On the surface, it would seem that Sarah Josepha Hale, primarily known for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and for petitioning Abraham Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, and Edgar Allan Poe, best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, had very little in common.
However, to make that assumption would be wrong, according to Julia Falkowski ’13, who was recently awarded the Lisa MacFarlane Prize for the best paper or project written by an undergraduate on any subject related to American Studies.
“What Poe and Hale had in common, what drew them together,” wrote Falkowski, “was the fact that they were both outsiders in contemporaneous literary culture. Hale’s position as a woman and Poe’s identity as an orphan, coming up from poverty and obscurity, placed them on the margins.”
What’s more, Falkowski, wrote, “Both invested time, effort, and faith in magazines. Each served as editor at different periodicals for substantial amounts of time, and each printed stories by and publicity for the other, helping one another’s periodicals and careers.”
The Lisa FacFarlane Prize was awarded to Falkowski by the New England American Studies Association (NEASA), the regional chapter of the American Studies Association (ASA) representing the six New England states. Falkowski won for her essay, “The New Literati: Sarah Josepha Hale and Edgar Allan Poe in Nineteenth Century Literary Culture.”
Falkowski, who graduated from summa cum laude in May with a double major in American Studies and English, is enrolled in a two-year graduate program in museum studies at George Washington University. She is a beneficiary of the Mary A. Terry Fellowship, which is given to a member of a Trinity graduating class who demonstrates evidence of superior ability and who engages in full-time graduate study. While at Trinity, Falkowski was a John Curry Gay Scholar during her junior and senior years.
Falkowski, of Newbury, NH, didn’t learn that she had won the Lisa MacFarlane Prize until September, but according to her Trinity advisers, it was well deserved.
“Julia had all the ingredients necessary for a great thesis,” said Christopher Hager, associate professor of English. “And with majors in English and American Studies, she had the academic background necessary to take advantage of the opportunity she found. But…it took Julia’s talent as a thinker and a writer to turn those ingredients into a prizewinning thesis.”
Said Sheila Fisher, professor of English and Falkowski’s adviser: “The ways in which Julia discovered and availed herself of Trinity’s substantial resources, particularly in the Watkinson [Library] and under [Director] Rick Ring’s tutelage, was a testimony to her deep commitment to the fields about which she was both passionate and deeply committed. It was a joy to watch her intellectual growth.”
Although Falkowski was fairly sure that she wanted to major in English on arriving at Trinity, it wasn’t until she had done an internship at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts after her freshman year that she was persuaded to also major in American Studies.
She made the most of her Trinity experience, studying at Trinity’s Paris campus in the spring of 2012 and working as a Creative Fellow at the Watkinson in the fall of that year. While at the Watkinson, she completed a project called the Watkinson Cookbook, which was a compilation of recipes from 12 historic cookbooks. She recreated all of them at the Interfaith House every other Friday, including one called the Hartford election cake.
In order to graduate with honors in both of her majors, Falkowski needed to write an original thesis. She settled on the topic of Sarah Josepha Hale and Edgar Allan Poe and focused on different angles in each of her two papers. “Doing one helped me to conceptualize the other,” she said.
Hale, who edited Godey’s Lady’s Book, considered the first widely popular American women’s magazine, was born in Newport, NH, not far from Newbury. Hale, who edited the magazine from 1837 to 1877, was a complex individual. As a successful writer and editor, she was respected as an arbiter of good taste for women when it came to fashion, cooking, literature and morality. But while she reinforced gender stereotypes, she also supported women’s education and encouraged women to play a stronger role in society.
As Falkowski wrote, “Advocating the moral superiority of women in numerous editorials, Hale subscribed to the rhetoric of separate spheres. In addition to editing, Hale also published fiction, non-fiction, novels, and short stories. Modern scholars often view her works as the sort of overly sentimental nineteenth-century ‘chick lit’ that does not stand the test of time. Despite what may be her literary inadequacies, Hale was by all accounts a respectable nineteenth-century lady. Yet, Hale found herself in a literary community that included Edgar Allan Poe.”
In the course of doing her research on Hale, Falkowski came across a letter from Poe, a “dark Gothic figure,” and decided to further explore their relationship. What she discovered was they had quite a lot in common.
Falkowski’s paper explored the sentiments Poe and Hale shared, and examined the points of intersection between their lives and work, including the writing and reviews each published in the periodicals of the other, as well as six letters that survive from Poe to Hale.
What Falkowski found was that “in Hale, Poe found someone willing to take a chance on his unconventional writing style, and in Poe, Hale found a poster-boy for her project of creating a unique and original American literature.”
There were other connections as well. As editors, each believed in the transformative power of periodicals. As friends, each was willing to give the other publicity, advice, and support to get past the common pitfalls of the literary world. During their lifetimes, Hale was as well known and popular as Poe, but today it’s Poe who is the revered literary figure.
Also, Poe is “celebrated for his dark and unconventional image,” yet “his willingness to form an alliance, and indeed a personal friendship, with one of the biggest celebrities of the domestic women’s movement and to rely on her popular women’s publication shows he was not averse to the norms of the time, at least on the surface.”
As for Hale, she is largely remembered “as a woman so very patriotic and invested in conventional women’s roles that there could be absolutely nothing unconventional or subversive about her,” yet she was willing to go outside of the limits considered acceptable for a women of her status, making her a “more complex figure than the one-dimensional image that remains of her.”
In conclusion, Falkowski wrote, “The relationship between Poe and Hale represents the way that often, those who do things differently, those with the ability to work alongside those unlike themselves, those who embrace the unexpected and unconventional, are the ones who make a lasting impression on literary culture.”
To read Falkowski's thesis, click here