EdgarAllanPoe 1809 - 1849
Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his poems and short fiction. Moreover, he was the father of the modern mystery. Additionally, Poe has had a worldwide influence on literature.
David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, Poe's parents, were traveling actors, Paid poorly and scorned by respectable society, the Poes scrounged what money they could to start a family. In 1807 they had a son, William Henry Leonard, but were so poor that they had to send him to live with David Poe's parents.
On January 19, 1809, Elizabeth gave birth to her second son, Edgar. In order to keep her son, Elizabeth returned to the stage three weeks after his birth. The baby's father was no help: he disappeared soon after Edgar's birth and was not heard of again until a newspaper clipping revealed his death, of tuberculosis (known then as consumption), in October of 1810. Poe’s Mother
The infant Poe accompanied his mother on her ceaseless theatrical tours, watching from the wings as Elizabeth recreated her favorite roles from Shakespeare. Poe later remembered her as a princess in flowing white robes, ethereal in her beauty. On December 8, 1811, Elizabeth Poe, aged twenty-four, died from tuberculosis.
"The small fairy-like figure of his mother wearing her best gown, her face white as wax after the hectic colour of her last days, illuminated by candles, an ultimate dream-lady deep in her mysterious sleep, remained one of the most haunting images of Poe's childhood," wrote biographer Mankowitz. • Poe was adopted by John and Frances Allan, a childless couple from Richmond, Virginia and went dramatically from rags to riches. John Allan was a prosperous merchant who dealt in tobacco, feed, farm animals, and slaves, and owned a large home in town. Though Frances Allan loved Edgar like her own child, his foster father, John Allan, was not as enthusiastic.
Poe was an "attractive and intelligent child", and he entertained his parents' guests by reciting long passages from poems. Though John Allan resisted the role of father, he was fiercely proud of the boy and took care to send him to the best schools money could buy. The Allan family moved to England to attend to business in 1815 and in 1818 Poe began to attend the Manor House boarding school in the village of Stoke Newington.
Poe had gone to England as a frail child, but the exercise regimen practiced by the English schools had made him strong. When he returned to Richmond with his family in 1820 he became a leader among his boyhood friends. "His athletic exploits became legendary," wrote biographer Suzanne LeVert.
"He was able to broad-jump a distance of 21 feet 6 inches on a dead-level run of 20 yards. At the age of 15 he swam a distance of 7 1/2 miles against a strong tide." Poe succeeded in school as well, learning several languages and devoting himself to great literature and the written word. "His imaginative powers seemed to take precedence over all his other faculties," recalled the headmaster at one of Poe's schools, "he gave proof of this in his juvenile compositions, addressed to his young lady friends."
At the age of 14, Poe became devoted to Jane Stanard, the mother of a classmate. Poe was crushed to find that she was dying of a malignant brain tumor. Recasting Jane as Helen, Poe wrote one of his best early poems, called "To Helen." "In Edgar's mind," wrote LeVert, "beauty was now forever linked with death."
As Poe became increasingly romantic, dedicating his life to reading and writing, his adoptive father grew ever more critical. Describing Poe in a letter as "miserable, sulky, and ill-tempered," Allan was cold to Poe and constantly reminded him of the debt of gratitude he owed to the Allans. • At the same time, Allan continued to provide for Poe, and in 1826 sent him to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, but Poe soon ran himself into debt.
Worse than Poe's gambling was his drinking. Poe did not drink for pleasure; rather, he rushed headlong into a stupor, gulping alcohol as quickly as he could until he reached the point of oblivion. Once the excitement of the drink passed, Poe would often pass out.
Poe's drinking plagued him throughout his life, and eventually led to his death. But it is uncertain whether Poe was in fact an alcoholic. Following his youthful drinking binges, Poe drank only sporadically. Yet when he was depressed, as he was quite often in his life, he needed only a few drinks to push him over the edge. "Most biographers agree that Poe was a "problem" drinker, whose tumultuous temperament simply could not bear the exciting affects of drink."
Poe's foster father had had enough of his foster son's behavior in the winter of 1826 and 1827, and when he refused to pay Poe's debts, Poe was forced to withdraw from the university. Then, in March of 1827, Allan issued an ultimatum to Poe: live by my rules or leave. Poe left with only the clothes on his back and, as he later wrote in a letter begging for money, "not one cent in the world to provide any food." For the rest of his life, Poe would wander from job to job and city to city, looking for financial and emotional support, but also looking for some way to exercise his intellect and his churning imagination. It would be a long and frustrating journey.
