Irvine's Harbour Arts Centre was the venue last week for Ravenfest: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe
is organised by Poetic Justice Productions who use arts and cultural activities to tackle social issues and raise awareness of the cultural history of Ayrshire.
So why Poe? What has the 19th-century American writer of macabre poems and short stories to do with Ayrshire? Well, Edgar Allan Poe was fostered and raised by John Allan, an Irvine-born tobacco merchant from Richmond, Virginia, and his wife Frances, after he was orphaned at the age of two.
In 1815, Poe was brought to the town tofIrvine to visit his adopted aunts. He stayed with John's sister Mary Galt at Bridgegate House and attended Kirkgate Grammar School. It is said that Edgar often played in the churchyard of Irvine Parish Church. In those days, school students were sent there to record epitaphs on the gravestones. It is quite likely that Poe found inspiration from the memory of the touching words and graphic representations on these headstones when he later came to write his horror stories and melancholy poetry. He stayed on in Irvine for a while before joining the Allans in London, attending boarding school in Chelsea in 1817, eventually returning to the US in 1820.
As a boy, I was familiar with Poe's work: The Pit and the Pendulum
, The Tell Tale Heart
, The Cask of Amontillado
, The Gold Bug
, Murders in the Rue Morgue
, and poems like Annabel Lee
and The Raven
. I knew all about him without having read any of his books. This was thanks to my love of 'Classics Illustrated' – adaptations of all the best literary classics in comic strip form, including biographical sketches and background material. I used my pocket money to buy a new one every week and stored them in some sturdy box files. It wasn't till I was much older that I took the time to read anything by Poe and learn more about this complex and mysterious man.
He is regarded by many critics as the architect of the modern short story. He demonstrated a brilliant command of language and technique, as well as an inspired and original imagination. Although usually associated with the genre of horror and the supernatural, it would be more accurate to say he pioneered the deep analysis of the human psyche. He himself battled poor mental health, financial ruin, the devastation of bereavement and alcoholism. He was disowned and reinstated several times by his foster father before having to make his own way in life. Poe blamed John Allan for failing to provide for him financially, while Allan blamed Poe's profligacy for his failings.
He struggled to succeed first in Richmond, then Boston and finally New York ,before dying in mysterious unexplained circumstances in Baltimore at the age of 40 in 1849. He had only limited literary recognition during his lifetime, but he is now widely regarded as an author of great merit and recognised as an inspiration for many who came after him.
His detective character, C Auguste Dupin, in Murders in the Rue Morgue
was the prototype for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Robert Louis Stevenson borrowed material from the The Gold Bug
for his Treasure Island
. Dostoyevsky, HG Wells, Jules Verne and Herman Melville all acknowledged their indebtedness to Poe. Even Alfred Hitchcock admitted that Poe was the main influence for several of his films, including Psycho
And that's why people gathered in Irvine last week for An evening with Edgar Allan Poe
and to hear the winners announced of the short story competition in his honour. If you were in the bar at the interval and lingered on after everyone else had gone back to their seats, you might just have glimpsed through the window the shadowy black form of a raven perched on an outside table and heard it croaking: 'Nevermore'.
In SR (19 October 2022
), Gerry Hassan gives a summary of the political and economic history of the last 40 years as seen from the standpoint of the progressive left. It is a story of failure.
Having lived through these years, I view his interpretation as seriously incomplete. There is little or no reference to the Scottish people. For them, it has been a time of increased material prosperity, particularly in the period up to 2008. Even post-2008, most of this prosperity has been maintained. Evidence of this increased prosperity is visible in the number and size of cars in any supermarket car park, and the variety of electrical appliances widely available. Also, the number of supermarkets themselves and variety of food on sale; the number of people who travel abroad as a matter of routine. Concentrating on 'the framing of memory' or 'illusions and delusions' ignores this.
Clearly, this prosperity is not shared equally. The middle class and pensioners have done comparatively well; the residual working class much less so – particularly working class males. They suffered from the collapse of industrial Scotland and all too many of them have failed to find a role in the post-industrial order.
I agree, however, that 2008 marked a turning point.
Politics, according to Gerry Hassan, will have to 'put together a new economic model, redefine government and the state and reshape and renew democracy'. In the 14 years since the 2008 crisis, little or nothing of this has happened. The failure has been both intellectual and political; in both spheres, the left has failed. There is no serious reason to expect any difference in the coming years. There has not been a notable sense of urgency in producing the new political and economic dispensation Gerry Hassan calls for.
Significantly, the economic collapse of 2008 produced no political reaction comparable to that created by the Brexit vote in 2016. The former did not lead to a sense of outrage – convulsing politics and leading to two General Elections – amongst the middle class as the latter did.
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