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date: 23 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Poe’s letters, manuscript circulation, letter writing, authorship, Autography, Sarah Helen Whitman, Annie L. Richmond, Frederick W. Thomas, antebellum publishing, antebellum writers

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