Poe, Edgar Allan
POE, Edgar Allan
Nationality: American. Born: Boston, Massachusetts, 19 January 1809; orphaned, and given a home by John Allan, 1812. Education: The Dubourg sisters' boarding school, Chelsea, London, 1816-17; Manor House School, Stoke Newington, London, 1817-20; Joseph H. Clarke's School, Richmond, 1820-23; William Burke's School, Richmond, 1823-25; University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1826; U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, 1830-31 (court-martialled and dismissed). Military Service: Served in the U.S. Army, 1827-29: sergeant-major. Family: Married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm in 1836 (died 1847). Career: Lived in Baltimore, 1831-35; assistant editor, Southern Literary Messenger, Richmond, 1835; editor, Southern Literary Messenger, 1836-37; lived in New York, 1837; lived in Philadelphia, 1838-43; assistant editor, Gentleman's Magazine,Philadelphia, 1839-40; editor, Graham's Magazine, Philadelphia, 1841-42; sub-editor, New York Evening Mirror, 1844; lecturer after 1844; editor and proprietor, Broadway Journal, New York, 1845-46. Died: 7 October 1849.
Complete Works, edited by James A. Harrison. 17 vols., 1902.
Poems, edited by Floyd Stovall. 1965.
Collected Works, edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott. 3 vols., 1969-78.
Short Fiction, edited by Stuart and Susan Levine. 1976.
Collected Writings, edited by Burton R. Pollin. 1981—.
Poetry and Tales, edited by Patrick F. Quinn. 1984.
Essays and Reviews, edited by G. R. Thompson. 1984.
Poems and Essays on Poetry, edited by C. H. Sisson . 1995.
Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays (Library of America). 1996.
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. 1840.
The Prose Romances 1: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Man That Was Used Up. 1843.
Forgotten Tales. 1997.
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. 1838.
The Literati: Some Honest Opinions about Autorial Merits and Demerits. 1850.
Tamerlane and Other Poems. 1827.
Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. 1829.
The Raven and Other Poems. 1845.
Politian: An Unfinished Tragedy, edited by Thomas OlliveMabbott. 1923.
The Conchologist's First Book; or, A System of Testaceous Malacology (textbook; revised by Poe). 1839; revised edition, 1840.
Eureka: A Prose Poem. 1848; edited by Richard P. Benton, 1973(?).
Letters, edited by John Ward Ostrom. 2 vols., 1948; revised edition, 2 vols., 1966.
Literary Criticism, edited by Robert L. Hough. 1965.
The Unknown Poe: An Anthology of Fugitive Writings, edited by Raymond Foye. 1980.
The Annotated Poe, edited by Stephen Peithman. 1981.
The Other Poe: Comedies and Satires, edited by David Galloway. 1983.*
Bibliography of the Writings of Poe by John W. Robertson, 1934; A Bibliography of First Printings of the Writings of Poe by Charles F. Heartman and James R. Canny, 1940, revised edition, 1943; Poe: A Bibliography of Criticism 1827-1967 by J. Lesley Dameron and Irby B. Cauthen, Jr., 1974; Poe: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles in English 1827-1973 by Esther F. Hyneman, 1974; in Bibliography of American Literature by Jacob Blanck, edited by Virginia L. Smyers and Michael Winship, 1983.
Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn, 1941; Poe as a Literary Critic by John Esten Cooke, edited by N. Bryllion Fagin, 1946; Life of Poe by Thomas Holley Chivers, edited by Richard Beale Davis, 1952; Poe: A Critical Study by Edward H. Davidson, 1957; The French Face of Poe by Patrick F. Quinn, 1957; Poe by Vincent Buranelli, 1961, revised edition, 1977; Poe: A Biography by William Bittner, 1962; Poe: The Man Behind the Legend by Edward Wagenknecht, 1963; Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu by Sidney P. Moss, 1963; Poe as Literary Critic by Edd Winfield Parks, 1964; Poe by Geoffrey Rans, 1965; The Recognition of Poe: Selected Criticism since 1829 edited by Eric W. Carlson, 1966; Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Robert Regan, 1967; Poe, Journalist and Critic by Robert D. Jacobs, 1969; Poe the Poet: Essays New and Old on the Man and His Work by Floyd Stovall, 1969; Plots and Characters in the Fiction and Poetry of Poe by Robert L. Gale, 1970; Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Poe's Tales edited by William L. Howarth, 1971; Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe by Daniel Hoffman, 1972; Poe: A Phenomenological View by David Halliburton, 1973; Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales by G.R. Thompson, 1973; Poe by David Sinclair, 1977; Building Poe Biography by John Carl Miller, 1977; The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Poe by Julian Symons, 1978; The Extraordinary Mr. Poe by Wolf Mankowitz, 1978; The Rationale of Deception in Poe by David Ketterer, 1979; A Psychology of Fear: The Nightmare Formula of Poe by David R. Saliba, 1980; A Poe Companion: A Guide to the Short Stories, Romances, and Essays by J.R. Hammond, 1981; Poe by Bettina L. Knapp, 1984; The Genius of Poe by Georges Zayed, 1985; Poe: The Critical Heritage edited by I.M. Walker, 1986; Poe, Death and the Life of Writing by J. Gerald Kennedy, 1987; Fables of Mind: An Inquiry into Poe's Fiction by Joan Dayan, 1987; The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Poe 1809-1849 by Dwight Thomas and David Jackson, 1987; Poe: The Design of Order by A. Robert Lee, 1987; A World of Words: Language and Displacement in the Fiction of Poe by Michael J.S. Williams, 1988; Poe: His Life and Legacy by Jeffrey Meyers, 1992; Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance by Kenneth Silverman, 1992; Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe by Jonathan Elmer, 1995; Perspectives on Poe edited by D. Ramakrishna, 1996; The Peculiarity of Literature: An Allegorical Approach to Poe's Fiction by Jeffrey DeShell, 1997.* * *
In the history of the short story Edgar Allan Poe's position is secure. Not only did he author a remarkable number of excellent stories, he also wrote what is considered to be the first theoretical statement on the short story itself. Moreover, many literary historians assigned to Poe the honor of having been the so-called "father" of the genre. There were, it is true, several other short story writers more or less contemporary with Poe, like Nikolai Gogol in Russia and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the United States, who are also considered to have produced the "first" short story. Perhaps more important than who was first is the setting down of definition that served to distinguish what came to be called the short story from the "tale," a kind of short fiction that includes such forms as fairy tales, parables, loosely constructed narratives, and sketches. The reader should not be confused by Poe's use of "tale" as nomenclature. It was some 40 years after Poe's definition was published that "the short story" was actually named by another American writer named Brander Matthews.
Poe's definition appears in his review of Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales. The most relevant paragraph in the review is important enough to be quoted here:
A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents—he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tends not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.
In insisting upon absolute unity and coherence Poe emphasizes the tightness of the form, the texture of the fabric, as it were. Just as important as the fabric, however, is Poe's insistence on the active participation of the reader who becomes a kind of co-creator to interpret symbolic substructures that provide for the story complex meanings, thus allowing depth as well as breadth.
Poe was one of the few American writers able to make a living from his writing and a dismal living it was. It did, however, encourage him to write in a tremendous variety of forms—both fiction and nonfiction. In the latter category few readers know of his editing capabilities, the range of his essays, the extent of his reviews, or the depth of his metaphysical probings. Of his fiction, it is said that he is probably the most popular American author; most every schoolchild has read one or another of his stories. Unfortunately in the past some literary historians and critics, mistakenly confusing "popular" with simple, denigrated Poe's achievements. Few such scholars exist today.
Poe's stories are of several kinds: the tales of terror, sometimes classified as "arabesque"; mysteries, sometimes classified as "tales of ratiocination"; satires; and tales of the future, sometimes referred to as flights and fancies. Poe's stories most often read are the ones most often anthologized, and those most often anthologized are selections from his tales of the arabesque, tales of ratiocination, and very occasionally, satires.
"Mask of the Red Death" is plainly arabesque. Most who read it are mesmerized by it to the extent that they often fail to notice the absence of the point of view most often used by Poe, a first-person narrator who is the central character in the story. A moment of consideration will explain the need for a different kind of point of view. At the end of the story no one is alive in Prince Prospero's group to recount the tale. Often Poe's stories contain little dialogue; but this one contains less than others—one sentence—a question: "Who dares?"
Many critics have attempted to attach allegoric significance to the various colors of each of the rooms or to the precise movements of the chase through the rooms. What is generally agreed upon is the tale's mesmerizing effect and the surreal setting with its dreamlike and lyrical elements that suffuse the story.
This is not to say the story is without allegoric meaning. Prince Prospero takes a group of knights and ladies of his court to the deep seclusion of one of his abbeys. The abbey is well protected by lofty walls and gates of iron. Once inside, Prospero's courtiers weld the bolts so that they cannot get out and, they think, nothing can get in. Their fear is the "Red Death," a plague that has devastated the country. The masque that Prospero devises to celebrate his safety becomes instead a dance macabre whose choreography climaxes when the Red Death chases Prospero from room to room and catches him in the ebony room. The clock ticks for the last time; the unnamed detached narrator says, "Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."
