n his seminal book Anglo-American Encounters: England and the Rise of American Literature, Benjamim Lease discusses the influence England exerted on Poe and on his writings of several of his tales. With regard to Poe's tale "How to Write a Blackwood Article," Lease admits that "it has been widely known for a half a century and more that Poe was intensely involved with the British magazines of his day — foremost among them, Blackwood's" (69). Bulwer-Lytton himself had published his disturbing ghost story "The Haunted and the Haunters" (1859) in Blackwood's Magazine. With regard to "William Wilson," Lease also alludes to Poe's early stay in England with the Allans and his attendance at the Manor House School from 1818 to 1820. Moreover, Lease also concedes that "Poe praised Dickens' 'The Black Veil' and other short psychological case-studies because these resembled his own similar pieces" (84). Bulwer-Lytton himself was a close friend of Dickens, who even helped him decide as to the conclusion of his popular novel Great Expectations.
In addition to Poe's established relationships with England, there has been much discussion — mainly caused by the French symbolist poets' positive appreciation of Poe's work — about his Americanness. At lerast one major twentieth-century American poet, William Carlos Williams, agrees: "in him [Poe] American literature is anchored, in him alone, on solid ground" (Rosenheim and Rachman: ix). In any case, there is significantly more agreement on the Americanness of Poe's genre par excellence, the short-story. As Charles May states, "in some way he [Poe] was responsible for the birth of the short story as a literary form" (1991: xi).
In the case of Bulwer-Lytton, his Englishness, if there is anything like that, has never been argued. Partly, because of being a noble and a lawyer at the House of Lords, and partly because of his domestic fiction portraying English life and his English historical fiction , Bulwer-Lytton has gradually been accepted as both a representative and connoisseur of English Victorian society. Nevertheless, his dual role as an aristocrat and a writer of crime fiction obliged him to justify his literary endeavours in his essay, "A Word to the Public" (1847), where he defended his crime narratives.
As the concept of nationality seems to defy definition, the traditionally established dichotomy between the novel in Victorian England and the origins of the short-story in America, proves quite definite. According to Valerie Shaw, "the early American short-story can be seen as seminal, reflecting prevalent cultural moods" (6). Nowadays, however, it makes no sense to think of the novel as an English conception and to regard the short-story as idiosyncratically American. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed this was the case when the short-story originated in nineteenth-century America, while in Victorian England, the three-decker novel was considered the prominent genre. Bates considered that "one of the reasons why the short story could not flourish in England in the nineteenth century was the fixity of a society and frame of mind reflected in the Victorian novel. Absence of society and institutions in America favoured more subversive methods" (Hernáez: 222). Similarly, in his own time, Hawthorne maintained that "his fictions were romances, not novels, since in the absence of society in the English or European sense no one could write a novel" (Allen: 29).
In his seminal essay, "The Philosophy of the Short-Story," Branden Matthews, argued that "the dominance of the three-decker novel had 'killed the Short-Story in England', while in France and America conditions had favoured the development of the short-fiction which was different in kind, not merely in length, from the novel" (Shaw: 4). Matthews went on to state that in the late nineteenth-century, English writers lacked the tradition of storytelling as an instinctive literary art, and the main reason that accounted for this was the dominance of the Victorian novel. Similarly, Shaw claims that the rise of the short story in England was closely linked with the emergence of the modern artist and the arousal of anti-Victorianism in the widest sense towards the end of the nineteenth-century. Furthermore, V.S. Pritchett suggests that the 'essentially poetic' quality of the literature produced under tense pioneering conditions in America has nothing to do with the literary polish which characterises the Victorian novel, since the origins of American literature stem its power from something 'raw and journalistic.' (Shaw: 5)
Hanson argued that "the novel can still adhere to the classical concept of civilized society, of man as an animal who lives in a community, as in Jane Austen and Trollope it obviously does; but the short story remains by its very nature remote from society — romantic, individualistic, and intransigent" (Hernáez: 55). Other critics such as Nadine Gordimer or Frank O'Connor have alluded to the short story as the narrative form which almost exclusively focuses on showing the marginality of society. Similarly, Nina Baym argues that "detailed, circumstantial portrayals of some aspect of American life are also, peculiarly, inappropriate" (3), and that, "the novel in America diverges from its classic [i.e. British] intention which is the investigation of the problem of reality beginning in the social field" (5), since "the essential quality of America comes to reside in its unsettled wilderness and the opportunities that such a wilderness offers to the individual as the medium on which he may inscribe, unhindered, his own destiny and his own nature" (6). Thus, the Victorian novel was rooted in the individual as a social member and his endeavours in society, whereas, the origins of the American short-story lay in the individual and his relationship with an alien environment. The English social hierarchy and its obsession with order gave way to the detailed and extensive Victorian novels, whereas the origins of a new life in a new country prompted the development of a more intimate, though limited-in-length and less assuring type of composition such as the short story. According to Theodore A. Stroud, it was precisely Poe who, through his theory and practice, "promoted the idea of selecting episodes and words which contributed to a single mood and thus permitted the short story to compete with the Victorian lyric" (117).
In any case, it seems that "the nature of the nineteenth-century novel in England was such as to make it very difficult for the short story as we know it to flourish or even to exist [since] it was too deeply entrenched in English cultural life [and thus] its supremacy was unchallenged" (Allen: 11). To conclude this paper, let me briefly refer to some dichotomies which have aided in establishing national idiosyncrasies between the novel as a predominantly European genre and the shortŠstory as a deeply-rooted American form. Charles E. May's metaphoric motivation in the short story and the metonymic nature of the novel; Mary Louise Pratt's definition of the short story as an unmarked form and the novel as the marked form in America (Leitch: 143); and finally, Suzanne Ferguson's dichotomy between "the short story's focus on 'being' rather than the 'becoming' that characterises the plot of the Romantic and the Victorian novel" (Ferguson: 191).
Thus, from the origins of the short-story in America, precisely after the recent independence of the United States from England, there was an ongoing debate to claim national rights over both forms of composition, the novel and the short-story. This transatlantic link is particular exemplified through the literary relationship between the Victorian writer Bulwer-Lytton and Edgar Allan Poe. At this stage, Bulwer-Lytton's influence on Poe seems undeniable. Nevertheless, the thematic links established between both authors were rendered through the different forms that characterise their respective nation at that time, the novel and the short-story, and from a different national point of view, being both representative of their own society and time.
- Poe's Knowledge of Bulwer-Lytton's Novels
- Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford and Poe's tales
- From Novel to Tale, A Transatlantic Transposition
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Last modified 28 June 2006