The Unanswered Question of Race in Edgar Allan Poe’s Writing

Longreads

It is seldom mentioned that Poe came of age in a slave society, in a household where slaves were present. Poe does nothing to draw attention to the fact. An account of the business interests of Poe’s foster father, John Allan, quoted by the biographer Jeffrey Meyers, notes that he and his partner “as a side issue were not above trading in horses, Kentucky swine from the settlements, and old slaves whom they hired out at the coal pits till they died.” This last item suggests that Poe might not have been particularly sheltered from an awareness of the ugliness of the system. Charles Baudelaire has encouraged the notion that Poe was an aristocrat manqué. But John Allan was a successful immigrant merchant—by no means the type of gentleman planter who stood in the place of aristocrat in the self-conception of antebellum Virginia. Poe’s aristocrats are surrounded by mists and…

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