11 - Poe’s “constructiveness” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” Cambridge Companions Online - Cambridge University Press

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11 - Poe’s “constructiveness” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”

pp. 178-190

  • Publisher:
  • Cambridge University Press
  • Print Publication Year:
  • 2002
  • Online Publication Date:
  • May 2006

  • Hardback ISBN:
  • 9780521793261
  • Online ISBN:
  • 9780511998591
  • Paperback ISBN:
  • 9780521797276

Speaking at the University of Virginia's 1909 commemoration of the centenary of Poe's birth, University of North Carolina Professor C. Alphonso Smith described Poe's work habits in terms that might seem out of place with Poe's current popular reputation: “a patience and persistence worthy of Washington . . . a husbandry of details that suggest the thriftiness of Franklin . . . a native insight and inventiveness that proclaim him of the line of Edison.” Like these other notable Americans, the practical-minded Poe excelled at putting things together. Indeed, according to Smith, Poe's contribution to world literature was his “constructiveness,” his “structural art.” Although Smith put an unusually patriotic spin on his description, critics through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century had characterized Poe in similar, if less flattering, terms. Evert Duyckinck, in an 1850 review of Poe's collected works, compared him to a mechanical Swiss bell ringer, an “excellent machine,” a writer who “lived apart from the solidities and realities of life: was an abstraction; thought, wrote, and dealt solely in abstractions”; and was “indifferent to flesh and blood subjects” (CH, 337).

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