In a comment on my super-brief “Descent into the Maelström” post the other day, Amateur Reader said, “This is one of the Poe stories where the narrator’s clinical tone doesn’t match events. All of these terrible things happen, and he sounds like he presenting the results of a lab experiment. Unsettling.” This was one of my principle reactions to the story as well—to one of the narrators, at least.
It’s a framed story, and the narrator of “Descent into the Maelström” is not clinical at all, he is the horrified one. A man brings him to the very edge of the coastline near the whirlpool, to “the summit of the loftiest crag,” where the seas thunder and he “struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds.”
But his guide’s sang-froid is pretty wild. “You must get over these fancies,” he tells the narrator, who continues to describe the scene to us in vivid, bleak terms.
I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer’s account of the Mare Tenebrarum. A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against it its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking for ever.
When I read Poe like this it makes me wish I could hear him describe Cape Horn, too. Oooh.*
As for the lab experiment: Oh yes. As
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