Ed & Edgar

my adventures in the cult of Poe

and other literary endeavours



The Oak Lane Shakespeare Club

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend

The brightest heaven of invention,

A kingdom for a stage, princes to act

And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

--the Chorus’ opening lines of Henry the Fifth 

The Chorus opens Shakespeare’s play with a plea for divine intervention that would create the world of the story about to be unfolded because a mere wooden stage cannot possibly hold real battlefields and real kings.  But when we read Shakespeare, we do conjure in our minds these worlds entire.   

The Oak Lane Shakespeare Club was founded in 1908 and has met continuously since then.  We are a group of dedicated readers who enjoy reading Shakespeare aloud.  On the first and third Mondays of each month (Oct through May) we meet in members’ homes, divide up the parts and read the play to each other.  Generally, we divide a play into two meetings.  We also read one non-Shakespeare play per year.  

Reading Shakespeare aloud is an exhilirating experience.  I like to think of it as active reading.  You’d be surprised how different (and more affecting) the text is when read aloud.  Reading these plays aloud releases Shakespeare’s Muse of Fire.  We are not actors and our meetings are not performances, but whole worlds are created when we read.  

Before we read, one member gives a short presentation either on the evening’s play or on another Shakespearean topic.  Then we read.  No specialized knowledge is required.  The meetings last approximately 3 hours.  

We’re looking for like-minded readers who enjoy Shakespeare and are looking for an enjoyable way of  reading his plays.  Or maybe, readers who have always wanted to read Shakespeare, but have just never found the time.  

Out next two meetings are on Monday Feb 4 and Monday Feb 18.  We are reading our non-Shakespeare play this month, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist.  

If interested contact me (ed@omnigatherum.com) and I’ll tell you more about the club.  We encourage readers to attend meetings as guests and join in the fun.  Come and find out about you own inner Muse of Fire.


Shakespeare, Dracula and Dickens (and Drinking!)

I will be out and about at many places (maybe too many) this September.  There's Shakespeare and Dracula and Dickens (and Dickens and Drinking) all month long.  

My long list of Dickens events, some of which I'm hosting, some introducing, some just attending can be found at my Dickens site here.  Philly is really the place to be this month if you are a Dickensian.  Of course, my favorite event will the Drinking with Dickens night at National Mechanics 7-9 on Mon Sept 17.  Come early and join me for dinner.

I'm also hosting the first meeting of the Jenkintown Shakespeare Book Club's new season this Wed night (Sept 12) at 7:30 PM at the Jenkintown Library.  This month's play is A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Join us for some Shakespearean discussion about one of his most popular plays.  We meet the second Wednesday of every month.  Here's our entire 2012-13 season:

  • Sept 12 - A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Oct 10 - Hamlet
  • Nov 14 - The Tempest
  • Dec 12  - Measure for Measure
  • Jan 9 - Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Feb 13 - Coriolanus
  • Mar 13 - The Alchemist, by Ben Johnson
  • Apr 10- Othello
  • May 8 - Timon of Athens

And I can't wait for Tue Sept 18, when Josh Hitchens will be performing his one-man Dracula show at La Salle Univerity's Dan Rodden Theater.  I'm teaching a Horror Literature class this semester and I thought his show would be a great experience for my students reading Dracula.  Hitchens has performed his piece at the Rosenbach Library, the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion and Kyle Cassidy's living room (where I had the pleasure of seeing it).  

All in all, it's a busy month and I hope my family survives my frequent absence.  From Sept 10-25, I'll be home just two nights.  This is what's it like living the life of a Literary Provocateur.  

I have not been asked to judge a Miss American Vampire contest, but I would defnitely say yes if asked.


Playing Barbies on Father's Day

What do my youngest daughters want to do on Father's Day?  Play with Barbies, of course.  But when Dad plays, the game changes a bit.  Here's our Father's Day Barbie Mystery.  Can you solve it?  Leave your solution and explanation in the comments section.  Or comment on Facebook here.   

 How Dad likes to play with Barbies

Boz and Shakes like their women tall. Very tall.This party is heating up!Poe crashes the party.

