Probably Poe

Maurice S. Lee

in Uncertain Chances

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199797578
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932412 | DOI:
Probably Poe

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Focusing on Poe’s detective fiction, this chapter discusses the spread of probability theory in the 1830s and 1840s—in logic and mathematics, in sociology and statistics, and in gaming practices, insurance, and the popular press. Poe’s fiction and literary criticism simultaneously draw from and resist emerging concepts of chance as he participates in his era’s probabilistic revolution to advocate a surprisingly realistic aesthetic. As Poe bridges gaps between romanticism and science, we can begin to align his thinking and writing with pragmatism more than deconstruction. Poe thus appears less as a maven of gothic, linguistic, and psychological indeterminacy and more a proponent of rational action under conditions of partial knowledge. On the cutting edge of the probabilistic revolution in America, Poe registers the rise of chance in intellectual and cultural domains.

Keywords: Edgar A. Poe; detective fiction; scientific method; probability theory; statistics; gaming

Chapter.  17087 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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