Today is the birthday of two of America’s greatest writers of mystery and suspense: Edgar Allan Poe and Patricia Highsmith.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was known not only for his menacing horror stories, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” but also for the creation of one of the first literary detectives, C. Auguste Dupin. Poe also wrote one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and many famous poems such as “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Raven.”
D.H. Lawrence wrote dramatically of Poe in Studies in Classic American Literature: “He was an adventurer into vaults and cellars and horrible underground passages of the human soul. He sounded the horror and the warning of his own doom.” Poe’s own life reflected the melancholy and mystery of his work: even the exact cause of his death (at age 40) is disputed.
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) also led an intriguing life, discussed in biographies by Andrew Wilson and Joan Schenkar, and revolutionized crime fiction in her own way. Often featuring protagonists who are ordinary men drawn into crime by chance and other circumstances beyond their control, Highsmith’s novels include Strangers on a Train, Deep Water, This Sweet Sickness and The Cry of the Owl, as well as the famous Tom Ripley series (adapted into films by René Clément, Wim Wenders, and Anthony Minghella).
The Library has many works of criticism and interpretation dealing with Edgar Allan Poe, and you can consult reliable online texts of Poe’s work through Early American Fiction 1789-1850. We also own many of Highsmith’s fictional works, and her book on Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction.
Other resources dealing with these authors:
- The Edgar Allan Poe Museum
- The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
- Resources on Poe’s work from The Literary Gothic
- Michael Dirda’s article on the Ripley series from the New York Review of Books
- James Sallis (author of Drive) reviews Highsmith’s Selected Stories
- A guide to Highsmith’s papers held at the Swiss Literary Archives