Casket Suite: A Surfeit of Poe

by James Dorr
read the suite from the beginning

A Surfeit of Poe

They were the casket girls, les filles à les caissettes, having come to New Orleans in 1728, turned into vampires by one of their number, the one named Aimée.  They had come to be married, sent by none other than King Louis XV himself, and had married well, amassing from their husbands wealth and power, exchanging the old for new as these first husbands aged and died, and so had formed an exclusive club.  They did work for charity, founding a hospital, helping patients who suffered from bad blood — cupping as was the medical practice of the day, and never mind what happened to the blood then.  And they held regular meetings among themselves in which they discussed the events of the world, and other such things that they found of interest.   .  

So it was that Yvonne had returned from France, from a recent visit, younger looking and rather more stylish than when she had left.  This was a thing they did, going to France, then claiming now that they were their own daughters — how else to explain a perpetual youth?  And having left, often, as a grieving widow, now back on the prowl to obtain a new husband, not to mention new riches and comfort, for if one was to be all but immortal, better to spend one’s time wealthy than poor.  

And they spent their time learning, some of them anyway.  Yvonne, for instance, usually the quiet one, the dreamer, the poet who kept things in her head, churning and churning until they were ready to be put on paper.  But this time pulling a book from her luggage, in French of course, Histoires Extraordinaires.  “It is from an up and coming young writer, Charles-Pierre Baudelaire,” she said.  “But the thing is, it is not written by him.”  

“Then why do you have it?” Claudette asked, laughing.  She, the literal-minded one, was always ready for a joke as well.  

“It was given to me,” Yvonne said.  “Charles — that is, Monsieur Baudelaire — when he heard I was leaving for New Orleans, said they were translations he had made of our American poet, Edgar Allan Poe.  He thought they were quite good, the originals, that is, though others have praised the translations too.”  

“But these are not poems,” Claudette, who had taken the book and now held it up, said.  “As you see they are stories, not poetry at all.”  

“But did he not write ‘Le Corbeau‘?” Lo asked.  She had been back to France the decade before, and was always the most glamorous of them all.  “I mean, I am not so much a reader myself, but Aimée has a copy.  She showed it to me once.  And stories as well, but they all seemed so sad, about people who had bad things happen to them.”  

“‘The Raven,’ yes,” Aimée said.  “Poe wrote the poem not that long before his death.  It is popular still.”     

“Yes, and for the stories I have read Aimée’s book before too, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” Claudette said, smiling.  “For myself I’ve enjoyed them, though certainly they are often dark.  But then, we are too, aren’t we?”  

“And now they can be read also in France,” Yvonne said.  She envied this Poe — Baudelaire as well, although not always agreeing with all his sentiments.  But the way both of them had with words, the one in English, the other Français.  And as for “Le Corbeau,” she tried to remember.  Something Poe himself had written. . . .     

But Lo interrupted.  “Yes,” she said, “both Poe and we are ‘dark.’  And no doubt this Baudelaire as well.  But then why do they not write stories about us?  If that were the case, perhaps I would enjoy them more.”  Hélène and several others who had not spoken yet nodded.    

“Well,” Claudette offered, “there may be one or two — such as ‘Ligeia.’  It’s one Baudelaire has in his book too.”  

“But it’s not,” Lo protested.  “That is, he has it backward. Yes, there is a woman who will live forever, but as a loose spirit who seeks new bodies.  While we retain our bodies and souls too, as long as we wish them.” 

“Symbolically, though,” Aimée said, “is not ‘The Raven’ a sort of a vampire?  He takes all hope from him, Poe, perhaps, who is speaking through the poem, even the hope of eternal rest.”  She looked up from the copy of Baudelaire’s book, which she had now been leafing through.  “That is, I would hope we don’t always go that far, but. . . .”  

Now Yvonne remembered it, practically word for word, almost exactly ten years before in Graham’s Magazine, Poe’s essay on how he had written “The Raven.”  “Listen,” she said, “this is how he described it.  Poe himself, and on poetry in general.  ‘Of all melancholy topics, what is the most melancholy?’  His answer was ‘Death.’  ‘And when,’ he asked, ‘is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?’    

“This is what Poe said:  ‘When it most closely allies itself with beauty.  The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’  Perhaps he did not realize that after death some of us continue.  But we are the undead, then, are we not?”  

Claudette laughed out loud.  “Yes.  Beautiful, dead, and now living again.  So, by his own words, the best of this Poe’s work was written about us.”  

Aimée looked up again.  She had not heard this theory before, but she nodded and smiled. 






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