Transatlantic consumptions: disease, fame and literary nationalisms in the Davidson sisters, Southey, and Poe.

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This article supplements Lawlor’s Consumption and Literature by demonstrating the complex relationships between disease and literature. Lawlor shows how the consumptive American poetesses, sisters Margaret and Lucretia Davidson, became famous for their consumptive condition and early deaths on both sides of the Atlantic, and were feted as such by prominent (mostly male) literary figures like British Poet Laureate Robert Southey and the Americans Washington Irving and Samuel Finley Breeze Morse. Edgar Allan Poe took the opportunity to convert the issue of American critics fawning over Southey’s praise from the literary motherland of Britain, into a critical space for distinctively American criticism, as dictated by himself. Poe observed that the actual quality of the Davidson sisters’ poetry was poor and that critics both British and American were seduced by the image (highly popular at the time) of consumptive femininity, poetic or not. Poe, perhaps unusually for the period, argued that a distinction should be made between text and biographical context. Lawlor suggests that the literary disease consumption became a lever for Poe to intervene in the national politics of literary criticism at a time when America was attempting to establish a distinctive national and literary-critical identity for itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-126
JournalStudies in the Literary Imagination
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2003

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