The Mysterious Death of Poe
In film industry, Alfred Hitchcock, who produced a lot of masterpieces in the psychological thriller genre, was “the Master of Suspense”. As a comparison, we have Edgar Allan Poe as “the Master of Suspense” in the literary world. His works on mystery and macabre were especially prominent to readers who were tempted by his character use of hoaxing and mystifying. Interestingly, his own death seemed like a satire, with regard to all the mysteries he had written. No one has ever made a clear-cut conclusion to his mysterious death. The objective of this essay is to provide an integrated view on the case of his death by utilizing several literatures.
Before investigating different probabilities of the cause of his death, there are a few facts that should be noted. First of all, Pearl (2006) pointed out that Poe might have attempted to visit N.C. Brookes, who was a member in Baltimore literati. It is possible that Poe wanted to enquire him about the competitiveness of his new magazine Stylus and “renew and strengthen his contacts and supports” in Baltimore (8). However, Brookes was out of town and Poe would not be able to meet him. Therefore, in theory, Poe should have left after this because he had an “attractive editing task” waiting for him in Philadelphia (Pearl 7). The reason why Poe had stayed for five days in Baltimore is unknown. Nonetheless, there should be some very important reasons to make him stay for longer. Secondly, Poe was found outside a polling place 4 days before his death. He was said to be in weird clothing. J.E. Snodgrass, who was one of the people Poe knew in Baltimore, described him wearing some second-hand clothes which were apparently not his own (Hopkins 43). No one knows what happened before Poe was found and why he was dressed in such a strange style. Thirdly, Poe was engaged to Elmira Shelton, his teenage sweetheart, before he died (Stern 9). The engagement was never made public. However, she did not say anything about Poe’s death and, after a long period of silence, she denied they had ever engaged (Hopkins).
The three facts mentioned above were especially significant when we look into Poe’s mysterious death because they happened right before the incident and may cue us probabilities of the causes of his death.
One of the most common attributions of Poe’s death is chronic drunkenness. The situation was even worse after his wife was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1842 (Hopkins 42). However, according to a book written by a physician who was responsible for treating Poe at Washington College Hospital for the last 4 days in his life, Poe was not died of either intoxication or any effects related to alcohol (Hopkins 44). Contradicting evidences had made alcohol abuse a less plausible reason to explain the death of Poe. Another aspect related to Poe’s death is his deteriorating physical health. A year before his death, Poe was diagnosed with heart disease (Hopkins 44). There is a possibility that Poe was died from either a heart attack or chest pains. On top of this, Arno Karlen, who was a bio-historian, suggested that Poe might have “Alcohol Dehydrogenase Deficiency Syndrome” (Hopkins 46). He suspected that an enzyme called “malady” had affected Poe’s brain tumor and eventually lead to his death.
We have looked at some “natural” causes of Poe’s death but theories about him being murdered are even more intriguing. John Sartain, a friend of Poe, recalled that Poe had told him he was being stalked on a train. Poe even overheard those people were plotting how to kill him (Stern 9). In fact, Poe had a lot of enemies who had deep hatred towards him and might want him to die. On one hand, Poe had established awful relationships with many people due to his acerbic and bitter style in literary critiques. Poe once commented on the poetry of Rufus Griswold, a long-time rival of him, as “most outrageous humbug” (Hopkins 51). Griswold himself was also extremely jealous of Poe’s giftedness on writing. He made up many stories about Poe being a notorious man. He even claimed that Poe had an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law (Hopkins 52). We can almost conclude that Griswold potentially wanted to ruin Poe’s reputation and cannot eliminate the chance that he might want to harm Poe physically.
On the other hand, Poe was infamous for scandalous romantic relationships between married women, as well as wealthy widows, and himself. Poe was said to have an “inappropriate relationship” with Fanny Osgood, a married poetess (Pearl 20). Coincidentally, Osgood later became close to Griswold, who had finally took over Poe’s place as the editor in a company. In addition, the three brothers of Elmira Shelton opposed the idea of her engaging with Poe. As discussed in Pearl’s research (2007), Poe was “cruelly beaten” not long before his death in Baltimore and the violence was thought to be related to the brothers since they wanted to do everything to stop their sister from marrying Poe (22).
Apart from the resentment of his rivals and the family of his lovers, Poe could just be an innocent passerby who was kidnapped and forced to vote for a particular political party in the congressional election during that time (Hopkins 45). It is not impossible because political gangs would kidnap random people on the street and fed them with hard liquors and drugs so that they would “vote” for the party. What had further mixed things up is that Poe’s cousin Neilson was elected a Judge in that election and it was believed that he had withheld some of the facts about Poe’s death (Hopkins 45).
After integrating most, if not all, the information about Poe’s mysterious death, I wonder if his way of dying was destined to be a mysterious and special one since he had written so many works about the dark sides of human and death. This is, of course, something that cannot be tested scientifically but it is very interesting to look at some of his works again and try to find connections between the stories and his own life. In The Masque of the Red Death, the rich but arrogant Prince Prospero enjoyed seeing people suffered and treated torturing innocent people to death as his entertainment. Ironically, he could not have any control over his own death when he confronted Red Death. He could not escape from this terrible illness and had to die like everyone else in the castle, even they had isolated themselves from people who got the deadly disease. In the reality, Poe might have escaped from death for several times, maybe the time he got stalked on the train, maybe the time he got seriously beaten up, but not this time when he was found outside of the polling station after few days of mysterious disappearance. Like in the story, no one can escape from death, no matter who you are, how powerful you are or how rich you are.
What is more, in The Cask of Amontillado, the main character had plotted to kill his friend but the reason was unrevealed. In reality, the cause of Poe’s death was unknown and his death was said to be related to some of his acquaintances. The story could be seen as a reflection of his relationships with people in his life. With a complicated family background and continuous failure in his love life, Poe might have difficulty in establishing trust in people, even those they are close. The trustful and not very vigilant Fortunato might be used as a tool for Poe to remind himself that one should never trust another one so easily because the consequences could be very disastrous.
In conclusion, the causes of Poe’s death still remain a mystery but I believe that there should be at least two factors interacting and contributing to his death – his deteriorating health and conspiracy. The first one seems most plausible when we look at his medical history while the second one has most evidences of Poe being the enemy of many individuals or family. This “Master of Suspense” himself had created one of the most mysterious, unresolved stories in the world.
Hopkins, Robert. “The Mysterious Disappearance and Death of Edgar A. Poe.” Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 44.4 (2007): 41-60. ProQuest. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
gPearl, Matthew. “A Poe Death Dossier: Discoveries and Queries in the Death of Edgar Allan Poe Part I.” Edgar Allan Poe Review 7.2 (2006): 4-29. ProQuest. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Pearl, Matthew. “A Poe Death Dossier: Discoveries and Queries in the Death of Edgar Allan Poe Part II.” Edgar Allan Poe Review 8.1 (2007): 8-31. JSTOR. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Stern, Philip Van Doren. “The Strange Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” Saturday Review of Literature (1949): 8-9, 28-30. ProQuest.Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
The Mystery Behind Poe’s Death
The Raven. The Tell-Tale Heart. The Cask of Amontillado. The Oval Portrait. These titles are all short stories written by the mysterious 19th century author, Edgar Allan Poe, and all these stories have one theme in common. Death. This fact is extremely ironic. Why? Because Poe’s own death is so mysterious. To this day, no one knows for sure what caused Poe’s death, and many theories, both reasonable and far-fetched, attempt to solve this mystery. However, there are three theories that seem to best explain his demise. These three theories are the alcohol theory, the disease theory, and the cooping theory.
The circumstances surrounding Poe’s death are extremely unclear, but what is known is that a man named Joseph Walker found Poe incoherently wandering the streets of Baltimore in someone else’s clothes, on the night of October 3, 1849. He was immediately rushed to the hospital, where he slipped in and out of consciousness before passing away on October 7th (“Edgar Allan Poe”). Poe never revealed what happened, and the cause of death was listed simply as “congestion of the brain” (“Edgar Allan Poe”). Clearly, this lack of information regarding his death has given rise to these three theories.
The first theory given to explain the death of Edgar Allan Poe is the alcohol theory. In other words, Poe drank himself to death. Both of Poe’s parents had suffered from substance abuse issues before they died, and Poe was no different (“Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). He would abstain from drinking for long periods of time, but would often drink heavily when depressed (“Poe’s Life”). Evidence from people in Baltimore at the time seems to support the alcohol theory, with Poe’s friend J.P. Kennedy saying that before his death Poe, “fell in with some companion who seduced him to the bottle” (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). Furthermore, the alcohol could have accounted for Poe’s deliriums, feverous state, incoherence, and state of dress in the hospital before his death. The doctor who cared for Poe in the hospital, Dr. J.E. Snodgrass, certainly seemed to think alcohol was the cause of Poe’s death, and believed that his frequent drinking led to “congestion of the brain,” in which a deadly blood clot cuts off oxygen to the brain (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). It is also thought that alcohol could have contributed to Poe’s death by causing death from exposure after he passed out in the street (Hatton). Nonetheless, the evidence supporting the theory that alcohol alone killed Poe is weak. Poe’s drinking wasn’t as frequent as first thought, and certainly wasn’t frequent enough to cause sclerosis of the liver or brain congestion, which kills many alcoholics (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). In short, it is clear that alcohol was involved in the days leading up to Poe’s death, but it is not clear whether alcohol alone was the sole cause.
