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Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive (The Rise of Mass Media & Rules for a Short Story)

9 minutes

(Describer) A roller spreads ink on the plate of a printer. Someone pushes a lever. The printer is opened. Someone flips through pages.

(male narrator) In the early 1830s, America entered a new age of mass media. Growing cities and rising literacy rates created a vast new market of readers.

(Describer) Chuck Caruso:

(male #1) There's a huge literary movement going on, the golden age of periodicals. You have journals and magazines cropping up all over. Sort of like the blogosphere is now, right?

(narrator) Though still a poet at heart, Edgar realizes the reading public wants a different kind of writing: the short story. At age 24, he wins a local fiction contest with a strange tale of disaster at sea. Along with the $50 prize come enthusiastic reviews and a job offer.

(Describer) An article includes the phrase "The author has a genius." The image fades into an illustration of a city. Title: Richmond, 1835.

(narrator) Poe leaves his newfound family-- Maria and young cousin, Virginia-- and moves back to Richmond, the city where he had been disowned.

(Describer) A coach stands by a building.

He will be the editor of "The Southern Literary Messenger," a struggling new publication devoted to elevating the literature of the South.

(Chuck Caruso) Thomas W. White, the owner and publisher, was someone who frankly understood his limits in the magazine world and turned a lot of work over to Poe.

(Describer) In a dramatization, Poe looks through windows into an office.

(Paul Collins) He'd been thinking of himself as a writer ever since he was a child,

(Describer) Paul Collins:

but now he's also thinking about himself as a professional who works with words.

(Describer) Caruso:

(Chuck Caruso) This is the first chance he has to get his foot in the door as an editor, as a magazinist, as an American tastemaker.

(narrator) Poe's many responsibilities will include writing book reviews, and he vows to be a serious literary critic.

(Describer) He reads a book.

He believed it was time his young nation produced work every bit as sophisticated as British literature.

(Describer) He writes. Jill Lepore:

(female #1) A lot of American critics in the early 19th century have the idea that in order to invent an American literature we can't afford to denigrate any American writer. They called it puffing.

(Describer) James Hutchisson:

You know, to sort of mindlessly praise anything written by an American. Poe's way of elevating American literature was by not cutting writers any slack.

(Describer) ...Collins.

(Poe) We see no reason why Colonel Crockett shouldn't be permitted to expose himself if he pleases and to be as much laughed at

(Describer) Poe reads.

as he thinks proper.

(male #3) Poe earned the reputation and the nickname the Tomahawk Man.

(Describer) Paul Lewis:

He was antagonistic, he was hyper critical. Work is especially censorable for the frequent vulgarity of his language.

(Paul Lewis) The criticisms he made were well deserved. He was being a responsible reviewer and most of the people he reviewed are deservedly forgotten today. It is a mere jumble of absurdities. I think he did that because he found, "That sets me apart." People always love dirt.

(Describer) ...Lynn Cullen.

I cannot bring myself to feel any goadings of conscience for undue severity. I intend to put up with nothing that I can put down.

(Describer) Poe shuts a book and drops it. Hutchisson:

(James Hutchisson) Poe was writing a kind of literary criticism that didn't exist in America at the time. He would do a line by line, word by word dissection of the text.

(Describer) Setting down a cup on a saucer, Poe picks up a pen and writes while he holds a book.

(Describer) At another time, he paces around an office.

(narrator) Poe developed rules about how to construct a powerful short story. First, the artist must decide of all the innumerable effects or impressions, what one shall I select?

(Chuck Caruso) He sees the author or the poet

(Describer) Caruso:

as being a craftsman who really has to weed away anything that doesn't go towards that single effect. If the very initial sentence does not bring out this effect then he has failed in his first step.

(Chuck Caruso) He has so many famous first lines that immediately pull you into the setting and the character.

(male #4) "The Cask of Amontillado." "The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne "as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge."

(male #5) "The Pit and the Pendulum." "I was sick-sick unto death with that long agony; "and when at length they unbound me "and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me."

(male #4) "The Black Cat." "For the most wild, yet most homely narrative "which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief."

(Describer) Someone walks on cobblestones at night. A photograph shows city buildings. Lewis:

(Paul Lewis) Poe is responding to a new American urban culture which is very aware of crime. There was a lot of poverty. There was class rivalry and competition. There was urban violence.

(Describer) In a sketch, a man holds gin.

(female #2) It was a time of great uncertainty for Americans.

(Describer) Megan Marshall:

There were great financial panics. There were poor on the streets. There were immigrants. What was going to happen to this country? Nobody knew.

(narrator) Anxious and unsettled, the reading public welcomed reassurance.

(Describer) Zach Dundas:

There was a great popular appetite for stories in which problems or complexities were resolved. Characters would, through some sort of happenstance or feat, figure out their problems, resolve their dilemmas, justice would be done.

(Describer) A photograph shows street traffic.

(narrator) Ever aware of the public's tastes, Poe recognized an appetite for a new kind of fiction.

(Describer) The Murders In the Rue Morgue.

(male #6) What Poe did is he took that desire for rationality and order imposed upon chaos and created a form that could satisfy that in a modern way, in a way that was plausible to readers.

(narrator) With just three short tales, Poe invented a new genre of literature: the detective story, with a new breed of hero.

(male #4) "Residing in Paris "during the spring and part of the summer, "I there contracted and intimacy with a Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin."

(Describer) Dundas:

In C. Auguste Dupin, Poe invents the detective we've been living with ever since. "'The police are confounded by the seeming "absence of motive,' said Dupin. "In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive "or have arrived at the solution of this mystery "is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police.'"

(Describer) Collins:

(Paul Collins) That really eccentric, brilliant central figure and the sidekick who is a stand-in for the reader. "I stared at the speaker in mute astonishment." A confrontation of the suspect and false leads. All the things we think of as classic aspects of a detective story all come together at once in that first detective story of Poe's.

(Describer) A body lies by an open coin box.

(female #3) If you've never read the Dupin stories but you've read Holmes, then you know the character because Holmes is a rip-off of Dupin and so is everybody else. So is Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot, and House on television. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

(narrator) Poe is finally making a name for himself, but he is not making money. At the time, U.S. law provided no copyright protection.

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In this segment, students learn about the rise of mass media and the popularity of the short story. Poe wrote more than seventy short stories and created his own set of rules for the genre. He is also credited as one of the first literary critics of American literature and the creator of detective fiction. Part of the "Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive" series. Please Note: This resource contains material that may be sensitive for some students. Teachers should exercise discretion in evaluating whether this resource is suitable for their class.

Media Details

Runtime: 9 minutes

Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Episode 1
3 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Episode 3
9 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Episode 4
6 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12
Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
Episode 5
3 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12