Poe and Hawthorne’s Bugbears: A History of American Literary Criticism

I have begun research for a monograph titled Poe and Hawthorne’s Bugbears: A History of American Literary Criticism. My study addresses longstanding conversations involving Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne in American literary criticism. The arc of Poe and Hawthorne’s respective reputations as representatives of an early national literature is a unique aspect of American culture. I take my audience to be both Poe/Hawthorne enthusiasts and more broadly those interested in American literary studies.

My focus is recording and elucidating key flash-points in the history of American literary criticism regarding each author’s respective position in regard to, for lack of a better term, the American literary canon (Greek κανών, “rule”). Because Hawthorne’s canonical status has been more-or-less secure and Poe’s has not, the juxtaposition of two contemporary writers subjected to different treatments by the profession makes for an interesting case study into what we can call the politics of criticism. This not-very-original phrase has been used by those such as William E. Cain in his 1988 study F.O. Matthiessen and the Politics of Criticism.

Though monographs have been dedicated to the Hawthorne-Melville (see Mark Beauregard’s 2016 exposé) and Hawthorne-James (see Dan McCall’s 1999 study) relationship—and for good reasons, no doubt—I believe a niche is open and ready to fill for an account of Hawthorne and Poe. Funny enough, I was first inspired by Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, complimenting my guilty pleasure of reading those dreaded political histories, such as Lincoln & Davis: Imagining America, 1809-1865 (2001). Unlike Hawthorne and Melville, Poe and Hawthorne never physically met; their interactions were confined to their quills: Poe’s three reviews of Hawthorne’s tales in the 1840’s; Hawthorne’s brief letter to Poe in 1846. Yet it is precisely their parasocial relationship—their parallel lives—that incites interest. 

For an example of Poe and Hawthorne in critical dialogue, look at the special issue in Volume 37 of Poe Studies from 2004 on precisely this topic. And more recently, in 2018, the International Poe & Hawthorne Conference was held in Kyoto, Japan. Even as early as the 1850’s across the Atlantic those superior British critics recognized something to all this. Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine published “Reading Raids:—American Literature: Poe; Hawthorne” in 1855, and The Westminister Review began its article “Belles Lettres” saying “[t]he two most original novelists of America are unquestionably E.A. Poe and N. Hawthorne” in 1859, though we will ignore the fact (for now) that Poe only finished one novel.

Just take this sentence from Van Wyck Brooks’ America’s Coming-of-Age (1915): “the two principal artists in American literature, Poe and Hawthorne, were out of touch with society as few other artists in the world had been before.” This one benign statement has a grand history behind it; and a grand future ahead of it. Investigating it is my job.

A 200 YEAR

POE-HAWTHORNE HISTORY

1827 Tamerlane and Other Poems by A Bostonian published by Calvin F.S. Thomas in Boston, MA.
1828Fanshawe: A Tale by Anonymous published by Marsh & Capen in Boston, MA.
1829Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems by Edgar Allan Poe published by Hatch & Dunning in Baltimore, VA.
1830
1831Poems by Edgar A. Poe published by Elam Bliss in New York.
1832
1833Poe wins prize for contest held by Baltimore Saturday Visiter for “MS. Found in a Bottle”; John P. Kennedy is a judge.
1834
1835
1836
1837Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne published by American Stationers’ Co. in Boston, MA.
1838The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket published by Harper & Brothers in New York.
1839
1840Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque by Edgar Allan Poe published by Lea and Blanchard of Philadelphia, PA.
1841Twice-Told Tales (2 volumes) by Nathaniel Hawthorne published by James Munroe and Co. in Boston, MA.
1842The Poets and Poetry of America by Rufus Wilmot Griswold published by Carey & Hart in Philadelphia, PA.
1843Poe wins $100 for contest held by Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper for “Gold Bug.”
1844
1845
1846
1847
1848
1849
1850
1851
1852
1853
1854
1855
1856
1857
1858
1859
1860Edgar Poe and His Critics by Sarah Helen Whitman published by Rudd and Carleton in New York.
1861
1862
1863
1864
1865
1866
1867
1868
1869
1870
1871
1872
1873
1874
1875
1876
1877
1878English Men of Letters Series ed. John Morley publishes its first literary-biography: Samuel Johnson by Leslie Stephen published by Macmillan and Co., London and Harper and Brothers, New York City.
1879Hawthorne by Henry James Jr. is published by Macmillan and Co., London and Harper and Brothers, New York City as part of English Men of Letters series ed. John Morley.
1880
1881
1882
1883The Modern Language Association (MLA) is founded for the purpose of studying modern languages, e.g., English, German, French, Spanish, Italian—in contrast to the then institutionalized study of ancient languages, primarily Greek and Latin. The first president was Franklin Carter; the second was James Russell Lowell. Stephen Greenblatt was president in 2002; Judith Butler for 2021-2022. 
1884MLA begins publication of their quarterly journal PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association). 
1885Edgar Allan Poe by George Edward Woodberry is published by Houghton, Mifflin, & Co. in Boston and New York as part of The American Men of Letters series ed. Charles Dudley Warner. Interestingly, the back of the book says one on Nathaniel Hawthorne is in preparation by James Russell Lowell. This appears to have fell through because George E. Woodberry published the one on Hawthorne for this series in 1902. 
1886
1887
1888
1889
1890
1891
1892
1893
1894
1895
1896
1897
1898
1899
1900
1901
1902Nathaniel Hawthorne by George Edward Woodberry is published by Houghton, Mifflin, & Co. in Boston and New York as part of American Men of Letters series ed. Charles Dudley Warner.
1903
1904
1905
1906
1907
1908
1909
1910
1911
1912“The Poe Canon” by Killis Campbell in vol. 27, no. 3 of PMLA published by MLA
1913
1914
1915
1916
1917
1918
1919
1920
1921Edgar A. Poe: A Study by John W. Robertson, MD printed by Bruce Brough in San Francisco

