Today’s quote comes from Poe’s only novel, Gordon Pym. I’ve talked about this book before, but have reserved its most gruesome excerpt for the dark of late winter: shipwreck survivors reduced to cannibalism. In this scene, they’ve just drawn straws to see which of the last four starving survivors will fall beneath the knife:
‘I recovered from my swoon in time to behold the consummation of the tragedy in the death of him who had been chiefly instrumental in bringing it about. He made no resistance whatever, and was stabbed in the back by Peters, when he fell instantly dead. I must not dwell upon the fearful repast which immediately ensued. Such things may be imagined, but words have no power to impress the mind with the exquisite horror of their reality. Let it suffice to say that, having in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the blood of the victim, and having by common consent taken off the hands, feet, and head, throwing them together with the entrails, into the sea, we devoured the rest of the body, piecemeal, during the four ever memorable days of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth of the month.’
—Narrative of A. Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Chapter 12
Imagine, if you can, how shocking this must’ve been to readers in 1838 when Pym was published. It’s work like this that helped cement Poe’s reputation as the grand master of the macabre. It’s a flawed novel, gratuitously violent, meandering and lurid, but it blazed a trail, heralding the dark romanticism of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, published only a few years later in 1851. I’m not writing a Herman Melville blog, but yet–of course–Moby Dick is a masterpiece, Gordon Pym ‘just’ a classic. However, Poe struck first and struck hard. Gordon Pym is a quick and easy read: pick it and enjoy an 18th century classic. Don’t read it during dinner.
The image is from the title page of the original published edition of the novel. Parts of the novel were previously serialized, but it didn’t see full publication in book form until 1838.