Scholar Speaks of Poe Work

November 24, 2009

Professor Emeritus Barton Levi St. Armand of Brown University spoke at 5 p.m. on Friday, November 20, 2009 in Eaton Lounge, Bresee Hall. His lecture was titled "An American Book of the Dead: Poe's 'The Domain of Arnheim' as Posthumous Narrative."

Professor of English David Cody introduced St. Armand as "the author of the first serious scholarly book on H.P. Lovecraft" as well as a co-author of The Dickinsons of Amherst.

"There are few areas of 19th century American culture that Professor St. Armand has not touched on, including gothic, the occult, and spiritualism," Cody said.

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Domain of Arnheim" was published in 1847. The work describes protagonist Ellison's search for a perfect landscape. St. Armand discussed Ellison's principles for bliss and the use of landscape in relation to Poe's other works.

"Poe's deceased protagonist Ellison creates a personal and materialistic paradise," St. Armand said. "Ellison's Americanness prompts him to use his inheritance in a practical way. Just as Poe argued for the creation of one perfect literary effect in 'The Philosophy of Composition,' so does Ellison argue for one spiritual effect."

St. Armand also discussed Poe's intentions in relation to other American writers.

"Poe's abiding sense of aristocracy is distinct from other writers. He also suggests the idea of predestination, which is wholly different from Emerson and Whitman."

"Poe presents a posthumous journey through death," St. Armand explained. "According to Poe, the way to triumph over death…is to bring the Earth into a state of aesthetic perfection. The ending of the story is both apocalyptical and millennial."

St. Armand taught in France and Japan and was a recipient of the Umhoefer Prize for Achievement in the Humanities. St Armand's books include Emily Dickinson and Her Culture: The Soul's Society and The Roots of Horror in the Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft as well as numerous articles and four volumes of poetry: Skeleton Leaves, Hypogeum, Black Almanac, and American Haiku.

"What brings me the most personal satisfaction is drawing attention to neglected works," St. Armand said. His research interests include British and American environmental literature, the "Green tradition" in American thought, the relationship between American painting and literature, and American artists at home and abroad.

This lecture was part of the NEH Lecture Series in the Humanities. It also was delivered to members of the Edgar Allan Poe Society at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan.

By Alicia Walstad '10

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