The second major theory that attempts to solve the mystery of Poe’s death is the disease theory. It was widely known that Poe was a sickly man, and many diseases have been presented as likely causes of Poe’s death. Some scholars believe that Poe may have died of cholera or a brain lesion. In a letter to a friend a few months before his death, Poe mentioned that he was “so ill…have had the cholera, or spasms quite as bad, and can now barely hold the pen” (“Poe’s Life”). Many doctors, then and now, also believe that Poe’s problems with alcohol and fits of “madness” point to brain disease, which would explain the suddenness of his death (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). Conversely, the lack of accurate information on Poe’s state of health at the time means these facts lack support.
Dr. Matthew Pearl, author of The Pearl Shadow, in an article in the Guardian newspaper, brought another interesting affliction forward. He believes Poe suffered from a brain tumor. A brain tumor would explain his hallucinations and mental state when he died, as both of these are symptoms of brain cancer. Also, Pearl notes that in an exhumation of Poe’s body 26 years after his death, it was observed that Poe’s brain was “dried and hardened inside his skull.” This is significant because usually the brain is the first part of the body to rot, because brain tissue is so soft. On the other hand, some brain tumors have been known to calcify and harden after death, and for Pearl this evidence points to a brain tumor. The lack of discussion over the brain tumor theory, however, means that it is unlikely to gain wide acceptance.
The final disease which some believe killed Poe was rabies. Rabies was much more common in the 19th century than it is today, and there was no cure. According to analysis by doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Poe exhibited many classic rabies symptoms; including confusion, sharp swings in pulse rate and temperature, and hydrophobia (inability to swallow water). But, it is doubtful whether Poe actually suffered from hydrophobia, which would make the rabies case invalid (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). In all, there are so many diseases that could have killed Poe that picking one as the cause is difficult.
The final theory that has been put forward in an attempt to explain Poe’s death is also the theory that is most widely accepted by Poe scholars (Hatton). This theory is the cooping theory. “Cooping,” as it was known back then, was an illegal process by which gangs of thugs would kidnap people and force them to vote for their political candidate in an election. These gangs would compel people to vote by beating them or getting them highly intoxicated. The gangs would then move these people from polling site to polling site, and would often make them change clothes so they would not arose suspicion (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). The cooping theory has gained extremely widespread support because the process of cooping seems to match many of the stories about Poe’s death. First off, there was an election going on in Baltimore at the time, and Poe was found outside Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls, which was a bar and Whig party voting site notorious for cooping (Pearl). Secondly, due to Poe’s weakened state, any rough treatment on him (such as a beating) would have caused him serious harm (“Poe’s Life”). Finally, Poe was found wearing someone else’s clothes, which would seem to fit with the cooping process (“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe”). Still, questions remain with this theory. Since Poe was fairly well known at the time, it is questionable whether a gang would have risked kidnapping such a well-known individual, although it is possible he wasn’t recognized. As a whole, though, based on the sheer quality of evidence, the cooping theory is the most widely accepted theory of Poe’s death.
In conclusion, the three major theories which best support the death of Edgar Allan Poe are the alcohol theory, the disease theory, and the cooping theory. All three of these theories have their merits. Yet, despite the wealth of evidence and high level of interest in Poe’s death, the truth surrounding his death may never be revealed. For now, the mysterious death of one of history’s most mysterious authors will remain a mystery.
“Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” New York Tribune [New York City] 3 Nov. 1849: 70. American Periodicals Series Online. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
“Edgar Allan Poe.” Littell’s Living Age 18 July 1857: 150. American Periodicals Series Online. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
“Edgar Allan Poe Mystery.” University of Maryland Medical Center. University of Maryland Medical System, 24 Sept. 1996. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
Harris, Paul. “Fresh Clues Could Solve Mystery of Poe’s Death.” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 20 Oct. 2007. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
Hatton, Ed. “Review: Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” The Journal of American History 86.3, The Nation and Beyond: Transnational Perspectives on United States History: A Special Issue (1999): 1340. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
“The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. N.p., 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
Pearl, Matthew. “A Poe Death Dossier: Discoveries and Queries in the Death of Edgar Allan Poe: Part I.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review 7.2 (2006): 4-29. JSTOR. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
“Poe’s Life.” Death Theories. Poe Museum, n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.
How Poe’s Death Changed My View of His Work
It is my opinion that the study of the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s death is a very interesting and applicable topic. For me, examining his death and how truly clouded it was really helps add to the allure and mystery in his work, and also helps shed light on why Poe’s work contained such dark themes.
One of the reasons that I originally was interested in examining Poe’s death was because of the way my research seemed to focus my attention on the theme of death in Poe’s stories. I’ve heard it said throughout my research that Edgar Allan Poe is regarded as one of the “fathers of horror,” and when looking at his work this interpretation seems entirely true. In all of the Poe stories we’ve read for this class, death has been involved in some way. The Tell-Tale Heart dealt with the mind of a serial killer, The Cask of Amontillado examined a murder fueled by revenge, The Oval Portrait talked about a dead girl in a painting, and The Raven talked about a dead girl named Lenore, and contained a talking raven, a bird which has been a symbol for death since mankind first started telling stories. It is totally ironic that Poe, a writer who seemed to covet death, had such a shady death. And as I researched Poe’s death more and more, I took a more focused approach to examining death in Poe’s stories. Before this research, the death in his stories was just another element. But after, the death became my main focus, and forms the basis of my arguments and analysis of his work.
On another note, I believe that researching Poe’s death has changed my view of Poe as a writer. The number one question the research raised for me was, “Why is Poe so focused on death?” From my research, I discovered that Poe died young, at just 40 years of age. I discovered that he was a sickly man, and found out more about how mentally troubled he was. So clearly, death was never far from Poe’s mind, which is obvious when you look at the circumstances of his life. Furthermore, my research made me question just how much Poe knew about his own demise, whether or not he knew he was headed for an early grave, and perhaps that was why death was an ever present theme in his work. If someone were as mentally troubled and sickly as Poe, writing about death would almost have come naturally. All in all, my research really shed light on Poe as a writer, as well as changed the meaning of his work.
The Mystery of Pym, Poe, and Parker
Edgar Allan Poe, the famous American short story writer and poet, was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts and died October 7, 1849 in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to writing short stories and poems he was also an editor and critic. He was the middle child of an English born actress, Elizabeth Poe, and Baltimore actor David Poe Jr. He had an older brother Henry, who was also a poet, and a sister Rosalie who became a teacher. Edgar married Virginia Clemm in 1836, who was just 14 at the time of their marriage and who tragically died of tuberculosis in 1847 (“Poe’s Life”). He is most famous for his American short-story works in mystery and the “macabre” he brings to them. “His tale The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His “The Raven” (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national literature.”(Mabbott).
Like many gifted writers and artists, Poe had some interesting life experiences including on and off struggles with poverty. After the death of his mother when he was just 3 years old, he lived with his godfather, John Allan, a wealthy merchant in Richmond, and his wife. Poe’s older brother and sister lived with other families. He traveled to Scotland and England and received a good education. He experienced a brief stint in the Army, an appointment at West Point and spent a short time at the University of Virginia. He apparently had issues with alcohol and it is said that in order to speak in large groups, he needed to have a glass of wine. He actually lost a job in Richmond due to his drinking and subsequently moved to New York – some even believed he was a drug addict ..….”although he rarely succumbed to intoxication, he was often seen in public when he did. This gave rise to the conjecture that Poe was a drug addict, but according to medical testimony he had a brain lesion.” (Mabbott).
In 1838, while in New York he wrote the novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, the only complete novel he’s ever written. Up until that time, Poe had published a few books of poems in the 1820s and primarily pursued magazine writing (Jang 357). But then came “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” in “single-volume edition with Harper & Brothers”(Jang 357). The tale, written in narrative form, is divided into two parts and follows the life of an adventure seeking eighteen-year-old boy named Arthur Gordon Pym. In part one, young Pym, whose interest in sea life was sparked by his friend Augustus Barnard the son of a sea captain, decides to try to become a stowaway on a whaling vessel called the Grampus. He was seeking adventure, and with the help of Augustus, they both were successful in boarding the ship. The fun and excitement of their adventure is cut short when Pym discovers there is a mutiny planned, which does occur. Pym, Augustus and another crew member named Dirk Peters, made plans to take back control of the ship during a storm. The ship is soon destroyed by the storm, breaks its two masts apart and submerges the ship’s lower decks. A mutineer named Richard Parker’s life is spared during this ordeal because of his abilities at sea (Grady 339). Scarcity of food, water and the unforgiving sea serve as the main antagonists here, eventually driving the remaining crew to resort to cannibalism – a suggestion by Parker. Parker draws the short straw and ironically becomes the victim (Grady 339). Pym survives this debacle, and a passing ship saves him and another survivor Peters (Grady 340). Part 2 begins here, with the captain of the boat that saved Pym sailing to discover the South Pole. Bowie knives, polar bears, and the slaughter of the crew by hostile black savages follow. Again, Pym and Peters are the only crew members to get out alive along with a captured native guide. The three men paddle away in a stolen canoe. The tale concludes mysteriously with the protagonists coming face to face with a foggy, death-like spirit while being surrounded by whiteness (Grady 341).