Poe's most famous contribution to "double" literature is "William Wilson." In "double" stories one person seems to be a reflected image of another. Often images are counterparts, often in counterpoint. In "William Wilson" the double is an exact image of the narrator's corrupt, unscrupulous, and perverted self. The storyline exists on two levels. On the one hand the double is a real person interacting with others and being seen by them. On the other hand the double seems to be but a surreal projection arising from the mazes of the corridors and rooms and the house itself, incomprehensible in its windings and subdivisions that seem a reflection of the human mind in a labyrinth-like dream state.
"The Man of the Crowd" is often said to be in the style and thrust of a Hawthorne story rather than one typically Poe's. Hawthorne's "Wakefield," for example, is about a man who leaves his wife for some unaccountable reason and then just as unaccountably returns many years later expecting to be welcomed as usual by a faithful wife. There are, however, important differences between the stories. One is point of view. In Poe's story the narrator is a character who is recovering from a recent illness and who is mesmerized by the behavior of the man of the crowd. The narrator follows the old man like a shadow through the whole of night and a day until he is "wearied onto death"; but the narrator still is unable to fathom the old man's behavior and he concludes with a quotation in German: " Er lässt sich nicht lesen " ("It does not permit itself to be read"). But the story can be read if the narrator is realized to be an image of the old man, a double. The narrator follows the man of the crowd who is unable to make commitments to a few but desires to be one among many and detached from all. This is the deep crime, a metaphor for ultimate isolation. The narrator sees his shadow self in the old man but cannot face the truth, so he turns to an excuse that what is there cannot be understood.
"Hop Frog" is sometimes characterized as one of the arabesque tales, but the story seems to fit best under the category satire or even, perhaps, under the category flights and fancies. Not so often read as Poe's most popular stories, "Hop Frog" is nevertheless a perfect gem of a story making use of a basic comic situation where the jokester is made the butt of the joke. In this story the king's prize fool makes a fool of the king. Hop Frog is a dwarf, in himself a comic contrast. Crippled, he walks between a "leap and a wriggle," but he has prodigious strength in his arms. His intellect and cunning are juxtaposed against his position as fool in the court. Like the dwarf, the king and his ministers are described in comic terms. The very idea that a ruling monarch and his ministers should have practical jokes as their main interest is incongruous with their positions. Hop Frog is willing to accept his ill treatment, but when the king insults the female dwarf, Trippetta, Hop Frog uses his intellect and great strength to concoct a situation where a masquerade becomes the occasion for a frenzied scene. The king and his ministers, costumed as apes, face one another chained together while the ape-like dwarf taunts them and finally sets them on fire; the reader watches, horrified and yet somehow understanding the dwarf's satisfaction as he makes his last jest for the doomed king.
Poe's influence on psychoanalytic approaches to thematic materials is clear; so is his influence on the modern detective story of the Sherlock Holmes variety. Poe's brilliant detective is C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin's Watson is the narrator of the Dupin mysteries, the one who makes it possible for the detective to explain his inductive leaps. Another essential ingredient is a representative of the police, in "The Purloined Letter," for example, the prefect who heads up a competent group whose major fault is they are simply competent. In fact, the police can make use of reason; but they have no imagination and consequently can make no inductive leaps. When "The Purloined Letter" begins, the crime has been committed; the guilty one is already known. The problem involves the question of where a purloined letter is hidden after it is stolen. The greater part of the story functions to show the great detective at work and in his glory as he reveals the solution to the mystery and the superiority of his own mind.
Poe, Edgar Allan (1809-1849)
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Poet, author, and journalist
Career. The son of two impoverished actors and whose father abandoned the family, Edgar Allan Poe was raised as a foster child by the wealthy Allan family in Richmond, Virginia, following his mother’s death and his father’s disappearance. He briefly attended the University of Virginia and West Point, never graduating from either institution, and served in the army from 1827 to 1829, when he was discharged. He drifted for several years, publishing volumes of poetry: Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), and Poems (1831). In December 1835 Poe became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, a position he was asked to leave in 1837 because of excessive drinking and differences with the magazine’s publisher. In 1839 he worked in Philadelphia as editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, leaving in 1840 in order to begin his own periodical, to be called the Penn Magazine. Instead in 1841 he became editor of Graham’s Magazine, leaving a year later, still hoping to establish his own journal (now to be called The Stylus ). Poe then moved to New York, where he would live for the rest of his life. In 1845 he published his best-known poem, “The Raven” (in The Raven and Other Poems ), which became an overnight success. He edited the Broadway Journal until it folded in 1846. He died in Baltimore on 7 October 1849. The circumstances of Poe’s death have always been unclear; he was found semi-conscious and was taken by acquaintances to Washington Medical College. John J. Moran, the physician who attended Poe, reported symptoms of delirium tremens, and others who knew him attributed his death to alcohol. Moran later disputed this, and some Baltimore newspapers attributed his death to “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation,” perhaps caused by exposure to the cold and rainy weather.
