Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the foremost exponents of the Gothic horror genre and is also well known for his poetry. His poem The Raven, published in 1845, was his most famous and successful work, and his short stories include The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Despite his years of success as a writer, poet, critic and editor, he died broke and was buried in a pauper’s grave, the location unknown to this day.
Poe’s essay The Philosophy of Composition, published in 1846, is considered the first literary-oriented exegesis. Poe uses the exposed rear of a theatre stage as a cogent metaphor to allow readers to glance into the workings of a writer’s mind. Poe’s variegating theatrical metaphors about a piece’s personal literary history are valid: “the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.”
The exegesis is a way for writers to explain their process, to intuitively describe the spark of personal creation, to enlighten readers regarding the meanderings of draft and re-draft. As Poe puts it, a look “at the true purposes seized only at the last moment, at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view, at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable”.
Poe was a dedicated and brilliant writer, and his work continues to yield treasures to both those familiar with his work and the uninitiated. I am a fan, as this post will no doubt attest.
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Edgar Allan Poe
Another post from a uni subject I completed many months ago. I thought it was a useful, if brief, introduction to the concept of the exegesis, which new and aspiring writers might find interesting.