History of the Text
Publication History and Reception: “The Black Cat” was published in the American magazine The Saturday Evening Post in 1843. It was widely received with enthusiasm and has remained popular since. It has often been compared to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” also published in 1843, due to the similarities in the narrators and themes.
Influences on “The Black Cat”: Poe explores the detrimental effects of alcohol abuse in “The Black Cat,” and he may have done so due to his own personal struggles with alcohol. “The Black Cat” links excessive drinking to extreme violence and insanity through its narrator. Through the narrator’s character, Poe explores the clash between what is good and evil in humanity, particularly the urge to commit violence.
- “The Black Cat” was published near the end of the gothic period, which ran from the late 18th century through most of the 19th century. Gothic fiction often focuses on terror, isolation, horror, awe, madness, and death. Many of Poe’s works are considered gothic for their macabre and horrific themes. “The Black Cat” is a prime example of gothic fiction in that it revolves around the morbid and horrifying.
The Influence of Victorian Social Constraints: Important to this exploration of the narrator’s character is the time in which “The Black Cat” was published: not only was it written and published during the period of American Romanticism, it was also published during the Victorian era, a time of general social repression and conformity.
- Other literary works published during the Victorian era, such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), dealt with a similar duality of human nature—good versus evil—that can be seen in Poe’s “The Black Cat.” This exploration of the duality of human nature can be read as a response to the Victorian era’s many social constraints.