A propos Anna Shmatenko

Anna Shmatenko holds a BA in English from the University of Cambridge and an MA in Anglophone Studies from Sorbonne Université. She is interested in the representations of liminal states between life and death in the literature of the nineteenth-century United States.

Report // Michael Boyden, “Choleraic Communication in the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Invalidism,” 27 March 2024

Link to original event here.

Invested in the conceptual evolution of the tropics in the cultural imaginary of the nineteenth-century United States, Michael Boyden presented a talk in which he explored how that period understood the interrelations between health, climate and the environment. Amid the simultaneous upsurge of interest in topographical medicine and clinicians’ contemporary attempts to deepen their appreciation of the complex relationship between disease and the locales in which it occurred, the tropics, namely the Caribbean islands, underwent a significant conceptual transformation at this moment in history. According to Boyden, they shook off their reputation as a largely uninhabitable setting and took up the role of health resorts and sanatoriums for white middle-class New England visitors, who were engaging in what can be understood as an early form of health tourism.

Referring to James Clark’s medical treatise titled The Influence of Climate in the Prevention and Cure of Chronic Diseases (1830), Boyden traced the tentative and gradual reimagining of the tropics and their influence on the patient’s body. Attempting to articulate a nuanced consensus on the environmental conditions of the Caribbean islands, Clark warns of the exciting influence that their excessive climate can have on healthy individuals, even as he insists on the restorative qualities that such conditions can provide for certain invalids, provided they are given adequate moral and material guidance. Boyden likewise consulted a different contemporary treatise—Abiel Abbot’s Letters Written in the Interior of Cuba (1828)—which both shares and adds to Clark’s sentiments. In it, Abbot engages in a topographic exercise of charting “sickly” locales, such as port cities and marshes, and differentiating these from the islands’ more healthful sites, which he believed to have been made such thanks to the frequent passage of wind.

Moreover, the examples selected by Boyden provided deep insights into the preconceived links between morality, disease and the environment. Prior to the widespread awareness of cholera’s arrival in the United States during the second cholera epidemic of 1836-1837, white Americans’ moralised view of geography regarded cholera as a disease endemic to the tropics, the unseemly symptoms of which uniquely affected the members of the uncivilised world. As Boyden pointed out, this view stood in direct opposition to the commonly held beliefs surrounding tuberculosis, which was at once associated with cold environments and civilised states, with spirituality and high morality, which led to the disease’s frequent and extensive aestheticisation during this period. These observations led Boyden to posit that the contemporary climate ideology viewed the relationship between civility and morality on the one hand and disease on the other as inversely proportionate.

This climate ideology both manifests itself and comes up against its limits in Sophia Peabody’s journal entries during her retreat to Western Cuba as well as in the letters of Edward Bliss Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s younger brother. While on the island, Peabody observed a cholera outbreak among the local enslaved population, and, following contemporary medical thought, concluded cholera to be a product of overstimulation, a combined result of poor working conditions and the tropical environment. Boyden demonstrated that Peabody’s implicit view of disease distribution along racial lines is shattered against the reality of the plantation owner’s death by cholera, challenging the disease’s presumed moralised geography and biology.

Edward Emerson’s encounter with cholera was likewise ideologically transformative, Boyden showed. Exhibiting a similar climate ideology that viewed disease, environment, and morality to be mutually interconnected, in his case framing cholera as a divine punishment and retribution, Emerson expressed anxiety that the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean remained unaffected, even as this deadly illness ravaged the free soil of the United States. Boyden reminded that in “Civilization” (1870), Ralph Waldo Emerson also mapped morality and civility onto various geographies, notably when he suggested that “The highest civility has never loved the hot zones,” only to refute this position later in the essay, thus defying the climate ideology that is often mobilised to justify slavery.

Inverting the question of climate ideology in connection with race, the audience joined the speaker in discussing the relationship between white female invalidism and the tropics, remarking on the anxieties surrounding this partial liberation of women’s bodies and thinking through the way their exposure to racialised bodies was used to confirm these women’s white gentility and femininity. Furthermore, Boyden addressed the problematic, yet unfortunately still prevalent discursive trope of anthropomorphising disease as a foreign intruder who disrupts local peace, which still persists to this day, especially in relation to contagious illnesses emerging from tropical countries. He asserted that although the racialised discourse of tropicality has not yet been entirely eradicated, the shift of focus towards crafting policy aimed at future outbreak prevention and international cooperation has ensured that certain places on the globe are no longer viewed as inherently sickly or unhealthy.

