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Stories, Poems and Humor
Left Book Author Profile
Poe, Edgar Allan
Left Book
Website: http://www.eapoe.org

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Poe, Edgar Allan

Bells, The [Poetry]



Biography

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Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 - October 7, 1849) was a 19th century poet, novelist and short story writer. He also worked as a literary critic and editor but was more successful as an author.


Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of actress Eliza Poe and actor David Poe, Jr.. Both of Poe's parents died before he was 3 years old, and Poe was taken into the home of John Allan, a successful merchant in Richmond, Virginia, and baptized Edgar Allan Poe. After attending schools in England and Richmond, Virginia, Poe registered at the University of Virginia, but stayed for only one year. Poe enlisted in the US Army as a private using the name Edgar A. Perry on May 26, 1827. After serving for two years and attaining the rank of Sergeant-major, Poe was discharged. Poe received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but apparently deliberately disobeyed orders to compel a dismissal.


Poe next moved to Baltimore, Maryland with his widowed aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. Poe used his fiction as a means of supporting himself, and with the December issue of 1835, Poe began editing the Southern Literary Messenger for Thomas W. White in Richmond. This position was held by Poe until January, 1837. During this time, Poe married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm, in Richmond on May 16, 1836.


Poe was five feet, eight inches in height and slightly built.


Poe's death


Poe arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 27, 1849.


On the 3rd of October, he was found on the streets, delirious and "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance," according to the man who found him. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died early on the morning of October 7. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and wearing clothes that were not his own.


The precise cause of Poe's death is disputed:


Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe's who was among those who saw him in his last days, was convinced that Poe's death was a result of drunkenness, and did a great deal to popularise this interpretation of the events. He was, however, a supporter of the temperance movement who found Poe a useful example in his work; later scholars have shown that his account of Poe's death distorts facts to support his theory.


Dr. John Moran, the physician who attended Poe, stated in his own 1885 account that "Edgar Allan Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant, nor was the smell of liquor upon his breath or person." This was, however, only one of several sometimes contradictory accounts of Poe's last days he published over the years, so his testimony cannot be considered entirely reliable.


Numerous other theories have been proposed over the years, including several forms of brain disease, various types of enzyme deficiency, rabies (though some consider this unlikely), syphilis, and the idea that Poe was shanghaied, drugged, and used as a pawn in a ballot-box-stuffing scam aimed at an election that was held on the day he was found. Some conspiracy theorists, notably Michael A. Hoffman II, even propose that Poe was murdered by Freemasons.


In the absence of contemporary documentation (all surviving accounts are either incomplete or published years after the event; even Poe's death certificate, if one was ever made out, has been lost), it is likely that the truth of Poe's death will never be known.


Writer Stephen Marlowe adapted the strange details of Poe's death into his 1995 novel "The Lighthouse At The End Of The World."


Legacy


Poe's curious and often nightmarish work greatly influenced the horror and fantasy genres. He is also credited with having been the principal initiator of the genre of detective fiction with his three stories about Auguste Dupin, the most famous of which is "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards for excellence in the genre the "Edgarssm" (compare with the Oscars, etc).


Poe's literary reputation was greater abroad than it was in the United States, perhaps given to the US's general revulsion to the macabre. Rufus Griswold became his literary executor; in fact, Griswold was a rival and an enemy. In the U.S.A., Griswold circulated a "Memoir of the Author" which portrayed Poe as a drunkard and opium addict. These defamatory reminisicences did little to commend Poe to U.S. literary society.


In France, where he is commonly known as "Edgar Poe," Charles Baudelaire translated his stories and several of the poems into French. Baudelaire was the right man for this job, and his excellent translations meant that Poe enjoyed a vogue among avant-garde writers in France while being ignored in his native land. From France, writers like Algernon Charles Swinburne caught the Poe-bug, and Swinburne's musical verse owes much to Poe's technique. Poe was much admired, also, by the school of Symbolism, and Stéphane Mallarmé dedicated several poems to him.


Poe was influential on the Swedish poet and author Viktor Rydberg, who translated a considerable amount of Poe's work into Swedish.


There is no doubt that he inspired mystery writers who came after him, particularly Arthur Conan Doyle in "The Hound of the Baskervilles." He was also profoundly influential in the development of early science fiction author Jules Verne.


Adaptations


Several of his works were made into movies, notably a series of movies directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price. The Alan Parsons Project produced a record album in 1976 entitled Tales of Mystery and Imagination, based on several of Poe's tales.


In 2003, Lou Reed released a double-CD set based on Poe's writings. Peter Hammill has written and recorded an operatic version of "The Fall of the House of Usher."






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