Literary Style. Poe was both a romantic and a rationalist. Influenced by the works of George Gordon, Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as well as by German Gothic writers Ludwig Tieck and E. T. A. Hoffmann, Poe’s own work presented unsettling images of death, madness, and terror in carefully produced and arranged forms. Fascinated with the world of dreams, trances, madness, and horror, Poe at the same time was strongly interested in scientific analysis and thought and sought-in his short stories to draw realistic portraits of particular mental states in ways that would appeal to mass audiences. Stories such as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” all reflected Poe’s ability to portray the mind’s experience of terror and horror and his use of symbolism to carry those themes. Other stories focused on the world of crime: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” published in Graham’s Magazine in April 1841, was the first American detective story, and its crime-solving C. Auguste Dupin was a forerunner of Sherlock Holmes. Poe published several other detective stories, some featuring Dupin, including the prizewinning “The Gold-Bug,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “Thou Art the Man.” By focusing on the mental work involved in crime-solving, Poe emphasized the way intuition and logic worked together in the mind to form conclusions.
Art for Art’s Sake. Significantly, Poe avoided any hint of moralism in these often disturbing stories, believing that art’s chief responsibility lay in the transmission of beauty. In his lecture “The Poetic Principle” (delivered in 1848 and published posthumously) Poe warned against “the heresy of The Didactic ” in art, arguing that art should not be expected to carry moral messages but should be pursued for its own sake. This belief in art for art’s sake sharply separated Poe from the majority of nineteenth-century artists; Poe’s theories would later be embraced by the French Symbolists, particularly Charles Baudelaire.
Philosophy. Poe theorized more about poetry than about prose, and in addition to “The Poetic Principle” he published two essays explicitly about poetic composition, “The Philosophy of Composition” (1846) and “Rationale of Verse” (1848). In “The Philosophy of Composition” Poe explained how he had gone about composing “The Raven,” paying close attention to the musical and emotional effects he had determined the poem should have on its readers and how he composed with those effects always in mind. In this essay Poe famously asserted that since the most poetical feeling was melancholia, and the most melancholy of subjects was death, “the death … of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” a sentiment which may, perhaps, have reflected Poe’s own long-standing grief over the loss of his young mother and the wasting illness of his young wife, Virginia Clemm. With a similar emphasis on effect Poe argued that the best poetry should be short, in order to be an easily comprehended whole, and as closely imitative of music as possible since both music and poetry sought to capture an all but inexpressible eternal beauty. Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to Poe as the Jingle Man, reflecting Emerson’s resistance to Poe’s belief in art for art’s sake and his sense of Poe’s poetry as being more rhythmic than meaningful. Many of Poe’s poems do carry a strongly marked rhythm and an attentiveness to sound—for example, his “Ulalume,” whose rhythmic force can be felt even in its title, and “The Raven.”
Editor and Critic. As an editor Poe published a significant amount of literary criticism, most of it sharply critical. Poe understood the critic’s task to be an examination of a work in terms of a particular set of standards; the critic would read, analyze, and judge the work before him. His attacks on New York writers in a series of reviews published in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1846 earned him the nickname “The Man with the Tomahawk.” He was also hostile toward New England writers, often referring to Boston as Frogpondium and to the Transcendentalists as Frogpondian Euphuists. Poe accused Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on several different occasions of plagiarism, and in his review of Longfellow’s Ballads and Other Poems (1842) Poe attacked Longfellow for his didacticism. In return, literary critic Margaret Fuller in 1845 remarked that “A large band … must be on the watch for a volume of ‘Poems by Edgar A. Poe, ’ ready to cut, rend, and slash in turn.” Not all of Poe’s reviews were hostile, however; he praised William Cullen Bryant’s Poems in 1846 and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in 1837. In 1842 he wrote a long review of Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge (1841), whose murder-mystery theme made it a story after Poe’s own heart. In this review Poe prefigured his most famous poem in suggesting how Dickens might have done more with the figure of a raven that appears in the story:
Its croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama. Its character might have performed, in regard to that of the idiot [character] much the same part as does, in music, the accompaniment in respect to the air. Each might have been distinct. Each might have differed remarkably from the other. Yet between them there might have been wrought an analogical resemblance, and although each might have existed apart, they might have formed together a whole which would have been imperfect in the absence of the either.
Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance (New York: HarperCollins, 1991).
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe
Unquestionably one of America's major writers, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was far ahead of his time in his vision of a special area of human experience—the "inner world" of dream, hallucination, and imagination. He wrote fiction, poetry, and criticism and was a magazine editor.
Edgar Allan Poe was best known to his own generation as an editor and critic; his poems and short stories commanded only a small audience. But to some extent in his poems, and to an impressive degree in his tales, he pioneered in opening up areas of human experience for artistic treatment at which his contemporaries only hinted. His vision asserts that reality for the human being is essentially subterranean, contradictory to surface reality, and profoundly irrational in character. Two generations later he was hailed by the symbolist movement as the prophet of the modern sensibility.
Poe was born in Boston on Jan. 19, 1809, the son of professional actors. By the time he was 3, Edgar, his older brother, and younger sister had lost their mother to consumption and their father through desertion. The children were split up, going to various families to live. Edgar went to the charitable Richmond, Virginia, home of John and Frances Allan, whose name Poe was to take later as his own middle name.
A New Family
The Allans were wealthy then and were to become more so later, and though they never adopted Poe, for many years it appeared that he was to be their heir. They treated him like an adopted son, saw to his education in private academies, and took him to England for a 5-year stay; and at least Mrs. Allan bestowed considerable affection upon him.
As Edgar entered adolescence, however, bad feelings developed between him and John Allan. Allan disapproved of his ward's literary inclinations, thought him surly and ungrateful, and gradually seems to have decided that Poe was not to be his heir after all. When, in 1826, Poe entered the newly opened University of Virginia, Allan's allowance was so meager that Poe turned to gambling to supplement his income. In 8 months he lost $2, 000. Allan's refusal to help him led to total estrangement, and in March 1827 Poe stormed out on his own.
Poe managed to get to Boston, where he signed up for a 5-year enlistment in the U.S. Army. In 1827, as well, he had his Tamerlane and Other Poems published at his own expense, but the book failed to attract notice. By January 1829, serving under the name of Edgar A. Perry, Poe rose to the highest noncommissioned rank in the Army, sergeant major. He was reluctant to serve out the full enlistment, however, and he arranged to be discharged from the Army on the understanding that he would seek an appointment at West Point. He thought that such a move might cause a reconciliation with his guardian. That same year Al Araaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems was published in Baltimore and received a highly favorable notice from the novelist and critic John Neal. Armed with these new credentials, Poe visited Allan in Richmond, but another violent quarrel forced him to leave in May 1830.
The West Point appointment came through the next month, but, since Poe no longer had any use for it, he did not last long as a cadet. Lacking Allan's permission to resign, Poe sought and received a dismissal for "gross neglect of duty" and "disobedience of orders." His guardian, long widowed, had taken a young wife who might well give him an heir, and Poe realized that his hopes of a legacy were without foundation.
Marriage and the Search for a Place
During his early years of exile Poe had lived in Baltimore for a while with his aunt Maria Clemm and her 7-year-old daughter, Virginia. He returned to his aunt's home in 1831, publishing Poems by Edgar Allan Poe and beginning to place short stories in magazines. In 1833 he received a prize for "MS. Found in a Bottle, " and John Pendleton Kennedy got him a job on the Southern Literary Messenger. In 1836 Poe married his cousin Virginia—now 13 years old—and moved to Richmond with his bride and mother-in-law. Excessive drinking lost him his job in 1837, but he had produced prolifically for the journal. He had contributed his Politian, as well as 83 reviews, 6 poems, 4 essays, and 3 short stories. He had also quintupled the magazine's circulation. Rejection in the face of such accomplishment was extremely distressing to him, and his state of mind from then on, as one biographer put it, "was never very far from panic."
The panic accelerated after 1837. Poe moved with Virginia and her mother to New York, where he did hack work and managed to publish The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838). Then they moved to Philadelphia, where Poe served as coeditor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. In 2 years he boosted its circulation from 5, 000 to 20, 000 and contributed some of his best fiction to its pages, including "The Fall of the House of Usher." In 1840, furthermore, he published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. But there was trouble at Burton's, and in 1841 Poe left for the literary editorship of Graham's Magazine.
It was becoming clear that 2 years was about as long as Poe could hold a job, and his stay at Graham's confirmed this principle. Though he contributed skillfully wrought fiction and unquestionably developed as a critic, his endless literary feuding, his alcoholism, and his inability to get along very well with people caused him to leave after 1842.
