What qualities did 'the ideal reader' have for Edgar Allan Poe?
Illustrations of possible interpretations of 'the ideal' reader are offered with reference to 'The Raven', The Murders in the Rue Morgue', 'The Gold Bug', 'Ligeia', 'The Tell-Tale Heart', 'The Premature Burial' and 'The Cask of Amontillado'.
In his approach to writing, Poe chose a rather pompous mode of introduction to his fiction by dictating to the audience the way in which he wished his work to be interpreted. This is, however, a very important stipulation for an author like Poe who needed his intent known and understood before any further examination was done.
For Poe the ideal reader was himself; or at least someone who understood his motives for writing exactly as he did. In his essay 'The Philosophy of Composition', Poe sets out to show the reader the steps he took to write the poem, 'The Raven'. I treat this piece of writing as his other works - that is, as fiction. Not simply because it seems ludicrous that anyone should want to be able to devise a system of creating poetry by a series of mathematical stages, but because he treats the reader in exactly the same way he treats them in his tales; by leading them through so that the only conclusions that are reached are those which Poe wishes to be discovered.
This idea is particularly evident in Poe's detective fiction. In 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', we are presented with an horrific scenario of the brutally murdered mother and daughter, and the testimonies of those who heard the offence taking place. Poe's character Dupin is heralded a genius for solving this most unusual crime, and yet the audience feels cheated as we had no possibility of determining similar deductions because of the structure of the story. The unusual fingerprints around the girl's neck, which Dupin discovered could not come from any man, were not revealed to the audience to be extraordinary. The reader is simply told that the neck was bruised with ' a series of livid spots which were evidently the impression of fingers'. The problem with these details is that by not allowing the audience the suggestion that there may have been something unusual about the marks, the audience is denied the privilege of being a detective alongside Dupin. This results in Dupin's credibility being reduced to that of a pawn in the game Poe is playing by constructing a scenario and neatly tying up the loose ends.
D. H. Lawrence suggests that Poe is distanced from the artistic notion of writing, and has reduced the procedure to a scientific art. He comments that Poe-
'is reducing his own self as a scientist reduces salt in a crucible. It is almost a chemical analysis of the soul and the consciousness, whereas in the true art there is always the ...
Poe had a clear view of how he wished the reader to access and follow his writing. Poe favoured the explicable unity of form and a singularity of interpretation. This theory is explored through several of his short stories: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', 'The Gold-Bug', 'The Tell-Tale Heart','Ligeia', 'The Premature Burial' and 'The Cask of Amontillado'. The solution also makes reference to the Peo poem, 'The Raven'.
The solution is 36 paragraphs of text, 1665 words in total.