Scott Peeples’ Man of Crowds has something for everyone. It should be equally attractive to Edgar Allan Poe scholars, enthusiasts, and those who simply want to read more of Poe’s stories, poems, and essays. The volume is designed to be of value to academics and lesser mortals alike: for scholars, Peeples fills a void in Poe science, much of which is devoted to the overinterpretation of Poe’s stories and poetry through remote psychoanalysis. For enthusiasts and general readers, the text is accessible, informative, and encourages the reader to read more, this time with the discrimination and insight that Peeples offers.
Peeples convincingly provides an important balance for those who declare Poe to be largely disconnected from meaningful human or physical connections, an imaginer who relied only on his troubled inner workings. It is true, as Peeples notes, that Poe “has moved about thirty-five times in his forty-year life,” but Peeples nonetheless shows that contrary to what some might believe, Poe has been uprooted less than uprooted.
In a sense, Peeples’ thesis seems to be so much common sense: it would be strange if Poe’s literature were vacuum-sealed from its surroundings; and the fact that Poe moved just like him makes it all the more reasonable that the cities he lived in, each with its own grandeur and misery, should relate to his work. How could it not? In pursuing his thesis, Peeples does not downplay Poe’s tendency to “self-sabotage”, which includes his alcoholism and tendency to turn on his friends and colleagues – not to mention Poe’s simple bad luck. However, Peeples refuses to analyze Poe and diagnose his work based on his father’s abandonment, his mother’s early death, and his foster mother’s death. and his foster father’s reluctance to adopt Poe as his own. Others have taken this ball and run with it, sometimes further than necessary or appropriate.
Poe, like the rest of us, was a social animal, just as Aristotle said at the beginning of politics he should be.
So, as the author explains, The Man of the Crowd is a “compact biography of Poe that reconsiders his work and career in the light of his itinerary and relationship with the major cities he lived in,” namely Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, UNITED STATES. and New York City. The urban setting of Poe’s time, Peeples explains, lends itself to many of his stories because “cities were dangerous, mysterious places: they were constantly changing, easy to lose and difficult to understand” – not unlike Poe’s stories. Wherever possible, Peeples’ narrative of Poe’s wanderings is illustrated by photographs of these places taken by his colleague Michelle Van Parys. Both Peeples and Parys are faculties at the College of Charleston, where Poe lived briefly and played at least one of his stories.
An annoying habit in literary studies occurs when it is believed that the author’s personal life or circumstances explain more of the author’s work than is warranted. Scientists strive to assert causality in each case of the correlation. For example, some have suggested that Flannery O’Connor must have had a dysfunctional relationship with her widowed mother because of all of the individual matrons in their stories who are the “victims” of the author’s violent grace; In contrast, O’Connor dedicated himself to her mother and the two cultivated a close daily friendship. O’Connor was once asked by a high school English class about the meaning of the black hat her protagonist Haze Motes wore in the author’s first novel, Wise Blood. O’Connor stated that the purpose of the hat was to “cover his head”.
Peeples then skilfully takes a course between Poe’s different settings and the ways in which they reflect or may have influenced his stories. For the most part, Peeples explains the stories that were produced in each of the capital cities he lived in, or the ways that the character of those cities might be suggested in various Poe stories; it can even go so far as to suggest correlations and affinities. For the most part, however, Peeples lets the reader draw their own conclusions about how much these places might have influenced the 19th century writer. It’s always nice when readers are treated like adults.
In the chapter “Richmond (1809-1827)” the author explains the role of this city as a hub of slavery. Relevant is then the degraded status of the negro in the darkly satirical “The man who was used up”. Other stories develop the theme of physical abuse and torture, an all-too-common slave experience. “Berenice” describes the internment and mutilation of a woman who is still alive even more horribly. The first lines of this story could certainly be determined by the institution of slavery: “Misery is manifold. The misery of the earth is manifold. “Peeples also notices other stories dealing with the abuse of the human body, such as the morbid and comical” A Decided Loss “about a man who cannot get enough breath to speak and therefore against the physical intrusion into his body defenseless is body that reaches the point of vivisection.
After joining the Army, Poe was briefly stationed at Fort Moultrie, a series of Revolutionary fortifications on Sullivan’s Island off Charleston, SC. The island provides the backdrop for Poe’s brilliant story of the buried treasure “The Gold Bug”. Peeples might have added that Sullivan’s Island was the Ellis Island of the Slaves, as 40% of these unfortunate people traveled through this port when they arrived in America. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the ignorant and submissive negro servant of history, who doesn’t know his right hand from his left, is insulted and humiliated. Baltimore seems less associated with Poe’s writing, though “King Pest,” populated with peculiar characters who would have felt comfortable in a Lewis Carroll novel set in the 14th century during the plague. However, Peeples notes that it was most likely caused by one of several epidemics in Baltimore.
