Since my last post, I passed my comprehensive exams and wrote up, revised, wrote again, revised, and rewrote my proposal (and taught some classes). So, it’s back to blogging for me. To get a kick start back into the game, I visited the Philadelphia Poe Museum with my sister. I’m going to be doing a chapter of my dissertation Poe, so I though I ought to visit his old stomping grounds, which happen to be very close to my own neighborhood.
Though Poe lived in Philadelphia for about 5 years, he probably only lived in this particular house for a year or so.
The majority of the house isn’t very interesting—it looks like the inside of any other empty, broken-down row home—peeling paint, bare floors and walls, empty closets (sometimes with a single pamphlet on Poe on a shelf). The only indication that this is a “museum” is that the empty walls are occasionally interrupted by a flat mural print of a window scene or Poe working at his desk.
There are also a few placards around the rooms guessing which rooms belonged to Poe’s young sickly wife Virginia, and “Muddy” Virginia’s mother who lived with them.
The house’s one possibly interesting feature is the basement, which looks suspiciously like the cellar in “The Black Cat,” a conjecture that was pointed out to us by one of the museum’s best features—the very knowledgeable and friendly docent. I had the impression that she was a rarity, however, as the docent who took over when she left just sat back and sleepily read on his computer.
Besides the house, the downstairs floor is actually made up of the house next door, which has a few displays, a gift shop, and a timeline of Poe’s life. But, vastly better than all of these, is the Poe reading room tucked in the back. It was made up to the specs Poe leaves in his “Philosophy of Furniture,” an essay he wrote on interior decoration and aesthetics—replete with an 8-sided table, crimson-dyed windows, and a creepy portrait of a doe-eyed woman. Though I had the sense that this room may have been influenced by Poe’s horror stories as well as his essay, which takes something away from the purity of the goal, and the room could do with some more/better volumes to do some justice to Poe’s description of “two or three hundred magnificently-bound books,” a visit to this room was by far a better treat than the house.
It was strange, and film-like to see a fantasy (because Poe’s essay does not necessarily reflect what he was able to achieve in his own house—he was rather poor at the time) come to life, and to be able to sit in the reading room and appreciate its effect was haunting. It could have very well devolved into cheese—a raven popping out of a mantelpiece or similar silliness—but the one credit I have to give to this museum is an effort to authenticity.
By and large, they go too far with this goal of authenticity—where they do not have original furniture in the main house, they simply have none—but for a guy who was very concerned with authenticity in writing, accusing his peers of “palpable plagiarisms” and “manufactured” fame, I suppose they could do worse.