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Critical Theory

The Major Documents

Understanding the impact of context on Poe’s literary criticism

Edgar Allan Poe's reputation as an enduring and influential American literary critic rests mainly upon the pieces in this edition. Editors Stuart and Susan F. Levine provide reading texts, detailed explanatory footnotes, variant readings, and introductions to show context. They also face frankly the contradictions in Poe's critical opinions. Poe argues both that poetry is for pleasure, not truth, and that poetic inspiration leads to truth. Great works, Poe maintains, result from studied calculation, but also from irrational, supernal sources. Poe, both a biting critic and the doughty defender of American artistic achievement, was contemptuous of democratic art--except when vigorously defending it. Critical Theory highlights such conflicting ideas and suggests why they are present.

What was consistent in Poe's work was not a single theory, but rather wit, playfulness, concern for the strong effect, a bin of recyclable allusions, anecdotes and quotations, and a craftsman's discipline. Poe's writing on theory is of a piece with his fiction, poetry, and journalism. The Levines explain how these critical statements also tie tightly to the social, political, economic, and technological history of the world in which Poe lived.


“A solid resource for scholars of Poe. Highly recommended”--Choice

"Poe’s quotations and misquotations are assiduously identified and corrected. Obscure references are made clear, and connections among a variety of Poe’s writings are drawn. Poe’s playfulness, even in criticism, repeatedly comes through, as does his occasional tendency to lapse into unfairness merely to make a point or to put the punch line on a joke. There is still a need, over one hundred years after Poe’s death, for traditional scholarship of this kind. . . . This new volume is clearly the most authoritative edition of the works presented, and it is likely to remain so for sometime."--Poe Studies

"The Levines have made major contributions to Poe studies with this volume and numerous analytical studies that help readers appreciate the work of one of America's most famous writers."--American Studies

"This volume will likely become the first place to which students and scholars will turn if they want to understand Poe's work as a critic. . . . A significant contribution to Poe studies."--Resources for American Literary Study

"This book provides scholars and students of nineteenth-century literary theory and Poe with a reliable edition of his essays of critical theory, heavily annotated by respected Poe scholars. The notes provide explications not easily attained elsewhere, including Poe's relationships with his contemporaries and allusions to works few of today's readers would recognize. Levine and Levine have thoroughly researched the textual variants on all of these essays and provided the most accurate texts available to date."--Scott Peeples, author of The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe


Stuart Levine is an emeritus professor of English at the University of Kansas. Susan F. Levine is a former assistant dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kansas. Their collaborations have included scholarly editions of Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe and Poe's Eureka.

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