Little is known about his life in this time, but in 1833 he lived in Baltimore with his father's sister Mrs. Maria Clemm. After winning a prize of $50 for the short story 'MS Found in a Bottle,' he started a career as a staff member of various magazines, including the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond (1835-37), Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia (1839-40), and Graham's Magazine (1842-43). During these years he wrote some of his best-known stories.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyesOf the beautiful Annabel Lee;And so, all the night-time, I lie down by the sideOf my darling - my darling - my life and my bride,In the sepulcher there by the sea,In her tomb by the sounding sea.(from 'Annabel Lee', 1849) • In 1836 Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. In 1842 she ruptured a blood vessel, and remained disabled until her death from tuberculosis five years later. After the death of his wife, Poe began to lose his struggle with drinking and drugs. He addressed the famous poem 'Annabel Lee' (1849) to her - its subject, Poe's favourite, is the death of a beautiful woman.
Poe's first collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, appeared in 1840. It contains one of his most famous works, 'The Fall of the House of Usher.' In the story the narrator visits the crumbling mansion of his friend, Roderick Usher, and tries to dispel Roderick's gloom. Although his twin sister, Madeline, has been placed in the family vault, Roderick is convinced she lives. Madeline arises in a trance, and carries her brother to his death. The house itself splits asunder and sinks into the tarn.
By 1841, Poe had begun writing a kind of story unlike any attempted in the history of fiction. The first one, The Murders in the Rue Morgue was the model for the modern detective story. It featured a brilliant detective named C. Auguste Dupin and his slow-minded companion to whom everything must be explained, Poe called his story a "tale of ratiocination," for it involved solving a crime through a rigorous process of rational thought and detection.
For four years, between 1841 and 1845, Poe wrote more of this type of story. Titles included The Mystery of Marie Roget, The Purloined Letter, and The Gold Bug. In each of these stories, the detective sifts through the available clues to try to arrive at the solution to the mystery.
Poe's detective tales are among his most well known. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Sherlock Holmes, the most famous detective in fiction, once said that Poe "was the father of the detective tale." In the twentieth century, many of Poe's detective stories were made into popular movies, for the suspense and the action of these stories transferred well to the screen. Poe himself thought less of these stories than of those that depended on creating and sustaining a mood, but these stories earned him an improved reputation and more money--$1200 a year--than he had ever earned before.
In January of 1845, Poe published the poem that would bring him his greatest fame, "The Raven." 'The Raven' portrays ... the monomaniacal obsession of a melancholy man who is hovering on the edge of madness," This melancholy man asks a raven perched upon his windowsill if he will meet his dead lover, Lenore, in the afterlife: Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore!'"
The poem created an immediate sensation and made Poe a minor celebrity. 'The Raven' was reprinted throughout the country and inspired a great number of imitations and parodies. One critic wrote that "Mr. Poe has attained an individual eminence in our literature, which he will keep. He has given proof of power and originality"
From E. Poe’s Reminiscences: • I knew in my bones that "The Raven" would be a hit with my audience. As I told my friend F.W. Thomas in 1845, the year "The Raven" was first published: "'The Raven' has had a great 'run,' Thomas - but I wrote it for the express purpose of running - just as I did the 'Gold-Bug', you know. The bird beat the bug, though, all hollow." "The Raven" indeed remains my most famous poem. Few, though, have dared to venture into the deepest folds of its feathered lines, to appreciate fully what I have created. Will you jounce about the surface like so many others? Or do you have the patience and resolve to delve into its deeper mysteries?
The dark poem of lost love, 'The Raven,' brought Poe national fame, when it appeared in 1845. Poe suffered from bouts of depression and madness, and he attempted suicide in 1848. In September the following year, he disappeared for three days on his way to visit his new fiancé after a drinking session at a birthday party. He was eventually found in a delirious condition in a Baltimore gutter and died on October 7, 1849.
The Contemporaries wrote: • Poe traveled by steamer to Baltimore and arrived there on September twenty ninth. Exactly what happened to him in that city cannot now be ascertained. An election was in progress, and the preponderance of evidence points to the fact that he began to drink and fell into the hands of a gang of repeaters who probably gave him drugged liquor and voted him. On October third he was found by Dr. James E. Snodgrass, an old friend, in a, horrible condition at a low tavern in Lombard Street.
Summoning a relative of Poe, Dr. Snodgrass had the now unconscious and dying poet taken in a carriage to the Washington Hospital and put into the care of Dr. J. J. Moran, the resident physician. Several days of delirium ensued with only a few intervals of partial consciousness. He called repeatedly for one "Reynolds," and gave vent to every indication of utter despair. Finally on Sunday morning, October 7, 1849, "He became quiet and seemed to rest for a short time. Then, gently, moving his head, he said, 'Lord help my poor soul.'" As he had lived so he died--in great misery and tragedy.