One of the world’s foremost authorities on Sherlock Holmes, Leslie S. Klinger is perhaps best known for The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Published by W.W. Norton in 2004, this three-volume project won the 2005 Edgar Award for “Best Critical/Biographical” work. Klinger served as a consultant for the recent films Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), both directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr., as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson.
Klinger’s other important editorial work includes The New Annotated Dracula (Norton 2008), The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (Liveright 2014), and a lush four-volume collection of the DC Comics series written by Neil Gaiman, The Annotated Sandman, published sequentially by Vertigo in 2012, 2014, and 2015.
This month, Pegasus Crime publishes In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe: Classic Tales of Terror 1816-1914, compiled and edited by Klinger as a follow-up to his previous two collections of neglected Victorian short stories – In the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes (IDW 2011) and In the Shadow of Dracula (IDW 2011).
Poe scholar Chuck Caruso sat down to talk with Leslie Klinger about this new collection, In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe.
CHUCK: You’re perhaps best known for your work related to Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, so what inspired you to turn your attention toward Edgar Allan Poe in this new collection?
LES: I’m pretty widely read in the Victorian age generally, but this is stuff I love and I wanted to share it with other people. When I finished the Annotated Sherlock Holmes in 2005, I realized I wanted to do something else. I’d had so much fun, but I had already written so much about Sherlock Holmes. When I was done, I looked around for a while for a new project until my wife asked me, “What about Dracula?” That was the right question because I realized, wow, I love Dracula and it’s a perfect fit for me because I already have all these books in my library on the Victorian age. Doyle and Bram Stoker are contemporaries, so I like to imagine Holmes meeting Dracula on the streets of London. Once I began my work on Dracula, I started looking back at horror writing from earlier in the 19th century, and that brought me back to Poe. But they’re all so intertwined because Poe’s detective stories are essential reading in order to do anything intelligent about Sherlock Holmes. So I went back and re-read all of Poe’s horror fiction, which I already knew and loved. Then as I got more and more deeply involved in looking at the range of horror writing after Poe, I came to the conclusion there was something important happening that I wanted to share with other people.
But of course in some ways the idea for this new Poe anthology came from two earlier anthologies I edited that have sadly stayed under the radar – In the Shadow of Sherlock Holmes and In the Shadow of Dracula. Those are respectively collections of classic detective stories and classic vampire tales. Both those books are also entirely 19th century material, and they follow the same idea of In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe. That is, I wanted to bring to light some of the era’s detective stories and vampire stories that have languished in the shadows of the better-known stories.
CHUCK: Why do you think certain authors, like Poe, have remained so popular over time while others fade into obscurity?
LES: Well, some of it is just luck, but the great boon to Poe was that he was discovered by the academics a long time ago and quite correctly regarded as one of the great American authors of all time. I’m not suggesting that the stories in this new anthology are as good as the body of Poe’s work. Poe set a very high standard and his stories are consistently good. These authors that I see as being in his shadow are not as consistently good. Some of them were quite successful in their day, but their reputations haven’t survived or they’re remembered for other things. Kate Chopin, for example, is best known as a feminist writer but she wrote much more broadly than that. Her story “Desiree’s Baby” was an important one for me to include because it explores the horror that lurks in race for American authors.
CHUCK: Yes, it’s interesting how horror fiction in some ways tends to stay more current than other genres of writing, almost as if these issues that resonate with us on the level of fear are things that never go away. For example, you also include “The Yellow Sign” by Robert W. Chambers who has recently resurfaced in American consciousness because of his influence on the first season of True Detective.
LES: Yes, I felt that I had to include “The Yellow Sign” because it’s so important a story. I’m not sure that people actually read it that much, but it’s become sort of cultish. When True Detective starts riffing on an author that’s pretty impressive. Interestingly, although it’s often called Lovecraftian, it’s very clear that Lovecraft discovered Chambers very late, so he was not influenced by Chambers. He appreciated Chambers, but he did not discover this story until the late 1920’s.
CHUCK: You also recently edited the Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, and Lovecraft was obviously very influenced by Poe. Were you tempted to stretch the scope of this anthology include Lovecraft?
LES: Not really, because I knew I was already doing work with Lovecraft, but also because if this anthology does well I’d like to edit another anthology called In the Shadow of Lovecraft that looks at slightly later horror writers. It would sort of be the sequel to this one and would include people from the 1920’s and 30’s.
