Undergraduate English Courses

358:213 Major Authors and Topics in American Literature: Edgar Allan Poe

01  TTH6  CAC  17287  MCGILL     MU-212

01-Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is widely known as an innovator and inventor of a number of popular genres:  the locked-room mystery, science fiction, the gothic tale, the newspaper hoax.  But he has also had a huge impact on more elite literary and cultural pursuits:  his writing was central to the development of Symbolist poetry, modernist painting and illustration, film, psychoanalysis, and literary theory.  The figure of Poe – melancholy dreamer, misunderstood genius, and poverty-stricken magazine writer – has shaped our very idea of what it means to be a modern author, one who depends for survival on a fickle literary marketplace.

In this course we will study Poe as a writer who aimed to appeal to both “the popular and the critical taste” (“Philosophy of Composition”).  We will read widely in Poe’s works, including gothic tales of doubling and haunting (“Ligeia,” The Fall of the House of Usher,” “William Wilson” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Black Cat”), tales of detection and cryptography (“The Gold Bug,” The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Purloined Letter”), exploration narratives (The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym), tales of sensation (“Berenice” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”), science fiction and hoaxing (“Maelzel’s Chess Player” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”), and selected poems and criticism. 

We will pay particular attention to Poe’s career as a writer for magazines and newspapers, using digital databases of nineteenth-century American periodicals to examine the relationship between Poe’s writing and the rapidly expanding print media of the 1840s.  We will also trace his legacy in twentieth-century literature (Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Borges), visual art (Manet, Doré, Gaugin), and popular culture (Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Goth culture).


Students will write three short papers during the semester and complete a final project, in print or digital format, which will bring a close reading of one or more of Poe's texts to bear on a twentieth- or twenty-first-century response, adaptation, or remediation of his work.