Finally, taking the swamp as an example of a site considered to be noxious in the tropics, the audience enquired into the different, even contrasting environmental imaginaries of the swamp, concluding that, in light of the absence of an established medical consensus, authors were at liberty to attribute qualities to various geographies in accordance with their personal aesthetic, cultural and even socio-political investments. Thus, Henry David Thoreau presented swamps as locales possessing health-restoring properties across the body of his work, while Harriet Jacobs commented on their disabling effects as much as on their liberating potentials in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), given their ambivalent role in facilitating her difficult escape from slavery.

Report // Paulin Ismard, Le Miroir d’Oedipe: Penser l’esclavage, 22 March 2024

Link to original event here.

A scholar of Ancient Greek history, Paulin Ismard gave a talk that illuminated the broader context of slavery—a subject that has rightfully commanded outmost attention in the field of American Studies over the past several decades—by rethinking its inception at the heart of Western civilisation’s earliest ancestors and first known slave societies. Tracing the presence of slavery in the works of such authors as Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner back to the very earliest roots of one of humanity’s most persistent and oppressive practices, Ismard’s talk revealed how the questions that animate our field are not unique to the national context of the United States of America and in fact have a long antecedence in ancient history.

Ismard began the talk by highlighting that there are very few extant texts that reflect on—let alone attempt to justify and legitimate—slavery in the Ancient Greek context, and, save for a few brief mentions, it is likewise absent from antique philosophy. Even in such politically-motivated meditations as Aristotle’s Politics and Plato’s Republic, works that acknowledge the unprecedented uniqueness of these thinkers’ socio-political world, the latter is the only of the two texts to mention slavery, which it does in a brief aside, despite the undeniable fact that Ancient Greece was one of the first human societies to rely on slave labour at such a massive scale. For Ismard, the preeminent question was this: how do we think and talk about the people who were omnipresent in this ancient world and yet had been entirely written out of this world’s narrative? It is this silence that motivated Ismard to turn to the very different socio-political and cultural context of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, recognising the potential of borrowing from the distinctly Americanist approach to literature, which often involves identifying and inspecting slavery’s many invisible traces by reading between the lines and reconstructing its momentous presence out of absence.

This deafening silence complicates the intimate relationship that the modern Western world claims to have with Ancient Greece and its legacy, Ismard argued, which includes, most importantly, the West’s inheritance of the Greeks’ democratic tradition. Ismard emphasised that political freedom, the trophy that the West of today reclaims from the Greco-Roman history and for which Ancient Greece is tirelessly commemorated, was conceived in the first-ever slave society, democracy and slavery walking in step since long before the founding of the United States of America, joined together from the very moment of their twin birth. Ismard was particularly interested in how slavery affects the country’s cultural imaginary, how such a vast chasm between a people’s lofty conception of themselves and their oppressive actuality is inscribed into that country’s legacy, a question that is pertinent to discussions of both the Ancient Greek society and that of the nineteenth-century United States.

Following Orlando Patterson’s central metaphor and line of thinking, around which his seminal work Slavery and Social Death (1982) is organised, Ismard remarked on the age-long association between slavery and death that transcends individual societies and cultures. The transcultural imaginary’s attribution of subhuman status to the enslaved and their placement on the threshold between life and death calls for a dismantling and fundamental re-conception of the opposition between these two terms, such as the one undertaken by Jacques Derrida in his seminar La vie la mort (1975-6). Hoping to shed light on the connection between enslavement and death in the Ancient Greek context, Ismard followed Toni Morrion’s analysis in Playing in the Dark (1992), turning his attention to the recurrent image of the undead that inhabit much of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, which is likewise deeply haunted by the spectre of slavery.

