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Kevin Hayes

The narrator of ‘The Man of the Crowd’ offers a critical means of analysing the entire text by asserting that, had Retzsch beheld the old man, he would have preferred its ‘incarnation of the fiend’ to his own. Exploring Retzschs contemporary reputation highlights his provision of Percy Shelley, amongst others, with poetic inspiration. His works offered authors a kind of translation from written to visual imagery, and developed a reputation of fashionable sophistication. The reference within ‘The Man of the Crowd’ thus locates the narrator in relation to contemporary bourgeois culture. Poe‘s awareness of Retzschs Outlines far preceded ‘The Man of the Crowd’; he contributed to critical discussion of the artist by contesting the view that ‘the chief merit of a picture is its truth’. Delighting in Retzschs omission of colour, Poe discovered in the Outlines a minimalist model for his own writing style. Developing this into the sharp contrasts between light and darkness apparent in the crowd, he achieved a pictorial quality much commented on by Poe enthusiasts, and developed an aesthetic theory combining vivid symbolism with stark detail. A. W. Schlegel observed similar, predecessor techniques in the work of John Flaxman. In a world enthused with phrenology, Retzschs influence on Poe is explored in the schisms between external and internal characteristics. Subtly undermining the theory that a figures outline gives a genuine impression of what is within, Poe finally alights on the thimblerigger as the pinnacle of the theme. The shells structure the process by which observers and readers utilise what they see in order to imagine what is hidden.

Gothic Studies