Born: January 19, 1809
Died: October 7, 1849
Edgar Allan Poe, writer, poet, and critic, was famous for his contributions to the literary genres of mystery and macabre. He wrote some of the first detective stories. After his father deserted the family and his mother died (before Poe was three years old), he was taken in by John Allan, a merchant living in Richmond, Virginia.
So that Poe could receive a classical education, Allan sent him to live in the United Kingdom, from 1815 to 1820. He later continued his studies in 1826 at the University of Virginia but was forced to leave due to gambling debts. Upon returning home, Poe found the woman of his affection engaged to another man.
Seeing no reason to stay in Virginia, he moved to Boston and published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems. Finances became a problem in Boston as well, and to escape poverty, Poe enlisted in the army, where he performed poorly and was expelled.
Moving to New York City, then Baltimore, and finally back to Richmond, he published poetry and won awards for his stories. In Richmond he was married to Virginia Clemm and worked as an editor for the Southern Literary Messenger. His fame began to spread as a reviewer of literature. Unfortunately, his drinking got the best of him, and he lost his position at the Messenger.
Both Poe’s life and works were controversial. To many of his biographers, most notably Rufus Griswold, he was a dangerous man with many vices (such as heavy drinking, alleged drug addictions, and gambling problems), made even more dangerous because of his exceptional and influential writing abilities. To others, such as the French poet Charles Baudelaire, Poe’s life was full of persecution and suffering; he was more a victim than a villain. His work was controversial because he introduced new ideas and theories into Romantic literature, boldly writing about death and gloom like no one else before him. Many thought that by doing so, he advanced literature, but others considered his work to be dead and not worth reading.
In 1841, he wrote one of the first detective stories ever, entitled “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Later, in 1843, he wrote “The Gold Bug,” for which he won a $100 prize (that was a lot of money at that time!). His poem “The Raven” was his most famous, and when it was published in 1845, he was immediately known nationwide.
After Virginia Clemm died in 1847, Poe traveled to Providence, RI, in hopes of marrying Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet. She said yes but later cancelled the wedding after he was seen ordering wine at a bar, violating a promise he had made to her that he would not drink.
On Sunday, October 8, 1849, Poe was found dead on a sidewalk in Baltimore. According to an article in The Evening Patriot, he had suffered from congestion of the brain. There is much controversy surrounding his death, particularly whether or not he died from drinking. Regardless, his life changed the face of American literature; he made mystery and horror legitimate and popular literary genres.
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Thomas, Dwight, and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809—1849 (Boston, MA: G.K. Hall & Co., 1987).
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Woodson, Thomas (editor). Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Fall of the House of Usher (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. A Spectrum Book., 1969).
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