Ismard further remarked that the status of the body in Ancient Greek culture has not yet been thoroughly examined and interrogated by relevant scholarship, especially in light of the fact that one of the terms used to refer to slaves, “σῶμα” (“sôma”), was the same word as the one denoting the physical body. A host of telling examples suggesting the depth of the associative interconnection between these two terms can be found in contemporary books on dream interpretation, where enslavers are instructed to view dreams about their body parts malfunctioning as signs of their wavering rule over those they enslave. Conceived as both tools and organs, the age-old image of a slave as an integral part of the enslaver’s body presents an unsettling vision of slavery as an anxiety-ridden mutual interdependence, which is a nuanced metaphorical transformation that merits further analysis. Instead of disappearing with its world, Ismard noted that this unsettling vision came to haunt the literary imaginary centuries later within a vastly different context of the nineteenth-century United States. It appears in such texts as Poe’s short story “The Man Who Was Used Up,” where the tension between inalienable nature of flesh and the alienable of property is written into the body of the enslaved, which has been disturbingly co-opted into becoming the enslaver’s prosthesis.

Moreover, Ismard commented on Ancient Greece’s canonical textual productions and the too-often overlooked role of that the enslaved occupy therein. For example, Ismard discussed the role of the enslaved shepherd in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, who is the one to announce Oedipus’ incestuous transgression. Although the shepherd is a marginal character, foreign to the local community, his knowledge of the truth is absolute, making him akin to the gods. This revelation came as a result of Ismard’s examination of recurrent oedipal references in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, a novel that is similarly replete with enslaved figures placed into the position of absolute knowledge, thus offering an important insight into the ancient tragedy that it incessantly references.

The post-presentation discussion followed three main axes of inquiry. The audience challenged Ismard’s choice to compare these two very distinct societies and their cultural productions, remarking on the great multitude of slave societies throughout history that were not included in the inquiry. While acknowledging the formal constraints, such as the inevitability of having to limit the archive, Ismard proposed a unifying principle, making a distinction between slavery and temporary servitude, and commenting on the difference between societies that happen to contain slavery and slave societies, which, unlike the former, are entirely structured by this oppressive system, as is the case for both Ancient Greece and the nineteenth-century United States. The second axis concerned the question of race and its centrality to American slavery, a question that is entirely irrelevant when considering the Ancient Greek reality, which makes the comparison between these two contrasting contexts at once thought-provoking and productive. It opened up the conversation about the incidental nature of slavery and the arbitrariness of its justifications, designed to protect the powerful group from falling victim to enslavement, within any given society, as is the case, for example, of the alleged biological differences between European and African Americans. Finally, the third axis pertained to the conception of the enslaved as existing on the border between life and death, and the evolution of this notion and the practices associated with it (e.g. mesmerism, zombification, hypnosis, etc.) throughout the ages and across various slave societies.

Report // Emma Thiébaut (LARCA), “Beyond Genus and Genre: the (Nonsense) Politics of Animality in the Life and Works of M.E.W. Freeman,” 1 March 2024

Link to original event here.

Emma Thiébault’s talk delved into Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s short stories and personal correspondence to uncover how her writing, whether fictional, semi-autobiographical or epistolary, repeatedly and deliberately queers the culture of pet-owning. A proud owner of several cats herself, Freeman revered the bonds that tie together pets and their owners, paying tribute to many of her beloved felines in her tales. Thiébault argued that, for Freeman, interspecies love becomes a creative space where queer affective identities are expressed and experimented with under the guise of a more innocent and childish attachment.

The first story Thiébault discussed was “An Object of Love” (1884), which centres on Ann, a celibate woman who loses her faith in God when her beloved cat Willy goes missing. Thiébault posited that Willy is himself the unmistakeable object of Ann’s devotion who acts as the nexus of Ann’s domestic spirituality and around whom her religious worship is structured, justifying how the disappearance of the cat results in the erosion of her faith. Noting the prevalence of the language of religious reverence in contemporary confessions of romantic love (notably, in personal correspondence), Thiébault demonstrated that Ann’s love for her cat is coded as not only spiritual but romantic, which is further reinforced by the story’s publication on Valentine’s day.

Despite the tale’s layered subtext, Thiébault noted that the word “love” only appears once and only in the story’s title, while being completely absent in the body of the text, much like Willy himself, who only returns at the end of the narrative. Willy’s disappearance makes it impossible for Ann to express her love for him, be it verbally or physically with the help of food and pets, all the more so because of the disapproval of her community. Consequently, all she can do is regret his absence, which, Thiébault showed, inscribes love in the negative space of the story. According to Thiébault, it is a love that will not acknowledge itself, will not “say its name,” drawing an obvious parallel with sapphic love and encoding queer affect into the inexpressible feelings that characterise the experience of pet ownership.