“The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” has been called “the interpreter’s dream-text”(Robinson). This is due, in part, to the many different genres and situations this text has to offer. “Knotty textual problems for the text critic, rich parental and sexual imagery for the Freudian, micro-societies in violent upheaval for the Marxist, and a powerful thrust toward transcendence for the visionary critic”(Robinson). No matter what kind of reader you are, something in this work of Poe will grab you and keep you reading until the end, regardless of the consistency of the content. And Arthur Pym’s narrative is anything but consistent. This no doubt led to confusion among critics due to “the apparent indeterminacy of genre”(Robinson). When it was first released, the book did not sell well or receive critical acclaim. Henry James himself wrote that Pym was “showcasing Poe’s incompetence in novel writing”(Jang 358). This was in part due to the abrupt and mysterious ending to Pym’s narrative. Critical bashing of Poe’s novel died down in the 1970s, and reanalysis gave way to the idea that Pym and its many genre elements were a representation of “Poe’s concern with the limitation of representation” (Jang 358). It was this new view of Pym that lead the novel to new heights, even becoming the spiritual predecessor to such iconic works like “Moby-Dick” and “The Grapes of Wrath”(Grady 342).
But perhaps the most interesting part about this novel is not the incredible story it tells, but rather what happened many years later. In the year 1884, three sailors named Stephens, Dudley, and Brooks were rescued at sea after the yacht they were delivering from England to Australia was destroyed by a storm. With only a dinghy to keep them afloat and without food or water for nineteen days, the men found themselves in a precarious situation – famished and desperate for food and couldn’t hold out any longer. They killed and ate the youngest member of the crew, Richard Parker. They survived four more days, living off Parker’s carcass before being rescued by a German ship (Simpson 1254). The interesting thing about this real life event is that in “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, the starving survivors of the shipwrecked crew draws straws to decide who will be eaten so the others may survive. The loser’s name? Richard Parker.
So what does the complexity of Poe’s narrative in Pym and these coincidences between the text and reality culminate into? That the crewmen of boats are generally unlucky? No. It culminates into an eerie correlation between Pym and Poe. Both seemed to be searching for some sort of satisfaction they thought was missing in their lives and they left their home at the age of eighteen to seek adventure – Poe for the Army and Pym to the whaling vessel. Both saw death very close to them – Poe’s mother, brother and wife died of tuberculosis and Pym witnessed the gruesome deaths of many crew members. Both appeared to have a strong desire to be part of something bigger – Poe in the literary arena and Pym at sea. Both were willing to take risks and each vanished from the readers’ lives unexpectedly. And they both left a lasting impression on the world. Pym’s narrative gave Herman Melville the inspiration for his greatest work, and Poe created works that allowed for different ideas like no other writer. Indeed, Poe’s work is one of the pillars that allows for interpretation of literature. It is a testament to the gift and curse of what Edgar Allen Poe possessed in spades as a writer. The gift of creating intense and dark mysteries, and not just creating mysteries in fictional writing. His stories are mysteries, yes, but Poe’s writing also has the ability to create mysteries within his readers. “Why would a character do such a horrible thing?” or “How did Poe conceive this example of the darkness within men?” are a few of the questions I feel. And with Pym, Poe was able to make people question his storytelling to the point where it went from being a colossal flop to a pillar of modern literature. Poe’s own life serves as an example of oddities and mystery, all the way up until his unresolved death. The real life events that transpired post publication of Pym only serve as further proof that a world without Poe would be very different.
Mabbott, Thomas Ollive. “Edgar Allan Poe (American Writer).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
Grady, Wayne. “Cannibal ~ Or ~ the Role of Non-Fiction in Fiction.(Critical Essay).” Queen’s Quarterly 118.3 (2011): 337. Print.
Jang, Ki Yoon. “Edgar Allan Poe and the Author-Fiction: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.(Critical Essay).” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 52.4 (2010): 355. Print.
“Poe’s Life.” Edgar Allan Poe Museum : Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works : Richmond, Virginia. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
Reviewed by, Robert C. “CANNIBALISM AND THE COMMON LAW; by A.W. Brian Simpson. +.” California law review 73 (1985): 252-1956. Print.
Robinson, Douglas. “Text: Douglas Robinson, “Reading Poe’s Novel: A Speculative Review of Pym Criticism, 1950-1980 ,” Poe Studies, December 1982, Vol. XV, No. 2, 15:47-54.” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. N.p., 3rd Apr. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
A Relationship with Virginia
Although Edgar Allan Poe had several lovers during his life, the most significant was his wife and cousin, Virginia Clemm. There was a large age gap between them, but they did not let that affect their relationship. Their relationship progressed over the course of many years as she influenced his works. They stayed together through financial instability and through family illness, only to be separated by Virginia’s death.
Virginia was seven when Poe joined the household in Baltimore. Poe’s foster father refused to provide financial support for Poe, so he pleaded with his aunt and Virginia’s mother, Mrs. Clemm, to let him join the family in spite of her poverty. Mrs. Clemm was caring for her paralyzed mother, her son Henry, her daughter Virginia, and Poe’s brother, Henry, who was suffering from tuberculosis. Poe, at 20 years of age, was warmly welcomed and supported by the poor but loving family despite their hardships (Mankowitz 55). He came to call Virginia “Sis” and Mrs. Clemm “Muddy.” Mrs. Clemm did the cooking and cleaning while Virginia helped her and tended to the ill and desperate members of the family. Virginia was the only happy person in the family. She loved Poe unconditionally and helped him get through his mood swings. There was nothing fake about her affection. She did her best to brighten all of their spirits and gave Poe moral support by always listening intently to his descriptions of his frustrating business affairs, even though she did not fully understand. He, in turn, tutored her in math and reading. There seemed to be a strong brother-sister relationship between them before they ever fell in love.
When Poe’s poetry finally sold successfully in 1830, he went to live with his foster father. In the house of Mrs. Clemm, Poe’s brother died of tuberculosis leaving behind an eighty dollar debt. Poe returned to Mrs. Clemm in 1831, but could not pay off his brother’s debt and had to request financial support from John Allan. Mrs. Clemm’s mother also died, so the household size and burden shrank a little. Virginia was free from caring for ill family members. Poe’s affection for Virginia grew as she developed into a young woman. Poe asked permission from Mrs. Clemm to marry Virginia, expecting to be rejected, but the idea was embraced. Mrs. Clemm “always wanted Edgar for a son,” and needed his protection and income (Mankowitz 111). She said he could marry if he got a job. His boss would only give him his job back if he was completely sober, so Poe complied with the request for the time being. The request for this marriage came shortly after Poe heard that another family member had offered to fund Virginia’s education (Burlingame 49). He thought that if this happened, he might never see her again. It seemed that he wanted to marry her as soon as possible before someone else took control over her life.
On September 22, 1835, Poe got secretly married to 13 year old Virginia in Baltimore. Mrs. Clemm was the only witness. Their extended family did not know about the relationship, and they did not want to pretend they were not in love forever, so a second public marriage was arranged. The second marriage was on May 16, 1836. Mrs. Clemm swore under oath that Virginia was 21 as Virginia married the 27 year old Poe (Mankowitz 114). It was clear that Mrs. Clemm had no qualms about handing Virginia over to Poe.
Most of Poe’s close family members had died of tuberculosis. It was possible that Poe had immunity to it due to being exposed at a young age. In 1842, Virginia was singing at the piano when she suddenly started coughing up blood. She too was going to die from tuberculosis. The family was impoverished and Poe became more depressed than ever. They were living in a cottage by the railroad in Fordham, New York. The cottage was $100 dollars per year (Barger 238). Virginia died in this cottage on only a straw bed on January 30, 1847. All she had keeping her warm was her husband, mother, the cat, and Poe’s coat which he had kept from the time he had served in the army (Meyers 205). Virginia died a very prolonged and uncomfortable death.
It is hard to understand the full meaning behind Poe’s short story “The Oval Portrait” without knowledge of his relationship with Virginia. In my mind’s eye, I can now see Virginia taking the place of the painter’s wife as she slowly died. It is as if the woman being painted had tuberculosis like Virginia as she endured the discomfort and faded away. Virginia seemed to be one of the best things that happened in Poe’s life. She did everything she could to make him happy. In this way, she was very similar to the painter’s wife. The wife maintained a position of discomfort and kept still because she knew it would make her husband happy.
The figure in the oval portrait was described as “a young girl just ripening into womanhood.” This exact description also fit Virginia during the time Poe was in love with her. “The Oval Portrait” was written the same year that Poe found out his wife had tuberculosis in 1842. He had seen the effect that the disease had on family members that had died, and likely predicted the same long and painful death for his lover. Poe might have thought of himself as the painter in this scenario even though he knew of his wife’s condition and the painter did not. Both of them had their lover dying right in front of their eyes. Neither did anything about it. They both just watched even though Poe would have done something about the condition if that had been possible.
Perhaps Poe imagined himself as the painter for another reason. The death of the painter’s wife was very preventable and it was at least partially the painter’s fault. This may reflect that Poe felt like he could have done something for his wife that he did not do. He might have felt responsible for her death. He was not the painter in real life; he was a poet. The beautiful portrayal of his dying wife was painted with words through his poetry and other writing. Poe knew his wife would die from tuberculosis about 5 years before it happened. He seemed to know that her death would still come as a shock to him when it happened, even though he saw it coming for years. This is reflected in “The Oval Portrait” with the last three words “she was dead!” The exclamation point shows how shocked the painter was to see his wife dead. Poe was struck hard by the death of his wife which caused him to drink heavily to avoid his deep depression.
“The Raven” was published about two years before his wife died. Poe was likely in endless pain over watching his wife gradually fade away. There was no remedy to his suffering even after she died and he did not have to feel the pain from watching her suffer. There was no reprieve from the prospect of losing Virginia. This may be reflected in “The Raven” because the narrator cannot stop mourning for Lenore. The raven will not leave, nor will the pain of losing Lenore, and nor will the pain of losing Virginia.
I did not previously realize how much Poe’s life was reflected in his works. Because tuberculosis killed almost all who were close to him, it is very likely that whenever he is writing about a drawn out death or suffering he is referring to the disease. He would have had a much better life if this illness had not existed. His dear Virginia would have lived with him longer.
