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«Vaguely Historical, Loosely Literary, Stupidly Smart Comedy »: Discussing Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party (2016)


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«Vaguely Historical, Loosely Literary, Stupidly Smart Comedy »: Discussing Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party (2016)

Cette communication a été filmée dans le cadre du colloque international  "Writers in Neo-Victorian Fiction" organisé par l'équipe anglophone ERIBIA le 11 octobre 2019 à la Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines de l'Université Caen Normandie, sous la responsablilité d'Armelle Parey (ERIBIA, Caen) et Charlotte Wadoux (19-21, Paris 3).

Jaine Chemmachery is a Senior Lecturer at University Paris-Dauphine – PSL. Her main research fields are colonial and postcolonial literature, Victorian and Neo-Victorian cultural productions, modernity and spectrality studies.

Abstract

In this paper, I would like to focus on the comedy/thriller web series Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party produced by a group of comedians called Shipwrecked as a sequel to Socially Awkward Poe which was centered on the daily life of a “comically moody, humourless and socially backwards Poe” (tvtropes.org). In the series, Poe is in love with Annabel Lee. To impress her, coached by Lenore the Lady Ghost – one of his literary productions - he invites his large circle of famous literary acquaintances to a gothic murder mystery party. The guests are Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Mary Shelley, Louisa May Alcott, Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, Fyodor Dostoevsky, H. G. Wells and Agatha Christie.
The list epitomises the tendency of Neo-Victorian visual productions to “manipulate the setting and timeframe of the works they are adapting to locate their narratives within the height of Victorian culture” (Sarchar, 2012, 147). Here occurs, among others, a blurring of lines between different spatial locations and temporal periods, making it possible for Dostoevsky and Hemingway to be part of what is imagined to be a dinner in Victorian England. The choice of these writers also highlights a dialectics of visibility and invisibility: who is worth remembering? And as interestingly, who is worth forgetting? One may wonder about the ideological reasons accounting for the choice of the “happy few” .
I would also like to discuss the effects potentially produced on the audience by the liberties taken with the authors’ biographical information, something that is already characteristic of “biofiction” (Kohlke, 2013). I am particularly interested in how the series may impact the way the writers are remembered today, as it takes a few salient elements that are “well-known” about their works or their lives – Poe’s neuroticism or Dickinson’s reclusiveness – to build off their personalities on screen,  while leaving other information off-screen. The series, which is humourous, is also clever when it comes to reappropriating Victorian techniques of seriality and engaging with 19th century material culture (episodes ending on cliffhangers, but also bloopers, trailers, teasers, extras, etc.). It partakes of the construction of the cultural, popular afterlife of the aforementioned writers, reshaping the canon as it contributes to perpetuating certain representations associated with these authors while obliviating others.

 

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