Review of “Von Kempelen and His Discovery” (1849)


Edgar Allan Poe (writer).

Read in 2022.

Sir Humphrey Davy and a recent reproducible alchemical transmutation of lead into gold.

The premise is trite and there is little plot or character, but the treatment of the thought experiment is still very good. Poe plays with literary ontology, mimesis and realism on multiple levels, partly to build up believability as he had in hoaxes like “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845), but he also refers openly to “an amazingly moon-hoax-y air”, alluding to what others derived from his “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” (1835). Azote (nitrogen) makes a brief appearance, as in “Pfaal”, but now in its proper context. The resulting voice prefigures science fiction as it would exist 100 years later.

References here: “Philip K. Dick” tag description, The Invisible Man (1897).

text fiction