Poe in his prime
Philadelphia, which at the time still retained its suffocating Quaker ambience, was an especially productive time for Poe – an incredible “creative series”. It was there that Poe developed as a literary critic and refined his short story technique in Philadelphia, which has defined his legacy. Made in Philadelphia, “Ligeia” is a succinct story of obsessive love, relentless death, human will – and opium. In addition, Philadelphia’s literary atmosphere gave rise to Poe’s Lampoon’s female writer, “The Psyche Zenobia”; and the absurd portrayal of Philadelphia business life, “Peter Pendulum, the Businessman”. Unfortunately, during this period, Poe’s alcohol consumption became excessive and severely damaged his career, a pattern that would repeat itself.
The title of this book is taken from one of Poe’s more psychologically subtle stories written in Philadelphia, “The Man of the Crowd,” about an eccentric old man who only seems comfortable in human traffic jams. Peeples does not identify Poe with the character, but uses the story as an occasion to explain that Edgar Allan Poe was not a hermit, nor did he prefer to live in seclusion, despite having brief stability in a rural area Seemed to find life. Rather, like the rest of us, Poe was a social animal, just as Aristotle said at the beginning of politics that he should be.
Poe was a person, not so different from many others, who shared at least some of his weaknesses and preferences.
Poe longed for a stable family life that had been withheld from him at a young age. The best family he could build was with his young cousin Virginia, whom he married when she was only fourteen; Their mother Maria lived with them and sometimes Poe saw her as the mother he never had. Though Poe bowed to self-destructive behavior too often with his friends and colleagues, he drew energy from the urban milieu in which he normally lived, even though these urban centers were never permanent.
Poe occupied several residences in the New York City area and apparently moved more places than in other cities, for example in Greenwich and the Bronx. Poe wrote for several newspapers about common issues in Gotham, including wooden pavement and the tasteless new style of houses made from painted white pine. Peeples notes that such secular writing seems to contradict our expectations of the “Poe-esque” style. These interests seem so common. Similar and surprisingly ordinary are the technical writings of Franz Kafka, when he was a lawyer at the Institute for Work Injury Insurance of the Kingdom of Bohemia, on the regulations and the dangerous conditions of exploited Prague factory workers. The “kafaesque” style of the mechanical torture machine in “The Penal Colony” could, for example, have been inspired by the mechanical injuries of factory workers, whose conditions Kafka improved.
Poe later moved to the rural outskirts of the city. While living on the farm in Brennen, Poe wrote his most famous poem “The Raven”. The space described in the poem is believed to be based on Poe’s chamber in the farmhouse where he wrote the poem. There were several objects in his hut that reappear in the poem, but perhaps more importantly, Peeples notes that the poem’s narrator’s “inner activity” is the “seclusion” and “isolation” of working outside of New York City could reveal. Peeples also notes that “The Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether System,” a pleasant, subtly written story of inmates taking over an institution, may have been triggered by Poe’s proximity to Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, a short walk from the Brennan farmhouse has been.
In a way, Peeples humanizes Edgar Allan Poe, a welcome characterization given the mysticism that surrounds the American author. Poe is known as a drunk, restless personality, and creative genius with a brooding interest in morbidity. In other words, a person who is not that different from many others who share at least some of their weaknesses and preferences. At the very least, Peeples helps us to see that Poe’s imagination was fueled by both his external environment and his inner life.
Man of the Crowd was a joy to read. I took the opportunity to revisit the poems or stories by Poe that had escaped me, or occasionally reread the poems I had enjoyed decades ago as they were introduced one after the other in Peeple’s text. Spoiler Alert: Sometimes the writer can tell you more about a story than you might want to hear. So if you’re looking to new or first read it while Peeples introduces each work in turn, it may be best to stop, read, and then enjoy the insights that Peeples’ book may convey. Van Parys’ competent and occasionally artistic photographs complement the volume. It would have been nice if this book had been published as a hybrid between an academic book and a coffee table tape so that Pary’s work could be better appreciated. However, this would cause the opposite problem, as people would take a nice book off the coffee table to enjoy the pictures, and not so much to read the text. Aside from compromise, this interdisciplinary endeavor convinces the reader that Poe was indeed “a man of the crowd”.