Saturday, May 30, 2009

Poe and Sarah Hale

On May 30, 1844, the influential "editress" (as she called herself) Sarah Josepha Hale wrote to Edgar A. Poe. Poe had submitted a tale to Nathaniel Parker Willis in the hopes of it getting published in The New Mirror. Instead, Willis thought it better placed in an annual called The Opal; though he had edited its first issue (perhaps ironically, this annual gift-book was originally founded by none other than Rufus Wilmot Griswold), he no longer held that role. The new editor was Sarah Josepha Hale, better known as the long-time editor of Godey's Lady's Book for forty years, but best known (unfortunately) as the author of "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

Willis had accepted Poe's submission before turning it over to Hale. Poe was now unsure if his tale would be published at all and wrote directly to Hale to secure its appearance in The Opal. As he wrote, Poe wanted Hale "be so kind as to take it, unseen, upon Mr. Willis' testimony in its favor." Hale's response is apparently lost, but likely written on May 30, 1844. Poe refers to this now-missing letter as a "kind and very satisfactory one." He agrees to the pathetic payment of 50 cents per page (compare to Graham's Magazine's $4 or $5 per page).

It was not published in The Opal, as Willis anticipated. Instead, "The Oblong Box" was published in the September issue of Godey's. The story is an odd mesh of horror, mystery, and sea adventure, unlike any other Poe tale. Highly recommended!

More important here is the interaction between Poe and Hale, a woman who some (including me!) consider among the most powerful and influential women of her generation. Her first awareness of Poe was through her son, David Emerson Hale, who was a classmate of Poe's at West Point. When David mentioned to his mother that there was a poet among them, Mrs. Hale inquired about him. Under Hale, Poe published one poem and six stories (including "The Cask of Amontillado") in Godey's Lady's Book — something which Poe could not have been too happy with. Though it was the highest-circulating magazine of its day, it was trashy and sentimental, with more colored fashion-plates than worthwhile content.


Gina said...

Hey, don't be dissing colored fashion plates. ;-) They're lightweight, maybe, but still fun for those of the female persuasion.

Rob Velella said...

Well, let's go to the source: When Poe was working for Graham's Magazine, he complained about "the contemptible pictures, fashion-plates, music and love tales" - all of which were much worse in Godey's.