While preparing work for a maritime horror piece recently, my initial idea was to make the piece a vengeful tale of retribution against a gang of slavers whose negligence caused the death of the men they were to deliver to a slave trader in America.
Ultimately, I decided that the root of the story could be done differently, and that the story did not need to include the slavery angle. I believe that I have the skill to weave a story that is both respectful of history, well-researched enough to deliver the details that would appall (as many of my readers enjoy taking my Victorian fiction and searching for the historical kernels of truth strewn throughout) while also entertaining with a good-old fashioned scare.
But there are places I don’t, ultimately, dare to tread. I write to entertain (even if that entertainment if for people who enjoy being grossed out, horrified and downright chilled to the bone). I know that I would never go near the Holocaust in a horror story, and although I like a real backdrop to some of my stories, I knew this maritime story would have to be developed in a different direction.
As I’ve been considering this, I came upon this article about Edgar Allan Poe, which I hope is of as much interest to you as it was to me.
It is seldom mentioned that Poe came of age in a slave society, in a household where slaves were present. Poe does nothing to draw attention to the fact. An account of the business interests of Poe’s foster father, John Allan, quoted by the biographer Jeffrey Meyers, notes that he and his partner “as a side issue were not above trading in horses, Kentucky swine from the settlements, and old slaves whom they hired out at the coal pits till they died.” This last item suggests that Poe might not have been particularly sheltered from an awareness of the ugliness of the system. Charles Baudelaire has encouraged the notion that Poe was an aristocrat manqué. But John Allan was a successful immigrant merchant—by no means the type of gentleman planter who stood in the place of aristocrat in the self-conception of antebellum Virginia. Poe’s aristocrats are surrounded by mists and…
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