Burlingame, Jeff. Edgar Allan Poe: “deep into That Darkness Peering” Berkeley Heights, NJ:
Enslow, 2009. Print.
Mankowitz, Wolf. The Extraordinary Mr. Poe: A Biography of Edgar Allan Poe. New York:
Summit, 1978. Print.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,
Poe, Edgar Allan, and Andrew Barger. Edgar Allan Poe’s Annotated Short Stories. S.l.:
Bottletree, 2008. Print.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York, NY:
HarperCollins, 1991. Print.
Life Bleeds Through Our Imaginations
Authors often use real life events as inspiration or even put it in their works. Edgar Allen Poe is one such author. If you look at Poe’s works, first glance, you get a dark and creepy vibe, but in taking a closer look you start to see the underlying theme of Poe’s life throughout his works.
Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. Both of his parents, professional actors, died before Edgar had even turned three. Edgar was adopted by John and Francis Allen, who raised him in Richmond, Virginia. Others took in his two siblings. John Allen was a prosperous tobacco exporter. He sent Edgar to boarding schools and, later, John sent Edgar to the University of Virginia. Within a year of attending the University of Virginia, Edgar was forced to leave the University due to gambling debts that John Allen wouldn’t pay off. He returned to Richmond for a short while, but due to the deteriorating relationship with John, Edgar moved to Boston in 1827. This year he enlisted in the United States Army and his fist collection of poems was published. During this time his adoptive mother died of tuberculosis. Later John Allen helped Edgar get released from the army. In 1835 Edgar married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia. After a few years, Virginia dead of tuberculosis as well. The loss of his wife devastated Edgar and he became an alcoholic, and some say even a drug addict. With such a rough life you could expect it to bleed into his works.(Academy of American Poets.)
“The Masque of the Red Death” is a perfect example of Poe’s life being incorporated into his works. Tuberculosis was an imminent threat in society during Poe’s time. This disease claimed the lives of his wife, his mother, and his adoptive mother. Through “The Masque of the red Death” Poe shows how he has lost his control over his life to this horrible disease. At the time that he wrote “The Masque of the Red Death” Edgar had already lost the woman who gave him life, and the woman who raised him. Right before he wrote this, Virginia, his beloved wife, was diagnosed with this dreadful disease and suffered from 1842 until her death in 1847. Poe’s description of the symptoms of the “Red Death” accurately describes tuberculosis. Poe used the mysterious hooded figure as a personification of the power that tuberculosis had other the people he cared about in his life. As many authors do, Poe had mirrored himself in his protagonist Prince Prospero. The manner in which Poe describes Prince Prospero’s tastes is much similar to his own. Prince Prospero’s death symbolized the pain Poe felt from losing those he loved.
Another great example is “Annabel Lee”. This poem, written in 1849, was Edgar’s last poem before his death. Many people believe that this Poem was actually written for Edgar’s late wife, Virginia. Looking at the poem you see a story about true love that was taken away too soon, yet never really lost. “That the wind came out of the cloud by night, Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee…” The cold wind that chilled Annabel Lee was a metaphor for the tuberculosis that took Virginia away from Poe. Virginia married Poe at a very young age, and at the time of her death she was only 25. Edgar still loved her for the rest of his life. Edgar wrote this poem about his love two years after Virginia’s death, and just a little before his untimely death. (Annabel Lee)
In “The Cask of Amontillado”, published in 1846, we meet two distinct characters that, with a closer look are very similar. Fortunato and Montresor seem to be very different at first glance, but some people believe that they are in fact two parts of Edgar that are being personified. Furtunato is a drunk who “has donned the costume of the fool” and Montresor is a much calmer, darker person. During the time Poe wrote this story he was struggling with Alcohol. Furtunato is the personification of Edgar’s drinking habits, and Montreso is the personifaction of the part of Edgar that is ashamed of his drinking and wants to “kill” the habit. In the story Montresor leads Furtunato deep into the catacomb he uses to store his wines in. Along the way the talk and often repeat words back to each other, this reinforces the idea that they are the same person. About half way to their destination they drink a little wine leaving them both a little drunk. In the end Montresor buried Furtunato alive. This symbolizes Poe locking away his old drinking habits. (Packet)
A final example of Poe’s personal life bleeding through his works is “The Raven”. In this story we meet a lonely man who has lost is true love. As he starts falling asleep alone in his room, he hears a tapping sound and investigates. After finding no one at the door, he hears it again at the window. Upon opening the window a raven flies in. The man questions the raven, but only gets a reply of “nevermore”. The poem is set in December, the time of holidays with family and friends. Yet this ma is alone in a room with a raven that only says “nevermore”. Virginia was suffering from tuberculosis at the time Edgar wrote “The Raven” and therefore the most likely weren’t having any visitors that holiday. In the poem he says it is around midnight so it is most likely the Virginia was asleep. Poe, being worried and despairing over the imminent loss of his beloved wife, wrote this poem. “Nevermore” will he love anyone the way he love Virginia. “Nevermore” will he sit around and let someone he loves be taken from him. “Nevermore”. The poem shows the stages of loss. Denial, when he says, “ ‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door— Only this and nothing more.’”. He becomes very angry at the raven and screams at it to leave. He tries to bargain with it to tell him things. The Depression is show by his sad words, but by the end of the poem he never got to the stage of acceptance. Poe didn’t accepted Virginia’s death, not until she finally did pass away. (Poe’s Life Reflected in The Raven) (The Raven)
“Poe’s Life.” Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.
“The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe A Comprehensive Collection of E-Texts.”Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
“Edgar Allan Poe.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
“Poe’s Life Reflected in The Raven :: Edgar Allen Poe.” Poe’s Life Reflected in The Raven :: Edgar Allen Poe. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Annabel Lee.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
And our class packet.
Poe: A Lover and a Writer
A subject that has been relatively ignored in the history books is women. There will be pages recounting the exploits of great men like Franklin Roosevelt without much mention of the great women that influenced their work like Eleanor. With love being such a crucial aspect of life, it seems almost ludicrous that it would not be an aspect analyzed when discussing any figure. Edgar Allan Poe is no exception. His dark writings include many depictions of women. In his book on composition he even said “The death then of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world, and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such topic are those of a bereaved lover” (Poe). It seems no one’s lips were better suited to speak about the women in his life than Poe’s. Whether it was his young cousin, a fellow writer, or even his mother, the women in Poe’s life influenced his writing.
Poe’s first love and inspiration for writing was Sarah Elmira Royster. He secretly became engaged to his childhood sweetheart in 1825, a year before he would go to university. However, when her father calls it off, Poe is devastated. He writes “To Elmira” to lament about his loss. He would continue writing poems about her and activities they would do together (Edgar Allan Poe Museum). His interests become more serious in 1828 after he is discharged from West Point. Homeless, broke, and completely cut off from his stepfather. John Allan, Poe lives with his Aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia. Soon, Poe becomes infatuated with his young cousin, so much so that when a family member offers to take Virginia away to raise her in a family with a father and a mother, Poe expresses his feelings for her in a letter (Love, Death and Women). He states that “I have no wish to live another hour” if Virginia is sent away. He tells his Aunt how devoted his love is to her and convinces her to keep Virginia (Poe, Quinn, and Hart). About a year later, Poe marries Virginia on May 16, 1836.
At the time, Poe was a professional writer. This was ludicrous during the period because only the wealthy published books. This meant that Poe was very poor, but he still cared for Virginia, buying her a piano and a harp. Things were looking up when magazines were being published because it allowed writers like Poe to get their material out to the public. However, six years after their marriage, Virginia contracts tuberculosis. The deadly disease curses her with a cough, making Poe be her bedside helper until her death in 1947. During this period, Poe’s writing is more emotional and he writes some of his greatest hits like “The Raven” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” (Love, Death and Women).
Virginia was not Poe’s sole love interest at the time. In March of 1845, Poe was introduced to successful American poet, Frances Sargent Osgood. They liked each other right away, exchanging several letters back and forth and soon becoming the talk of the town within literary circles. Poe started publishing his poems alongside Osgood’s. Osgood began writing Poems about Poe as well. In “To – “Osgood praises Poe’s literary ability and hints that they may have had a relationship. (Jong). However, speculation of an affair, became too much for them, especially since Osgood was a married woman, and they quickly stopped communicating. Desperate for another wife after Virginia’s death, Poe tries to court Sara Helen Whitman. They also exchange letters and Poems. They become engaged, but Whitman calls it off after she discovers that Poe is still drinking. This sent Poe into depression, making him drink heavily. About a year after Whitman’s rejection, Poe dies on the Seventh of October 1849. (Love, Death and Women).
Eliza Poe, Edgar’s mother, might have also played a role in his writing. She was a talented actress at the time, almost always requested even when acting was thought of as a lowly career choice at the time. She fell ill when Poe was very young and died at an early age. Her influence can probably best be seen in the poem “To My Mother” where Poe compares the early death of Virginia to that of his mother.
Virginia’s influence on Poe’s writing is the most obvious to spot. In “Annabel Lee” Poe describes a young maiden taken before her time. He says that they were both children because they were a young couple. Virginia was thirteen when she married Poe. Poe also hints at the tuberculosis that strikes Virginia when he says “a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabel Lee.” “Chilling” is the perfect word to use here because Virginia’s death was not a quick one. It took five years for the disease to take her to her “tomb by the sounding sea” (Love, Death, and Women).
