The ‘most’ poetic topic
in Over her dead body
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Edgar Allan Poe's famous proposition, 'the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world', has made his essay 'The Philosophy of Composition' an infamous text. This chapter discusses his poetics in-depth and questions the presuppositions underlying his claim of conjunction of femininity, death and aesthetics. The questions point to a strange and trenchant contradiction, which is further enhanced by the popularity of an aesthetic coupling of Woman and death. The fashioning of beauty is intimately connected not only with the protection that fantasies of gender afford, but also with the apotropaic power ascribed to the imaginary faculty in the face of death. Poe's choice of the superlative indicates that the literary depiction of feminine death is not limited to the thematic dimension of a representation. Rather it includes a reference to a text's poetic effectiveness, as this is contingent on self-referentiality.

Over her dead body

Death, femininity and the aesthetic

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