Not that Miss Lemon intends any unkindness toward Mr. Ackroyd, whose tale The Lambs of London, for instance, held her in utter thrall. It's just that she couldn't fight the feeling of disappointment that trailed her like a ball of lead as she slogged through the pages of this lithe and airy looking biography.
The problem, it seems, is that barely any life at all is breathed into the American poet and master of the macabre.
The biography begins promisingly enough -- and with Miss Lemon's favourite, a mystery:
On the evening of 26 September 1849, Edgar Allan Poe stopped in the office of a physician in Richmond, Virginia -- John Carter -- and obtained a palliative for the fever that had beset him. Then he went across the road and had supper at a local inn. He took with him, by mistake, Dr. Carter's malacca sword cane.From there, Poe set out for a steamboat to Baltimore. It was the last time anyone would see him or officially account for his whereabouts. That is, until six days later, when he was about to meet his death.
With so much potential, it's a pity the biography doesn't continue in this arresting and mysterious vein. But what follows seem more like scattered vignettes and snippets of Poe's disappoinments and disgraces. What Miss Lemon longed for -- but did not find -- were the portraits of Poe as a writer. What, she wanted to know, fueled Poe's creative fire? How did he work?
Indeed, the way Mr. Ackroyd tells it, it's difficult to imagine Poe ever setting pen to paper at all, occupied as he was in getting himself dismissed from West Point, engaging in inappropriate love affairs, nursing his consumptive relations, running up debts, insulting his colleagues, getting sacked from various offices, and hitting up erstwhile friends and relations for the loan of $10 or more.
Poe's 1841 story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," credited as one of the first modern detective stories, is scarcely given a passing mention. But perhaps, this being a brief biography, there simply wasn't room. Even so, Miss Lemon noticed bits of repetition in the narrative -- one of her pet peeves, to be sure, and evidence of her notion that perhaps this biographical endeavor was put together in too much haste.
But all is not lost for Mr. Ackroyd's tribute to Poe. For what it did do was send Miss Lemon back to what she views as two of the greatest contributions to American lyric poetry: "The Raven" and the stunningly onomatopoeic "The Bells." For that, she isn't sorry.