Poe's Pym: Critical Explorations

Poe's Pym: Critical Explorations

by Richard Kopley

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"The interpreter's dream-text," as one critic called Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym has prompted critical approaches almost as varied as the experiences it chronicles. This is the first book to deal exclusively with Pym, Poe's longest fictional work and in many ways his most ambitious. Here leading Poe scholars provide solutions and interpretations for many challenging enigmas in this mysterious novel.
The product of a decade of research and planning, Poe's "Pym" offers a factual basis for some of the most fantastic elements in the novel and uncovers surprising connections between Poe's text and exploration literature, nautical lore, Arthurian narrative, nineteenth-century journalism, Moby Dick, and other writings. Representing a rich cross-section of current modes of literary study—from source study to psychoanalytic criticism to new historicism—these sixteen essays probe issues such as literary influence, the limits of language, racism, the holocaust, prolonged mourning, and the structure of the human mind. Poe's "Pym" will be an invaluable resource for students of both contemporary criticism and nineteenth-century American culture.

Contributors. John Barth, Susan F. Beegel, J. Lasley Dameron, Grace Farrell, Alexander Hammond, David H. Hirsch, John T. Irwin, J. Gerald Kennedy, David Ketterer, Joan Tyler Mead, Joseph J. Moldenhauer, Carol Peirce, Burton R. Pollin, Alexander G. Rose III, John Carlos Rowe, G. R. Thompson, Bruce I. Weiner

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822397601
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 08/13/1992
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Richard Kopley is Associate Professor of English at The Pennsylvania State University, DuBois Campus.

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Poe's Pym: Critical Explorations

By Richard Kopley

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9760-1


Literary Origins

"Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery":

The Globe Mutiny as a Source for Pym

Susan F. Beegel

"Mutiny and atrocious butchery," promises the title page of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, cataloguing the delectable horrors within, and the novel delivers an uprising so gory that, like many another episode in Edgar Allan Poe's works, it easily seems the nightmarish fantasy of a diseased mind. Perhaps that is why scholars have so long overlooked the many similarities between the fictional mutiny on Poe's Nantucket whaleship Grampus and a historic event that Alexander Starbuck has called "the most horrible mutiny that is recounted in the annals of the whale-fishery from any port or nation"—the mutiny on board the Nantucket whaleship Globe. Yet if we explore the actual events of the Globe mutiny, Poe's probable knowledge of those events, and his indebtedness to them, we find that Pym's "mutiny and atrocious butchery" owe more to reportorial accuracy than to a sanguinary imagination run amok, and we are reminded once again that until we know all of the sources for a given work of fiction, we cannot begin to appreciate the nature of its author's powers of invention.

Mutiny on the Whaleship Globe

A brief recounting of the facts of the Globe mutiny helps us to understand both the event's notoriety in nineteenth-century America and the ways in which Poe may have interacted with its history. On 15 December 1822, the Nantucket whaleship Globe set sail for the Pacific Ocean from Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard. Over one year later, as the vessel was cruising off Hawaii in January 1824, a psychotic boatsteerer named Samuel Comstock led four new hands, taken from Oahu's beaches, in the bloodiest and most famous mutiny ever to afflict Nantucket's whaling fleet. Just before the midnight watch, Comstock led his conspirators into the Globe 's cabin and murdered Captain Thomas Worth, asleep in his hammock, with an axe blow that nearly split his head in two. At the same time, another conspirator, Silas Payne, entered first mate William Beetle's stateroom and hacked him to death with a boarding knife.

The second and third mates took alarm and barricaded themselves in another stateroom. Comstock wounded one of these men by firing a musket through the stateroom door and then had his fellow mutineers smash their way in. After a brief struggle, Comstock persuaded the wounded mate to give up the musket he had snatched and then treacherously shot him in the head. The other mate Comstock repeatedly bayoneted through the body. A fifth officer, Gilbert Smith, survived the mayhem by escaping to the forecastle, where he was sheltered by frightened crew members.

After the mutilated bodies of the dead and dying officers had been thrown overboard, Comstock began to suspect one of his men, a black steward named William Humphries, of conspiring against him. Humphries had been seen loading a pistol in the galley. Although he insisted that he wanted the pistol for defense against a countermutiny being plotted by Gilbert Smith, Humphries was found guilty of mutiny by Comstock and a "court" of his coconspirators. With unconscious irony, the mutineers hanged Humphries from the yardarm for his crime.