Oh no! Shakespeare drowns! Was it an accident?Sherlock Holmes and Dr Barbie arrive at the crime scene.Sherlock examines the corpse.Holmes and Barbie grill the suspects.Talk, Dickens! Tell us what you know.Liv Doll Sophie refuses to talk.Theresa says, "It was Poe! Poe murdered Shakespeare!"Poe is defiant. "You can't make me talk, Holmes. I invented guys like you."The suspects: Charles Dickens, Theresa, Edgar Allan Poe, and Liv Doll Sophie.So who drowned Shakespeare in the Barbie pool?  Leave your explanation to the mystery and an explanation in the comments below.  Or visit me on Facebook and leave your comments there.  In a few days, I'll post our solution.  


Romeo and Juliet in June


The Shakespeare Book Club
at the Jenkintown Library.

Join us as we explore the works of William Shakespeare.  We discuss a different play every month.  Our June play is the greatest love story every written: Romeo and Juliet.  Read the play and come talk about it with fellow readers.  
With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls; For stony limits cannot hold love out, And what love can do that dares love attempt.
Leading the discussion will be Edward Pettit, a literary historian and writer who teaches at La Salle University and has also lectured widely on various literary topics.  Pettit is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the Philly Liars Club and is the current president of the Oak Lane Shakespeare Club, an organization founded in 1908, dedicated to reading Shakespeare aloud.  
Thursday, June 14, 2012 7:30 pm
Jenkintown Library   460 Old York Road, Jenkintown, PA
Please call 215 884 0593 for information or to register



Poe's pet raccoon

As a literary historian, the CusackPoe Raven was an unmitigated disaster, trotting out the same old drunk, drug-addled madman Poe that has bedeviled pop culture for far too long.  It's not even bold anymore.  It's just boring.  And to make him a loser, to boot, in amystery thriller, just adds further insult to injury.  

But that's the review of a literary historian, someone with a serious investment in the way Poe is received and read by culture.  Does that mean the entire movie is bad?  Well, while I don't think the movie is very good on it's own terms (the worst of its faults is the killer CusackPoe is trying to stop), there were some things I did enjoy.  

1) The pet raccoon, Karl, to whom Poe feeds a human heart.  If you're going to reinvent a literary character, go bold.  And this is such a bizarre choice that I have to say, well done.  I wish the real Poe had a pet raccoon named Karl.  I would talk about that in every Poe lecture I gave.  And then, CusackPoe has a human heart he's been scientifically dissecting and allows Karl to to eat it.  I love that!

2) The music in the film was thrilling.

3) I thought Luke Evans as Inspector Fields was excellent.  For me, the best performance in the film.  I wish this film was just a 19th century murder mystery with Evans tracking down the killer.  I would have enjoyed that much more.  

4) Watching the murders from Poe's stories come to life was exciting.  I've read some other reviews that slammed the film's use of CGI, but I didn't notice during these scenes.  Watching the pendulum blade slice up the victim and being in the room where the women in Murders in the Rue Morgue are killed is lots of fun.  

5) Alice Eve is hot.

6) CusackPoe complaining about Longfellow.  That was a nice touch in the film that other lit historians and scholars will enjoy.  Also, the victim of the pendulum blade (whom I won't name so as not to spoil the fun) was an apt choice for the film and serves as a kind of in-joke (however, in my view of the movie, it's also an ironic choice).




Yes, there is such a beast as the CusackPoe and he has flown now to a theatre near you.  My review of The Raven, starring John Cusack as a drunken, drug-addled, tormented genius is up at Cinedelphia.  Needless to say, I was not pleased with the perpetuation of the Griswoldian fabrication of Poe's character.  But what are you going to do?  People want their Poe like Byron: mad, bad and dangerous to know (although in Byron's case, most of the scandalous stories about him are true).  And if Poe films like this did not continue to spread such outrageous lies about Poe, what would I do?  

I am also featured in today's Metro for the Philadelphia area ("Philly Poe Guy Pettit has some bones to pick"), debunking the Poe myths and in the Philadelphia Daily News, journalist Molly Eichel has written an excellent piece (and included some quotes from me) about Dickens' pet raven, Grip, and how Poe was inspired by the bird.  