The second story that Thiébault read was “The Little Persian Princess” (1889), which is nestled deep within the context of Freeman’s private relationship with her editor, Mary Louise Booth. The women’s correspondence hints at Freeman’s romantic feelings for Booth, which she was careful to differentiate from a sisterly bond by filling her letters with romantic imagery borrowed from sentimental literature and adopting the epistolary persona of her addressee’s suitor. The exchange of letters and stories performed and deepened the affective proximity between the two women, culminating, as Thiébault demonstrated, in Freeman’s writing of “The Little Persian Princess,” a tribute to Booth, in which the latter secretly figures as a character.

In the story, two royals are transformed into cats and are subsequently adopted into the household of two ladies. Thiébault pointed out that the secret to these fictionalised women’s identities lies in the names they give to their new pets—“Vashti” and “Muff,” after Booth’s own two cats. Thiébault described the tale as one of “transformation and secret recognition” in that the felines’ names act as a key to accessing not only the women’s identities but also to revealing the queer nature of the ladies’ cohabitation, discretely unveiling the sapphic household. Thiébault argued that “The Little Persian Princess” is itself a kind of love-letter from Freeman to her beloved editor, one that perfectly embodies their relationship at the intersection between the intimately personal and the commercial.

In the final section of her talk, Thiébault explored yet another queer dimension of felinity, namely its haptic output. Petting or caressing, the central practice used to deepen the affective bonds between cat and owner in “The Object of Love” and “The Persian Princess,” is a non-penetrative gesture used to distribute mutual pleasure, evoking sapphic eroticism. This covert sensual practice is likewise extended to the reader, similarly implicating her in the clandestine sapphic bonds on the page, Thiébault noted, as holding the text is itself a form of a subtle caress. The childlike innocence of Freeman’s feline vocabulary (“Kitten,” “Pussy”) as well as of all the aforementioned tactile practices—stroking a cat’s fur, handling letters, holding a book—protects sapphic sexuality from unambiguous discovery by shrouding it in uncertainty. In Freeman’s creative tributes to pet ownership and interspecies love, queerness figures as a perpetual possibility: always there, yet never confirmed.

The subsequent discussion became a collaborative effort aimed at placing Thiébault’s discoveries in the larger context of pet-ownership in the nineteenth-century United States. Most notably, the conversation focused on urban middle-class practices of pet-keeping, in which cats were transformed into treasured companions, which contrasts sharply with their functional utility in more rural settings. The history of association between felinity and sapphic sexuality was likewise touched on by Thiébault and her audience.

Report // Julien Nègre, “Cute Berries and Dead Indians: Thoreau’s Environment,” 2 February 2024

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Excursions are known to be Henry David Thoreau’s privileged mode of travelling and writing. In “Cute Berries and Dead Indians,” Julien Nègre (ENS de Lyon) followed this concept across Thoreau’s unpublished manuscripts, more commonly known as the Indian Notebooks, paying particular attention to the parallels between Thoreau’s explorations of the plant world and his encounters with the last representatives of decimated Indian tribes. The heterogeneous information amassed in the Indian Notebooks, such as references to Thoreau’s journal entries, original and copied maps, transcribed passages from colonial-era historical accounts, makes it an unstable, yet compelling text, all the more so as Thoreau’s intended use of it remains uncertain to this day.

Thoreau’s excursions are spurred on by the desire to learn more about his “neighbors” (“neighborliness” is yet another important concept in Thoreau’s work). Nègre argued that for Thoreau, “neighboring” is not simply a question of shared space but also of interactions between species across time. Nègre thereby shifted the focus away from the human towards plant and animal life. In Thoreau’s writing, he showed, excursions that take for their goal engagement with plants are imbued with purpose, all the more so as they are retrospectively aggrandised, politicised and historicised, as is the case in the European cranberry passage. Thus excerpt describes his excursion in search of the “European” cranberry (which, unbeknownst to Thoreau, is actually native to the Americas) that grows in the vicinity of his Concord home. The passage, Nègre showed, evokes colonial practices, namely land occupation, with its use of military vocabulary and an explicit allusion to the violent civil confrontations collectively known as Bleeding Kansas.