For the next several days, the Globe sailed nearly due west. According to historian Edouard Stackpole: "Comstock planned to reach some island, away from the usual cruisings of other whaleships, land and establish himself as the virtual king. He would then burn the ship, destroying the evidence of her identity and the mutiny. In his calculated, cruel plans, he no doubt had considered ways of killing most of the faithful men." In a chain of small islands known to the natives as Mili and to English navigators as the Mulgraves, Comstock believed he had found a safe harbor for the fulfillment of his plans. Here he ordered the Globe anchored and the ship's supplies unloaded by intimidated crew members.

Comstock's reign as king of Mili was short-lived. The mutineers incensed the native population by using the men as pack animals and the women as concubines. Frightened by the growing numbers of angry natives around the whalemen's camp and believing that Comstock was conspiring with the islanders to kill the crew, mutineer Silas Payne shot Comstock in the back and beheaded him with an axe. Next, Gilbert Smith and five crew members who had been sent on board for supplies escaped Mili with the Globe, setting sail for Valparaiso on a dark night. Tragically, their flight marooned six loyal crew members on Mili with the three surviving mutineers, and the ship's departure triggered the native massacre Payne had feared. The population of Mili attacked the whalemen with spears and rocks, surrounding them and "mascerating [sic] their heads with large stones."

Only two members of the Globe's crew stranded on Mili were spared: William Lay of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Cyrus Hussey of Nantucket, both aged eighteen. Yet despite Gilbert Smith's prompt reporting of the Globe mutiny on his 7 June 1824 arrival in Valparaiso, Lay and Hussey were fated to remain on Mili for another seventeen months as slaves of the natives who had spared them. Sparse U.S. naval presence in the Pacific prevented the dispatch of a rescue mission until late in 1825, when an appeal by Nantucket merchants to the Secretary of the Navy prompted the sending of the schooner Dolphin to Mili to search for survivors and bring the mutineers to justice. In November 1825, a shore party commanded by Lieutenant Hiram Paulding finally located Lay and Hussey and took them from hostile natives. After a prolonged cruise with the Dolphin, the young men were returned home on board the frigate United States, reaching New York on 21 April 1827, five years after the ill-fated Globe had set sail from Edgartown.

Poe's Familiarity with the Globe Mutiny

Poe may have become familiar with the Globe mutiny because of its general notoriety, as a result of his friendship with maritime explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds, or through an acquaintance with one or more published versions of the event. The Globe mutiny enjoyed wide fame in nineteenth-century America, and the story may have reached Poe as common knowledge. The petition of Nantucket whaleship owners to the Secretary of the Navy brought public recognition that the United States' naval presence in the Pacific was inadequate for the protection of American property and shipping interests. Coupled with the prestige conferred upon the navy by the Dolphin's successful rescue mission, the Globe mutiny was directly responsible for an increase in the United States' Pacific fleet. Two years after the rescue, Captain Catesby-Jones of the Peacock set a precedent for naval discipline of lawless whalemen when, on the island of Tahiti, he tried and ordered flogged six men accused of mutiny on the whaleship Fortune. The Globe mutiny was also responsible for changes in whaleship routine. While prior to the incident, boatsteerers had been considered unofficial officers, after Comstock's treachery, they were never again allowed to command the night watches on American whaleships.

Nor was the Globe's notoriety confined to naval and whaling circles. The fact that Samuel Comstock's skull and cutlass were disinterred and brought to New York for museum display in 1827 provides proof of the popular sensation created by the horrific events on board the Globe. Whether or not Poe read either or both of the two Globe mutiny books published well before Pym's appearance in 1838—William Lay and Cyrus Hussey's A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board the Whaleship Globe of Nantucket (1828) and Lieutenant Hiram Paulding's Journal of a Cruise of the United States Schooner Dolphin ... In Pursuit of the Mutineers of the Whaleship Globe (1831)—their existence alone made the facts of the mutiny widely available to the general public. A third book, William Comstock's The Life of Samuel Comstock, The Terrible Whaleman (1840), was published two years after Pym and attests to the story's continuing fascination.

