Annual Edgar Allan Poe Commemorative Program (2018)


Since 1923, the Poe Society has sponsored an annual commemorative lecture on the life and/or works of Edgar Allan Poe, presented by a noted Poe scholar. This lecture is always held on the first Sunday in October, more-or-less coinciding with the anniversary of Poe’s death. Prior to this event, it is traditional for members of the Poe Society to gather at Poe’s grave, placing flowers on the monument in a brief and informal ceremony to honor Poe’s memory.

These Poe Society events are free and open to the public.

Sunday, October 7, 2018:

1:30 p.m. - Tribute to Poe at the Poet’s Grave

Location: Westminster Burying Ground, at the corner of Fayette and Greene Streets
(This is a very brief and informal ceremony. Anyone wishing to bring flowers to be placed on Poe’s grave is welcome to do so.)


2:00 p.m. - 96th Commemorative Edgar Allan Poe Lecture

Location: Discover auditorium University of Maryland BioPark, 1st Floor, 801 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201. (The University of Maryland BioPark is only a few blocks away from Westminster Hall and the University of Maryland Hospital, just on the western side of Martin Luther King Blvd. Free parking is available on the street.)

Welcome, and Introduction of the Speaker

Address: “Form in the Objects of Messieurs Poe & James” by Bob Hodges (University of Washington).

Abstract of the lecture:

The stereotypical images of Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James starkly conflict. One, born of disrepute, struggled against poverty in a short career of fugitive, ephemeral writings — concise, visceral antebellum terror tales and populist poetry. The other, born of wealth and cultural distinction, crafted work over a long career that ended with the monuments of the New York Edition — restrained postbellum baggy monsters of manners and exquisite novellas. Yet, similarities abound. Both are now among the most securely canonized of US writers, but both endured calumny on the way to veneration. The work of one, maligned as immature sensationalism (not least by James himself), requires restoration of his complex aesthetic response to urban modernity (Jacques Lacan, Terence Whalen, et al.). The work of the other, rarefied into arid slightness, needs remembrance of his melodrama, excess, and topicality (Maxwell Geismar, John Carlos Rowe, et al.)

Moreover, both wrote incisive, oft brutal literary criticism and qualifiedly admired Nathaniel Hawthorne. In self-reflection, both conjured demanding, prescriptive theories of literary form. Both preferred European settings. Both made harsh aesthetic (and anti-democratic) criticisms of U.S. and mass culture yet coveted mass audiences. Despite their anti-Americanisms, both oft anchored studies of the US gothic or the 1850s US Renaissance — Poe the anticipation, James the culmination. The fictions of both attune acutely to furnishings and objectworlds yet pioneer modern representations of consciousness. Despite the importance of domesticity and heterosexual marriage in their imaginaries, both influence fin-de-siècle decadence, and much of their fictions cannot but be repressed, demonic, and queer for modern readers. Both are partial to art’s autonomy and beautiful(ly) dying white women.

Despite the commonalities, direct connection of James and Poe is not common beyond Poe’s influence on works like Aspern Papers (1888) and Golden Bowl (1904), James’s remarks on Poe, or their situation amidst a larger gothic or romantic context. This lecture considers some affinities and antinomies in Poe’s and James’s fictions, but it also examines why these two writers are key reference points for celebrity-philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s exploration of Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of the form of desire and anxiety and its relations to objects. Fear not; the lecture does not join a convoluted debate on “Man of the Crowd” (1840), “Purloined Letter” (1844), or the writers’ psychobiographies. Instead, the lecture accessibly introduces form and object as multivalent keywords vital to the critical relevance of psychoanalysis. The lecture advances to concrete consideration of those keywords in a few examples from Poe and James. The final movement introduces new formalism (Anna Kornbluh, Walter Benn Michaels, et al.) and new materialisms (Bill Brown, Elaine Freedgood, et al.) as two contemporary developments in literary criticism, situates psychoanalysis as an old formalism and an old materialism vis-à-vis these two developments, and speculatively concludes with potentials for future work on form and objects of James and Poe.

Response/Discussion and Questions from the audience.

A reception with cake, cookies and punch will be available following the lecture.



Please note that the location for events has been altered from years prior to 2015. The Edgar Allan Poe Room at the Enoch Pratt Free Library is not available due to a major multi-year renovation project at the main library. The Poe Society is grateful to Jane Shaab for making space at the BioPark available to us for this event.



[S:1 - JAS] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Poe Society - Annual Commemorative Lecture