Poe in Cyberspace #2

Fall 1998 Several of the places where Poe lived -- Richmond, the University of Virginia, Philadelphia, The Bronx, and Baltimore -- now proudly celebrate their connections to him on the internet. Many Poe scholars might ignore such Web sites on the assumption that they contain little research material. Yet to do so would be to make a grave error if it resulted in overlooking the most promising Web site for Poe research to appear thus far -- the rapidly evolving pages of the Poe Society of Baltimore. This site raises the bar by which all Poe Web sites will be judged in the future.

During most of its 75 years of existence, the Poe Society of Baltimore concerned itself with local matters such as the Poe house, the Poe memorial statue, and the Poe grave site. But in the 1960s it began to reach out with annual lectures delivered by distinguished Poe scholars. In May 1997, the Poe Society of Baltimore (hereafter the PSB) launched a web site with two aims, first, to provide information about itself; and second -- and this is the unexpected part -- to remedy the scarcity of reliable Poe e-texts and trustworthy information about Poe on the internet. Initially located at <http://raven.ubalt.edu/features/poe>, an address still partly maintained for compatibility, the enlarged PSB site moved in September 1998 to <http://www.eapoe.org>.

(A digression: the PSB uses www.eapoe.org as its Web address because so many other poe combinations were already assigned: www.poe.com to the Professional Office Equipment company, www.poe.org to a rock music band lead by a girl who uses the name "Poe," www.poe.net to Apache: Red Hat Linux Web Server, and ea-poe.org to Jered Koenig, a high school student in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.)

In announcing the change, Mr. Jeffrey A. Savoye, Secretary/Treasurer of the PSB and the quiet author and webmaster of the PSB web site, wrote via e-mail on September 8, 1998:

"Our new site launches our on-going project to provide Poe's complete works in e-text. We have started with the poems, with multiple versions of each. We need to have at least a basic text for all of the tales as that is what most people are seeking, but we hope to show people that Poe wrote far more than the handful of horror tales for which he is usually given credit."

To distinguish itself from a great many existing Poe sites which provide oft-copied and sometimes notoriously unreliable Poe e-texts and information about Poe, the PSB set two highly ambitious tasks: 1) to provide comprehensive and reliable secondary information about Poe's life, his works, and his reputation as reflected in serious scholarship and criticism, and 2) to recreate a full collection of Poe texts from the original sources (or exact photo-facsimiles) by scanning or re-keying them and then carefully verifying the results.

But these admirable projects of the PSB may seem to be among the best-kept secrets on the internet. The modest PSB site insists on the straightforward use of plain text, avoids fancy graphics or advanced HTML effects, and maintains a remarkably understated approach. Web gurus would call it a "first generation Web site," meaning that the text has the minimal coding needed to get it up on the Web, is unsupported by visual metaphors, and is easy to print or download.

As a result, readers accustomed to eye-catching interfaces plastered over disappointing contents may actually miss the scholarly materials at the PSB site, which insists on an old-fashioned interface bu offers mind-catching contents beneath. Since it may not be fully clear at once how the PSB site is organized, try these suggestions:

1) go to the PSB home page at <http://www.eapoe.org>.

2) select the first item, "Additional Topics About Poe."

Despite the fact that the antecedent to which additional refers doesn't exist, there's a treasure trove here of secondary material, in effect an online Poe companion or handbook arranged around twenty-five lively topics. Prepare to spend serious time here.

3) Go back up to the Main menu and select the second item, "Poe's Works."

Mr. Savoye modestly remarks here: "At the moment, this is something of an experiment. There are several sites on the Internet with some of Poe's works, usually the better known poems (such as 'The Raven') and tales (such as 'The Fall of the House of Usher'). This site is primarily intended to fill in some of the gaps, as Poe wrote a great deal more than the handful of tales and poems read so regularly."

4) Drop down f`rom the main Works page and choose "Index of Poe's Poems".

Don't expect a word index or concordance; instead you'll find a variorum bibliography of 81 Poe poems, showing editions during Poe's lifetime and manuscript variants. The poems are ordered alphabetically and are marked with Mabbott's code for variants. Each poem has at least one linked e-text version, and most have more than one. The poems are also listed by first lines and chronologically.

5) Next, go back to "Selections from the Works of Edgar Allan Poe" and choose "Index of Poe's Tales".

This leads to another alphabetical list of Poe titles and their variants, also following Mabbott's keys. Although the e-text processing and verification of the tales is just beginning, one title already available is the first e-text version of "The Journal of Julius Rodman," in the six original installments.

6) Go back up to "Works" and peruse "Miscellanea," which contains many valuable new additions to the repertoire of online Poe e-texts: "A Chapter of Suggestions," "Doings of Gotham," "Fifty Suggestions," and the 17 original installments of "Marginalia."

7) Go back up to "Works" again and examine two useful bibliographical surveys, "The Canon of Poe's Works" and "A Few Editions of Poe's Works."

For whom was the PSB Web site created? The site appeals to the common reader, and has won the awards of Poe Decoder, Brain Bait, NetGuide, and RSAC. The graduate student, the undergraduate student, and even the high school student will find the site useful as an online Poe companion or handbook. For faculty members and advanced researchers, the site already has perhaps the best online secondary Poe material available anywhere for teaching and study. Each page is carefully dated to show the most recent editorial work and displays a code to indicate its state of verification. Computer-literate students who browse the Web for hours but never walk into the library will discover much more than they realize, as their computer-illiterate teachers may also discover!

A few suggestions: the PSB site would benefit from a general introduction, clearer divisions between its local and scholarly functions, a "what's new" page, a site map with fuller navigation aids, an explanation of how students can cite Web sources, and some editing of hypertext labels (the imprecise term index seems overworked). Until the PSB site fills itself out with more tales and criticism, it might suggest more alternative online resources, such as rival e-text repositories, Web guides to literature, criticism, and authors, the bibliographical resources of the Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites, and the burgeoning Web indexes and search engines. Perhaps two announced PSB editorial procedures designed to reduce confusion may actually introduce it: unwanted modern spelling may be introduced by the use of a spelling checker, and changing Poe's editorial square brackets to angle brackets or parentheses contradicts standard meanings of such punctuation.

The entire structure, content, and range of opinions at the PSB site are the work of one person, Mr. Savoye, assisted by David A. Spence, a student at the University of Michigan, a considerable feat for one person ina relatively short period of time. But future progress may be less rapid as the project moves from the slim body of poetry, which represents only a very small percentage of Poe's total output, to the heavier body of tales and reviews, which constitute the largest portions of Poe's work.

Working with limited support, and apparently aware of other projects to make the Poe tales available in better versions, Mr. Savoye seems to have targeted the relatively neglected area of Poe's non-fiction prose, his articles, criticism, and reviews. Indeed, more careful editions of the fiction have already been issued by UNC and are part of the projected Early American Fiction project of the University of Virginia.

To the extent to which the PSB site fulfills its admirable goals, it will become the major scholarly source for critical primary materials for the study of Poe on the internet. As a site following print rather than online methods, the PSB site can only serve to raise standards on the Web. If successful, it would narrow the gap between print and online standards while catapulting itself into an unique place among all Web sites for the study of Poe's writings and Poe criticism.