Revenge is the theme and purpose of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-Frog.” This tale of an enslaved jester who burns his captors alive during a courtly masquerade doubles as a tirade against the exploitative magazine owners, greedy editors, and literary cabals Poe battled throughout his career. Given its blunt biographical overtones and sensationalism, “Hop-Frog” has been considered a minor entry in Poe’s canon. This article suggests otherwise by tracing two unexplored dimensions of the story: first, Poe’s fattist depiction of the ruling class—aligned with his satirical works and the historical origins of fat-shaming in the United States; and secondly, a setting and plot that mimic through their design several technological innovations in vogue during the first half of the nineteenth century, most notably the internal combustion engine. By mechanizing revenge, Poe asserts the superiority of ingenious contraptions over lazy flesh, efficiency over accumulation. Anointing Hop-Frog/himself master of the machine, he imagines a model of literary production that only authors control and refine, in the same way that engineers strived for engines that would accomplish more with less. This model, I contend, finds artistic creation and technological prototyping converging in the antebellum imagination.
KEYWORDS: Edgar Allan Poe, “Hop-Frog,” mechanical engineering, antebellum literary market, mass culture, fat-shaming