Borges Autobiographical Essay

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He then sought and received an appointment to West Point and reported for duty in June 1830.

According to his biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn, Poe felt that a military commission was the only means by which he could secure the gentlemanly status to which he had been raised by Allan but which had been denied him by Allan’s withdrawal of financial support.

One of the more interesting aspects of Borges’ development as a fiction writer in the late 30’s and early 40’s was his decision to turn away from the French literary influence that represented the artistic ideal for most of his fellow Argentinians (an Argentine obsession that he was to satirize in “Pierre Menard, Author of ”) and to turn toward English, and particularly North American, fiction as the principal foreign literary influence on his work.

For the past several years I have been working on one aspect of that North American influence—Borges’ project of doubling Poe’s three detective stories with three stories of his own.

In some sense these two questions turn out to be the same question or at least to have the same answer, for clearly one of the reasons that Borges as a South American was attracted to this particular North American writer was that Poe thought of himself as a Southerner.

Though Poe had been born in Boston, he had been raised by his foster parents, the Allans, in Virginia, and he seems to have considered himself a Southern gentleman, even something of an aristocrat (albeit a fallen one), for the rest of his life—a regional (and social) designation that served in some degree to distinguish him in his own mind from the largely Northern literary establishment in which he moved and in terms of which he sought success.

Not only is the work in a foreign language (and one which the narrator clearly feels is inferior to French), but it is crude, bawdy, filled with an earthy vitality that makes it seem doubly foreign to the world in which Menard lives.

The narrator goes to some lengths to explain this choice, but we are perhaps in a better position to understand what Cervantes represented for Menard because of our sense of what Poe represented for Borges.

No doubt, Poe, with his Virginia upbringing, felt as well a certain chivalric attraction to military life, and at this point he must have also thought that there would be enough free time in the Army for him to continue his writing. So well known were Major Poe’s services that he became brevetted in the eyes of the public and was known for many years as “General” Poe.” Quinn adds that in his seventies “General” Poe seems to have resumed his military career and “taken part in the defence of Baltimore in 1814 against the British attack.” The memory of his grandfather’s services to the nation may well have influenced Poe’s application to, and acceptance by, West Point, but whatever the reason for his decision, the discipline of West Point soon proved too much for the young man.

In addition, Poe may have been led to this career by the fact that his paternal grandfather, David Poe, Sr., had been something of a local military hero. Poe decided to leave and in January 1831 managed to get himself court-martialed for “Gross neglect of Duty” and “Disobedience of Orders.” He departed the Academy in February and supported himself for the rest of his life as a writer, but he dedicated his published in April 1831 to “The U. Corps of Cadets.” This passage in Poe’s life must have had a special resonance for Borges, for like Poe he also had a paternal grandfather who was a local military hero, and he seems to have felt an attraction for both the military and the literary life.

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