“Contemporary Opinion of Poe” by Killis Campbell in vol. 36, no. 2 of PMLA published by MLA
1922
1923
1924
1925Origins of Poe’s Critical Theory by Margaret Alterton published in vol. 2, no. 3, University of Iowa Humanistic Studies ed. Franklin H. Potter.
1926Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius by Joseph Wood Krutch published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York.
1927
1928
1929American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography (journal) is founded as part of the American Literature Group of Modern Language Association (MLA) of America published by Duke University Press and MLA. It is funny that “Literary History” appears first in the list of things in the subtitle and that this is the name of the journal—American Literary History—that will be founded in 1989, published by Oxford University Press. Jay B. Hubbell writes the Foreword and hilariously mentions that American writing “does not rival the great literatures of the Old World in artistic value.”

Hawthorne by Newton Arvin published by Little, Brown, and Company in Boston, MA. 
1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937“Criticism, Inc.” by John Crowe Ransom in vol. 13, no. 4, Autumn issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review published by the University of Virginia. Crowe argues that English Departments should reclaim the literary-object as their own object of study with an autonomous set of scientific principles. He laments how literature is often surrendered as a subset of history or ethics.
1938
1939Hawthorne’s Contemporaneous Reputation: A Study of Literary Opinion in America and England (1939) by Bertha Faust published by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia as a Dissertation in the Doctor of Philosophy.
1940
1941 American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman by F.O. Matthiessen published by Oxford University Press. 
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949
1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959
1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966Colloquium on “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” is held at Johns Hopkins University and is regarded as the seismic event of poststructuralism thought entering the American university system.  
1967
1968
1969
1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988“Whose American Renaissance?” by Frederick Crews published in the New-York Review of Books where Crew coins the term “New Americanists” to describe a wave of scholars who take a suspicious stance toward the Cold War, Liberal, Consensus in American studies, attempting to expose its ideological presuppositions, and more generally share the critical attitudes of the New Historicist movement in literary study (see boundary 2 special issue edited by Donald E. Pease in 1990 and American Renaissance by F.O. Matthiessen in 1941).
1989American Literary History (journal) founded in 1989 and published by Oxford University Press. It is fitting that a journal dedicated to uncovering the historical aspects of American literature comes out at the end of this decade—a crowning moment pointing to the directions scholarship is to follow. Vol. 1, no. 1 is on “American Pastoral Ideology.” 
1990boundary 2, spring 1990, Vol. 17, no. 1 published by Duke University Press: special issue “New Americanists: Revisionists Interventions into the Canon” edited by Donald E. Pease.
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997Daedalus, Vol. 126, No. 1 published by MIT Press on behalf the American Academy of Arts & Sciences: Part II. Trajectories of Intra-Disciplinary Change: Participant Perspectives contains a section on “Literature.” M.H. Abrams’ essay “Transformation of English Studies: 1930—1995” is the first of three essays in this section.
1998
1999
2000
2001Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race ed. J. Gerald Kennedy and Liliane Weissberg is published by Oxford University Press. The title comes from Part II of Toni Morrison’s study Playing in the Dark : Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) where she claims, “No early American writer is more important to the concept of American Africanism than Poe.” 
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Contemporary Reviews (2007) ed. John L. Idol, Jr. and Buford Jones published by Cambridge University Press.
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2020
2021
2022
2023
2024
2025
2026
2027

READING LIST

LITERATURE

Sermons (c. 1726-1758) by Jonathan Edwards 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America (1776) by Thomas Jefferson

