In this episode I talk with Associate Professor of English at The Ohio State University at Marion, Sara L. Crosby about her new book, Poisonous Muse: The Female Poisoner and the Framing of Popular Authorship in Jacksonian America. Crosby discusses how the trope of the female poisoner permeated popular literature in the mid-nineteenth century. In her analysis of the 1840 murder trial of Hannah Kinney, we see how the partisan press used the accused as a vessel through which to fight-out central political battles of the day. We then see how jury decisions may serve as a metric for determining which metaphors and cultural frames are prevailing at a point in time. Following a popular metaphor enables Crosby to track the cultural tides influencing law and politics in Jacksonian America.
:25 Author Background
2:16 A brief history of the poisonous woman / The ways poison and the metaphor of poison has historically fit into periods where the ruling class is threatened by social upheaval
9:31 Why American print culture in the decades immediately following Andrew Jackson’s first presidential bid was saturated with the trope of women who used poison to kill men / How historians can use the metaphors that appear in popular print to better understand historical cultures
15:35 How the rules in the battle over democratic literature in Jacksonian America were laid down in Britain, in particular between Keats and his critics
23:02 Why Edgar Allen Poe’s Ligeia singled out a female poisoner as its central figure / What made Ligeia such an exemplar of Poe’s aesthetic ideal?
36:11 The Murder Trial of Hannah Kinney / How the accused became a vessel for debate between Democratic and Whig ideals in the partisan press
42:07 The factors that made suspected female poisoners, Lucretia Chapman and Hannah Kinney’s stories so interesting to the press and public
47:30 How Hannah Kinney became a dominant figure in the press and a vessel for framing and debating events in Jacksonian America
49:19 How Hanny Kinney’s story illustrate that women are meant to be metaphors, not shapers of them.
54:12 The intersection of law and juries and Crosby’s assertion that people do not shape their behavior according to reasoned self-interest but rather make decisions based upon more emotive and associational factors, particularly the frames to which they ascribe
56:50 E. E. Barclay’s Narrative and Confession of Lucretia P. Cannon and how “humbug” fits into popular American culture
1:03 How Barclay’s later work, “The Female Land Pirate” synthesize the Romantic and the Democratic poisoners, absorbing the sensational rage-filled power of the former and turning it to serve the latter’s allegory and agenda
1:07 What Professor Crosby is working on now