Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) changed residences about once a year throughout his life. Driven by a desire for literary success and the pressures of supporting his family, Poe sought work in American magazines, living in the cities that produced them. Scott Peeples chronicles Poe’s rootless life in the cities, neighborhoods, and rooms where he lived and worked, exploring how each new place left its enduring mark on the writer and his craft.
Poe wrote short stories, poems, journalism, and editorials with urban readers in mind. He witnessed urban slavery up close, living and working within a few blocks of slave jails and auction houses in Richmond and among enslaved workers in Baltimore. In Philadelphia, he saw an expanding city struggling to contain its own violent propensities. At a time when suburbs were just beginning to offer an alternative to crowded city dwellings, he tried living cheaply on the then-rural Upper West Side of Manhattan, and later in what is now the Bronx. Poe’s urban mysteries and claustrophobic tales of troubled minds and abused bodies reflect his experiences living among the soldiers, slaves, and immigrants of the American city.
Featuring evocative photographs by Michelle Van Parys, The Man of the Crowd challenges the popular conception of Poe as an isolated artist living in a world of his own imagination, detached from his physical surroundings. The Poe who emerges here is a man whose outlook and career were shaped by the cities where he lived, longing for a stable home.
Scott Peeples is professor of English at the College of Charleston. His books include The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. Michelle Van Parys is professor of photography at the College of Charleston. Her books include The Way Out West: Desert Landscapes. Peeples and Van Parys both live in Charleston, South Carolina.