Shining a spotlight on an era when the lines separating entertainment, speculation, and scientific inquiry were blurred, Tresch reveals Edgar Allan Poe's obsession with science and lifelong ambition to advance and question human knowledge. Even as Poe composed dazzling works of fiction, he remained an avid and often combative commentator on new discoveries, publishing and hustling in literary scenes that also hosted the era's most prominent scientists, semi-scientists, and pseudo-intellectual rogues.
Rather than feeling like a dive into minutiae or a specialist’s niche, Tresch’s approach manages to open up the world of Poe’s writing in an unexpectedly fascinating way. What emerges is how Poe’s interest in—and sometimes misunderstanding of—science drove some of his greatest works of horror. Anyone already familiar with Poe’s life will see all the same beats hit here ... Unlike earlier accounts, though, The Reason for the Darkness of the Night highlights several underexamined episodes in Poe’s life, including his years in the Army and at West Point ... Tresch shows in Poe an almost methodical program to take scientific and psychological advances, and wring horror from them by pushing them to their limits.
Tresch packs quite a lot into his book—there’s even an ingenious deconstruction of the title page of Poe’s nautical novel, the macabre and tantalizingly enigmatic 'Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.' Still, prospective readers of The Reason for the Darkness of the Night should be aware that it isn’t a sustained, detailed exposition of Poe’s life so much as a rich assemblage of biographical vignettes, brief story analyses and mini-essays on the era’s scientific beliefs. In general, Tresch’s overall thesis—that Poe’s 'deep familiarity with science was the fulcrum on which his thought balanced'—seems unarguable, given the presence of the 'ratiocinative' in so much of what he wrote. Yet, ultimately, it is Poe’s other aspect, his ability to convey monomaniacal intensity, verging on hysteria, that we are drawn to, his gift for expressing what D.H. Lawrence floridly called 'the prismatic ecstasy of heightened consciousness.'
Tresch’s luminous study situates Poe’s life and work in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century scientific revolution ... Tresch brilliantly illuminates the process by which Poe synthesized his scientific knowledge in his works of the imagination ... As Tresch so trenchantly establishes, Poe was a towering genius who somehow dwelled in the shadows of his own creations.