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Throwback Thursday: 164 Years without Edgar Allan Poe

Throwback Thursday, while around since as early as 2003, has become widely adopted on social media over the past year, particularly on the photo-sharing site Instagram. The concept is simple: users post old pictures—sometimes only a few days old, sometimes a few decades—to evoke a sense of nostalgia. Lucky for us at Commonweal, we’re 89 years old and have tons of old, archived throwbacks – that’d we’d now like to share with you.

Paid subscribers have access to the scores of archived material on our website, but we have even more in bound books lining the walls of our office. Starting this week, we will be posting articles from our historic archives that aren’t available on the site—as well as poems, videos, photos, and more.

This past week marked the 164th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death, so naturally, we at Commonweal are musing on the relevance of a man whose work was published nearly two centuries ago. We know about his life, his literary work, and his genius. We know about his tragedy, poverty, and addictions. We also know he is the only poet who has a U.S. professional athletic team named after one of his works—the Baltimore Ravens.  And to top it all off, Poe’s chilling stories of two centuries ago remain relevant alongside the top writers of today. Why is his work still so compelling?

To start Throwback Thursday, here is a review of Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe by Hervey Allen, written by Padraic Colum in the August 24, 1927 issue of Commonweal.

“Poe’s work meant not only labor—it meant heroism. For a man to have produced such work as he produced, in spite of illness, disappointment, lack of appreciation, great sorrow, and the debility brought on by indulgence in opium, required an effort as heroic as an air-flight from New York to Paris. And there were no prizes to be received, no crowds to cheer, when the effort had been accomplished.”

Read the full review here.

To read three other reviews of Edgar Allan Poe’s work published in Commonweal between 1931 and 1947, download the tablet edition of the October 11th issue on your tablet or smartphone. Click here for more details.

About the Author

KeriLee Horan is in charge of digital media and marketing at Commonweal.



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Interesting articles linked by KeriLee and Chuck.

Collected Works at Kindle, 99 cents.


In hopes I am being consistent with the theme of this piece I recall a fellow once reminding me of another famous person who either failed or was mediocre in business and/or professional efforts, until later in his life he succeeded.  That person was, of course, another fellow more than little gifted with the pen, Abe Lincoln.

MightBe =

 It's not uncommon for writers little appreciated at first. See. for another example, the recent article and discussion here about J. F. Powers.  Although he was generally very well received by the critics, his books didn't sell well, and he had a hard time financially.  It seems to me that writing is a true vocation needing special grace to persist sometimes.  Same with the other arts.

Both the article suggested by KerriLee from The Comonweal and the article suggested by Chuck from The New Yorker should make it clear that Edgar Allan Poe, a drunkard and a "humbug," was nothing at all like Abraham Lincoln.   

(And comparing Poe to Powers is equally pointless.  Poe's work  holds up after 160 years and is not embarrassing to read.  Powers' output does not hold up and IS embarrassing.  Anyone who imagines otherwise should read or reread his two novels and his long dull stories.  The few women who appear are repellent.  The men, including the priests, are losers.  The racism, the repetition, the padding, the sagging, all demonstrate why Powers has been justly forgotten.)  


I imagine otherwise. My appreciation of Powers' stories and novels matches your disdain for them. De gustibus...


Hi, Chris:  I agree that fiction is a matter of taste.  I'm glad you like Powers.   


When the reviews of Powers' daughter's collection of his letters started appearing, I decided to read his two novels and his short stories.  I've done so in the past couple of weeks.

I didn't remember Morte d'Urban as being so lame.  I had never read Wheat That Springeth Green before, but, as some said when it first appeared, it's even worse than Morte d'Urban.  And his short stories are horrible.  I guess I expected more from them, since some contemporary reviewers of his novels said he was really a short story writer, not a novelist.  As it turns out, he was neither.  

He admitted to being lazy, but I think another reason for his small output was his realization that he just wasn't very good.  He may have felt that the acclaim he was receiving was simply because he was Catholic.  As Samuel Johnson said, "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs.  It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."  In a country still emerging from the virulent anti-Catholicism of the 19th and early 20th centuries, any Catholic who could compose a sentence was surprising to some. 


Many studies of Poe stress his influence among the French symbolist poets.  Less well known is that Dostoevsky greatly admired Poe and translated some of his short stories into Russian.

Here is a link to one of the five volumes of Joseph Frank's biography.


If you fill in the search inside box with "Poe" you should be taken to pp. 74-75 which discusses Dostoevsky's interest in Poe.  


It's interesting that some of Dostoevsky's St. Petersburg tortured souls may have  older cousins among the down-and-outers of Poe's Philadelphia and New York.


For those in the New York area there is a Poe exhibit at the Morgan Library:

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