Friday, January 26, 2007

Poe's Gift for Gloom

In 1909 Arthur Conan Doyle, at a celebratory dinner for Poe’s centenary thrown at the Author’s Club in London, asked this of his comrades: “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”

An apt question, and certainly one that Poe’s Deadly Daughters have been exploring this week. While we won’t always be writing about Poe, I think we all wanted to give him his homage in this, our launch week, to sort of earn our stripes as his honorary daughters.

It is true that while Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is often unfairly given credit as the first, the archetypal fictional detective, it is Poe’s undersung Auguste Dupin who deserves that honor, and Dupin who undoubtedly influenced the creation of many detectives who followed him.

Like Lonnie, though, I have probably been more influenced by Poe’s horror. For me, Poe is the master of mood, not only in his stories but in his poetry, and his facility with diction was a key factor. We all know that he ratchets up the tension in “The Raven” by increasing his pace and his alliterative lines. Who doesn’t like to revel in “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore . . . .” even before they meet the “stately raven” who wanders into the room and then NEVER leaves again? Or was he ever there? This reminds me of Sharon’s comment about Poe and rationality; in “The Raven,” rationality (“the pallid bust of Pallas,” or Athena, the goddess of wisdom) is overshadowed by the great black bird itself, and the irrational dominates from then on. Hence the famous “nevermore.”

Even moodier is the brooding Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado,” the most haunting Poe story I ever read. I can never hear Poe’s name without thinking of that horrible jingling of bells, a normally happy sound turned ghastly by Poe’s context, the damp catacombs, deep beneath the revelry of Mardi Gras.

I’d like to add at this point that Sandra Parshall is very adept at creating a moody, almost gothic feeling in her book The Heat of the Moon. This mastery of mood is a gift, and Sandra has it.

So, since Sandra and Liz posed a question for readers, I will, too. What are the books with the most dominant moods: the ones that have stayed with you for years? Aside from Poe I would have to list Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca as my number one. What about all of you?

(image from


Anonymous said...

Spooky thoughts. Loved the photo. Top of the list for authors who write books whose atmosphere that stayed with me: James Lee Burke. Of course, it helps that we have connections with the same small town, New Iberia, Louisiana. Second favorite, "Gaudy Night," by Dorothy L. Sayers. I've never been to Oxford---though I did spend one rainy Friday evening in Cambridge---but that's the book that represents what I think Oxford would be like.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Easy answer to your question, Julia, my favorite book that stays with me: WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, by Shirley Jackson. I read it twice in a row to be sure I hadn't missed anything, then bought an extra copy to loan out to friends because no way was my ancient, hardback copy leaving my house. Shirley Jackson's books all have a way of drawing you in and surprising you at the end.

Love the picture too!

Julia Buckley said...

That's interesting,KD! I've never read Robert Crais, but I'm going to have to, because I've heard such great things about him--that's what made me finally discover James Lee Burke, whom SHARON obviously loves, as well.
And Sharon, I agree about Gaudy Night.

Lonnie, I've never read that, but I am still haunted by "The Lottery."