It’s funny because Lovecraft helped make some of my selections for In the Shadow of Poe pretty easy. I mention this in my introduction to the anthology, but in Lovecraft’s essay about supernatural literature he picks out a lot of the significant authors who work in the framework established by Poe. These were people I felt I needed to include. Maybe if I do get to make a sequel, In the Shadow of Lovecraft, I’ll be able to print stories by Arthur Machen or Clark Ashton Smith or Robert E. Howard. These are guys who are well known to the Lovecraftians but not on the radar of most readers. I hope to be the career booster for some of these forgotten authors.
CHUCK: This collection includes some fairly well known authors and stories but also some more obscure tales by lesser-known writers. How did you go about selecting these specific stories?
LES: Well, I wanted to go beyond the most anthologized stories and come up with some that maybe would surprise people. Some of these authors are definitely well known. Le Fanu, for example, is well known but not for this story, “An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street.” I had already included “Carmilla” in my vampire anthology, and I wanted to find something less familiar for this book. With M.R. James there were obviously dozens of stories I could have picked, but “Lost Hearts” is one of my favorites.
It also seemed important to expose readers to authors they may not have heard of before. People don’t know his work any more, but F. Marion Crawford is a terrific writer. Another that perhaps is a surprise is Dick Donovan. Donovan was very well known as a mystery writer, or a writer of “mysteries” as they were known at the time. In the Victorian era, there was a lot going on besides the Sherlock Holmes stories. There was also a lot of what we would call now “true crime” – or rather a sort of fictionalized true crime. These were presented as the tales of a New York policeman or the confessions of a London detective. Donovan was a prolific mystery writer, but he also has this lovely little collection called Tales of Terror, which has got some great stories in it. I have another wonderful story by Donovan in the vampire anthology that comes from his Tales of Terror.
CHUCK: You also include Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Leather Funnel” in this collection focused on horror stories. Obviously Poe’s strongest influence on Doyle is through his detective stories that provided the model for Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but this collection features one of Doyle’s lesser-known macabre stories.
LES: Yes, it was a pleasure to include Doyle in this anthology because too many people forget that he wrote more than the Sherlock Holmes stories. And the same with Bram Stoker, whose 1914 story “The Squaw” concludes this anthology. Too many people think of him as the author of Dracula and that’s it. These authors with one iconic figure in their writing tend to suffer from ignorance of the rest of their work, and that’s a shame.
CHUCK: For many readers, Henry James is probably best remembered today for his horror masterpiece “The Turn of the Screw,” and yet James disavowed Poe’s influence on his work and even tried to distance himself from “Turn of the Screw” by calling it a “pot-boiler” that he had only written for money. Why do you think some authors have embraced being “in the shadow of Poe” while others have so pointedly rejected him?
LES: Yes, James was almost sorry that he even wrote “The Turn of the Screw.” But Henry James himself is such a well-known author that he wasn’t somebody who I felt I could claim was “in the shadow” of Poe. Doyle and Stoker are both a bit of a stretch in this regard too, but my argument for them is that they aren’t known for this kind of writing. But as to the idea of distancing themselves from Poe, I think some of these successful authors can get very full of themselves. Doyle is a good example of this. He walked around for most of his career saying in effect, “Please excuse me for having written those Sherlock Holmes stories. Now if you’ll excuse me while I get back to my really important work.” But that’s a mistake.
It’s funny because Sherlockians play this game where we ask each other if you could have dinner with Arthur Conan Doyle what would you want to talk to him about. Probably the most frequent answer is that people would want to ask Doyle if he now understands that Holmes is the best thing he ever did. That it really did have value. It wasn’t just that it was popular. It was good.
I think James was the same way. He was a little full of himself and he saw Poe as simply a popular writer because Poe hadn’t yet reached his full level of acceptance as an important author in American literature. He wasn’t yet in the pantheon of great American writers. But Poe was also immensely popular in Europe and I think James may have resented that a little bit because Poe was the other American writer who had already dazzled those European folks. So, I think all of that together is why James and others felt that they didn’t want to be like Poe. They wanted to write “important” work that was going to make people think. They didn’t want to just thrill people.
CHUCK: The anthology ends with “The Squaw” by Bram Stoker. Why end with Stoker and why with that particular story?
LES: Well, there are a couple of different Stoker stories I could have chosen, but Stoker as a whole is not a great writer. He had occasional strokes of genius. Dracula is a lightning bolt of genius, and there are a couple of short stories that are great. “The Judge” is a frequently reprinted story and there are a few others, but mainly it was the timing. I wanted to end this anthology in the early 20th century and Stoker had a couple of very good stories in his Dracula’s Guest collection that came out essentially posthumously in 1914. “The Squaw” is a great story but Stoker is still very much a 19th century writer so he seemed like a really nice high note on which to end.
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