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The Pit and the Pendulum: Edgar Allan Poe and the Short Story

Bound in glorious purple, this new edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales from Oxford World’s Classics reprints some neglected Poe tales among the usual classics

Edgar Allan Poe has a claim to being the originator of the modern short story. Not only has the earliest use of that very term, ‘short story’, been attributed to him, but he stands at the beginning of a long tradition of short fiction which would only take off in British publishing in the closing decades of the nineteenth century and which was only just beginning in America in the 1840s, when Poe put his mark on it. Among the other pioneers of the short story at this time, only Nathaniel Hawthorne comes close to Poe’s achievement.

And what an achievement. With only a modicum of distress I could resign myself to a world without Poe’s poetry, even the much-quoted ‘The Raven’, and he famously never left behind a novel. But his short stories were where he not merely excelled but showed the form itself how it could excel. Read the rest of this entry

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Stephen King’s Real First Novel: The Long Walk

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews The Long Walk, the first novel Stephen King wrote

It’s well-known that Carrie was Stephen King’s first novel. Published in 1974, it tapped into an international appetite for tales of demonic possession: it was just one year since The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s terrifying adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, had been a smash hit in cinemas. King sold the paperback rights for Carrie for $400,000 and, more or less overnight, went from writer on the breadline to hot property. And according to King himself, it was all down to his wife, Tabitha, who retrieved the early drafts for the novel from the bin and urged King to continue with the novel.

But Carrie, although it was King’s first published novel, wasn’t the first one he wrote. Stephen King actually completed his first novel back in the mid-1960s, when he was still a teenager. Read the rest of this entry

The Intellectuals and the Masses: Modernism against the Crowd

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits a classic study of modernist culture and snobbishness

John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 was published in 1992, over a quarter of a century ago now. The book explores how writers of the early twentieth century – intellectuals as such H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Wyndham Lewis, E. M. Forster, and others – conceived of, and wrote about, the majority of their fellow human beings (the ‘great unwashed’ to use Bulwer-Lytton’s phrase), in disparaging and often jaw-droppingly unsympathetic terms. Carey’s book also shows how this idea of ‘the masses’ was useful to the intellectuals, such as the modernists, in providing them with a mainstream populism which they could then set themselves up in opposition to.

John Carey is one of the greatest living critics. His The Violent Effigy: A Study of Dickens’ Imagination is one of the few works of criticism on Dickens’s work which not only manages to enter into full imaginative sympathy with its subject but also succeed in actually being rather funny. I read it twice while I was studying for my MA. But The Intellectuals and the Masses is probably Carey’s best-known book, and deserving of a reappraisal now, especially given the widening gulf between the governing classes and the rest of the population, the richer and poorer, the elite and everyone else. Among the many insights Carey’s book provides, there is his fascinating Read the rest of this entry