Friday, July 30, 2021

Bookplates in the Atmosphere

Image of Amelia Earhart's bookplateHere at Rauner, we have an interesting collection of various famous people's bookplates, which they would paste into the inside covers of their books to indicate that any particular volume belonged to them. The focus of the collection is primarily American and British personalities.⁠

Recently, we discovered this very plain but very cool bookplate that belonged to Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. This exciting find seemed particularly relevant given the recent trip into space by another aviation pioneer, Wally Funk.⁠

To explore the Bookplates collection, explore the finding aid for Iconography 1733 and then come to Rauner and ask to see whichever fascinating paste-in of a famous person that you'd like.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Very Person of Death

the complete text of "Apostrophe to Death"One of the most exciting aspects of our collections is the way that Dartmouth students interpret primary sources to create new ideas within the context of the classroom. On Tuesdays this summer, we will publish posts that were originally written by students in Michael Chaney's Literary History survey course during the Winter 2021 term. Each student essay comparatively examines two poems, one from the Dartmouth student newspaper and the other by a canonical American or British author. Today's post compares "The Masque of the Red Death," by Edgar Allen Poe, with "Apostrophe To Death, On His Removal of an Intimate Friend," published in the student newspaper The Dartmouth.

In Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death” and the poem “Apostrophe To Death,” we see personified depictions of death. Both demonstrate our difficulties discussing death as anything but a tangible being on which we can place blame.

In Poe’s story, thousands of people who believe they are free of a deadly pestilence, the red death, come together for a party hosted by Price Prostero. Their surprise at the Red Death’s physical arrival as a party guest accompanies feelings of terror and ultimately, a massacre of all attendants. On the other hand, “Apostrophe to Death” tells the story of just one loss, not a thousand-person catastrophe. The speaker describes death as a personified being which comes to take human life, an act described as “thy dreadful work.”

Poe’s story demonstrates the difficulty humans have with comprehending death in the abstract form. Poe characterizes the Red Death as a guest who enters the party towards the middle of the story. However, the line “and now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death,” appears in the culminating paragraph. In order to rationalize how death came unexpectedly, it is compared to “a thief in the night”; while thieves are elusive, they still are beings, easier to blame than the unseen wind.

When the Red Death overtakes the party and kills all the guests in the end, “the flames of the tripods expired.” At the time, ‘tripod’ could mean a three legged vessel, but it could also represent the “tripod of life,” as in “The heart, lungs, and brain constitute … the tripod of life.” The heart, lungs, and brain are all very scientific aspects of life. Death merely occurs when one or more of these pillars stops working. Still, Poe decides to animate death as a tangible human rather than as a termination of a heartbeat etc.
In the poem, the personified being of death is also unexpected yet tangible. One line addresses death directly by saying “But thou didst enter.” Even if death was unexpected, it physically entered the dying person’s body, like a thief entering a building. While there is no explicit mention of theft in the poem, one line describes the dead loved one as someone “whose voice is hush’d in death,” as if their voice was stolen. Again, it is important to note that something perceivable such as voice was stolen rather than a heartbeat.

While death in Poe’s story functions to express how thousands of people can all die in an instant, in a massacre, death acts as an outlet for anger in the poem. Both demonstrate our instinctual desire to place blame on some being in order to project our emotions of terror and pain.

Written by Sabrina Eager '23

Passage A:
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
(Edgar Allen Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death”)

Passage B:
For the pale cheek assur’d thy task begun,
And friends, soft slumb’ring, could not gather there,
Before, alas, thy dreadful work is done,
And that lov’d one, whose voice is hush’d in death,
Was doom’d all lonely to resign her breath.
(“Apostrophe to Death, On his Removal of an Intimate Friend,” The Dartmouth Vol. 1)