‘Metzengerstein’ (1832), ‘The Visionary’ (1834), ‘Berenice’ (1835), the Imagination, and Authorship‘s Perils
The fusion of Gothic and Eastern details, which one encounters in these stories, is obviously not original to Poe. William Beckford‘s Vathek, Charlotte Dacres Zofloya, and Byrons Eastern tales contain similar blends, but in ‘Metzengerstein’, ‘The Visionary’, and ‘Berenice’ Oriental and Gothic devices, especially the former, serve unique purposes. With these motifs, Poe continues his investigation of authorship, a theme animating his Poems (1831), in which Oriental devices also appear,with surprising frequency. Published shortly before Poe wrote ‘Metzengerstein’ this volume showcases verse dealing with the craft of writing and the nature of inspiration, and in several poems from this collection, ‘East’ and ‘West’ operate as metaphorical shorthand, with ‘East representing poetic genius and ‘West’ suggesting unimaginativeness. Middle-Eastern devices serve related purposes in #8216;Metzengerstein’, ‘The Visionary’, and ‘Berenice’, stories sharing thematic correspondences with the poems that preceded them. In particular, these tales evince Poe‘s anxieties about authorship, its demands, and its pitfalls. Throughout the narratives, Oriental machinery constitutes a network of symbols, collapsing complex ideas into compact metaphors, and with these devices, Poe imaginatively investigates the life of writing in nineteenth-century America, where professional writers struggled to satisfy a mass audience while following their own aesthetic inclinations. Such experiences no doubt proved ‘Gothic’ for these authors working in a society transformed by industrialization, a space where commercial trends impinged on creativity and threatened artistic freedom. Gothic fiction offered a proper vehicle for Poe‘s own anguished response to the challenges he and others faced while negotiating their conflicting roles as artists and professionals. For Poe, preserving the sanctity of the imagination, figuratively associated with the Middle East, was paramount, and ‘Metzengerstein’, ‘The Visionary’, and ‘Berenice’, all of which employ Gothic and Oriental devices, dramatize artistic failure, the betrayal of genius resulting in imaginative decay or death.