Literary daybook, Oct. 9

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.


the Salon Books Editors
October 9, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Today in fiction

On Oct. 9, Fanny Robin dies.
-- "Far from the Madding Crowd" (1874)
by Thomas Hardy

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to fictiondays@yahoo.com.

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1849, the New York Daily Tribune published Edgar Allan Poe's last poem, "Annabel Lee." Poe had died two days earlier, from mysterious causes and in odd circumstances, even for him -- theories include political thugs, rabies, a brain lesion or, the most likely, a final binge either chosen or forced upon him (by brothers of his newly betrothed, who viewed Poe's interest in their sister as opportunism). "Annabel Lee" was written the previous May; ever destitute and never without flair, Poe grandly gave a copy to a friend the day before his disappearance, passing it off as a recently penned "little trifle that may be worth something to you," though he had already sold it to four or five magazines. He had also sent a copy to Rufus Griswold, a personal enemy but also the editor of the popular anthology "The Poets and Poetry of America." After Poe's death Griswold became his agent-editor-biographer, though a hostile and unreliable one: He said Poe deserved to die "without money and without friends"; as a critic he was "little better than a carping grammarian"; he "walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses"; he wrote of "worlds no mortal can see" and spoke "in forms of gloomiest and ghostliest grandeur"; he had "no moral susceptibility, and ... little or nothing of the true point of honor." It was Griswold, in his rambling and ranting obituary notice, who first published "Annabel Lee" in the Tribune:

It was many and many a year ago,
       In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
       By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
       Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
       In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
       I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
       Coveted her and me.

The poem is generally thought to reflect Poe's relationship with his child-bride/cousin/"sister" Virginia, who had died two years earlier, although many other women, some encouraged by Poe, claimed inspiration. A century later, Vladimir Nabokov would borrow "Kingdom by the Sea" for his early-draft title of "Lolita" -- perhaps raising the issue of Poe's sexuality, for which there are as many theories as for his death.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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