History is indeed not absent from Thoreau’s excursions. Thoreau’s mapping practices, Nègre showed, were largely inspired by a combination of his plant-centric excursions and his engagements with Native American history. For example, Thoreau diligently marks Native American heritage sites that are not present on the source maps from which he copied. In his talk, Nègre compared the language Thoreau uses to document his encounters with members of indigenous communities with the terms and epithets that appear in the accounts of his botanical excursions. Nègre particularly focused on two journal entries: those of October 1855 and June 1856. Encounters with Native Americans are characterised by a greater amount of verbal violence, he showed. Information is forcefully extracted rather than volunteered. Nègre argued, however, that Thoreau distanced himself from this violence by removing his characteristic heroic “I” from these passages and representing himself as the silent witness to his friend’s, Daniel Ricketson’s, aggressive interrogations of the surviving members of the local tribes. At the same time, as in the European cranberry passage, Thoreau often defers to a fixed lexical corpus of conventional images to describe the indigenous individuals he encounters. For instance, he reuses the same epithet–“half an acre of face”—to describe both the strangers he meets out on the lake, who self-identify as Native Americans, and later Martha Simons, a woman belonging to the dying Narragansett tribe.

While Thoreau’s portraits of Native Americans may be formulaic, Nègre also showed that Thoreau’s writing forges a strong connection between indigenous people and animality. Thoreau treats the former both as repositories of knowledge on the local flora and fauna and as themselves akin to animals. While discussions on the topic of the natural world—such as when Thoreau and Ricketson converse with the strangers about fish, or with Martha Simons about huskroot—create opportunities for cultural exchange, these moments of sincere communication are often undercut by Thoreau’s demotion of his interlocutors, such as when he makes a note of Simons’ reticence to talk to white men and describes her “vacant stare.”

Nègre concluded by commenting on the widespread fascination among the white middle-class men in Thoreau’s milieu with representing the last members of indigenous communities. These last Native American survivors of settler colonialist violence posed a particular representational challenge to the white artists wishing to portray them, Nègre remarked, as these individuals came to involuntarily signify the totality of their tribes. As these tribes’ only living members, their individuality was at once emphasised and undermined, lost in the collective identity of the group to which they formerly belonged. This fascination, manifested in Thoreau’s own journals through constant references to “dead Indians” or “last Indians,” naturalised the view of Native Americans as figures firmly rooted in the nation’s past, always already gone, explaining the communicational breakdown that characterises white men’s exchanges with living members of indigenous tribes, such as the ones documented in Thoreau’s journals. Thoreau’s maps, which register the locales that were significant to the local Native American communities, such as the Indian graveyard and “Betty’s Neck,” likewise contribute to this white supremacist worldview, Nègre suggested: these place names and the territories which they denote become ancient monuments, relics of bygone history rather than signs of America’s persisting indigenous presence.

Led by Nègre’s respondent, Michael Jonik (University of Sussex), the audience discussion primarily focused on the ethical questions surrounding the cultural work that Thoreau’s Indian Notebooks performed during his lifetime and continue to perform today. Although they are inevitably implicated in the appropriation of indigenous cultures, the Notebooks also memorialise instances of Native American resistance to white people’s violence by verbal extraction. They have likewise helped unearth previously lost indigenous topologies, which have since been put back on contemporary maps, emphasising today the very presence that they once used to deny.

Report // Stephen Rachman, “Pathoregimes: Poe, Pestilence, Space and Time,” 8 December 2023

Link to original event here.

Focusing on the four tales by Edgar Allan Poe that are set during epidemics, Stephen Rachman (Michigan University) foregrounded the process by which infectious disease usurps human authority, redraws urban geographies and alters normal temporalities, thereby establishing what Rachman terms a “pathoregime.” The name is inspired by the parallels between autocratic political regimes and the reign of disease. Both of these possess unclear beginnings and ends and their historical provenance is often obfuscated in favour of tracing them back to Biblical origins.

