Oct 21, 2015

The Homoerotic Horror of Edgar Allan Poe

When I was a kid in the 1970s, Chuck Acri's Creature Feature broadcast a lot of very loose adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories: The House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death, The Tomb of Ligeia.  They were all terribly cheesy.

I loved them.



And the original short stories, which I first encountered in a Scholastic Book Club edition of Ten Great Mysteries by Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Groff Conklin, with a drawing of a naked man (by Irv Doktor) illustrating "Metzengerstein."

It's about a man killed by a ghost horse. The nudity was completely unnecessary, but certainly welcome.

Even without the nudity, the stories were amazingly homoerotic, male narrators visiting male friends to hear their tales of murder and madness, with few or no women around, except for a few husbands who hate their wives.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838).  Pym and his boyfriend Augustus stow away about a whaling ship and have adventures.  After Augustus dies, Pym hooks up with Richard Parker.  The two have more adventures.

"The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839).  Roderick Usher and his sister are killed by the evil house.  His sister, not his wife!

 "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841). The narrator and his buddy solve a murder.

 "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1842). The narrator is tortured by the pit and the pendulum, but rescued by the strong arm of a French soldier.

(Left: New ABC series with Edgar Allan Poe as a paranormal investigator.)

"The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843).   The narrator (played on film by Stephen Brockway) "loves the old man," but kills him anyway.

"The Gold-Bug." (1843). The narrator, his buddy, and their servant search for buried treasure.


"The Cask of Amontillado" (1846)  Montresor gets revenge on Fortunato by walling him up.  But why is he so upset?

No wonder he was not mentioned in my class in American Renaissance Literature at Augustana, though he lived at the same time as Melville, Hawthorne, and Emerson.


But why was so much of Poe's poetry -- "Annabel Lane," "To Helen," "Lenore," "The Raven" -- about men mourning dead girlfriends?  (Left, Jeremy Renner in The Raven).

Maybe because if the women are dead, the men don't have to worry about any of that icky hetero-romance. 

Poe certainly spent a lot of time courting women through his life, but usually they were sickly or dying, like his 13-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, whom he married in 1836, when he was 27.

Maybe he found some solace in glimmers of same-sex desire.

See also: The Gay American Renaissance.