Most rarely remember the fact that there was once an author who dared to cross certain boundaries and bet on a unique genre at a time of great literary transformation. Despite his infamous life, the American writer Edgar Allan Poe continues to be a reference to sinister letters and the short story, as well as a role model for all those writers who once dared to live exclusively from fiction.
He was one of the most significant and influential American writers that left an indelible mark in American and European literature with his short, eerie, and mysterious stories, as well as his bizarre, sad, and emotional poems. That he was a man of extremely broad interests confirmed by his versatility: he was a literary critic, theoretician, editor and lyricist, essayist, publicist, and polemicist.
Early Life and Education
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the second of three children of David Poe and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, both actors. His father left the family in 1810, and a year later his mother died of tuberculosis.
After the dramatic incidents, Poe was sent to the home of John and Frances Allan, in Richmond, Virginia. The man worked as a merchant, and was into trade with wheat, cloth, tobacco, and slaves so therefore, at that time, he was rich and famous.
Even though the Allan family provided everything necessary for the care and growth of the child, as if it were adopted, the formal paperwork was never done. However, Edgar took the surname "Allan" and thus immortalized the name.
John Allan played an important role in the life and work of the writer, not particularly because he was good to him, but because of his constant abuse and failure to recognize his literary passion. However, Frances, his stepmother, devoted true love that balanced the family atmosphere.
Poe was only 6 years old when the Allan family traveled to Great Britain in 1815. There, Poe briefly attended school in Irvine, Scotland. In 1816 he traveled to London, where he studied at a boarding school in Chelsea, and in 1817 he enrolled in the Manor House Institute, where he studied until 1820. There, he was educated by Reverend John Bransby, he learned to write Latin and speak French. This gothic, cloudy, and sad atmosphere influenced his writings. His writings were inspired by the place and people that lived there. His stepmother shared his nostalgic feeling, as they had great affection.
In 1820, motivated by the unsuccessful business he had in London, John Allan decided to return to Richmond. So, back in Virginia, Poe studied at the most prestigious schools in the city. In the English classical school, he studied Virgil, Homer, Cicero, Ovid, and all the greats of classical literature. This literary encounter broadened his perspectives and the forms of his later writings.
In addition to his formal education, he also studied all the literature that came into his hands. It was normal for him to be seen among the slaves, listening to their stories of apparitions, curses, cemeteries, and corpses. All these elements were sown later in the writer's work.
In 1825, John Allan received an inheritance of $750,000, which greatly improved the family's situation.
At this time, Poe met his first love, Sarah Royster, and a year later, in 1826, the poet enrolled at the University of Virginia where he briefly studied ancient and modern languages. It was an institution with very strict rules, but Poe sometimes managed to break them.
By then the distance between Poe and John Allan became bigger. Poe could not bear the abuse, and John couldn’t accept the literary perspective of the young writer.
The situation worsened when Poe, in order to get close to him, started gambling and drinking with his stepfather which only put him in a web of vice and debt, and John used him to get rid of the debts by taking advantage of never formalizing his adoption. To make matters worse, even after a year of study, Poe withdrew from college, mostly motivated by finding out that his fiancee had decided to marry Alexander Shelton.
That event destroyed the young man. In order to forget what happened and to support himself financially, he enlisted in the US Army under false pretenses. He swore he was 22 when he was actually 18 and called himself "Edgar A. Perry." There he was receiving $5 a month, but it helped him develop his writing career.
His first book was titled Tamerlane and Other Poems. It was published in 1827. He signed it as "Boston". Poe himself claimed that most of the poems in the book were written before his 14th birthday, which was not unusual for his talent.
Only 50 copies of the book were printed, and they were soon practically forgotten. Poe made a great effort during his stay in the army, so much so that after two years of service he was awarded the rank of artillery sergeant (the highest rank that non-commissioned officers can receive).
Poe, exhausted by military work, decided to quit. To achieve this, he confessed all his lies to his superior, Lieutenant Howard. The army agreed to help him on one condition: that Poe reconciles with John Allan, his stepfather.
Many messages were sent to John Allan with no response, until finally, months later, a letter came saying that Frances, Edgar's stepmother, was extremely ill. When the writer finally got out of military service, he was supposed to arrive at Allan's house the day after Frances' funeral. Poe never forgave John's silence. When he reached his stepmother's grave, Edgar collapsed unconscious. He always, until the end of his life, spoke to her with a lot of love.
After the death of Frances, the only one who could reach John's heart was Lt. Howard, who suggested that Poe finish his military degree, which the poet accepted. In 1829, on April 15, Edgar re-enlisted at West Point.
Before going to West Point, Poe went to visit his aunt Maria Clemm, where he met his cousin and later the love of his life, Virginia Eliza Clemm. It was there that he published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane Minor, which would be his second book. This work was misunderstood by ordinary readers, but not by the critic John Neal, who praised it.
"He'll be the first in the line of real poets," said Neal, which was one of his first important encouragements. In 1830, he enrolled as a cadet, although it did not last long. In January of the following year, he was expelled for insubordination by refusing to follow the orders given to him.
