It was published by the original Philadelphia firm Lea & Blanchard and released in two volumes. The publisher was willing to print the anthology based on the recent success of Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher." Even so, Lea & Blanchard would not pay the original Poe any royalties; his only payment was 20 free copies. Poe had sought Washington Irving to endorse the book, writing to him, "If I could be permitted to add even a word or two from yourself... my fortune would be made."
In his preface, Poe wrote the now-famous quote defending himself from the criticism that his tales were part of "Germanism". He wrote, "If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany but of the soul".
The collection was dedicated to Colonel William Drayton, whom Poe likely met while stationed in Charleston, South Carolina; when Drayton moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Poe continued to correspond with him. Drayton was a former member of Congress turned judge and may have subsidized the book's publication.
When its publication was announced in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, its one-line description said that its title "pretty well indicates their [stories'] character." There has been some debate, however, over the meaning of Poe's terms "Grotesque" and "Arabesque." Poe probably had seen the terms used by Sir Walter Scott in his essay "On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition" Both terms refer to a type of Islamic art used to decorate walls, especially in mosques. These arts styles are known for their complex nature. Poe had used the term "arabesque" correctly in his essay "The Philosophy of Furniture."
Poe may have been using these terms as subdivisions of Gothic art or Gothic architecture in an attempt to establish similar subdivisions in Gothic fiction. For example, the "grotesque" stories are those where the character becomes a caricature or satire, as in "The Man That Was Used Up". The "arabesque" stories focus on a single aspect of a character, often psychological, such as "The Fall of the House of Usher." A distant relative of Poe, modern scholar Harry Lee Poe, wrote that "grotesque" means "horror", which is gory and often disgusting, and "arabesque" means "terror", which forsakes the blood and gore for the sake of frightening the reader. Even so, accurately defining Poe's intentions for the terms is difficult and subdividing his tales into one category or another is even more difficult.
About the Author
He was born as Edgar Poe in Boston, Massachusetts; he was originally orphaned young when his mother died shortly after his father abandoned the family. Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia, but they never formally adopted him. He attended the University of Virginia for one semester but left due to lack of money. After an original enlisting in the Army and later failing as an officer's cadet at West Point, Poe parted ways with the Allans. His publishing career began humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to "a Bostonian".
Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move among several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. In Baltimore in 1835, he married Virginia Clemm, his 13-year-old cousin. In January 1845 Poe published his poem, "The Raven", to instant success. His wife died of tuberculosis two years after its publication. He began planning to produce his own journal, The Penn (later renamed The Stylus), though he died before it could be produced. On October 7, 1849, at age 40, Poe died in Baltimore; the cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.
Poe and his original works influenced literature in the United States and around the world, as well as in specialized fields, such as cosmology and cryptography. Poe and his work appear throughout popular culture in original literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today.
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