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  • Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture ed. by J. Gerald Kennedy and Jerome McGann
  • Jonathan W. Murphy (bio)
Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture. Edited by J. Gerald Kennedy and Jerome McGann. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012. 296pp. $45.00.

Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture, edited by J. Gerald Kennedy and Jerome McGann, is an excellent contribution to the wealth of new scholarship documenting the author’s multifaceted engagements with print culture in antebellum America. Building on the stellar work of Jonathan Elmer, Teresa Goddu, Terence Whalen, Meredith McGill, and J. Gerald Kennedy, this diverse collection of essays resituates the author’s oeuvre within the broader social contexts that shaped his career. Given the longstanding disagreement over Poe’s views on race, a debate which peaked with the publication of Romancing the Shadow by Oxford University Press in 2001, a volume coedited by J. Gerald Kennedy and Liliane Weissberg, one cannot help but read this latest collection as revisiting, albeit from a mostly oblique angle, what has remained a most vexed topic for Poe scholarship. Given the outstanding contributions to the field of American Studies that have been made by all of the scholars who have immersed themselves in the crucible of the Poe controversy, it is encouraging to think that the author would have derived some satisfaction from compelling his readers to confront America’s “original sin” of racial slavery. If Poe’s reputation has not emerged entirely unscathed from this affair, inasmuch as he was not immune to what Terence Whalen, in his exemplary article on the subject, has called the “average racism” of his day, we must, of course, reconcile ourselves to the facts as they remain to be found, just so long as we don’t inadvertently turn the author into a monster of our own contemporary confabulation.

The contributors to Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture turn the page on the Poe debate or, perhaps better, open a new chapter of it by taking [End Page 201] a more expansive view of the author, one that encompasses his multifaceted engagements with antebellum print culture. J. Gerald Kennedy, in “Inventing the Literati,” provides a comprehensive catalog of Poe’s many attempts to compile the principal members of America’s republic of letters. As an author who spent much of his life shuttling back and forth across the Mason–Dixon Line, and perpetually below the poverty line, Poe was vehemently opposed to the “spirit of cliquerie” and regional provincialism that dominated the national literary scene and which largely emanated from the Boston–New York corridor. As a magazine editor and cultural critic, he encouraged a distinctively American literature that fostered homegrown talent based on originality and merit and which disdained the authority of inflated reputations, and one that furthermore remained open to foreign influence while it at the same time repudiated a servile dependence on Europe. Kennedy accords with McGill’s astute assessment that even as Poe, the ever impoverished author who was dependent on his writing for his subsistence, briefly aligned himself with the robust brand of literary patriotism trumpeted by the Young Americans, this was mostly done out of his vested interest in establishing international copyright law so that “poor-devil” authors like himself would not be forced into destitution by the unfair conditions of the trade, which saw cheap editions of foreign books flood American markets. Kennedy further observes that Poe’s sustained efforts to establish an American canon is a neglected feature of his life in letters, from his earliest productions on “Autography” in the Southern Literary Messenger, which he resumed in his editorial office at Graham’s Magazine, and which culminated with the scandalous “Literati of New York City” that he composed for the Broadway Review. Kennedy does not neglect to mention the author’s own prospectuses for projected magazines, The Penn and The Stylus, both of which failed to come to fruition, or his late lectures on “American Poetry,” which were delivered amid the anthologizing spirit of the times that witnessed a number of such compilations, including one by his nemesis, Rufus Griswold. The overall gestalt that emerges...


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pp. 201-211
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