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) 
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