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William Wilson (1839) Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) American Romantic poet, short story writer, and critic famous for portraying states.

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Presentation on theme: "William Wilson (1839) Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) American Romantic poet, short story writer, and critic famous for portraying states."— Presentation transcript:

1 William Wilson (1839) Edgar Allan Poe

2 Edgar Allan Poe ( ) American Romantic poet, short story writer, and critic famous for portraying states of horror and perversity. Inventor of the detective story. Born in Boston to professional actors; his father deserted the family in 1810, mother died in 1811 Adopted by John Allan, a Richmond, VA, merchant; attended schools in England; U of Virginia (dropped out); West Point (dropped out) Published 3 vols. of poetry by 1831 Secretly married his cousin Virginia Clemm when she was 13, in 1835; she died in s-40s: worked as editor and newspaper man in Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York

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4 Edgar Allan Poe ( ) Fiction: the short novel Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1837) and stories like “Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (first detective story) Poetry: “The Raven” (1845) made Poe a famous poet—opened doors for him in New York Criticism: Poe aspired to be an influential critic: he believed both poems and stories should achieve a unity of effect and should be sufficiently short to be read in one sitting Poe had a drinking problem for much of his adult life; in 1849, he was found passed out in Baltimore and died several days later

5 Doubles “William Wilson” is the classic tale of doubles in American Literature Double: a mysterious, haunting look-alike, often appearing in literature & folklore Doppelgänger (German): a ghostly look-alike who bodes ill-fortune or death Freud’s “uncanny”: the strange thing/person that is also familiar, suggesting a connection that is repressed or historically remote

6 Doubles In this course, a “double” will comprise not only a physical look-alike, but a person who resembles another in more covert or subtle ways In popular culture, a double is often an evil twin, but here the double is more ambiguous, presenting a moral challenge to the protagonist  In “William Wilson,” the double is morally superior

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8 Narrator’s Childhood Family of “imaginative and easily excitable temperament” (4; numbers refer to ¶ numbers) Parents “[w]eak-minded,” no authority: narrator is “master of my own actions” (4)

9 Setting 1: Bransby’s School Narrator associates the school (where he spent 5 yrs, ages 10-15) with his later destiny; he remembers it in detail; it is in England, where Poe also attended school Architecture: “irregular,” with “capacious recesses,” “windings,” “incomprehensible sub-divisions” (10): in short, the building is a labyrinth, a maze

10 Bransby’s School Principal Dr. Bransby is also a pastor: narrator sees him as hypocrite, playing contradictory roles: “benign” pastor but “Draconian” principal: corporeal punishment School is authoritarian, but narrator himself practices “despotism of a master mind in boyhood over the less energetic spirits of his companions” (14)

11 William Wilson William Wilson is the one exception to the narrator’s supremacy (for clarity, I will refer to the narrator as narrator, and his double as William Wilson, though they both share this name) The same: given name, surname, date of entering St. Bransby’s, date of birth (Jan. 19, 1813 [Poe also born Jan. 19, 1809, but claimed 1813]), physical stature  Narrator hates the name “William Wilson” because it is common (see 14, 19)

12 Wilson  Narrator Competes in studies, sports—refuses to accept narrator’s “arbitrary dictation” (14) Injuries, insults, with “affectionateness” of manner (15); but also gives advice (23) Imitates the narrator in words, actions, gait, manner, and voice, but in a whisper (due to his weakness of voice), “the very echo of my own” (21)  No one seems to notice this imitation but the narrator himself

13 Narrator  Wilson “I secretly felt that I feared him”—feels Wilson’s “true superiority” because “not to be overcome cost me a perpetual struggle” (15)  No one seems to notice this superiority but the narrator Anxiety but not hatred toward Wilson: rather: animosity, esteem, respect, fear and “uneasy curiosity” (17)

14 Narrator  Wilson “speaking terms” “the most inseparable of companions” (17)

15 Crisis 1 Last conversation at Bransby’s: an altercation reveals in Wilson “dim visions of my earliest infancy,” as if they “had been acquainted at some epoch very long ago” (25) Then, narrator regards Wilson’s face while sleeping and sees “lineaments” that shock him—presumably his own image; quits Bransby’s

16 Setting 2: Eton College Age 15-18: here, narrator falls into “vortex of thoughtless folly” Indulges in cards and drinking; lifestyle adds “to my bodily stature” (he gets fat)

17 Eton College

18 Crisis 2 Wilson appears at one of narrator’s secret parties; whispers “William Wilson” in his ear and points his finger at narrator in admonition (30-31)  Wilson is wearing the same “white cassimere morning frock” as narrator (30)

19 Setting 3: Oxford University Age 18-20: now is utterly fallen from the gentlemanly estate—a gambler who profits from “the weak-minded among my fellow collegians” (34)  Remember that he called his parents “Weak- minded” (4)

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21 Crisis 3 Narrator attempts to cheat Lord Glendinning at ecarte (card game) in chambers of fellow commoner Mr. Preston Narrator beats Glendinning and effects “his total ruin” (36) William Wilson enters and exposes narrator as a cheater—reveals his hidden tricks  Wilson is carrying the same style fur cloak

22 Setting 4: Europe Narrator fleas to Europe to escape his humiliation at Oxford: Paris, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Moscow, Naples, Egypt (43-45) Wilson trails him, continually interfering with his mischief: narrator asks himself, Who is Wilson? Wilson is always dressed the same as the narrator, but he never shows his face

23 Crisis 4 Narrator resolves, “I would submit no longer to be enslaved” (47)  Note political language: Wilson represents “arbitrary will” (46) denying his “natural rights of self-agency” (44) Narrator confronts Wilson at masquerade party in Rome, where he is pursuing the wife of an old duke  Wilson wears the same cloak and mask

24 Crisis 4 Narrator demands a duel; Wilson reluctantly draws his sword Narrator stabs Wilson with “the energy and power of a multitude” (51)—like revolution When he looks again, narrator sees in Wilson his own face, but dying (52)  Wilson: “You have conquered, and I yield. Yet henceforward art thou also dead—dead to the World, to Heaven and to Hope!” (55)

25 Who is Wilson? Clues: Narrator wonders at outset if he has been “living in a dream” (3)—inviting psychological interpretation Bransby’s, where Wilson first appears, is described as being in a “dream-like” town (5)— also psychological Bransby’s architecture, like Poe’s House of Usher, could be a symbol of the narrator’s mind—a maze, with Wilson in a remote corner

26 Who is Wilson? Clues: Wilson whispers advice and admonition to the narrator; narrator respects Wilson, but often doesn’t heed advice No one except narrator notices Wilson’s imitation and superiority Narrator associates Wilson with the remote past Epigraph: What say of it? what say (of) CONSCIENCE grim, / That spectre in my path? –Chamberlayne’s Pharronida (1)

27 Who is Wilson? Thus  Wilson is, on one level, the narrator’s conscience  the moral authority he never respected as a child, but which he, on one level, constructs in his own mind as a rival to himself  the moral authority he wants to overthrow as “arbitrary will,” but which he respects nonetheless  Politically, too, narrator is divided against himself: he hates his name for being common, and lives like an aristocrat; however, he doesn’t respect aristocrats; finally, he imagines his revolt against Wilson as a populist revolution of “natural rights” against “arbitrary will”


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