Purloined Letters THE FICTION OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE AND EDGAR ALLAN POE
The value of Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter and Edgar Allan Poe trio of detective stories, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," and "The Purloined Letter," in the context in which I read them here, consists in their agonistic baring of the cultural processes through which masculine identity is constructed. In fiction, the mechanism of this construction is the process of writing, which works to produce the writer in the position of author. As I suggested in my introduction, however, authorial anxieties are themselves useful versions of the broader masculine anxieties of U.S. culture--hence the complicated but real representative value of texts that are also self-reflexively literary. The exposure of the mechanisms of masculine self-construction in these antebellum texts has particular value because masculinity, as it develops in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, increasingly defends its integrity through the obfuscation and forgetting of debts to and suppressions of women that Hawthorne and Poe expose. Their contributions to the remodeling of masculinity before the Civil War allow a scrutiny of its emerging structure.