Poe’s Literary Sources of Inspiration in “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”

In this post I search for literary parallels (not to be confused with parallelism) in two short stories The Black Cat and The Tell-Tale Heart; by Edgar Allan Poe. Simply, I look for other sources or texts which may have inspired Poe to write these stories. “The Black Cat”story was published in August 1843 and has strong parallels to “The Tell-Tale Heart” published earlier the very same year. The genres for both books are detective stories. According to Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1997) Quinn states that Poe may have read Charles Dickens ”The Clock-Case” in which a retired soldier kills his young nephew to profit economical from his death. The child had also a sort of gaze which frightened and irritated the soldier (Quinn, 1997 p. 394). Dickens story was published in Master Humphrey’s Clock (1840/41). Compare Dicken’s story with Poe’s ”The Tell-Tale Heart” in which the narrator is deeply disturbed by an old man’s eye. In Poe’s story the narrator’s madness explode after the man’s death because the eye is replaced by the loud beatings of the dead man’s heart which the narrator hears repeatedly in his head. As the policemen enters his house to ask him questions about the whereabouts of the old man he no longer cannot hold himself and confesses the deed.

Edgar_Allan_Poe_daguerreotype_cropNotice, that in the story of “The Black Cat”, the cat Pluto once beloved by the narrator has only one eye. As the narrator goes crazy he thinks the cat harbours the soul of his dead wife. There are other references to  superstitions in the story but the main theme is alcoholism which the narrator battles and looses. Finally, Mr Poe himself was an owner of a black cat in real life.1 Today many scholars refers to Edgar A. Poe as the father of the modern detective story, but he had his sources. Another literary role model was E T A Hoffman. Hoffman’s stories Die Elixiere desTeufels (1815/16) and Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1820) are both in some sense detective stories. However, some critics question if Mme. Scuderi can be thought of as a ”detective” since she doesn’t pose as one even though she does perform some investigations.

Resources

Barger, Andrew (2008). Edgar Allan Poe Annotated and Illustrated Entire Stories and Poems.

Quinn, Arthur H. (1997). Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Johns Hopskins University Press)

wikipedia.org


  1. In his short article “Instinct vs Reason- A Black Cat” Poe reveals: “The writer of this article is the owner of one of the most remarkable black cats in the world – and this is saying much; for it will be remembered that black cats are all of them witches.” (Barger 2008, p. 58) 

Saki’s creepy stories revisited

img_0793SAKI was a pen name used by british writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916) and he’s well-known for his short witty stories often depicting the upper-class and satirize the Edwardian society. Most of them come with a twist and slight touch of creepiness. His writing was influenced by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling. Hector Hugh Munro was born in Akyab, British Burma, which was then still part of the British Raj, and was governed from Calcutta under the authority of the Viceroy of India. Saki was the son of Charles Augustus Munro, an Inspector General for the Indian Imperial Police, by his marriage to Mary Frances Mercer (1843–1872), the daughter of Rear Admiral Samuel Mercer. After the death of his mother (killed by a cow…) the Inspector General sent his children to live permanently in England. This was not going to be a happy time since the children was sent to live with their aunts. In the works of Saki there are several stories depicting aunts as evil, amoral individuals and usually they end up as dead.

AT THE AGE OF 43 he decided to join the Army although he was considered too old he was accepted. The First World War had just begun and he would die two years later in The Battle of the Ancre. His final words were: “Put that bloody cigarette out!” He was killed by a German sniper.

GABRIEL-ERNEST is the name of a short story published 1909. I remember as being included in an anthology about ghosts? I was about 10 and thought it was a very scary story! It depicts a teenaged werewolf who abduct and kills a number of children in a sleepy village. It’s also slightly gay-themed as the narrator come face to face with the young beast in the woods a rather incredibly dialogue appears between them. There are a number of great adaptations of Gabriel-Ernest online if you search the podcasts.

  • My favourite adaptation of Saki’s Gabriel-Ernest, from TLS Voices.
  • VARIOUS stories by SAKI published by Project Gutenberg.
  • Interested in Saki’s works? I recommend Delphi Classics on Saki.