Edgar Allan Poe's tendency to “borrow” material from contemporaries remains an unsettling fact of his art. Too few studies have lingered, for example, on a striking resemblance between the “bird or devil” of Poe's “The Raven” (1845) and the talking raven named Grip in Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge (1841), except to say that Poe praised the novel (and especially Grip) in a review for Graham's Magazine. Yet the poem's Dickensian matter provides an ideal gateway to its deeper obsession with creativity itself. Through close reading and historicization, my article recasts “The Raven” as a paranoid allegory of its own quasi-plagiaristic origins. Read against the backdrop of a literary marketplace unchecked by international copyright law, the poem defies both its speaker and us to locate the true source of its strange power. In supposing that his guest learned the word “Nevermore”—so like Grip's cries of “Nobody!”—from “some unhappy master” long ago, the speaker points not only to Dickens (who kept three pet ravens in the course of his life), but also to the raven's entire symbolic provenance, stretching back to Roman myth and beyond. Ultimately, as bird and devil, Poe's raven condemns the futile, even disastrous struggle to isolate any symbol from its prior lives.

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