Poe regularly attended New York City literary salons during the 1840s with women writers referred to as “bluestockings” in an homage to the feminist intellectuals of the eighteenth-century Blue Stockings Society. Poe depended on the salons of bluestocking women to help him access the literary marketplace. Poe’s posthumous career during the 1850s and 1860s followed a similar pattern, as his reputation was linked to a coterie of New Yorkers who modeled themselves on the bohemians of Paris’s Latin Quarter. These bohemian writers, who included Walt Whitman, used Poe as a touchstone for their own work. The various groups of New York writers who claimed Poe during his life and after his death illustrate a central tension in coterie practice: namely, that membership in a literary community both models and informs the fickle nature of the marketplace.
Poe sits at the intersection of the tightly interwoven fields of computing and mass surveillance. Examining Poe’s Dupin tales through a lens of surveillance, rather than Holmesian detection or Lacanian psychoanalysis, provides new insights into Poe’s relationship to information, communications, and metadata. In the three Dupin tales, I argue, Poe explores various aspects of digital surveillance, from data mining and profiling in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” to metadata in “The Purloined Letter.” Rereading these tales with a surveillant eye allows us to perceive more clearly the sociohistorical forces, rather than interiorized psychodynamics, at play in the Dupin tales.
This chapter looks at the dozens of enemies Poe acquired in the course of his career. Instead of understanding these enemies as a phenomenon peculiar to Poe and his individual psychological state, the chapter argues that enemies were a kind of dark, unconscious side of the friendship culture that prevailed in the magazine industry in the early nineteenth-century United States. At a time when magazines depended for their content and profitability on the voluntary labor of unpaid contributors, friendship culture, in which friends volunteered to write for the periodicals of other friends, was crucial to the functioning of the magazine publishing economy. But hatred and rage were also productive energies, goading writers to write for free for magazines as easily as friendly indebtedness. Examining Poe’s rancorous relationships with his fellow authors, this article argues that Poe’s many enemies were part of a larger economy of violent invective and grudges that formed a companion to the culture of friendship.
From 1831, when he joined the Baltimore household of his aunt Maria Clemm, to his death in 1849, Poe’s life and career were inextricable from the print culture in which he immersed himself. He worked as an editor or assistant for five different periodicals, and throughout his career he sought control of his own monthly magazine, but the closest he came was the brief ownership of a fast-failing weekly, The Broadway Journal. He published ingenious fiction and poetry as well as acerbic reviews and editorial filler, won fame for “The Raven,” and became infamous for his skirmishes with other writers. Meanwhile, he struggled with poverty, alcoholism, and the illness and death of his wife Virginia.
Both a poem and scientific treatise, Eureka is famously generically unstable. This essay considers Eureka’s instability as a symptom of the bifurcation between the domains of literature and science that took place in the nineteenth century’s first half. The essay turns to Michel Foucault’s Order of Things for a historical and conceptual framework that describes this division and suggests its implications both for Eureka’s reception and its textual strategies. Written at a time when “knowledge” was relocated from the domain of literature into the discourses of science, Eureka stages a competition between literary and scientific epistemologies.. By pointing to celebrated examples of intuition and imagination in the realm of science, Eureka confirms their epistemological value. The text then reclaims the epistemological imagination for poetry as way to shore up the waning status of literature as a legitimate form of knowledge.
This chapter approaches Poe’s life through his letters with reference to historical contexts that shaped letter writing in antebellum America, Poe’s interests in handwriting and “Autography,” the relationship between letter writing and antebellum authorship and celebrity, and shifts in Poe’s voice across multiple letters and recipients. In his letters, Poe performed identities ranging from the wronged son, the victim, the lover, and the literary genius. Poe’s epistolary “rhetoric of dread” may be linked to his lyric poetry. As scholars of letter writing in the nineteenth-century United States attest, letters were not “private documents.” Rather, they were “self-conscious” artifacts “circulating between friends and strangers.” Poe’s letters were written when the distinctions between privately circulated manuscripts and public cultures of print were destabilized. His letters to women are studied in this chapter as is the issue of poverty haunting his letters. Finally, Poe’s letters also document his desire for editorship of a magazine and his participation in the business of publishing in antebellum America.
Because nineteenth-century American prosody has not seemed very important to most accounts of American poetics, critics have not noticed how important it was to Poe. In fact, Poe was so thoroughly immersed in nineteenth-century theories of poetic meter that what he wrote on the subject may serve as a guide to transatlantic Anglophone prosodic discourse in the period as a whole. Poe may actually help scholars remember why they have wanted to leave that discourse behind. This essay considers “The Rationale of Verse” (1848), Poe’s longest and most difficult essay on prosody, in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century “prosody wars” over the relation between accentual and quantitative meter. Although that debate has been considered a British phenomenon, Poe’s immersion in it shows how central such prosodic debates were to the history of American poetics, in which British nationalist theories of meter were displaced by racist anxieties.
J. Gerald Kennedy
Poe’s production of magazine tales led to an intellectual preoccupation with terror—its origins, meanings, and effects. Read as analytical investigations into the causes of dread, many of Poe’s narratives offer striking insights into contemporary terrorism. Reexamining the events of 9/11 with Poe’s theory of the prose tale in mind, we understand better why symbolically unified events, orchestrated into dramatic action unfolding in ninety minutes, created sensational, overwhelming effects. Jean Baudrillard’s deconstruction of uncanny doubling in the 9/11 spectacle conversely explains the terrifying symbolic logic of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe claimed that terror arises from the soul, but threats from antebellum culture impelled his fiction: consumption, pestilence, premature burial, slave rebellion, and mob violence. Three tales—“The Man of the Crowd,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “Hop-Frog”—employ different strategies to analyze the creation and weaponizing of terror as well as how it may be demystified and managed.
