Saturday, July 11, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug

The craft of an exquisite story teller and story is evident from inception in the character and setting of William Legrand, Jupiter and Sullivan's Island as the plot slowly but richly unfolds.An excellent summary/synopsis is given in the referenced blog especially as posted below and especially on the comment on cryptology.Legrand is the quintessential recluse and this recluse is quite far is more than his seeming and the character is developed and so is Jupiter his loyal servant. In this 19th century American literature,this genre, the use of arcane words in the narrative is a distinct educational experience in the making to be exposed to.Legerand actually draws the beetle tolerably well and it is of a pure gold hue throughout. It resembled a skull or death's head. The drama for the drawing of the scarabaeus on the foolscap was well staged and then the entry of the Newfoundland dog. Domesticaed sacene mixed with the element of mystery of seeing the scarabaeus the next sunrise.

And for which the First
Premium of Our Hundred Dollars was paid.
What ho! what ho!
this fellow is dancing
mad! He hath been
bitten by the Tarantula.
All in the Wrong. Many years ago I
contracted an intimacy with a Mr. William Legrand. He was of an ancient Huguenôt
family, and had once been wealthy; but a series of misfortunes had reduced him
to want. To avoid the mortification consequent upon his disasters, he left New
Orleans, the city of his forefathers, and took up his residence at Sullivan's
Island, near Charleston, South Carolina. This Island is a
very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand, and is about
three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is
separated from the main land by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way
through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The
vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of
any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie
stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer,
by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the
bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point
and a line of hard white beach on the sea-coast, is covered with a dense
undergrowth of the sweet myrtle so much prized by the horticulturists of
England. The shrub here often attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and
forms an almost impenetrable coppice, burthening the air with its fragrance.
In the inmost recesses of this coppice, not far from the
eastern or more remote end of the island, Legrand had built himself a small hut,
which he occupied when I first, by mere accident, made his acquaintance. This
soon ripened into friendship — for there was much in the recluse to excite
interest and esteem. I found him well educated, with unusual powers of mind, but
infected with misanthropy, and subject to perverse moods of alternate enthusiasm
and melancholy.
He had with him many books, but rarely employed them. His chief
amusements were gunning and fishing, or sauntering along the bank and through
the myrtles, in quest of shells or entomological specimens; — his collection of
the latter might have been envied by a Swammerdamm. In these excursions he was
usually accompanied by an old negro, called Jupiter, who had been manumitted
before the reverses of the family, but who could be induced, neither by threats
nor by promises, to abandon what he considered his right of attendance upon the
footsteps of his young "Massa Will." It is not improbable that the relatives of
Legrand, conceiving him to be somewhat unsettled in intellect, had contrived to
instil this obstinacy into Jupiter, with a view to the supervision and
guardianship of the wanderer.
The winters in the latitude of
Sullivan's Island are seldom very severe, and, in the fall of the year, it is a
rare event indeed when a fire is considered necessary. About the middle of
October, 18—, there occurred, however, a day of remarkable chilliness. Just
before sunset I scrambled my way through the evergreens to the hut of my friend,
whom I had not visited for several weeks; — my residence being, at that time, in
Charleston, a distance of nine miles from the Island, while the facilities of
passage and re-passage were very far behind those of the present day. Upon
reaching the hut I rapped, as was my custom, and, getting no reply, sought for
the key where I knew it was secreted, unlocked the door and went in. A fine fire
was blazing upon the hearth. It was a novelty and by no means an unwelcome one.
I threw off an overcoat, took an arm-chair by the crackling logs, and waited
patiently the arrival of my hosts. Soon after dark they
arrived and gave me a most cordial welcome. Jupiter, grinning from ear to ear,
bustled about to prepare some marsh-hens for supper. Legrand was in one of his
fits — how else shall I term them? — of enthusiasm. He had found an unknown
bivalve, forming a new genus, and, more than this, he had hunted down and
secured, with Jupiter's assistance, a scarabæus which he believed to be totally
new, but in respect to which he wished to have my opinion on the morrow
"And why not to-night?" I asked, rubbing my hands over the
blaze and wishing the whole tribe of scarabæi at the devil.
"Ah, if I had only known you were here!" said Legrand, "but it's so long since I
saw you; and how could I foresee that you would pay me a visit this very night
of all others? As I was coming home I met Lieutenant G——, from the fort, and,
very foolishly, I lent him the bug; so it will be impossible for you to see it
until the morning. Stay here to-night, and I will send Jup down for it at
sunrise. It is the loveliest thing in creation!"

