Poe Doesn't Love You

Published:April 22, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe

Jill Lepore writes on Edgar Allan Poe in this week’s New Yorker:

You love Poe or you don’t, but, either way, Poe doesn’t love you. A writer more condescending to more adoring readers would be hard to find. “The nose of a mob is its imagination,” he wrote. “By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.”

She also provides a Poe cryptogram and its weird solution.

If you’re a fan of Annabelle Annabel Lee,” Poe’s famous 1849 poem, then you might enjoy this satire by the New York newspaper columnist Franklin Pierce Adams, who went by his initials, F. P. A.

Finally, as always, our take on Poe can be found here.


7 Comments on “Poe Doesn't Love You”

  1. Rob V

    Lepore’s article is as condescending as this character of Poe she created. Though the contextual information on early 19th century publishing and economics is fascinating, the info on Poe is misleading, inaccurate, and insensitive. By the way, the poem is called “Annabel Lee.”

  2. Brendan Wolfe

    Thanks for the comment and the correction. While it’s hardly my role to defend Jill Lepore, it seems only fair you explain what, in particular, was “misleading, inaccurate, and insensitive” about her article. I’m especially curious to hear about the “insensitive” stuff, because I’m not sure what she is obliged to be sensitive to — is it Poe himself? And if so, why?

  3. Rob V

    Well, yes. If you know anything about the afterlife of Poe, Poe-bashing has been a constant problem since his death in 1849. Lepore refers to it regarding Rufus Griswold’s hatchet job of Poe in 1849-1850. The article paints Poe in the typical yet inaccurate inveterate “bad person” with perpetual problems. Even as the article attempts to explain his financial difficulties rationally (the economy of 19th-century publishing), it still manages to make him look like a screw-up. These negative images of Poe (including the unending rumor that he was a drug addict) are something that Poeists (like myself) have been fighting for decades. So, maybe it’s insensitive to us- and not just Poe.

    As far as the factual errors: Poe was not drunk when found in Baltimore, the “cooping theory” (that he was dragged around town as an unwillingly participant in a voting scandal) has long ago been dismissed, his foster-father did not work for “The House of Ellis,” Jane Stanard’s name is spelling wrong, Griswold was never the editor of the weekly “New-Yorker,” the job Poe hoped for with the Tyler administration had nothing to do with cryptography, the connection between Virginia Poe and “Annabel Lee” is superficial at best (okay, that’s opinion, not fact)… but that’s just what I remember without re-reading the article.

  4. Brendan Wolfe


    Thanks for checking back and for listing the various inaccuracies. And I do know something about the afterlife of Poe; however, I don’t really get why anyone — me, you, Jill Lepore — needs to be “sensitive” to Poe. I can understand, sort of, why you would want people to be sensitive to the historical work that you’ve accomplished, but certainly no one has an obligation to be.

    The only obligation is to be accurate and that has nothing to do with sensitivity. In fact, there are plenty of cases where the “sensitive” thing to do would be to look away from the history. (Here I’m speaking in general terms and not about Poe in particular.) That’s why that original comment of yours riled me up a bit: your relationship with Poe is your own and nothing the world needs to tiptoe around. It’s history; it’s not personal.

    That said, we owe you and your fellow Poe-ists great thanks for debunking Griswold and presenting a more complicated, more interesting, and more true man.

    Thanks again.

  5. Rob V

    Still, I do think sensitivity is required – especially in case where, as we’ve determined, the scholar is inaccurate. Considering how much Poe’s life story was destroyed by Griswold and that myth perpetuated by others, it’s important for scholars to find the truth rather than recycle (or even exploit) these inaccuracies. Lepore wasn’t careful enough in that sense. Further, maybe it’s just because I love dead people, but shouldn’t we always be sensitive about how we portray people who can’t defend themselves? If Poe were a relative of mine, I’d certainly hope writers didn’t continuously portray him inaccurately – as Lepore did. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed many of your blog posts and I hope I’m not coming across as argumentative. Poe is “my guy” so maybe I’m the one being sensitive? 🙂

  6. Brendan Wolfe

    Rob, not at all. I’m the one pushing you on this subject because, perhaps, I’m the one who’s “sensitive” about it!

    What we should do as decent people — be sensitive about how we portray people who can’t defend themselves — is different, I think, from what we’re obligated to do as historians. That’s because what’s sensitive is hopelessly arbitrary, while what is accurate can be tricky but at least it’s not arbitrary.

    Still, I think we agree more than we disagree here. I am writing a book on a (less famous than Poe) dead person about whom many people argue, and these charges of sensitivity come fast and fierce. What amazes me is the personal connections we make to our subjects and the lengths we’ll go to defend them. In many instances, I think we take this idea of sensitivity too far because it provides a convenient argument for not looking at what we don’t want to look at.

    This, however, is not what you are up to. And I thank you again for the comments. They’re much appreciated.

  7. Rob V

    Your research sounds fascinating and I can relate. My own work right now is on a full-length book on a certain dead person I’ve already mentioned in my comments (not Poe). Ironically, I’ve become quite sensitive/enamored with him – his faults included.

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