Illness and Crisis
The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Man That Was Used Up emerged in 1843, and a Philadelphia newspaper offered a $100 prize for his "The Gold Bug, " but Poe was now facing a kind of psychological adversity against which he was virtually helpless. His wife, who had been an absolutely crucial source of comfort and support to him, began showing signs of the consumption that would eventually kill her. When his burden became too great, he tried to relieve it with alcohol, which made him ill.
After great struggle Poe got a job on the New York Mirror in 1844. He lasted, characteristically, into 1845, switching then to the editorship of the Broadway Journal. Although he was now deep in public literary feuds, things seemed to be breaking in his favor. The 1844 publication of the poem "The Raven" finally brought him some fame, and in 1845 the publication of two volumes, The Raven and Other Poems and Tales, both containing some of his best work, did in fact move him into fashionable literary society. But his wife's health continued to deteriorate, and he was not earning enough money to support her and Clemm.
Poe's next job was with Godey's Lady's Book, but he was unable to sustain steady employment, and amid the din of plagiarism charges and libel suits, his fortunes sank to the point that he and his family almost starved in their Fordham cottage in the winter of 1846. Then, on Jan. 30, 1847, Virginia Poe died.
The wonder is not that Poe began totally to disintegrate but that he nevertheless continued to produce work of very high caliber. In 1848 he published the brilliantly ambitious Eureka, and he was even to make a final, heart-wrenching attempt at rehabilitation. He returned to Richmond in 1849, there to court a now-widowed friend of his youth, Mrs. Shelton. They were to be married, and Poe left for New York at the end of September to bring Clemm back for the wedding. On the way he stopped off in Baltimore. Nobody knows exactly what happened, and there is no real proof that he was picked up by a gang who used him to "repeat" votes, but he was found on October 3 in a stupor near a saloon that had been used as a polling place. He died in a hospital 4 days later.
World of His Work
It is not hard to see the connection between the nightmare of Poe's life and his work. Behind a screen of sometimes substantial, sometimes flimsy "reality, " his fictional work resembles the dreams of a distressed individual who keeps coming back, night after night, to the same pattern of dream. At times he traces out the pattern lightly, at other times in a "thoughtful" mood, but often the tone is terror. He finds himself descending, into a cellar, a wine vault, a whirlpool, always falling. The women he meets either change form into someone else or are whisked away completely. And at last he drops off, into a pit or a river or a walled-up tomb.
Poe's critics interpret this pattern to represent the search of the individual for himself by going deep into himself and his ultimate arrival at the unplumbed mystery of his inner self. This search has come, of course, to characterize much of 20th-century art, and it is the distinguished accomplishment of Poe as an artist that his work looks forward with such startling precision to the work of the century that followed.
Arthur H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941), is extremely reliable. Two very readable treatments are Hervey Allen, Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), and William R. Bittner, Poe: A Biography (1962). A thorough study is Edward C. Wagenknecht, Edgar Allan Poe: The Man behind the Legend (1963). Two critical studies which supplement each other are Patrick F. Quinn, The French Face of Edgar Allan Poe (1957), which concentrates on the fiction, and Edward H. Davidson, Poe: A Critical Study (1957), which emphasizes the poetry. See also Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe (1933); Haldeen Braddy, Glorious Incense: The Fulfillment of Edgar Allan Poe (1953); and Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness (1958). Perry Miller, The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville (1956), and Sidney P. Moss, Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu (1963), discuss Poe in the context of his times. For a full list of Poe's works see Robert E. Spiller and others, eds., Literary History of the United States, vol. 3 (1948; 3d rev. ed. 1963). □
Poe, Edgar Allan
One of America's major writers, Edgar Allan Poe was far ahead of his time in his vision of a special area of human experience—the "inner world" of dreams and the imagination. He wrote fiction, poetry, and criticism and also worked as a magazine editor.
Orphaned at three
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809, the son of David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, both professional actors. By the time he was three, Edgar, his older brother, and his younger sister were orphans; their father deserted the family, and then their mother died. The children were each sent to different families to live. Edgar went to the Richmond, Virginia, home of John and Frances Allan, whose name Poe was to take later as his own middle name. The Allans were wealthy, and though they never adopted Poe, they treated him like a son, made sure he was educated in private academies, and took him to England for a five-year stay. Mrs. Allan, at least, showed considerable affection toward him.
As Edgar entered his teenage years, however, bad feelings developed between him and John Allan. Allan disapproved of Edgar's ambition to become a writer, thought he was ungrateful, and seems to have decided to cut Poe out of his will. When, in 1826, Poe entered the newly opened University of Virginia, he had so little money that he turned to gambling in an attempt to make money. In eight months he lost two thousand dollars. Allan's refusal to help him led to a final break between the two, and in March 1827 Poe went out on his own.
