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Uncertain ChancesScience, Skepticism, and Belief in Nineteenth-Century American Literature$
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Maurice S. Lee

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199797578

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199797578.001.0001

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Probably Poe

Probably Poe

(p.17) Chapter 1 Probably Poe
Uncertain Chances

Maurice S. Lee

Oxford University Press

Focusing on Poe’s detective fiction, this chapter discusses the spread of probability theory in the 1830s and 1840s—in logic and mathematics, in sociology and statistics, and in gaming practices, insurance, and the popular press. Poe’s fiction and literary criticism simultaneously draw from and resist emerging concepts of chance as he participates in his era’s probabilistic revolution to advocate a surprisingly realistic aesthetic. As Poe bridges gaps between romanticism and science, we can begin to align his thinking and writing with pragmatism more than deconstruction. Poe thus appears less as a maven of gothic, linguistic, and psychological indeterminacy and more a proponent of rational action under conditions of partial knowledge. On the cutting edge of the probabilistic revolution in America, Poe registers the rise of chance in intellectual and cultural domains.

Keywords:   Edgar A. Poe, detective fiction, scientific method, probability theory, statistics, gaming

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