All in all, a good day when I can combine my two current projects, Poe and Dickens.



Literary Provocateur

Being a literary provocateur sometimes bothers others.  But that's the nature of what I'm doing.  I want to provoke reactions from readers (mainly to rethink their notions of literary history).  But sometimes, a colleague gets really pissed at you and holds a grudge.  I received this email today from a scholar with whom I had a little argument a few years ago (2009).  I haven't heard from him since then.  Certainly haven't tried to contact him about anything.  So it was odd today to find this email in my inbox:

I was going to buy my wife a membership in the Philadelphia branch of the Dickens Fellowship . . . until I learned that, your year to impersonate a Poe scholar having run out, you decided to recapitalize on the bicentennial of Dickens' birth. The thought of encountering you at their meetings there made my blood run cold.
Also noted your "literary literacy quiz", which makes me weep both for the questions asked in view of the Internet public and the answers likely given by those who take it. I feel certain there will be a host of honored students following in your wake.
But I think you missed a real opportunity with your 'reading Dickens through the year", which seems to have been modelled after the blog in the book and movie versions of Julie and Julia. I like to think of your variant as "Dickhead and Dickens", and suggest from what I've seen this title is both appropos and catchy. Give it a try.
Don't bother to reply; I blocked your address after your check bounced.
I think this guy is still holding a grudge. 

The Reading Life

The other day I had a typical reading day.  In the morning and afternoon I read some of a Dickens biography. I also received word that I’ll be reviewing a Library of America edition of David Goodis novels for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  At night I took notes on Pride and Prejudice to teach it the following day.  Then I read some Dickens.  Then read I began reading Anne Rice’s new novel, The Wolf Gift, because I’m interviewing her onstage for her event at the Free Library of Phila on Valentine’s Day.  That is an awesome reading life (and maybe one day it will be enough to pay the bills).  A day jam packed with book adventures and adventures to come. 

But the best part of this reading day was taking my seven year old daughter, Lulu, to the dentist.   As soon as we got in the car for the drive, she asked, “Can I read my book to you?”  She read a page or so then told me that she just wanted to read to herself.  When we arrived at the dentist’s office, she got out of the car, walked across the parking lot, down the steps and into the waiting room, all while continuing to read her book.  All of my satisfying reading endeavours of the day (Dickens, book reviews, novels, author interviews) melt away when I remember that one image of my seven year old daughter unable to put a book down as she walked into the dentist's office.  If I never make another dollar reading/reviewing/writing, I’ll at least know I’ve helped make another reader in this world. 


Does anyone read novels anymore?

One of Brian Demeter's gorgeous book sculturesThe short answer to that question is yes.  In America, at least half of adults still read novels (or claim to), but readers have greatly decreased in the last few decades.  Times change.  Cultures change.  And I acknowledge that novels aren't the most important things to most people anymore.  But I wanted to check with my new students (a small sampling, only 11 this semester) to see if they knew what I thought were some basic literary trivia questions, the kinds of things that I think used to be common cultural knowledge, meaning if you participated in popular culture, you probably knew the answers to these questions.  Here's the questionnaire I had them complete:

Literary Literacy Quiz


Shakespeare lived during

A) the Medieval era (600-1450)

B) the Early Modern era (1450-1650)

C) the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1800)

D) the 19th Century (1800s)


Shakespeare wrote (check all that apply)

___ poems

___ plays

___ novels

___ short stories

___ political manifestos

___ religious tracts


Who was Robinson Crusoe? 


Who was Rip Van Winkle? 


Name three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. 


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe is

A) An anti-slavery novel set in the American South in the mid 19th Century

B) A pro-slavery novel set in England during the 18th Century

C) A non-fiction study about the effects of the Civil War 


What is the first line of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick?

A) “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

B)  “Call me Ishmael.”

C) “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

D) “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 E) “It was a dark and stormy night.”


Name three Charles Dickens novels. 


Who is Holden Caulfield? 


Ulysses by James Joyce is

A) an medieval romance.

B) a modernist novel of the 20th century.

C) a melodramatic play of the 19th century.


Who wrote the Iliad?

A) Shakespeare

B) Milton

C) Homer

D) Chaucer


Who wrote the Canterbury Tales?