The influence that Virginia and her death had on Poe can also be seen in the Raven. While reading the poem, one can get the sense of a weak and dreary Poe, trying to nap after taking care of a sick Virginia. Perhaps he’s been reading books all night, desperately searching for a cure. However, a more interesting interpretation of this poem would be Poe’s introspection in the opening lines. He says “Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow from my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore”. This is Poe giving the reader a sense of why he writes in the first place. It is the emotion that he feels for Virginia and her sickness. Whether she is actually “lost” as in dead, or “lost” as in inevitably going to die, Poe feels horrible about it. He needs an outlet so he looks for it in his books or writing. The Raven is the tuberculosis disease. Reminding, constantly haunting Poe that Virginia will never be the same. A sign of the disease is coughing, which much like crowing, could haunt Poe. The Raven is indeed the definitive proof that the women in his life drove Poe to write. This is likely to be the intent of the lines because Poe even states in his “Philosophy of Composition” how beautiful the death of a woman is and how fit the lover is to write about it.
With these thoughts in mind one can now interpret “The Oval Portrait.” Instead of a tale of a man not paying attention to his wife, perhaps it is Poe assessing his own fears. He is critiquing himself for writing while his wife is so ill. However, just like the man in the story, he needs to write. It is his outlet for his feelings.
Whether it was Virginia Clemm or Frances Osgood, Poe seemed to give them literary counterparts. Writing is how he faced his fears and was an outlet for his emotion, and women can cause both of them all at once and in the most fantastic manor. Whether Poe ever referred to one particular woman in his pieces or a conglomerate of his life experiences with them, one thing is for certain. Poe wrote to love and loved to write.
Edgar Allan Poe: Love, Death and Women. Dir. Louise Lockwood. Perf. Denise Mina, Lucille Sharp, and Lauren Marcus. BBC, 2010. Film.
“Edgar Allan Poe Museum : Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works : Richmond, Virginia.” Edgar Allan Poe Museum : Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works : Richmond, Virginia. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.
Jong, Mary De. “‘Read Here Thy Name Concealed’: Frances Osgood’s Poems on Parting with Edgar Allan Poe.” Poe Studies 34.1 (2001): 27–40. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan, Galen J. Perrett, and John Henry Nash. The Raven, and the Philosophy of Composition. San Francisco: Paul Elder and, 1907. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan, Arthur Hobson Quinn, and Richard Harry Hart. Edgar Allan Poe; Letters and Documents in the Enoch Pratt Free Library. New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1941. Print.
Edgar Allan Poe has clearly left his mark in the world of literature. His countless short stories, poems, novels and other literary classics are still widely read and interpreted today; however, there are many other ways Poe’s stories live on in today’s culture. We see allusions and imitations of his work peppered throughout movies, TV, music, other works of literature, and even in the world of sports today.
There are many movies and TV shows that either reference Poe or allude to his work. In 2008, the writers of Saw V used a trap featuring a large swinging pendulum- inspired by Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum”- as one of their many horrific ways to kill off a character. As a less gory example, in season one of Boy Meets World, Cory hides Shawn in his room because he put a cherry bomb in someone’s mailbox. In class, Mr. Feeny reads “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and Cory yells, “I did it!” As we saw in class, even comedies reference Poe’s dark tales; The Simpson’s dedicated part of their “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween special to Poe’s famous poem, “The Raven.” Some shows don’t just designate one scene or episode to Poe’s work, though; Kevin Bacon is the star of a show on Fox called The Following. He plays an FBI agent trying to catch an escaped convict who “follows the stories of his favorite writer, Edgar Allan Poe, most notably by taking out the eyes of everyone he murders…The Following twists the work of Edgar Allan Poe into a frightening new series” (Gomez, 2013). Poe is clearly a popular topic on both television and the silver screen- and these are just a few examples of the many, many imitations of his work found on TV and in cinema in recent years.
The list of musicians that allude to Poe is even longer than that of movies and television. Brittney Spears actually named her concert tour from the early 2000s “Dream within a Dream,” and she incorporated lines from that poem- along with some of Poe’s other works- into her show (Wilson, 2014). Country singer Toby Keith made a music video for his song, “A Little Too Late,” with heavy allusions to Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.” Iron Maiden recorded a song titled “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and a photo of Poe himself can be found on The Beatle’s “Sergeant Pepper” album cover. In addition to this already diverse list of musicians, there are many others who reference Poe and his work in their music: Belladonna, Blues Traveler, Bright Eyes, Green Carnation, Good Charlotte, Tourniquet, Mr. Bungle, The Crüxshadows, Roses Never Fade, Cradle of Filth, Team Sleep, Utada Hikaru, Elysian Fields, The Smithereens, Symphony X, Rozz Williams, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tiger Army, Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows, Overlord, Insane Clown Posse, Antony and the Johnsons, Marissa Nadler, Lloyd Cole, Panic at the Disco, Propaganda, Michael Hurley, AFI, Dredg, and MC Lars- to name a few- also mention either Poe or one of his stories in their music (Wikipedia).
In addition to screenplay writers and musicians, modern writers show their admiration of Poe’s work and allude to his stories in their own works; some even write fictional stories with him as a character. Joyce Carol Oates wrote a book in 2008 called Wild Nights! where she tells a fictionalized version of Poe’s last days, as well as Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Henry James and Ernest Hemingway’s. Many other authors were interested in writing about Poe’s mysterious death as well; authors Matthew Pearl, Frank Lovelock, Leigh M. Lane and Brent Monahan all wrote fictional stories about Poe’s death (Wikipedia). Another commonality of books about Poe is that he is often depicted as some sort of detective that solves mysteries involving murder (seen in both Louis Bayard and Harold Schechter’s work). Finally, there are many books that are not actually written about Poe, but that allude to or mention his work, or follow the macabre and gothic writing style that Poe essentially helped create.
Finally, Poe’s culture-dominating effect can be seen in sports; the Baltimore Ravens’ football team is named after his most famous poem. The team’s mascot, a large black raven, was actually named Poe in 1996 when the team was dubbed the Ravens. As their website says, “Named after a mythical bird in a famous poem, the new NFL team in Baltimore became the Ravens “evermore” team on Friday, March 29, 1996…After extensive research, exhaustive panel discussions, focus groups, and fan polling, the name Ravens continued to surface at the top of all lists. In the end, it truly was the Baltimore football fans who named their new team…It’s a strong nickname that is not common to teams at any level, and it means something historically to this community” (“Naming Team”).
Now that we’ve seen a number of examples of his influence in today’s culture, I think it’s important to look at why this is. Why is Poe, a writer from the 19th century, still relevant in a completely different time period, and hundreds of years after his death? To start, it’s important to look at why writers and artists of other crafts choose to use allusions in their work at all. In a scholarly article posted on EBSCO, Sarah Montoya talks about why allusions are so widely used. “Written and spoken language is enlivened and enriched when the writer or speaker alludes to a borrowed idea. Allusions of various kinds—historical, political, mythical, biblical, musical, literary, artistic, scientific, social, and technological–add flavor and spice to what we say and write and make the listening and reading not only more interesting but entertaining as well.” I think Montoya perfectly describes why allusions are so effective; they enrich whatever it is they’re mentioned or used in, such as stories, art, music, movies, pictures or speeches.
I think people are particularly keen to reference Poe and his work because he can more or less be credited for creating gothic horror stories as we know them today. His stories are creepy, plain and simple. He tapped into the realm of human fears in a way no one had before and, arguably, no one has since. In addition to creating some of the most mysterious and chilling stories ever written, he created stories with important and relatable themes. His stories can be imitated and referenced by modern writers because their plots and ideas are still extremely relevant today. I think this is because he explored themes of human nature that are still mysteries to people centuries later: guilt, insanity, love and especially death. In the Boy Meets World example, Cory admits to something he did wrong because he feels guilty about it. Guilt is a common emotion, but by having Mr. Feeny read “The Tell-Tale Heart” during this scene, the theme of guilt is intensified, and the story itself is enriched because of the parallel between Poe’s story that is being read and the plot of the episode.
The final reason I think Poe is still significant in today’s culture is because of the mystery surrounding him. Through the years, the characters and themes of Poe’s work have seized the interest of those who have read him, but so, too, has Poe himself. His mysterious death only adds to this interest. His unexplained death makes it so that his life itself is almost like one of his mystery stories- but this one doesn’t ever get solved. All in all, I think Poe’s relevance in today’s culture is due to the style of his uniquely haunting tales, his themes that are still relevant today, and because of the mystery surrounding him. Most of all, I think he is still relevant in 2014 because he is one of the most talented writers in history, and people celebrate him and his work by making sure they are not forgotten.
Forrest, Peter. “Poe’s Ultimate Song List.” Poe’s Ultimate Song List. 14 Mar. 2014 <http://www.houseofusher.net/songs.html>.
Gomez, Nathan. “The Following.” 4 Feb. 2013. <http://www.unlvrebelyell.com/2013/02/04/the-following-twists-the-work-of-edgar-allan-poe-into-a-frightening-new-series/>.
Montoya, Sarah. “Allusions: The right references.” EBSCO. <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.proxy.lib.uiowa.edu/ehost/detail?vid=7&sid=396e2e9a-042e-42a5-b2ee-621559e53160%40sessionmgr4001&hid=4205&bdata=#db=bth&AN=9709062077>.
“Naming Team.” News RSS. Baltimore Ravens. 14 Mar. 2014 <http://www.baltimoreravens.com/team/history/naming-baltimores-team.html>.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 14 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe_in_popular_culture >.
Wilson, Karina. “LURID: Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!” LitReactor. 14 Mar. 2014 <http://litreactor.com/columns/lurid-happy-birthday-edgar-allan-poe>.