Poe may, then, have encountered common knowledge of the Globe mutiny in New York, Philadelphia, or any port city concerned with things maritime, but he is most likely to have done so in Boston, where he spent the spring of 1827 clerking in a waterfront warehouse and working as a market reporter for an obscure newspaper. In April 1827, while Poe was thus ideally situated to hear gossip about the Globe, survivors William Lay and Cyrus Hussey were returned to New York aboard the frigate United States. At least four Boston newspapers carried news of the ship's arrival from the Pacific, and although none of them mentions the Globe mutiny directly, all report that Lieutenant Hiram Paulding of the Dolphin was among the returning officers on board the United States. The Dolphin's role in rescuing the Globe's last two survivors was well-known in Boston—having been reported by the city's newspapers a few months earlier—and word of Paulding's return should have aroused the interest of the town where, three years earlier, Joseph Thomas, a member of the crew who had escaped with Gilbert Smith, had stood trial for mutiny in federal court.

But Poe's friend Jeremiah N. Reynolds forms the strongest link between the Globe mutiny and Pym. In June of 1828, Reynolds was appointed a special envoy by the Department of the Navy and authorized to collect data about the South Seas from ship captains and owners. During the course of his investigations, Reynolds visited Nantucket. It's no exaggeration to say that every sentient adult on this small, isolated island of interrelated seafarers would have known the story of the Nantucket whaleship Globe, and Reynolds talked to "every individual navigator of those seas who could be found at home, with their logbooks, and journals, and charts." These individuals could easily have included relatives of the chief mutineer, Samuel Comstock, who was Nantucket born and bred, and relatives of the island's three victims and two survivors of the mutiny. Reynolds is known to have met captains named Joy, Worth, Coffin, and Macy on his Nantucket visit. Given the intermarriage common on and between Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard at this time, more likely than not these captains were relatives of the Joy who captained the Lyra, sailing in company with the Globe on the night of the mutiny; of the Worths and the Coffin who sailed to their deaths on board the Globe; and of the Coffin and Macy who became her subsequent owners. In addition, Reynolds formed a valuable friendship with Samuel Haynes Jenks, editor of the Nantucket Inquirer, a newspaper which had given the Globe mutiny and its results considerable coverage since 1824. According to Edouard Stackpole, a comparison of Jenks' editorials for the years 1821 through 1829 with Reynolds' reports suggests that Jenks gave Reynolds back issues of the newspaper, issues that contained articles about the Globe mutiny.

Eighteen twenty-eight, the year that saw Reynolds' visit to Nantucket, also saw publication of William Lay and Cyrus Hussey's narrative of the Globe mutiny. The book's detailed description of the little-explored Mulgrave Islands, with its "observations on the manners and customs of the inhabitants" and "vocabulary of words and phrases used by the natives," would certainly have interested Reynolds (pp. 1,105). If he did not borrow, purchase, or receive a copy of the Lay and Hussey narrative while on Nantucket, Reynolds would have had other opportunities to encounter the book in his 1828 travels to New London, where it was published in an edition of three thousand copies by printer William Bolles, and to Edgartown, where he may have met friends and relations of the Vineyard's eleven Globe victims and survivors.

It is also possible that Reynolds was familiar with Lieutenant Hiram Paulding's 1831 Journal of the U.S. Schooner Dolphin. When the book was published, Reynolds was in Valparaiso, Chile, the port to which Gilbert Smith had sailed the stricken Globe and where the American consul had interrogated the escaped members of her crew. The Dolphin's story would also have been well known in Valparaiso, where the schooner remained for a time in 1828 when her officers, including Paulding, transferred to the homeward-bound United States. If Reynolds did not encounter Paulding's book on land, he may have met it on board the U.S. Navy frigate Potomac when he sailed from Valparaiso as Commodore Downes' personal secretary in 1832. Through his affiliation with the navy, Reynolds would have learned not only of the Dolphin's dramatic rescue mission but also of the 1828 court-martial of her captain, "Mad Jack" Percival, for the licentious conduct of his men in Honolulu and their assault on disapproving missionaries. The Dolphin's role in rescuing Globe mutiny survivors was brought out during the trial as evidence on Percival's behalf, and he was acquitted. In view of the connections noted, as well as the Journal's "particular description of a groupe of Islands never before explored, and forming perhaps, the latest inhabited portion of the globe," Reynolds may have had motive, as well as means and opportunity, for seeking out Paulding's volume.