Enlists in the army
Poe then signed up for a five-year term in the U.S. Army. In 1827 his Tamerlane and Other Poems was published at his own expense, but the book failed to attract notice. By January 1829, serving under the name of Edgar A. Perry, Poe rose to the rank of sergeant major. He did not want to serve out the full five years, however, and he arranged to be discharged from the army on the condition that he would seek an appointment at West Point Academy. He thought such a move might please John Allan. That same year Al Araaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems was published in Baltimore, Maryland, and it received a highly favorable notice from the novelist and critic John Neal.
Poe visited Allan in Richmond, but he left in May 1830 after he and Allan had another violent quarrel. The West Point appointment came through the next month, but, since Poe no longer had any use for it, he did not last long. Lacking Allan's permission to resign, Poe sought and received a dismissal for "gross neglect of duty" and "disobedience of orders." Poe realized that he would never receive financial help from Allan.
Marriage and editing jobs
Poe lived in Baltimore for a while with his aunt Maria Clemm and her seven-yearold daughter, Virginia. In 1831 he published Poems by Edgar Allan Poe and began to place short stories in magazines. In 1833 he received a prize for "Ms. Found in a Bottle," and his friend John Pendleton Kennedy, a lawyer and writer, got him a job on the Southern Literary Messenger. In 1836 Poe married his cousin Virginia—now thirteen years old—and moved to Richmond with her and her mother. Although excessive drinking caused him to lose his job in 1837, he had written eighty-three reviews, six poems, four essays, and three short stories for the journal. He had also greatly increased its sales. Losing this job was extremely distressing to him, and his state of mind from then on, as one biographer put it, "was never very far from panic."
The panic increased after 1837. Poe moved with Virginia and her mother to New York City, where he managed to publish The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), his only long work of fiction. The family then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Poe served as coeditor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. In two years he boosted its circulation from five thousand to twenty thousand and contributed some of his best fiction to its pages, including "The Fall of the House of Usher." In 1840 he published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. But there was trouble at Burton's, and in 1841 Poe left to work as the editor of Graham's Magazine. It was becoming clear that two years was about as long as Poe could hold a job, and though he contributed quality fiction and criticism to the magazine, his drinking, his feuding with other writers, and his inability to get along with people caused him to leave after 1842.
Illness and crisis
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Man That Was Used Up" emerged in 1843, and a Philadelphia newspaper offered a one-hundred-dollar prize for his story "The Gold Bug," but Poe's problems were increasing. His wife, who had been a vital source of comfort and support to him, began showing signs of the consumption (or tuberculosis, an infection of the lungs) that would eventually kill her. When his troubles became too great, Poe tried to relieve them by drinking, which made him ill. Things seemed to improve slightly in 1844; the publication of the poem "The Raven" brought him some fame, and this success was followed in 1845 by the publication of two volumes, The Raven and Other Poems and Tales. But his wife's health continued to worsen, and he was still not earning enough money to support her and Clemm.
Poe's next job was with Godey's Lady's Book, but he was unable to keep steady employment, and things got so bad that he and his family almost starved in the winter of 1846. Then, on January 30, 1847, Virginia Poe died. Somehow Poe continued to produce work of very high caliber. In 1848 he published the ambitious Eureka, and he returned to Richmond in 1849 to court a now-widowed friend of his youth, Mrs. Shelton. They were to be married, and Poe left for New York City at the end of September to bring Clemm back for the wedding. On the way he stopped off in Baltimore, Maryland. No one knows exactly what happened, but he was found unconscious on October 3, 1849, near a saloon that had been used as a polling place. He died in a hospital four days later.
It is not hard to see the connection between the nightmare of Poe's life and his work. His fictional work resembles the dreams of a troubled individual who keeps coming back, night after night, to the same pattern of dream. At times he traces out the pattern lightly, at other times in a "thoughtful" mood, but often the tone is terror. He finds himself descending, into a cellar, a wine vault, or a whirlpool, always falling. The women he meets either change form into someone else or are whisked away completely. And at last he drops off, into a pit or a river or a walled-up tomb.
For More Information
Bittner, William R. Poe: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992.
Walsh, John Evangelist. Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
Poe, Edgar Allan
Edgar Allan Poe was a master of the gothic tale, a style of fiction characterized by eerie settings and gloomy, violent, and horrifying atmospheres. He is also remembered as the inventor of the modern detective story.