A) Shakespeare

B) Chaucer

C) King James

D) Mark Twain


Fictional characters or real people (in space write fic or real)

________ Robinson Crusoe

________ Sherlock Holmes

________ Tarzan

________ Edgar Allan Poe

________ James Bond

________ Ebenezer Scrooge

________ Mark Twain

________ Tom Sawyer

________ Casanova

________ Don Quixote

________ Hamlet

________ Romeo Montague

________ Victor Frankenstein

________ Oliver Twist

________ Vito Corleone

________ Lawrence of Arabia


How often do you consult a dictionary (online or paper)

A) Every day

B) Every week

C) Every month

D) Every year

E) Never


In 2011 how many of each did you read?

____ novel

____ play

____ collection of short stories

____ collection of poems

____ biography

____ other non-fiction


If yes to reading any of above, how many of each were NOT required (i.e. assigned by school or work)

_____ novel

_____ play

_____ collection of short stories

_____ collection of poems

_____ biography

_____ other non-fiction



Do you have a favorite book? If yes, name it. 


Do you have a favorite novel? If yes, name it. 


Did you ever read a book that changed the way you thought about yourself, life, the universe, etc?  If yes, name it.



Anonymous as bad history

This review will contain spoilers, so if you still want to see the movie and don’t want to know what happens, then read this after you’ve it.  

Anonymous is a terrible historical drama, meaning it is so wrongheaded about the historical time period it wishes to portray that the film can not be taken seriously.  Like Emmerich’s other costume drama, The Patriot, we get such a perverse reading of historical events that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or be angry.  And Emmerich has been strangely silent on The Patriot, as well.  There have been many stories in the press about how Anonymousis such a departure from Emmerich’s usual sci-fi/action/disaster fare, yet there is very little talk about how Emmerich has already made a historical drama.  But just as The Patriot whitewashes the American Revolution, especially regarding slavery (and demonizes the British military), Anonymous seems to take the opposite approach by muddying the waters, by taking known historical facts and situations and deliberately twisting them to convince the audience that there is an actual authorship controversy.  

Besides the major change to history made by Anonymous (that Shakespeare wrote his works), the movie is riddled with the kind of historical errors that made me question whether or not the screenwriter, John Orloff, had ever read or researched anything on the Elizabethan age.  Some of the inaccuracies: 

  • Christopher Marlowe was killed in 1593, but the movie has him alive for years afterwards.  The movie also makes a mishmash of chronology in general, so it’s a little hard to figure out in what year things are occurring. 
  • Marlowe is murdered by Shakespeare, but was actually murdered by Ingram Frazer on May 30, 1593.
  • Shakespeare’s theatre is deliberately burned to the ground by soldiers, although the movie doesn’t seem to state which theatre this is.  The Globe did burn to the ground, but not until 1613 (and this may be the very reason why we have no manuscripts of Shakesplays).  Neither of the other two theatre’s used by Shakespeare’s troupe, The Theatre and The Curtain, ever burned down.
  • Richard the Third is performed when Essex tries to lead his rebellion, but it was Richard the Second performed by Shakespeare’s troupe.  The film is also wrong about the performance of nearly every Shakesplay featured.  Midsummer Night’s Dream could not possibly have been written in the 1560s (?).  Julius Caesar comes too late.  Henry V too early.  And Shakes’ narrative poem, Venus and Adonis, is published near the end of Elizabeth’s life, when it was published much earlier.
  • The Earl of Oxford's aversion to the theatre.  Lots of aristocrats went to the theatre. 

But maybe you think this is all nitpicking.  What matters getting dates and details wrong if you get the main narrative story correct?  Normally it wouldn’t matter.  But when the director has stated that one purpose of the movie is to correct history, to educate people about what really happened, then Anonymous’ historical inaccuracies are more than just ironic, they undermine the film’s position.  We get the kind of message that history matters, unless I want to make a point, then I’ll rearrange the places, people and events to suit my own purpose.  This is precisely the problem of all the Shakespeare conspiracists: not accepting the historical record and changing it to fit their own agenda. 

Next post: why Anonymous is a terrible film about Shakespearean literature