This essay provides an overview of how artists have responded to the “graphicality” of Poe’s writing. It assesses illustrators of Poe’s work as well as artists who have been influenced by his writing. Because more than seven hundred painters, illustrators, and sculptors have reacted to Poe’s work from the time of the first illustrated edition in 1852 to the present, this essay focuses on only a handful of exceptional artists.
Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
This chapter addresses Edgar Allan Poe’s relation to postmodernism in three parts. It first considers the postmodern elements of Poe’s writing with an emphasis on hoaxes, metafictional self-referentiality, fragmentation, and an overall postmodern suspicion of metanarratives. Next it offers an overview of how Poe’s fiction has been used by poststructuralist theorists—notably, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Barbara Johnson—as well as critics including Dennis Pahl, Michael J. S. Williams, J. Gerald Kennedy, and Louis A. Renza, to illustrate poststructuralist claims about the nature of the self and language. Finally, it explores how the postmodern elements present in Poe’s fiction make him attractive to modern sensibilities. This final section considers the commodification not just of Poe’s writing but of Poe himself—how his biography and image themselves become postmodern narratives available for appropriation and exploitation in the contemporary culture of the Gothic.
Many of Poe’s stories are allegories of reading or misreading or the impossibility of reading. The first sentence of “The Man of the Crowd” intones “it does not permit itself to be read.” Here, Poe is citing a “certain German book,” though which one has eluded critics since the story’s publication in 1840. Perhaps the most obvious reason it cannot be read is because the book simply does not exist. Such a superficial but overlooked explanation would certainly fit with Poe’s penchant for sabotaging readers’ expectations. But critics have correctly used this statement of unreadability as Poe’s self-conscious gloss on his own writings, which feature all kinds of reading material, as it were, including documents that are sometimes purloined, hieroglyphs, anagrams, and specific letters in the alphabet. My essay will discuss images of unreadability in Poe’s oeuvre with special attention to Pym, which contains both a narrative of white superiority and a critique of it.
This chapter updates psychoanalytic concerns already identified in Poe with the temporal dimension of trauma theory known as Nachträglichkeit. First translated by Freud’s editor James Strachey as “deferred action,” this important concept is now more appropriately translated as “afterwardsness.” My case study uncovers a relationship between traumatic time in Poe’s satiric sendup of sensation in “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament” and his emphasis on “vivid effects” in “The Philosophy of Composition.” The argument includes Poe’s use of the word graphicality in a review of Margaret Fuller, sometimes thought to be the target of his earlier satires. Poe’s intense if ambivalent engagement with Fuller’s writing highlights a temporal dimension often obscured by earlier psychoanalytic readings, allowing us to consider the value of trauma theory for understanding the evasive operations of history so vital to his appeal.
Agnieska Soltysik Monnet
This chapter examines what many scholars consider the most accomplished and representative of Poe’s tales, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). After a brief overview of the main axes of interpretation in the story’s reception history, it proposes an analysis of the tale’s main narrative strategy, the unreliable narrator, which is typical of Poe’s short fiction in general. Linking this device to the unstable architectonics of the house in the story, the chapter shows how the unreliability of the narrator lies at the heart of the text’s ability to choreograph active reader participation. It also historicizes the specific kind of unreliable narrators that Poe favors—those lacking a moral conscience or ethically informed perception—in the context of antebellum debates about slavery.
Poe’s 1838 tale “Ligeia” epitomizes the stylistic effects and themes we usually recognize as Poesque: from the Gothic setting to daydreaming, from the poeticized vocabulary to the dense materiality of hallucinatory descriptions, from the narrator’s unreliability to the dramatic and collapsing ending. Considering major interpretations of “Ligeia” that discuss its language and style as well as its racial, queer, and colonial implications, this chapter seeks to demonstrate what makes “Ligeia” a paradigmatic tale in the Poe canon. Specifically, by modernizing Gothic conventions and by pushing the Romantic sublime to the limits of sensational prose, “Ligeia” invents a new sensibility that makes the tale strikingly modern, despite its often archaic and odd vocabulary. To argue this point, the chapter focuses on two contextual frameworks that have hitherto received lesser critical attention: the tale’s embeddedness in contemporary print culture, the first venue of its publication in particular; and the function of the Medusa myth and Medusa-inspired imagery in “Ligeia.”
Everything that Poe wrote is touched by the question of life. Most notably, dead women come back to life, the living switch personhoods with the dead, and hearts dismembered from the body keep on beating. Such existential shifts were typically interpreted as Poe’s take on the Gothic, his engagement with the supernatural, or, as political allegories. Declining to follow any of those directions, this chapter will take Poe’s ideas about life literally and nontrivially. Closely discussing such texts as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Mesmeric Revelation,” and Eureka, the essay will investigate Poe’s continuous insistence that nothing is inanimate and immaterial, as well as his claim that life can’t be understood according to an anthropomorphic model. Reading his literature against the backdrop of the scientific treatises on life and vitalism that influenced him, this chapter will seek to explain what is at stake in Poe’s statement that even “unorganized matter” is alive and sensuous, endowed with capacity for pain and joy.