Poe was freed from military ties, broke all his ties with John Allan, and traveled to New York where he edited his third book, which he called Poems. Thanks to the donation of $150 by his friends at West Point he was able to print the copies. Each soldier donated $0.75.
Poe rewarded the help of his friends by dedicating a book to them. Contrary to their beliefs, the book, instead of containing satirical poems, like the ones they're used to read from Poe at the academy, had romantic poems.
In March, he returned to Baltimore with his family. His brother Henry recovered from alcoholism and because of the difficult economic reality and Poe's desire to live on the verse, he had to switch from writing poetry to stories, because, at that time, it was a more commercial genre.
According to the testimony of close friends of the poet, in the next four years, Poe was extremely poor. He wrote letters to his stepfather in 1834 asking for help but received no response. His stepfather died that year without leaving him any inheritance. Also, with complicated health, his brother died.
He decided to secretly marry his cousin Virginia. She was only 13 years old, but the document says she was 21. The lie was common for the poet. According to his scholars, marriage was not consummated because Poe was impotent. In Virginia, he was looking for a sister, a mother, a friend.
With the death of his benefactor and his brother, he had to focus more on letter production to support his family. In that year of deaths and secret marriages, Poe could see some light in the darkness. Thanks to his work "MS. Found in a Bottle", he got a job.
John P. Kennedy, a wealthy Virginian, read the article and recommended Poe to Thomas W. White, who was the editor of the Southern Literary Herald newspaper in Richmond. Edgar was hired as an editor in August but was later fired for repeatedly being drunk.
Poe briefly went to Baltimore in search of his aunt, so he returned to Richmond. On his return to town, he begged White for his position back, on the condition that the poet improves his behavior so he worked there until 1837.
Thanks to Poe's passionate writing, the paper went from selling 700 copies to thousands. People were shocked by the writer's way of writing. He published stories, essays, poems, and reviews. According to some biographers, the poet decided to withdraw from this newspaper, because he was too bright for such a bad position.
That year he took his whole family to New York. He tried to make his name famous by writing "Tales of the Folio Club", but his work was considered incompetent. He was recommended to do something a bit more impressive and adjusted to the general public.
Thanks to this advice, Poe wrote "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket", a novel, his fourth book. He published it in 1838, and despite the writer's efforts, the work was not well received and failed to make much money.
The situation in New York became uncertain, Poe and his family had to move in June 1838 to Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) where they were isolated with very few resources. In order to make a living, the writer had to do everything, even collaborate with works that were not his branch.
In 1839, he became the editor-in-chief of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, a popular magazine of the time, achieving, as always, the multiplication of newspaper sales. Poe's fame continued to increase, as did his financial income. Thanks to the economic peace he had in this period of his life when he could carefree work on writing detective novels - "The Gold-Bug" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue".
His first collection "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" was published in 1840 and contains one of his most famous works - "The Fall of the House of Usher". In the early 1840s, "A Guide to Seashells", his best-selling work, was also published.
In the year 1842 Poe received ominous news. One January afternoon, during a meeting of friends, Virginia's blood boiled while playing the harp. Unfortunately, the writer knew these symptoms: it was tuberculosis. From that day on, the stability they had achieved began to crumble. Poe turned to opiates to calm his anxiety. Everything went downhill from there.
They returned to New York where Poe wrote for a while for the Evening Mirror, and became the editor of the Broadway Journal, which later became his own. Due to his talents and because he wrote the truth, he won many enemies.
In 1845, on January 29, he published his most famous work: The Raven, a poem about a talking bird that was inspired by "Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty" by Charles Dickens. It is currently considered the most significant poem in American culture. The irony is that the only thing Poe won with his poem was fame and notoriety, he couldn't live much of it as he received a writing fee of $9.
In 1846 Broadway had to close, so Poe was once again between a rock and a hard place. He had to move with his family to a house in the Bronx, in an area called Fordham. Virginia died there, early the following year, on January 30. After the death of his wife, Poe entered a self-destructive phase. In 1848, he tried to kill himself with opium but failed. A famous poem "Annabel Lee" written in 1849 was dedicated to Virginia.
Life gave him a kind of new light when he was reunited with his first love, Sarah Elmira Royster, in mid-1849. She convinced him to leave his vices, he agreed and they got married on the 17th of the same year. The wedding could not take place because Poe was found completely insane on October 3 of that year. He was wearing clothes that were not his own and was constantly shouting. His friend James Snodgrass helped him and took him to Washington College Hospital, where he died on October 7, Sunday morning.
Among the causes of death was mentioned the inflammation of the brain. It is true that many claim that he was intoxicated by very deep drunkenness which led him to delirium tremens.
His last sentence was, "God help my poor soul!" It is true that, despite his uneventful life, his work is today a world reference in literature and his legacy remains beyond his death.
Summaries, Analyses, Stories & Poems
- The Black Cat
- The Fall of the House of Usher
- The Masque of the Red Death
- The Masque of the Red Death Characters
- The Masque of the Red Death Summary
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue
- The Raven
- The Raven Analysis
- The Raven Characters
- The Raven Summary
- The Tell-Tale Heart
- The Tell-Tale Heart Analysis
- The Tell-Tale Heart Characters
- The Tell-Tale Heart Summary
- William Wilson