Discovering Poe as a Compositionist: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” and Process Theory

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Though Poe has commonly been remembered for his contributions to the detective, horror, and science-fiction genres, we should consider how his innovation extended into other areas. This includes his critical works, such as his essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” Despite Poe’s classical training and the trends in composition instruction before and during his educational career, the theory of composition argued for in his critical essays is more analogous to the Process Theory established by compositionsts over 100 years later than the teaching methods of his time, suggesting that Poe’s concept of composition was very progressive. To truly understand Poe’s environment, we must examine the tradition that informed early nineteenth-century educational systems as well as Poe’s own academic experience. In order to discover the connections between Poe’s critical methodologies and those of later composition theorists, we must compare the preexisting notions in the field to the developments seen in composition theory during the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries.

Poe, Edgar Allan, English composition