- Poe Writing/Writing Poe edited by Richard Kopley and Jana Argersinger
Poe Writing/Writing Poe gathers a handful of “the finest papers” given at the First International Edgar Allan Poe Conference, held in Richmond, Virginia, in October 1999 (xiii). While the publication of a selection of essays presented fifteen years ago could risk being little more than a time capsule from that significant occasion, demonstrating the kinds of scholarly approaches to Poe and his work thriving at the end of the previous century, there is much of merit in the papers that Richard Kopley and Jana Argersinger have collected here. Though the volume lacks the ambitious purpose and singular focus of the more acclaimed collections of essays on Poe to appear in recent decades (e.g., Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations ; The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe ; Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race ; Poe and the Remapping of Antebellum Print Culture ), it is to be applauded for its service to Poe studies in rescuing these essays from becoming ephemeral, the too-frequent fate of conference presentations. However, it should be noted that in the intervening years between their initial presentation and the appearance of this collection, four of these essays have already found publication in other venues, including two essays—those by Richard Rust and the late Daniel Hoffman—first published in the Edgar Allan Poe Review.
The volume is divided into two sections: “Poe Writing,” featuring essays on “Poe’s response to his reading and his larger world”; and “Writing Poe,” featuring essays on “later writers’ response to Poe” (xiii). The pieces in the first section of the book will likely make the more significant contribution to Poe studies as they explore Poe’s engagement in political, religious, and scientific debates in his time. Indeed, these essays show that the effort to read Poe’s life and work within larger cultural contexts was going strong in 1999, signaling the hold such scholarship would have on Poe studies, and indeed all of American literary studies, in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The contexts into which these scholars place Poe’s writing range from Jacksonian politics to debates about cosmology. It is no surprise that among the strongest pieces in this section of the book is one by J. Gerald Kennedy, a scholar who has been at the forefront of the efforts to place Poe into broader political and literary contexts. Kennedy’s contribution, “Poe’s ‘American’ Turn: Opposing Nationalism, Appeasing the Nationalists,” explores Poe’s evolving relationship with literary nationalism by [End Page 92] tracking the settings of his work from the predominantly Old World settings of his early-career fiction to the relocation of his stories to American locales in the 1840s. Kennedy argues that Poe’s “American turn” occurs in 1843; he presents “The Gold-Bug” as the “pivotal tale” in this redirection toward native scenes (the essay also features a useful chart to demonstrate visually the career shift). Kennedy explores various factors to explain the turn toward American settings and subjects, including Poe’s hope that such tales would be more marketable and his effort to appeal to American authors as potential contributors to his proposed magazine.
Other essays in this section also stand out as compelling contributions to our thinking about Poe within diverse cultural contexts. Robert Scholnick’s “Eureka in Context: Poe, the Newspaper, the Lyceum, and Cosmic Science” considers Poe’s lecture “The Cosmogony of the Universe” and Eureka in terms of other popular cosmological writing of the time, by figures like Robert Chambers and Ormsby Mitchel, to suggest that the vision of “the collapse of the cosmos” in Poe’s cosmogony predicts the national collapse to come (49). And Robin Sandra Grey’s “Patronage, Southern Politics, and the Road Not Taken: Poe and John Beauchamp Jones” traces connections and parallels between Poe and Jones, a now little-known partisan newspaperman and novelist, to show the desirability and liability of political patronage, which both writers believed “would give them some...