Edgar Allan Poe is a significant and inspiring author from the nineteenth century. His writing is just as intriguing as his life. A few weeks before Poe’s mysterious death, Poe was quoted saying, “I do believe God gave me a spark of genius, but He quenched it in misery” (Phillips). This quote surely sums up Poe’s genius yet tragic works that were inspired by the events in his life. His curious life began, of course, when he was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts (Weiss). Unknown to the infant Edgar, the next three years of his life would affect him for the rest of his life, as well as be an inspiration to many of his classic stories.
Edgar Allan Poe’s parents were similar in their career choice, yet had strikingly different personalities. Elizabeth Poe, formally Arnold, grew up in England before immigrating to the United States with her mother. Both of her parents were actors; however her father died when she was young. Elizabeth began her own acting career as a young child, following in the steps of her parents (Allen). She married her first husband, Charles Hopkins, at age fifteen; however, he died only three years later (Weiss). At this point, Elizabeth had lost both of her parents, her stepfather, and her first husband. She then married David Poe only six months later, after working with him in the same acting company (Meyers). It is speculated that their haste in marriage may be due to the times. In the 1800s women were more vulnerable and looked down upon if single. Elizabeth may have married David not only out of love but also for need of protection (Barnes).
David Poe grew up in a well off home and studied law at a University. He soon decided, against the wishes of his family, that he was going to drop out of college in order to be an actor (Meyers). This type of career was unpopular in the day and actors just barely made a living. It was a tough and stressful job, certainly not the type of career suitable to raise a family. Elizabeth and David had their first child, William Henry Leonard in 1807. The child was given up to David’s parents for care in Baltimore in order for David and Elizabeth to continue their career as traveling stage actors. (Fisher). Edgar was born two years later. Elizabeth was working up until six days before he was born and went back three weeks later. The small family was clearly money strapped and although it must have been stressful for Elizabeth, she needed to get back to work to help support them (Allen). Edgar was even left with his grandparents for care at only five weeks old while his parents traveled for their jobs for several months. To care for Edgar and later his sister Rosalie, Elizabeth hired a nursemaid. The nursemaid would feed them with bread soaked in gin as well as other liquors and opium in order to quiet them or “make them strong and healthy” (Meyers).
When Edgar was two years old, his father left his family. At this point in his life, David was struggling with both acting and alcohol. He was a heavy drinker, most likely due to the family’s severe financial worries and the frustration over bad reviews about his acting. In contrast, Elizabeth was an accomplished and rewarded acttress, often starting in lead roles. An 1806 press notice about the couple stated, “the lady was young and pretty, and evinced talent both as a singer and actress; the gentleman was literally nothing” (Meyers). He must have felt jealousy and worry about his wife’s success over his own, possibly leading to his alcoholism worsening. He’d often appear on stage drunk, which greatly impacted his performance and may have even gotten him fired (Meyers). David Poe eventually passed away in Norfolk (Weiss).
After David abandoned the family, Elizabeth traveled to the south to join another acting company. A single mother with two children dependent on her, she had to work long and tiring hours. They lived in a small boarding house on the river, where Elizabeth contracted malarial fever. She had to continue working and taking care of the children even while suffering from ill health herself (Weiss). It eventually become too much for her to handle and she passed away form tuberculosis. After her death, Edgar parted with his sister and was taken away by Mrs. Allan, a local merchant’s wife. As a young child, Poe went from being surrounded by family to living with a stranger (Allen).
These early events in Poe’s life have greatly impacted his life and writing. My first interpretation is that Poe’s alcoholism later in life was predisposed. David Poe and Edgar’s brother were heavy drinkers so Edgar had a family history of alcoholism (Giammarco). People with a family history of alcoholism are more likely to develop it themselves. Poe was also exposed to alcohol and opium at a young age. As stated earlier, his nursemaid would give him bread soaked in gin. Clearly, the origins of his alcoholism began in infancy. Another reason for his alcoholism would be his depression after the deaths of his parents. According to Giammarco, there is a significant association between the early death of the mother and severe depression. I think that these early tragedies in his life affected him greatly, although he was under the age of three. It is also possible that the severe stress endured by Elizabeth Poe while pregnant with Edgar caused lifelong effects on Edgar, predisposing him to mental illness like depression (Giammarco).
Poe exhibited impulsiveness throughout his lifetime. I believe this is something he inherited from his father. David Poe dropped out of law school in order to pursue a menial job in acting, just as Poe abandoned a University education in order to become a common solider. He later gives up his career as a cadet to pursue his writing career with other destitute writers. I even argue that some of his impulsiveness comes from his mother. His mother’s haste in remarrying after becoming a widow is relative to Edgar becoming engaged to and dating many women soon after the death of his first wife.
Poe encountered severe loneliness at such a young age. In fact, he was quoted saying he had “never known his mother nor enjoyed the affection of his father” (Meyers). It is difficult to believe that the children were wanted. As traveling actors, Poe’s parents were poor and busy. Such a career choice is not suitable for raising a family. David Poe abandoned the family even before the third child, Rosalie, was born. It seems like it was easy for him to leave the family, indicating that the children were unwanted and one of the reasons he may have left. Elizabeth was a dedicated mother. Although her husband abandoned her, she kept taking care of two of her children and worked hard every night to scrape up enough money to live. Even when she was ill, she continued to work because she knew that that is what she needed to do to keep her kids well. Unfortunately, in their situation, Elizabeth was unable to spend much time with the children. Her first child was left to David’s grandparents, Edgar was left with them for several months one time, and a nursemaid was hired to care for Edgar and Rosalie later on. Clearly her job kept her traveling and too busy for the family. The hard work and stress, which lowered her immune system, is what eventually ran Elizabeth straight to her death. Even as an infant, Edgar would have felt the fear and loneliness associated with becoming an orphan, being separated from his sister, and being put in a stranger’s home.
In 1839, Poe wrote a short story “William Wilson.” I believe this story was inspired by the abandonment of Poe’s father. The story is about the narrator and a student who constantly compete with each other, surrounded by jealousy. The narrator has memories from infancy invoking the rivalry. He eventually leaves the school, unable to handle the competition (Poe). This is similar to David Poe’s competition and jealousy with Elizabeth. They were both actors, but Elizabeth was much more accomplished. Critics would constantly attack David’s performances. This must have created significant amounts of tension between the couple. This caused David to leave the family, just as the narrator in the story left the school. The tragic event affected Poe enough to use it in his writing and he must have viewed his father in a negative light.
Poe’s mother has also affected his work. At the beginning of an article, Poe wrote “The writer of this article is himself the son of an actress- has invariably made it his boast- and no earl was ever prouder of his earldom than he of his descent from a woman who, although well-born hesitated not to consecrate to the drama her brief career of genius and of beauty” (Meyers). This shows a positive reflection on Elizabeth. Poe admired his mother’s dedication, talent, and imagination. He indeed inherited these traits himself as shown through his classic works. He realized what his mother sacrificed for the family and how her hard work impacted the family and her own health.
“The world shall be my theatre” and “I must either conquer it or die” (Phillips). These words of Poe reflect directly on his early life experiences. He is alluding to his parents’ careers by suggesting the world will be his theatre. He says he must be able to conquer it, symbolizing his life, or die. This is just as his parents tried and failed to do. Their short lives and careers as actors ended before their children were over the age of five. Although Edgar Allan Poe was so young at the time, these were the first tragedies that he would encounter in his miserable life. Tragedies always have a large impact and shape the way one grows and develops. Poe was clearly affected and learned to cope, most often through his work, with the death of his parents.
Allen, Hervey. Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. Vol. 2. New York: Doran, 1927. Print.
Barnes, Nigel. A Dream Within a Dream: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe. London: Peter Owen Publishers, 2009. Print.
Fisher, Benjamin F. Poe in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollection, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010. Print.
Giammarco, Erica. “Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychological Profile.” Personality and Individual Differences 54.1 (2013): 3-6. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992. Print.
Phillips, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe: The Man. Chicago, The John C. Winston co., 1926. Print.
Poe, Edgar A. William Wilson. New York: Fantasy and Horror Classics, 2011. Print.
Weiss, Susan A. The Home Life of Poe. New York: Broadway, 1907. Print.
The Inner Workings of Edgar Allan Poe
Exploring the Mind of Edgar Allan Poe
“Just as the bizarre characters in Poe’s stories have captured the public imagination so too has Poe himself. He is seen as a morbid, mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of moonlit cemeteries or crumbling castles. This is the Poe of legend.” – Poe Museum of Richmond, Virginia
Although Edgar Allan Poe only managed to walk among our world for a mere forty years, the legacy he left behind remains timeless. Despite his mysterious death over one century ago, we still have yet to completely understand the inner workings of the mastermind behind Poe’s literary works. Having said this, in the following, I hope to join the reader in an exploration of the mind behind the enigma of Edgar Allan Poe and his works.
