The Virginian

To be published by a university press, one must demonstrate originality of scholarship.  In a forgetful age, that is not hard to do.  It is easier still when a constant rewriting of history is required to meet the ever-changing dictates of empire.  This latest biography of Edgar Allan Poe promises to emphasize “as never before” his Southern identity and his work as a journalist and critic.  The intention is noble; the execution, a failure.

That Poe, despite his Boston birth and long residence in several Eastern cities, was a Southerner, considered himself to be such, and was fiercely loyal to the region is no secret to any but English majors at our universities; hence, the supposed originality of the idea.  Hutchisson believes he has added to our understanding of Poe’s Southernness by showing how it debased his literary criticism.  Consider how Hutchisson treats the famous “Longfellow War” of 1845.  He believes that Poe went after Longfellow “because of sectional bias,” the poet being a symbol of New England literary culture, which he despised.  Likewise, he attributes Poe’s hostility to didacticism in poetry as springing from his fear of its “social implications,” meaning that it might undermine slavery.  He even declares that Poe “resisted progressivism, because it might speed the decline of the South.”


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