The creepy Nathaniel Hawthorne story Edgar Allan Poe loved
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Nathaniel Hawthorne is best remembered today for his moralistic novel ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ In his day, however, he was a well-known writer and essayist whose new work was lauded with a feverish attention. It was that hubbub that led a skeptical Edgar Allan Poe to write, ‘We had supposed, with good reason for supposing, that he had been thrust into his present position by one of the impudent cliques which beset our literature.’ Poe added, with an element of surprise, ‘we have been most agreeably mistaken.’
That tale is told today by the Library of America, which as you might guess republishes classic works by American authors, from Herman Melville to Philip K. Dick. The work in question is Hawthorne’s ‘Twice-Told Tales,’ a collection of short stories, which Poe reviewed five years after its publication in 1837. (Contemporary book reviewers will envy the generous deadline.) Poe singled out one story, ‘Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,’ as being ‘exceedingly well imagined and executed with surpassing ability. The artist breathes in every line of it.’
Though contemporary readers might think the story has something to do with the famed German philosopher, it was written more than 50 years before he was born. Instead, it is an unsettling story of magic and manipulation, just the kind of thing that might put a smile on Edgar Allan Poe’s grim face.
As we’ve mentioned before on Jacket Copy, every week the Library of America posts a free PDF on its site from its collection, usually a short story but sometimes an excerpt or nonfiction. It’s called the Story of the Week, and anyone can sign up to receive notice of the latest. The Story of the Week blog also provides context, dropping in tidbits like Edgar Allan Poe’s review.
The Library of America’s Story of the Week is ‘Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
-- Carolyn Kellogg