However, before the vast terrain of the mind can even begin to be approached, the physical events of Edgar Allan Poe’s life must first be inspected. Poe’s life humbly began in Boston Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809 to two traveling actors, David and Elizabeth. David, however, left Elizabeth, Edgar, and his two other siblings, Henry and Rosalie, when Edgar was about nine months old. Unfortunately, acting was not necessarily considered to be an honorable profession at the time, and despite the fact that Elizabeth was a well-known actress, she struggled financially as a single mother. Elizabeth Poe passed away from tuberculosis in December 1811. (Giammarco 1)
Poe had several traumatic experiences with tuberculosis taking away significant women in his life, and common symptoms of the disease – gasping for air and coughing up blood – would later be reflected in some of Poe’s works, particularly The Masque of the Red Death. After his birth mother’s death, Edgar was unofficially adopted by a young couple, John and Frances Allan, and his siblings were each sent to live with other families. (Giammarco 1)
The Allen family moved to England in 1815, where Poe attended two boarding schools. Despite having few friends, Poe excelled in language studies at both of the schools. (Giammarco 1) However, with the collapse of the tobacco market in 1819, John Allan, formerly a successful tobacco merchant, moved the family back to Richmond, Virginia. After arriving back onto American soil, Poe fell in love with Jane Stanard, the mother of one of his classmates, “who later inspired many poems by Poe” (Giammarco 1). Unfortunately, Jane suddenly passed away in 1824. ((Giammarco 1)
Following this return to the United States, the strain on John and Edgar’s relationship increased as the family fell into debt due to John’s failed tobacco business. However, John’s uncle soon passed away, leaving the Allan family millions of dollars and the ability to remain financially stable (Giammarco 1).
In 1826, Poe began attending the University of Virginia to study languages. Although John provided Poe some funding for schooling, the money was not enough to cover all of Poe’s expenses, and Poe racked up over two thousand dollars of gambling debt in his first year of school. Upon John’s refusal to assist Poe in paying off the debt, Edgar entered into the US Army under the pseudonym Edgar A. Perry, and later published his first volume of poetry. However, Edgar soon looked to John to assist him in getting discharged from the army so he could seek a literary career. John refused, and Frances soon passed away from tuberculosis. In 1829, Poe was discharged from the army and was finally completely cut-off from the Allan family after John’s remarriage. After John fell sick in 1834, Poe attempted to ameliorate his relationship with John. However, John soon passed away and left nothing to Poe in his will. (Giammarco 2)
Poe eventually found work as an editor, but began his perilous relationship with alcohol. In 1836, Poe married Virginia Clemm, his 14-year-old cousin. Conflicting accounts arise concerning the condition of the marriage. While some believe that Poe and Virginia’s relationship remained platonic for years (Giammarco 2), others believe that the marriage was one full of joy (Poe’s Life 1). After being fired during the small economic depression of 1837, Poe was rehired the following year and began to gain ground as a brutal reviewer. Poe and Virginia both later began to fall sick more frequently, and Poe’s drinking habits worsened. Upon Virginia’s death in 1847, Poe’s poems began to reflect more gore and death, and at the time of Virginia’s illness, he wrote The Mask of the Red Death (Giammarco 2).
After Virginia’s death, Poe was reported as becoming “impulsive in his relationships, proposing marriage to, and falling in love with, multiple women” (Giammarco 2). Following Virginia’s death, Poe’s childhood crush, Sarah Royster Shelton cared for him after he was jailed and released for public intoxication. He then proposed to Sarah after his recovery. However, soon after Sarah accepted his proposal, Poe disappeared, only to be found days later, drunk in a bar. After being hospitalized for forty-eight days, Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849 at forty years old (Poe’s Life 1).
Although no letters from his birth mother remain to account of Poe’s early behavior, numerous other letters from Poe’s other family, classmates, and coworkers have survived. As a boy, Edgar Allan Poe was known as a “mischievous child” and practical joker by his classmates and teachers. In addition, he was also recognized among his peers for his flaunted athletic ability and was described by a teacher as having an “…excitable temperament with a great deal of self-esteem.” (Giammarco 2) Ultimately, “this grandiose self-view would remain consistent throughout Poe’s life; however, Poe was defensive and threatened by negative comments. This is consistent with a narcissistic self-view rather than healthy self-esteem” (Giammarco 2) These unfavorable personality traits were further illuminated as Poe demonstrated difficulty in making many friends, and his classmates described him as “incredibly defensive” and unwilling to “allow others to get close” (Giammarco 2).
Surprisingly, Poe maintained an exceptionally high view and respect for Frances Allan and the women throughout his life, in spite of his argumentative tendency towards the men in his life, as shown through his strained relationship with John and employers. One example of his respect towards woman was his platonic marriage to Virginia, his young cousin, so that she could not be unwillingly “married-off to another man” (Giammarco 2).
Additionally, despite Poe’s never-ending financial struggle, his pride never allowed for him to accept money, even when both he and his wife could not work due to their sickness. (Giammarco 2) This refusal due to his pride is particularly striking when compared to his willingness to ask John Allan for monetary earlier in his life. While the details surrounding the Poe’s college gambling debt ordeal are not completely understood, one may note that either this pride had taken a hold in Poe’s life from the very beginning, and that Poe had to overcome this pride to ask his adoptive father for assistance on several occasion (assistance that John Allan oftentimes initially refused), or that this stubborn pride developed after the college gambling conflict.
Edgar Allan Poe was also noted as exhibiting impulsivity and unnecessary dramatics. This impulsivity is shown by Poe’s dropping in and out of varying institutions (such as the University of Virginia and the US Army), multiple marriage proposals after the death of Virginia, and inability to hold a job for long periods of time. At one point Poe states, “I do believe God gave me a spark of genius, but He quenched it in misery” (Giammarco 2), clearly reiterating the high self-view mentioned earlier. One text even goes as far as reporting, “This attention-seeking behavior was also present in his interaction with coworkers, as he would constantly remind them he was an orphan” (Giammarco 2), and goes on to mention how it remains unclear if the one incident of Poe’s overdosing on laudanum was a suicide attempt or a call for attention. Overall, Poe has been described as “argumentative, untrusting and [lacking] self-control… Poe was certainly not friendly and cheerful, but he was assertive and outspoken in his career.” (Giammarco 2).
Only after exploring the life and corresponding personality traits of Edgar Allan Poe can one begin to understand the mastermind behind the well-known literary works. For example, one may take note of the recurring patterns of death, sorrow, and gore in Poe’s writing, particularly in his later works. However, only after learning about the constant loss of Poe’s loved ones can we truly begin to understand the reflections of his pain in his writing. Only after learning about Edgar’s loss of several loved ones to consumption can we begin to understand the depth behind both the actual disease of the “red death” and the literary device masked man in The Masque of the Red Death. Only after we recognize the fact that Poe’s father abandoned his family when Poe was a mere nine months, leaving him the son of a little-respected, hardworking, single mother of the 1800s can we begin to understand the subtle feminism in The Oval Portrait, or understand his lifelong respect of women.
While the knowledge concerning the details of Edgar Allan Poe’s life may not be necessary to actually comprehending the plot and themes within Poe’s literary works, this knowledge adds so much more depth to plots and characters within them, and into the mind that devised them. In the preceding, I hope to have lead the reader into a fascinating exploration of the complicated life, mind, and entity of Edgar Allan Poe, and the legacy that he has left behind.
Giammarco, Erica. “Personality and Individual Differences.” Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychological Profile. The University of Iowa Libraries, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
“Poe’s Life: Who Is Edgar Allan Poe?” Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works. Edgar Allan Poe Museum, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Woven between the seams of Edgar Allan Poe’s compelling public life and status as a literary genius are many passionate, heart wrenching, and mysterious relationships with women. When delving into the life of Edgar Allan Poe, it is easy to focus on his tragic childhood, be consumed by his literary prowess, hang on every last work of his dark, cryptic stories, and be intrigued by his mysterious death. While these are all important and defining aspects of Poe’s life, pinpointing and analyzing the female relationships in his life gives readers a deeper look into his life and allows them to explore how Poe’s personal experiences with women impacted his writing. Over and over again, Poe’s short stories lament the death of youthful, picturesque, and captivating women, and bear a burning desire for everlasting love and beauty. Seeing this recurring theme throughout many of Poe’s works is not a coincidence, but something deeper that needs to be explored. I believe that the relationships Poe shared with women drove him to write in the way he did. To outsiders, his descriptions of ethereal, perfect women seem to contrast the dark and deathly reality of his life, however upon exploration, it is clear how these angelic literary women reflect the women in his life.
The life of Edgar Allan Poe was a rollercoaster of excitement, drama, darkness, and tragedy. In exploring the female relationships in his life, it is essential to begin with his childhood and continue through his life in order to examine the associations and discern patterns amongst the women. Edgar Allan Poe, born in 1809, was orphaned within three years of his birth when both of his parents died. He then went to live with John Allan and his wife, Frances Allan, who became his unofficial parental guardians. However, in 1829, when Poe was twenty years old, he found out that Frances Allan, the only mother figure he had ever known, was suffering from tuberculosis, a disease that attacked the lungs and ran fatally rampant during this time period (Poe Museum). When Poe returned to Richmond to see Frances, she had already passed and been buried by the time he had arrived, and he received no closure with his mother. After Frances’ death, Poe decided to attend West Point, and during his time there, Allan Poe remarried without telling Edgar. After eight months at West Point, Poe was kicked out of the school. As a lonely, poor college student, Poe was prompted to return to Baltimore and call upon relatives for help. His aunt Maria Clemm, whom he reconnected with in Baltimore, became a new mother to him and opened her home to him. While living with his aunt, Poe fell in love with and married her daughter, and his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was thirteen years old compared to his twenty-six. His joys of married life can be seen in his poem “Eulalie (Poe Museum)” However, pattern repeated itself when, in 1842, his wife Virginia contracted tuberculosis. At this point, tuberculosis had already killed Poe’s mother, brother, and foster mother, becoming his “family disease” for ravaging through his lineage and claiming the lives of many important women (Poe Museum).
