- Abstracts for the PSA Panel at MLA 2017
Poe and Antebellum Writers
Presiding: Amy Branam Armiento, Frostburg State University
1. “Dancing with Cholera: Poe and Nathaniel Parker Willis,” Sarah Schuetze, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay
2. “Poe, Hawthorne, and Detective Fiction as Mediated through Borges,” Emron Esplin, Brigham Young University
3. “‘Poor Poe, You Know, Was a Bohemian’: Whitman, Poe, and the Bohemians of Antebellum New York,” Edward Whitley, Lehigh University
Respondent: Barbara Cantalupo, Penn State Lehigh Valley
Dancing with Cholera: Poe and Nathaniel Parker Willis
Upon reaching the United States in 1832, cholera seemed to step directly onto the pages of American serial publications as a sensationalized, fear-inducing character in the popular press. Cholera’s movement, particularly its ability to cross the Atlantic after devastating Europe, inspired numerous imaginative representations of the disease as a supernatural creature, able to permeate a fortified structure, assume human form, and vanish only after first exposing all to its poison—a representation that Poe reinvigorated with his figure of the walking pestilence in “The Masque of the Red Death.” Poe wrote four stories that relate to cholera and seem to invoke the same dread mixed with delight that could be found in cholera writing in popular periodicals in 1832. Accounts, poems, warnings, reports, advice, and stories written in the voice of cholera proliferated during those epidemic months. One publication, the New York Mirror, published a column written by Nathaniel Parker Willis titled “First Impressions of Europe,” which gave firsthand accounts of cholera in Paris. In this essay, I look at Willis’s influence on Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” as an example of Poe’s engagement with the many authors of 1832 cholera writing, one of the peak years in Poe’s short story production. I argue that like Willis and other cholera authors, Poe dabbled with a particularly provocative form of fear in writing fearsome stories about cholera because fear was believed to actually [End Page 239] initiate a cholera infection. Thus, these captivating stories were believed to threaten readers’ bodies even as it delighted them.
Poe, Hawthorne, and Detective Fiction as Mediated through Borges
In his praise for Edgar Allan Poe as the father of modern detective fiction, Ellery Queen looks back to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe” as a precursor to the genre and cites Vincent Starrett, who argues that Hawthorne’s tale “comes close to being a detective story in the purest sense.” To bolster Starrett’s claim, Queen then cites Poe’s second review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in which Poe applauds this story. However, what Queen implies—that Poe’s praise for this tale somehow connects it to detective fiction—Poe’s review does not even suggest. Poe did not—in fact, could not— see the seeds of the detective genre in “Higginbotham” because the genre did not yet exist, not even in the mind of its inventor who had already published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and who was writing “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” at the very time he published this review of Hawthorne. Twentieth-century readers, not Hawthorne’s contemporaries, see the germ of detective fiction in “Higginbotham”—an otherwise failed attempt at local color, vernacular, and humor—because they have been trained in the genre from the very time they learned to read.
One of the most important readers to find detective elements in “Higginbotham” is the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who anthologized a translation of the story as “La muerte repetida” in a now-famous book he coedited with Adolfo Bioy Casares in 1943. In this paper I analyze how Borges’s decision to anthologize “Higginbotham” as the lead story in Los mejores cuentos policiales turns Poe’s contemporary into his precursor and writes Hawthorne into the history of modern-day literature’s most ubiquitous genre.
“Poor Poe, You Know, Who Was a Bohemian”: Whitman, Poe, and the Bohemians of Antebellum New York
In the 1855 short story “The Bohemian,” the Irish American fiction writer Fitz-James O’Brien has one of his characters lament the poverty-stricken career of “poor Poe, you know, who was a Bohemian.” During Poe’s...