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November 7, 2016 at 4:23 pm

BackStory Interviews Jones on Edgar Allan Poe Horror Stories

Dr. Paul Jones

Dr. Paul Jones

Public radio show BackStory interviewed Dr. Paul Jones for a Halloween feature on the American horror story, specifically the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Jones is the Samuel and Susan Crowl Professorship in English Literature & Director of Graduate Studies at Ohio University. BackStory with the American History Guys is a nationally syndicated, hour-long, weekly public radio show based in Charlottesville at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

To listen to Jones’ interview, see American Horror Story, clip #5 Nevermore.)

The hosts talked with Jones about how Poe’s writing obliquely, if not directly, plays on fear of slave revolt in the Antebellum South in the years after Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831.

“In some ways it was kind of reality contesting the public rhetoric about slavery. Especially in the South, the writing about slavery was romanticized. You have all these depictions of happy plantation life and loving servants and master relationships. And I think Poe would have just seen it as this is proof that our literature, the stories we tell ourselves, don’t actually fit what’s actually happening. And I think he’s so interested then, in taking that tension between those two rhetorics and exploiting it,” Jones said.

“The moment in his work where he’s most clearly trying to evoke the specter of Nat Turner, or the murderous slave, is the one novel he wrote called The Narrative of Author Gordon Pym, and his hero finds himself on a ship and a mutiny occurs. That mutiny is led by a black cook, who we see slaughter 22 crew members with an ax. And definitely that vision of a black figure leading a murder spree would have evoked Nat Turner for the American reader, or certainly the Virginia reader.”

The hosts asked Jones if the readers of Poe were aware of what he was doing.

“I’m not even sure he was aware personally,” Jones said. “I think that’s the real question about Poe’s writing. What makes him such a talented writer of horror? Does he know what he’s doing, or is he just really kind of intuitive about what scares him, what scares his neighbors, what scares the people he knows?”

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