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date: 15 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay argues that Poe’s late satires attempt to dramatize the power of public opinion in Jacksonian democracy, especially insofar as that opinion asserts its authority by overriding individual thought and belief. Beyond Poe’s disdain for the stupidity and malleability of popular beliefs, in other words, what haunts the strained comedy of his increasingly bitter late satires is his interest in how such beliefs acquire a seemingly uncontestable power. In these stories, public opinion is sinister because it is collective without being intentional; it emerges, but it is traceable to no will and no plan, communal or otherwise. In satires like “Mellonta Tauta” and “Some Words with a Mummy,” Poe examines the inevitably thwarted desire to stabilize meaning by tracing opinion to an original source. In “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” Poe parodies the attempt to ground individual belief in something less ephemeral than collective opinion.

Keywords: Edgar Allan Poe, public opinion, satire, hoax, democracy, meaning

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