Poe not only read and used numerous works by Reynolds in constructing The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym but also seems to have enjoyed at least one meeting with the "Father of American Exploration" before completing his novel. In a review of Reynolds' Address on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas, Poe questions whether the explorer's critics have "ever seen him or conversed with him half an hour." Poe's review contains other remarks implying his personal acquaintance with Reynolds, and perhaps not coincidentally this review appears in the same issue of the Southern Literary Messenger as the first installment of Pym.

It should be added that Thomas Willis White, owner of the Southern Literary Messenger while Poe was assistant and then editor (August 1835 to January 1837), knew Reynolds; White probably encouraged Poe's interest in Reynolds' work and may have introduced the two men. Several scholars have speculated that in 1837 and 1838, when both Poe and Reynolds lived in New York, their friendship was extensive, while Burton Pollin postulates that during this period Poe may even have approached Reynolds for a position in his Antarctic expedition (P 1:18). Whatever the extent of the Poe-Reynolds friendship, the explorer almost certainly possessed detailed knowledge of the Globe mutiny garnered from his reading and travels, and his acquaintance with Poe is a plausible explanation of the similarities between The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and the facts of the mutiny on board the whaleship Globe.

A final source for Poe's knowledge of the Globe mutiny may be one or both of the two books on the subject published before Pym was written. To date, no evidence exists to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Poe read either the Lay and Hussey narrative or the Paulding journal. However, while neither book was used as one of the "primary sources for verbatim copying or close paraphrase," both seem to have provided "hints or suggestions for details, situations, or episodes" (P 1:17). This lack of copying or paraphrase, accompanied by Pym's apparent indebtedness to both the Lay and Hussey narrative and the Paulding journal, suggests that Poe may have written from memory of these texts or from memory of conversation about their contents rather than with the volumes open before him. This point, in turn, suggests that a friend briefly loaned the books to Poe or merely told him about them, and no friend was more likely to have done so than Jeremiah N. Reynolds.

Pym's Indebtedness to Globe Mutiny Narratives

The best argument in favor of Poe's knowledge of the Globe mutiny narratives, however, resides in a detailed exploration of Pym's indebtedness to them. The novel shares the greatest number of similarities with the account of the Globe mutiny Reynolds is most likely to have read—William Lay and Cyrus Hussey's narrative. Poe seems to have borrowed many of his novel's plot elements from this version of the mutiny. Like The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the Narrative of the Mutiny on Board the Whaleship Globe may be described as "comprising the details of a mutiny and atrocious butchery" on board a Nantucket whaleship, "the massacre of her crew among a group of islands" in the Pacific, and the deliverance of her two remaining survivors by a schooner (P 1:53).


Excerpted from Poe's Pym: Critical Explorations by Richard Kopley. Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Conference Attendees xi

Note Regarding Frequently Cited Books xiii

Introduction / Richard Kopley 1

"Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery": The Globe Mutiny as a Source for Pym / Susan F. Beegel 7

Poe's "Manual of 'Seamanship'" / Joan Tyler Mead 20

Pym's Polar Episode: Conclusion or Beginning? / J. Lasley Dameron 33

Novels, Tales, and Problems of Form in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym / Bruce I. Weiner 44

Poe's Reading of Myth: The White Vision of Arthur Gordon Pym / Carol Peirce and Alexander G. Rose III 57

Pym, The DIghton Rock, and the Matter of Vinland / Joseph J. Moldenhauer 75

Poe's Life Reflected through the Sources of Pym / Burton R. Pollin 95

Mourning in Poe's Pym / Grace Farrell 107

Poe, Antebellum Slavery, and Modern Criticism / John Carlos Rowe 117

"Postmodern" or Post-Auschwitz: The Case of Poe / David H. Hirsch 141

Consumption, Exchange, and the Literary Marketplace: From the Folio Club Tales to Pym / Alexander Hammond 153

Pym Pourri: Decomposing the Textual Body / J. Gerald Kennedy 167

The Quincuncial Network in Poe's Pym / John T. Irwin 175

The Arabesque Design of Arthur Gordon Pym / G.R. Thompson 188

"Still Farther South": Some Notes on Poe's Pym / John Barth 217

Tracing Shadows: Pym Criticism, 1980-1990 / David Ketterer 233

Notes 275

Contributors 329

Index 333

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