Master of the Macabre: Edgar Allan Poe

ENTERTAINMENT | April 23, 2019

Poe and raven. Source: (KCRW.com)

Many and many a year ago, or more specifically, on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, Edgar Allan Poe was born. Despite living a very short and difficult life, he was an influential figure in American literature, making great contributions to the genres of science fiction and horror, and is credited with inventing detective fiction.

Poe was the son of British actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe and actor David Poe, Jr. Both of Poe’s parents died before he reached three years old. As a result, he was raised by in Richmond, Virginia, by a merchant named John Allan and his wife, who had no children of their own. From 1815 to 1820, Poe was educated abroad in England and Scotland. In 1825, he attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville but was unable to continue due to debts acquired from gambling.

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Poe returned to Richmond in 1827, but his relationship with Allan was strained. This, along with the engagement of his former sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, led him to move to Boston. While there, he published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane, and Other Poems (1827). The book was not successful, leading Poe to enlist in the army under the name of Edgar A Perry. In 1829, he published his second book of poetry, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, which was marginally more successful. The same year, his foster mother passed away and Allan arranged for Poe to be dishonorably discharged and given an appointment at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” (1941). Source: (youtube.com)

After intentionally getting himself expelled from West Point, Poe moved to New York City. There he released his third collection, Poems, in 1831. Afterward, he moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt Maria Clemm and began to write short stories. In 1833, he won $50 for the best story after submitting “MS. Found in a Bottle” to the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. By 1835, despite Allan’s death a year earlier, Poe was once again living in Richmond where he worked as an editor for the Southern Literary Messenger. He brought his aunt and his twelve-year-old cousin, Virginia, with him. Poe and Virginia were married the following year.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839. Source: (slideplayer.com)

In 1838, he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and became editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in 1839. There, he wrote William Wilson and The Fall of the House of Usher followed by Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840). In 1841, he edited Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine, a successor to Burton’s, where he published the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” This was followed by “The Gold Bug” in 1843, published in the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, and “The Balloon Hoax” in 1844. His famous poem, “The Raven,” appeared in the New York Mirror on January 19, 1845. It showed up again in The Raven and Other Poems, published the same year. In 1846, he wrote The Literati of New York City for Godey’s Lady’s Book, which resulted in a lawsuit for libel. 

Poe’s grave. Source: (flickr.com)

Poe’s wife, Virginia, died from tuberculosis in January of 1847. He moved to Providence, Rhode Island, the following year. He was briefly engaged to Sarah Helen Whitman, but also had friendships with Annie Richmond and Sarah Anna Lewis. In 1849, he returned to Richmond and became engaged to his former love, the now widowed Sarah Elmira Shelton (formerly Royster). But there was no happily ever after for Poe. For reasons known only to himself, Poe left Richmond for Baltimore in September of 1849. On October 3 of that year, he was found semi-unconscious and died four days later of causes still unknown. He was buried in Westminster Presbyterian churchyard in Baltimore.

Despite having a lifespan of only forty years, Poe is one of the most well-known figures in American literature. His short fiction inspired later writers of science fiction, macabre, and mystery while his poem, “The Raven,” is one of the most well-known in the United States. Nearly 170 years after his death, Poe’s legacy lives on. Will it ever die?

“Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

Tags: author | edgar allen poe

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