Arthur Rackham’s illustrations to Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”

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Ligeia, short story published in 1838

Arthur Rackham (19 September 1867 – 6 September 1939) was an English book illustrator. When I was about 10-12 years I loved to read from Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I remember I borrowed it a couple of times from the local library. I cannot say I understood all of his stories at such a young age but I sure loved the dramatic art connected to them. Most of the time I would admire the paintings and read the additional description rather than the entire story. Many of these stories had illustrations made by Arthur Rackham. He made 12 colour illustrations for Poe’s tales in 1935 and several others in black/white.

Rackham was born in Lewisham, Kent and was one of 12 children. He worked as a clerk before getting accepted as a student (18yrs) at The Lambeth School of Art. Arthur Rackham is widely regarded as one of the leading illustrators from the ‘Golden Age’ of British book illustration which roughly encompassed the years from 1890 until the end of the First World War. During that period, there was a strong market for high quality illustrated books which typically were given as Christmas gifts. Many of Rackham’s books were produced in a de luxe limited edition, often vellum bound and sometimes signed, as well as a larger, less ornately bound quarto ‘trade’ edition. This was often followed by a more modestly presented octavo edition in subsequent years for particularly popular books. The onset of the war in 1914 curtailed the market for such quality books, and the public’s taste for fantasy and fairies also declined in the 1920s.

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) is one of the most wellknown authors in American Literature and was quickly introduced to Europe through people like Charles Baudelaire who appreciated Poes’s writing. Many regard Poe as the father of the detective genre. I like some of his short stories and the poetry.

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The Fall of the House of Usher, first published in September 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine

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William Wilson, short story published in October 1839.
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The Oval Portrait, first published in April 1842.
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Cask of Amontillado, first published in 1846.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination contains only a small number of stories. Most editions include – “William Wilson” “The Gold Bug” “The Fall of the House of Usher” “The Masque of the Red Death” “The Cask of Amontillado” “A Descent into the Maelström” “The Pit and the Pendulum” “The Purloined Letter” “Metzengerstein” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” “The Tell-Tale Heart”.