In early May, Brian and I went down to Virginia for vacation. We headed to Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello which was lovely, despite the pouring rain. The guide pointed out a vantage point from which Jefferson would watch the construction of the Rotunda at his beloved University of Virgina in Charlottesville during the last year of his life. He had designed the building, of course, along with the university’s open lawn surrounded by residential and academic buildings, and gardens. He also planned the curriculum, recruited the faculty, and once the institution opened in 1825, made a habit of inviting the students and their professors to Sunday dinner at Monticello. He considered the university his greatest achievement.
Why am I telling you this? Because in February 1826, Edgar Allan Poe enrolled at UVA. He is reported to have attended Jefferson’s funeral in July of that year but it isn’t known if he was ever a guest at Monticello. What is known is that the 17-yearold appreciated the end result of the former President’s labors. In a September 21, 1826 letter to his foster father John Allan he writes:
They have nearly finished the Rotunda. The pillars of the Portico are completed and it greatly improves the appearance of the whole. The books are removed into the library and we have a very fine collection.
It’s hard to imagine two more different men, but I like to think of them—one near the end of a world-altering career, the other just getting started—each contemplating a fine library and calling it good.
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson, frequented by Edgar Allan Poe.
From the rousing derring-do of Susan Elia MacNeal’s WWII espionage to the thoughtful examination of China’s headlong modernization in Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen police procedurals to Elaine Viets’ darkly amusing take on the US economy in her Dead End Jobs mysteries, this jumbo issue of Mystery Scene is itself a guide to a library of great reading. Joe Goodrich considers the stellar career of novelist/screenwriter/film director Nicholas Meyer. (This inspired me to read A View from the Bridge, Meyer’s Hollywood memoir, and, in a word: fabulous!) Also, Martin Edwards chats with English mystery icon Peter Lovesey, Kevin Burton Smith surveys the best send-ups (or is that take-downs?) of detectives in literature and film, and much more.
Enjoy your summer and we’ll see you this fall!
Poe's old dorm room, 13 West Range, is kept as a shrine to the famous University of Virginia student. The bed is Poe's and came from the Allan home in Richmond.