Scott Peeples

 

On his book The Man of the Crowd: Edgar Allan Poe and the City

Cover Interview of May 12, 2021

A close-up

The book is illustrated with original photographs of “Poe places” by Michelle Van Parys; it also contains a number of archival images, including contemporary maps of the cities where Poe lived. I would hope that a browsing reader would first just flip through the book and look at some of those photographs, which are an important feature of the project, along with the maps and other archival items. A few of Michelle’s photographs are “blended” with archival images to create a sort of then-and-now effect, which I really like.


rorotoko.com Archival photograph of the building that housed the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe’s workplace in Richmond from 1835 to early 1837, blended with a contemporary photograph of the same corner by Michelle Van Parys. Archival photograph courtesy of the Valentine, Richmond, VA.

But in terms of the text, I think the beginning of Chapter Three, which covers Poe’s years in Philadelphia, is a good sample of what the book is like. The first pages are about life in Philadelphia in the years after the Panic of 1837, with some quotations from contemporary observers like Charles Dickens. I also discuss Poe’s motivation for moving there, and where he settled together with Virginia and Maria Clemm. They found a house near Rittenhouse Square, a part of town that was only sparsely developed at the time. And of course, that’s why Poe could afford to live in that area—it hadn’t become fashionable yet.

This part of the chapter moves along quickly, as Poe lands a job at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, and I’m then able to describe some of the people he got to know in connection with that job as well as the significance of magazines in American life in the mid-nineteenth century. About ten pages into the chapter, I discuss some of the satires Poe wrote in the late 1830s: “How to Write a Blackwood Article”, “Peter Pendulum, the Business-Man”, and “The Man That Was Used Up”; some lesser-known stories that I think reflect his skepticism toward the world of business and politics that he was becoming acquainted with in Philadelphia.