Tales of a Traveller (1824) by Washington Irving 

Swallow Barn; or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion (1832) by John Pendleton Kennedy

George Balcombe; A Novel (1836) by Nathaniel Beverly Tucker

“Nature” (1836) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Twice-Told Tales (1837, 1842) by Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) by Edgar Allan Poe 

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839) by Edgar Allan Poe 

Essays: First Series (1841) by Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1843) by Sarah Margaret Fuller 

Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (1844) by Sarah Margaret Fuller 

Essays: Second Series (1844) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Wigwam and the Cabin (1845) by William Gilmore Sims

Mosses from an Old Manse (1846) by Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848) by Edgar Allan Poe 

The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) by Herman Melville 

CRITCISM

“Hawthorne and His Mosses. By a Virginian spending July in Vermont” (1850) by Herman Melville 

Hawthorne (1879) by Henry James

The New Laokoon: An Essay on the Confusion of the Arts (1910) by Irving Babbitt 

America’s Coming of Age (1915) by Van Wyck Brooks 

Studies in Classic American Literature (1915) by D.H. Lawrence* 

Hawthorne (1930) by Newton Arvin

The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865 (1936) by Van Wyck Brooks 

American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941) by F.O. Matthiessen

The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (1950) by Lionel Trilling 

Hawthorne’s Faust: A Study of the Devil Archetype (1952) by Willian Bysshe Stein

Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville (1955) by Harry Levin 

The Raven and the Whale: Poe, Melville and the New York Literary Scene (1955) by Perry Miller 

Hawthorne’s View of the Artist (1962) by Millicent Bell

Hawthorne Centenary Essays (1964) edited by Roy Harvey Pearce 

The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne’s Psychological Themes (1966) by Frederick Crews 

“The Inescapable Poe” (1984) by Harold Bloom

“Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation” (1984) by Jane Tompkins

American Renaissance Reconsidered (1985) ed. Donald E. Pease and Walter Benn Michaels

Ideology and Classic American Literature (1985) ed. Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen

F.O. Matthiessen and the politics of criticism (1988) by William E. Cain 

“Whose American Renaissance?” (1988) by Frederick Crews

The Office of the Scarlet Letter (1991) by Sacvan Bercovitch

Playing in the dark: whiteness and the literary imagination (1992) by Toni Morrison 

The American Face of Edgar Allan Poe (1995) ed. Shawn Rosenheim and Stephen Rachman

Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race (2001) ed. J. Gerald Kennedy & Liliane Weissberg

Hawthorne and the Real: Bicentennial Essays (2005) ed. Millicent Bell

HISTORY

The Hawthorne Centenary Celebration at the Wayside Concord, Massachusetts July 4-7, 1904 (1905)

The Book of the Poe Centenary; A Record of the Exercises at the University of Virginia January 16-19, 1909, in Commemoration of the One Hundredth Birthday of Edgar Allan Poe (1909) edited by Charles William Kent and John S. Patton 

Cambridge History of American Literature (1917-1921, 4 volumes) 

The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey (1923) by Fred Lewis Pattee

Main Currents in American Thought (1927, 3 volumes) by V.L. Parrington 

Literary History of the United States (1948, 3 volumes) 

American Literary Criticism from the Thirties to the Eighties (1988) by Vincent B. Leitch

American Literature and the Academy: The Roots, Growth, and Maturity of a Profession (1989) by Kermit Vanderbilt

Cambridge History of American Literature (1994-2005, 8 volumes)

Creating American Civilization: A Genealogy of American Literature as an Academic Discipline (1994) by David R. Shumway

The Origins of American Literature Studies: An Institutional History (2007) by Elizabeth Renker

THEORY

On the Sublime (1st c. AD) by Longinus 

A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) by Edmund Burke

Biographia Literaria (1817) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition, and in Particularly in the works of E.T.W. Hoffmann” (1827) by Sir Walter Scott 

Lectures on the Philosophy of History (1837) by G.W.F. Hegel

“The Philosophy of Composition” (1846) by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Poetic Principle” (1850) by Edgar Allan Poe

Capital, Volume 1 (1867) by Karl Marx

Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) by Sigmund Freud

“On Narcissism: An Introduction” (1914) by Sigmund Freud

“Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) by Sigmund Freud

“Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927) by H.P. Lovecraft

Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit (1947) by Alexandre Kojève

“The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience” (1949) by Jacques Lacan

“Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)” (1970) by Louis Althusser 

On Feminine Sexuality: the Limits of Love and Knowledge (1975) by Jacques Lacan

Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (1994) by Joan Copjec 

MISCELANNEOUS

History of Sexuality, Volume 1 (1976) by Michel Foucault*

From the New Criticism to Deconstruction: The Reception of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism (1988) by Art Berman