College of Liberal Arts

Department of English

 

REVIEW

Joseph J. Moldenhauer
"Poe's Debut as Magazinist and Critic"

In their edition of Writings in "The Southern Literary Messenger": Nonfictional Prose, the most recent volume in Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Burton R. Pollin and Joseph V. Ridgely offer a facsimile text with extensive literary-historical apparatus. The bulk of the text is comprised of Poe's book reviews and short critical notices in the Messenger, which appeared principally during his association with the magazine under the original proprietor, Thomas W. White, April 1835-January 1837; a few others come from issues between May 1845 and August 1849. Excluded are two essays on poetics, destined for a future volume in the Collected Writings series, and the miniature pieces already gathered by Pollin in The Brevities. The book opens with a foreword describing editorial procedures, discussing the materials pertinent to determining authorship of the reviews, notices, and related items in the magazine, and providing a list of abbreviations and short titles for frequently cited primary sources, collected editions, and reference works.

Each Messenger number is given its own block of pages in the Pollin-Ridgely edition, beginning with a headnote. This initial essay reports Poe's personal and professional activities since the preceding number of the magazine, examines his relations with White, summarizes the issue's contents, takes up problems of attribution, and inventories the pieces determined to be from Poe's pen. Next, photocopies of the relevant Poe texts are presented in cut-and-paste double-column format, modified only by the introduction of spaces and item numbers (for convenience in reference) between the separate reviews of other pieces. Lowercase letters and asterisks editorially added in the margins and gutters of the text pages are keys (respectively) to scholarly annotations and to identification of typographical errors and misspellings. These abundant notes occupy a commentary section immediately following the block of nonfiction Poe texts for each issue.

The system of reference devised by Ridgely and Pollin is simple and efficient, well-adapted to a facsimile edition. The chief shortcomings of the volume have to do with the execution of the editorial plan. First, in the composition of the double-column text pages, Poe's own footnotes are inconsistently placed and one is lost altogether. A numbering error in the very first block of facsimile texts, from the April 1835 issue, puts the commentary for the following five numbered groups of annotations out of phase with the text item numeration. Occasional annotations and comments on misspellings are hard to relate to the text because of editorial failure to supply the key letters and asterisks in the text margins. In addition, the editors' dismissal or acceptance of a piece as Poe's in dubious or contested instances is not invariably convincing. Those small reservations aside, the edition is a most welcome textual resource for the study of Poe at the flamboyant outset of his magazine career, and a treasure house of information about the author's nonfictional Messenger contributions.

 

 

 

 

     

     

     

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