Charles Lemonnier for use as a school textbook in Wyatt’s A Synopsis of Natural History (Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle, 1839).Google Scholar

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© Douglas Anderson 2009

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