Recalling how the Red Death reorganises space into zones of safety and danger in “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842), Rachman demonstrated that the pandemic world of pathoregimes is intensely spatialised. This redrawing of borders is motivated by fear, the individual and collective psychologies of which are thoroughly tested and ruthlessly exposed by pandemics. The permanent state of fear is a characteristic feature of pathoregimes, Rachman argued, which is what endows these latter with the power to interfere with the normal passage and human perception of time; for instance, Rachman remarked that “Shadow—A Parable” (1835) unfolds during “a year of terror.” Rachman posited that such drastic alterations of spatio-temporal conditions on a massive scale likewise serve as a source of meteorological changes, as ambient weather conditions begin to mirror those of the disease sufferer, making a confrontation with epidemics’ at once internal and external threat of death inevitable for all unfortunate subjects of a pathoregime.

Rachman connected pathoregimes’ spatial regimentation of urban landscapes that is at work both in “The Masque of the Red Death” and “King Pest” (1835) with the salient realities of the global COVID-19 pandemic, recalling the overflowing hospital wards and funeral homes of our very recent past. Furthermore, Rachman argued that attempts to assign meaning to the different tints present in the seven chambers of Prospero’s castle in “The Masque of the Red Death” impede the recognition that such a division of space into colour-marked zones is subservient to the pandemic logic of spatialisation that dominates the disease-wracked world outside the Prince’s abode. Mirroring the Red Death’s infectiousness, the virality of fear enabled by the powers of human imagination ceaselessly conjures up the very thing it hopes to banish, Rachman posited, leading to the disease’s penetration of the “safe space” within the castle walls and thus reaffirming the undeniable authority of disease over humanity.

Rachman moreover recognised the potential of “The Masque of the Red Death” to be understood as a double allegory, commenting on the ability of pandemics to expose political and social infrastructures, most notably the class hierarchy. Deploying Michel Foucault’s idea of heterotopias, Rachman framed the aristocratic revellers inside Prospero’s castle as at once staging a consumerist utopia and performing the fantasy of immunity, as they attempt to maintain the illusion of separateness from the pathogen-bearing working classes. According to Rachman, Poe stages the revellers’ encounter with the Red Death as a moment of a double revelation, as they are faced with the dual discovery of mutual interconnectedness between the different strata of society and, as a result, of their own susceptibility to the threat of exposure and death by illness.

Through his subsequent analysis of “King Pest,” Rachman brought to light other infrastructural changes caused by pandemics, namely socio-economic and environmental. As one dynasty comes to an end with the usurpation of the throne by the new monarch, King Pest I, whole neighbourhoods—including the businesses contained therewith—are abandoned due to the collective fear of miasmatic emanations. For Rachman, such societal disruptions result in profound changes in the way that urban communities relate to disease and crime, as rates of criminality soar in areas made unsafe by pestilence. Additionally, Rachman pointed out that the socio-political impacts of pathoregimes are allegorised on the distorted bodily parts of the members of the Pest royalty. Rachman concluded that pandemics’ grotesque conditions both demand and easily lend themselves to allegorisation, on which propensity Poe clearly capitalises in his pestilential tales.

Prompted by questions from Sari Altschuler (Northeastern University), Rachman commented on the differences in the psychologies, temporalities, spatialities, as well as visibilities of the different diseases to which he referred throughout the talk, namely cholera, bubonic plague and COVID-19. Altschuler likewise remarked that Poe’s literary theorisation of pandemics through autocracy is borrowed from contemporary figurations of cholera, which used to be widely known by the name “King of Terrors,” sparking a conversation on Poe’s effective use of clichés with the purpose of eliciting fear in the reader, with Rachman bringing up the classic perspective shift in “The Sphinx” (1846) as an example. Likewise pertinent were Altschuler and Rachman’s collective meditations on the factors that determine which pandemics end up being recognised as such (and which do not), and whether pathoregimes can ever act as sources of democratic action, recalling Harriet Beecher Stowe’s deployment of cholera as an agent that disrupts the politics of slavery in Dred; a Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856). The audience discussion also touched on a number of aspects of Poe’s pandemic writing, including the literary figures that support, interact with and complicate his tales’ central allegories, the “healthfulness” of reading gothic texts that describe the disruptive work of pathoregimes by which they are produced, and the influence that specific historical conditions had on Poe’s works.