"What? — sunrise?" "Nonsense! no! — the bug. It is of a brilliant gold color — about the size of a large hickory-nut — with two jet black spots near one extremity of the back, and another, somewhat longer, at the other. The antennæ are" — "Dey aint no tin in him, Massa Will, I keep a tellin on you," here interrupted Jupiter; "de bug is a goole bug, solid, ebery bit of him, inside and all, sep him wing — neber feel half so hebby a bug in my life." "Well, suppose it is, Jup," replied Legrand, somewhat more earnestly, it seemed to me, than the occasion demanded, "is that any reason for your letting the birds burn? The color" — here he turned to me — "is really almost enough to warrant Jupiter's idea. You never saw a more brilliant metallic lustre than the scales emit — but of this you cannot judge till [column 2:] to-morrow. In the mean time I can give you some idea of the shape." Saying this, he seated himself at a small table, on which were a pen and ink, but no paper. He looked for some in a drawer, but found none. "Never mind," said he at length, "this will answer;" and he drew from his waistcoat pocket a scrap of what I took to be very dirty foolscap, and made upon it a rough drawing with the pen. While he did this I retained my seat by the fire, for I was still chilly. When the design was complete he handed it to me without rising. As I received it a loud growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching at the door. Jupiter opened it, and a large Newfoundland, belonging to Legrand, rushed in, leaped upon my shoulders, and loaded me with caresses; for I had shown him much attention during previous visits. When his gambols were over I looked at the paper, and, to speak the truth, found myself not a little puzzled at what my friend had depicted. "Well!" I said, after contemplating it for some minutes, "this is a strange scarabæus, I must confess: new to me: never saw anything like it before — unless it was a skull, or a death's-head — which it more nearly resembles than anything else that has come under my observation." "A death's-head!" echoed Legrand —"Oh — yes — well, it has something of that appearance upon paper, no doubt. The two upper black spots look like eyes, eh? and the longer one at the bottom like a mouth — and then the shape of the whole is oval." "Perhaps so," said I; "but, Legrand, I fear you are no artist. I must wait until I see the beetle itself, if I am to form any idea of its personal appearance." "Well, I don't know," said he, a little nettled, "I draw tolerably — should do it at least — have had good masters, and flatter myself that I am not quite a blockhead." "But, my dear fellow, you are joking then," said I, "this is a very passable skull — indeed, I may say that it is a very excellent skull, according to the vulgar notions about such specimens of physiology — and your scarabæus must be the queerest scarabæus in the world if it resembles it. Why we may get up a very thrilling bit of superstition upon this hint. I presume you will call the bug scarabæus caput hominis, or something of that kind — there are many similar titles in the Natural Histories. But where are the antennæ you spoke of?" "The antennæ!" said Legrand, who seemed to be getting unaccountably warm upon the subject; "I am sure you must see the antennæ. I made them as distinct as they are in the original insect, and I presume that is sufficient."

So, The Gold Bug. The unnamed narrator's friend, William Legrand, is bitten by what he believes to be a solid gold beetle. Legrand becomes obsessed with searching for treasure, making his friend, the narrator, believe he might be going crazy. Some time later, Legrand's servant, Jupiter, returns to the narrator and asks him to come to Sullivan's Island to help his master. Legrand is convinced he can find the treasure, and has a cryptogram to help him. After an unusual search, they do find the treasure, buried by Captain Kidd.I think this story proves why Poe is the master of the SHORT story, not the longish-short story. This just felt too long - I didn't care for any of the characters, and portions of the story drug on. The character of Jupiter would probably be considered racist in today's literature - modern writers would be excoriated for writing a character like that.However, I found the cryptology section to be fascinating. It was not fast reading - I really had to concentrate - but the method of solving the mystery of where the treasure could be found was something quite special. After the initial publication of the story, interest in cryptology exploded, and I can understand why.Next week we try another short story, The Devil in the Belfry. Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading

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