The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, is commemorating the 2009 bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe, American poet, critic and inventor of the detective story, with the exhibition “From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe.”
This project draws upon the extensive holdings of the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the Harrison Institute/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia, with additional materials from the Free Library of Philadelphia and other museums.
The exhibition opens at the Harrison Institute/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia on March 7, 2009, and runs through Aug. 1. The exhibition is on display at the Ransom Center Sept. 8, 2009, through Jan. 4, 2010.
“From Out That Shadow” features manuscripts, books, art and personal effects, many of them displayed for the first time, documenting Poe’s career as a writer, his romantic relationships and mysterious death, the decline and rehabilitation of his literary reputation and his profound influence on mystery and detective fiction and other genres.
“Poe is one of the most widely read American writers of the 19th century,” said Richard Oram, co-curator of the exhibition and associate director and the Hobby Foundation Librarian at the Ransom Center. “His appeal is unique and seemingly indestructible, extending from young readers who enjoy being terrified by the gloomy, macabre tales of mystery and imagination, such as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ to literary critics who appreciate his pioneering analysis in ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ of how poetry creates its effect on the reader.”
Poe’s dark tales and poems are rooted in his difficult life. The child of stage actors, Poe was orphaned at an early age. He briefly attended the University of Virginia and West Point before achieving his first successes as a poet and writer of short stories.
For the rest of his life, Poe made his living as a writer and editor but was constantly in debt and plagued by personal tragedy and literary scandal. His wanderings took him from one city on the East Coast to another, until he died in Baltimore at the age of 40.
Poe’s poems, including “The Raven” and “The Bells,” are among the most memorable in the language, and his stories, among them “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” continue to frighten and amaze.
“Visitors will be struck by the range of material in the show, especially the number of manuscripts in Poe’s meticulous hand,” said Molly Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature at the Ransom Center. “Poe himself was fascinated by documents, letters, codes and the idea of discovery. In putting together this show, I think we’ve all felt a thrill as we’ve come across unexpected treasures, such as Poe’s copy of ‘Aesop’s Fables’ and frantic love letters.”
Exhibition highlights include Poe’s writing desk, letters by and about the author, records of his student days at the University of Virginia, a brooch containing his hair, manuscripts of landmark works such as “The Raven” and the original art for Arthur Rackham’s illustrated edition of “Tales of Mystery and Imagination.” The exhibition will also contain an interactive digital facsimile of the scroll manuscript of the “Domain of Arnheim.”
“‘From Out that Shadow’ is unusual in taking a topical and contextual approach to Poe’s life and work,” said Oram. “Its scope extends outside his lifetime to include his considerable and often overlooked importance to authors as different as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes owes much to Poe’s brainy detective Dupin, the symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire, who kept Poe’s reputation alive in France while he was still scorned in America; and even Tennessee Williams.”
The exhibition is organized into 12 sections: “The Early Years,” which covers Poe’s family and his student days at the University of Virginia; “Working Writer,” about Poe’s daily activities earning money and engaging with other writers; “Poe in Love,” which documents the many women in Poe’s life; “Death and Infamy,” devoted to the circumstances of Poe’s death and the immediate downturn of his reputation; “Poe the Poet”; “The Raven,” which is dedicated to the most famous of Poe’s poems; “Poe the Critic”; “Detection,” which surveys Poe’s stories and his influence upon later writers of mysteries; “Poe and Science,” which explores Poe’s engagement in topics ranging from shells to astronomy; “The Haunted Mind,” which uses portraits and illustrations to investigate the psychological aspects of Poe’s work and Poe the man; and “Poe in France” and “Perspectives on Poe,” which look at the important influence of Poe upon later writers.
“One of the most important reasons to mount an exhibition about Edgar Allan Poe is that he continues to be read in our public schools today, and we look forward to sharing this exhibition with young audiences who will experience these original artifacts even as they are discovering Poe’s writings for the first time,” said Schwartzburg.
High-resolution press images from the exhibition are available.
The Ransom Center Galleries are open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays.