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Black and white photo of a raven atop an evergreen tree.

An Eccentric Encounter Between Dickens, Poe, and A Raven Called Grip


Few characters in the history of literature are as recognizable as a bird who captured the imaginations of two of the 19th century’s greatest writers.

One of the bodies of literary work most renowned by critics as it by the general public is that of Edgar Allan Poe. His stories, poems, and novels are fundamental to any understanding of the development of the modern investigative hero, and his sense of suspense tapped into a vein which has never ceased as the source of a terrifying metal.

In the early 1840s, Poe was but a literary critic making a living in Baltimore writing about books. One of his commissioned topics was the novel Barnaby Rudge, a sort of prelude to A Tale of Two Cities by an author quite popular at the time; Charles Dickens.

One of the Dickens’ characters in the novel is a raven, Grip, based rather openly on Dickens’ own pet raven.

Dickens happened to be touring the United States, accompanied by his wife and this particular raven, Grip. Poe and Dickens had previously exchanged correspondence, so the American host was interested to know both the writer and this bird which, according to its own legend, had an impressive vocabulary and manifested a rather proud and haughty personality.

By 1845, Poe had published what would be the greatest successes of his career, in addition to a classic that remains of note even today. “The Raven” is a narrative poem […] which definitively cements the raven’s association with night, with magic, and the gravity of nightmares. It’s from here that the sheer terror of the imagination adopted one of its greatest emblems.

Dickens’s raven can still be seen, perfectly taxidermically preserved, in the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Books Department. But the bird that inspired some of the most celebrated pages of the two great writers is best perceived in the eternal medium of words.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

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