Poe, Hawthorne, and Early Nineteenth-Century Abortion
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Antebellum America saw a great upsurge in abortion, driven in part by the rise of the pharmaceutical industry. Unsurprisingly, the practice became increasingly visible in the popular culture and literature of the era, appearing openly in advertisements, popular fiction, and newspaper reports. One figure would come to dominate national headlines from the 1840s onward: Madame Restell. Facing public condemnation and mob attacks at her home for her dogged support of women’s reproductive rights, Restell built an empire selling her powders, pills, and services along the Eastern Seaboard.
Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne undoubtedly knew of Restell’s work and would go on to depict the incompatibility of abortion and nationalism in their writings. Through the thwarted plotlines, genealogical interruptions, and terminated ideas of Poe’s Dupin trilogy and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, and The Blithedale Romance, these authors consider new concepts around race, reproduction, and American exceptionalism. Dana Medoro demonstrates that their work can be usefully read in the context of debates on fetal life and personhood that circulated in the era.
“Certain Concealments reorients Poe and Hawthorne scholarship around the profoundly overlooked issue of abortion, which changes the way we read both authors and puts them on the side of women/nature/matter/democracy and against forces of patriarchal nationalism and white supremacy.”—Sara L. Crosby, author of Poisonous Muse: The Female Poisoner and the Framing of Popular Authorship in Jacksonian America