Poe was born on January 19, 1809, the son of professional actors. When he was three, his mother died of tuberculosis (known then as consumption, a disease of the lungs) and his father had already abandoned the family. Poe was sent to live in Richmond, Virginia , at the home of a wealthy and childless couple, John and Frances Allan, whose name Poe was to take later as his middle name. Frances Allan loved Poe like a son, but the relationship with John Allan was strained.
Poe was educated in private academies. He did well in all subjects, but literature absorbed his attention. By age fourteen, he was writing poetry. He entered the University of Virginia in 1826, where he took up more than studying; drinking large quantities of alcohol and gambling became new habits. This soon led to an estrangement with John Allan; Poe was cut off from all funds in 1827.
The young man set off for Boston, Massachusetts , determined to become a great writer. There he published a book of poems, but they attracted little attention. In desperate need of an income, Poe decided to join the U.S. Army . Surprisingly, he adapted well to military discipline and quickly rose to the rank of sergeant major, the highest noncommissioned grade in the Army. After receiving an appointment to West Point Military Academy in New York , Poe discovered that the life of an officer-in-training was not at all what he had expected. Frustrated, he began drinking heavily and stopped attending his classes. He was kicked out of the academy in 1831.
Writer and editor
Poe eventually went to stay in Baltimore, Maryland , with an impoverished aunt and her family and spent most of his time writing. In 1831, he published a book of poems and placed a few short stories in magazines. In 1833, he got a job as an assistant editor on the Southern Literary Messenger. A hard worker and a brilliant literary critic, Poe contributed greatly to the literary journal. It is estimated that he quintupled the magazine's readership. He also offended many writers with his sharp criticism and infuriated his boss with his bouts of heavy drinking. He was fired in 1837.
In 1836, Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin Virginia. He and his wife and mother-inlaw moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania , where he joined the staff of Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine in 1839.
Poe's longest work, his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket, was published in 1838. The novel, which is actually a series of stories strung together, tells the story of Arthur Gordon Pym's ocean voyages, which take him ever closer to the South Pole. Begun as a high seas adventure tale, the stories soon turn to the fantastic and supernatural.
During Poe's days at Burton's, he published many of his best stories, including “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In “Ligeia,” a man recounts the death of his beloved wife, his remarriage to a woman he grows to hate, and his first wife's resurrection in the dead body of the second wife. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is the tale of the last descendants, a twin brother and sister, of a cursed family doomed to live in a haunted mansion that seems to be alive with evil. The struggles between life and death and reason and insanity eventually bring the mansion toppling in on itself, killing those inside.
In 1839, he published all his existing stories in a two-volume set titled Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. It sold very few copies. In 1840, Poe attempted to establish his own literary magazine called the Penn, but he failed to find backers. He took a job with Graham's Magazine, remaining there until 1842.
Before joining Graham's, Poe had begun writing “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is considered one of the first modern detective stories. Featuring a brilliant detective named C. Auguste Dupin and his dimwitted assistant, the story solved its crime through a process of rational thought and detection. For four years, between 1841 and 1845, Poe wrote more detective stories, such as “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Gold Bug.” Scottish writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), creator of fiction's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, proclaimed Poe the father of the detective tale. These stories earned Poe an improved reputation and more money than he had ever earned before.
In January 1845, Poe published the poem that would bring him his greatest fame, “The Raven.” In the poem, a depressed man asks a raven perched upon his windowsill if he will meet his dead lover, Lenore, in the afterlife. The poem created an immediate sensation and made Poe a minor celebrity.
Poe's fame soon fell prey to his drunkenness and despair. His wife, Virginia, was dying slowly and painfully of tuberculosis. Poe was frequently seen wandering drunkenly through the streets of New York. Virginia died on January 30, 1847, leaving Poe in a deep depression for nearly a year.
Death and reputation
In July 1849, Poe traveled by train to call on a former childhood sweetheart, and on the way back he stopped in Baltimore. No one knows what happened to him there. A few days later, he was found unconscious in a gutter and was taken to a hospital. Already too far gone to recover, he died several days later.
Poe's reputation has undergone many twists since his death. His literary executor (the person who takes care of the works of an author after his or her death) was jealous of Poe and did all he could to paint him as a vicious drunk who lacked moral principle. In 1874, a biographer published a well-researched and positive portrait of Poe that began to set the record straight. Gradually, writers and critics recognized the late horror writer's talent. His works began to be issued anew. By the second half of the twentieth century, Poe was recognized as one of the great geniuses of American literature. He retains a popular audience rare among so-called “classic” authors, for his tales of terror contain a fascination and a mystery that appeals to many readers.
Poe, Edgar Allan