Five years later, Virginia died in a small cottage in the country, causing Poe to spiral into a depression in which he could not write for months. Many said that because of his devastation, he would soon be dead, which was not far from the truth, as he died two years later. However, before his death, Poe traveled around cities giving lectures, and while on tour in Lowell Massachusetts, he met and befriended a woman named Nancy Richmond. Poe’s “idealized and platonic love of her” inspired many of his works; however Richmond was married and therefore unable to be with Poe (Poe Museum). Because of this, Poe turned to the poetess Sarah Helen Whiteman in Providence whom he tried to marry; however the engagement only lasted one month. Finally the last infamous woman Poe sought after was actually a previous love, his first fiancée, Elmira Royster Shelton. At the time, Shelton was a widow in Richmond and began to be courted by Poe. Before he left on a trip to Philadelphia, Poe considered himself to be engaged to Shelton, and there are letters of evidence to support that she felt the same way (Poe Museum). However, upon his journey to Philadelphia, Poe stopped in Baltimore, where he disappeared for five days. He was found in the bar room of a public house and transported to Washington College Hospital where he “spent the last days of his life far from home and surrounded by strangers” (Poe Museum).
As is evident in the life of Edgar Allan Poe, during the early nineteenth-century, tuberculosis was widely contracted and affected the lives of many people. At this time however, consumption, the name of tuberculosis at that time because of the severe weight loss that characterized the disease and the way that the infection appeared to “consume” the patient, was portrayed as an illustrious and transformative entity (New Medical). Medical discourse and literature “exalted the materiality of the consuming female body by transforming suffering into something beautiful, pure and spiritual, or even sexual” (Stephanou). In fact, tuberculosis came to be glamorous for its time because so many artistic individuals suffered from it, making people believe that a link existed between the disease and creativity (Yancey). Additionally, tuberculosis grew so admired that a “pale, wasted appearance became fashionable among many upper-class young women, who believed it gave them a look of spirituality, refinement, and purity” (Yancey). Finally, while incorporating the role of tuberculosis in terms of Poe’s relationships with women, it is said that the death of Poe’s wife Virginia to tuberculosis exacerbated his drinking, a theory often connected to his death. Some argue that Poe was an alcoholic and that his disease is what ended his life (European Graduate School).
After exploring Poe’s female relationships, it is obvious that these women impacted Poe’s writing. The notion that “to understand what motivated this writing style, we must learn about the man behind the pen” is extremely accurate when it comes to Poe because his past is so rich with drama and excitement, which is undoubtedly poured into his literature (Giammarco). In many of Poe’s stories, the female character, idolized for her beauty and unceasing love for her husband, ends up dying. I find the loss of his beautiful wife and mother to contribute to the repetitious theme of the death of a picturesque woman in his work. In “The Raven,” the “rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore” is the narrator’s mysterious, but deeply missed, lover (European Graduate School). The speaker cannot get Lenore off of his mind and wants nothing more than to see her again. Readers are unaware of her death, but understand that she was a woman of beauty, and her death caused great distress for her male counter figure. In “The Oval Portrait,” the obedient wife of a painter, devastated by the loss of her husband to his relationship with his work, respectfully submits herself to him by becoming the focal point of his painting. As he immortalizes her radiant beauty in his artwork, the “tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sat beside him,” ultimately end her life. Finally, in “Annabel Lee,” a maiden who “lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me” was the portrayal of a young love that continued on even after her death. The narrator’s love for her was unending and eternal. I believe that through his tales, although dark and daunting, Poe eternalizes the woman’s spirit, and because he had so many attractive women die in his own life, this was his way of showing that their beauty and legacy lived on even when their bodies did not. It is as though the death and exaltation of the women in Poe’s stories serve as his outlet to commemorate and honor the lives and deaths of the women he loved. In connection to the prevalence of tuberculosis in his life, I find Poe’s women to embody “the horrifying reality of the decomposing body that remains alive” due to tuberculosis, because, like the slow wasting of the body due to the disease, the bodies of the women in his tales waste away, but their spirit, beauty, and memories live on forever (Stephanou).
After studying the life of Edgar Allan Poe, his relationships with women, and the role of tuberculosis in the 1800s, I find it critical to connect these events in order to understand and further analyze Poe’s works. Further comprehension and insight into the text allows readers to explore what drove Poe to write the masterpieces he did that and why he chose to highlight particular themes. The loss of significant women in his life, the effects and glamorization of tuberculosis manifested in his writing as a physical wasting of the body but immortality of spirit, and as the everlasting notion of beauty are key themes to pick up on. I believe Poe chose to write such stories to pay homage and remembrance to the women he loved and lost.
“Edgar Allan Poe – Biography.” The European Graduate School. European Graduate School EGS, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.egs.edu/library/edgar-allan-poe/biography/>.
Giammarco, Erica. “http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.uiowa.edu/science/article/pii/S0191886912003650.” Personality and Individual Differences 54.1 (2013): 3-6. Science Direct. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.uiowa.edu/science/article/pii/S0191886912003650>.
Manda, Ananya, Dr. “History of Tuberculosis.” News Medical. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-Tuberculosis.aspx>.
“Poe’s Life.” Edgar Allan Poe Museum : Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works : Richmond, Virginia. Poe Museum, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://www.poemuseum.org/life.php>.
Stephanou, Aspasia. “Lovely Apparitions and Spiritualized Corpses: Consumption, Medical Discourse, and Edgar Allan Poe’s Female Vampire.” The Edgar Allan Poe Review 14.1 (n.d.): n. pag. ProjectMUSE. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy.lib.uiowa.edu/journals/the_edgar_allan_poe_review/v014/14.1.stephanou.html>.
Yancey, Diane. “Romantic Consumption.” Tuberculosis. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century, 2008. 17-18. Google Books. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <http://books.google.com/books?id=CgKmAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=tuberculosis+glamorous&source=bl&ots=mlpDbdpZzp&sig=ZhlvlyV2dF8xbfdZAW5D8rc4bOo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ds4gU73oC-mV2QX3p4HICQ&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=tuberculosis%20glamorous&f=false>.
 Up until this point, all research is from the Poe Museum
Poe: A Legacy of Darkness
“Poe’s texts are verbal analogues to film, photography, and other visual arts.”
~James M. Hutchisson
Born in 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was a man before his time. Known for exploring morbidity in his literature, many originally read his works with dismay, while others today cannot stop turning the pages (Rahm). Throughout the years, Poe has left a legacy arguably of both fame and infamy. Writing many pieces, ranging from novels and short stories to poetry, Edgar Allan Poe has contributed greatly to the literary world and has impacted many areas of the fine arts.
Due to the author’s concept of writing and style, literature has evolved. Before Poe, the Puritan writing style was very popular. Full of “piety and self-restraint,” it encompassed conservative themes and never ventured to hash out taboo topics (Rahm). Edgar Allan Poe flexed his muscles against the Puritan way of writing during the Gothic period. Author and professor Charles L. Crow states, “Gothic offered a way to explore areas otherwise denied…The Gothic is a literature of opposition” (Crow). Poe went against the grain and wrote about dark and mysterious topics such as insanity, death, and murder. For example, his short story titled “The Raven” is about a man losing his mind over the death of his beloved Lenore (Poe). Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” also embodies sinister themes when he chronicled a murderer’s preparation to kill a man (Poe). Greatly influencing Gothic literature with ideas deviating from societal expectations, Poe allowed other literary revolutions to occur. French authors like Stéphane Mallarmé were inspired by Poe’s neglect of Puritan style (Frank). According to The Poetry Foundation, after Poe’s experimentation with short story structure and the importance of literary aesthetics, symbolist and surrealist writers learned that a story’s function is not solely to teach a lesson. Instead, how the story affects the reader is key (“Edgar Allan Poe”). Not only people in the past were influenced by Edgar Allan Poe; modern writers are equally inspired and garner high respect for him after he furthered the Gothic genre. Songwriters from the band 30 Seconds to Mars used lines from Poe’s “The Raven” to conclude their song “Hurricane,” showing how the themes of Poe’s work still have a place in today’s scope (“Top Ten Artists”). By going against the grain of traditional literature, Poe has made a mark upon the page of literary history and has opened the door to controversial topics.
Entering not only the realm of words, Poe has impacted the visual arts as well. Famous artists have created pieces to go alongside the author’s works. A portrait drawn by Matisse was paired with Mallarmé’s elegy “The Tomb of Edgar Allan Poe.” Not usually an illustrator, Matisse experimented within his craft to pay homage to the great author. Manet also drew pieces for Mallarme’s rendition of “The Raven” (Strasnick). Both Matisse and Manet are responsible for spearheading revolutionary transitions within the visual arts, as did Mallarmé in literature. Hence, a common reverence for Poe united these trendsetters. Modern artist Michael J. Deas also drew a picture of Edgar Allan Poe that eventually became a postage stamp in celebration of his 200th birthday (Strasnick). Clearly, this man has impacted society if his face is affixed to mail shipped throughout the country. Another nod to his importance is the fact that a portrait of him sold at auction for $150,000 (McCord). Many artists have chosen to depict the famous author in a variety of media: photographs, paint, pencil sketches, and more. This interest in depicting Edgar Allan Poe in different ways showcases artists’ attempts to comprehend the misunderstood author. The single works by artists have grown into numerous art shows inspired by Poe. “You Dig the Tunnel, I’ll Hide the Soil” was a show in London that explored the concept of recreating Poe’s literature visually. Submitting pieces that covered a wide range of his literature, artists displayed 34 pieces of art (Strasnick). By turning Poe’s works into visual interpretations open for public viewing, the author’s writing became more available and apparent to the public. This mixing of literary and visual art forms has become a very modern technique. Continuing contemporary thought posthumously, Poe has equally impacted the literary scope as well as the visual arts, whether he initially intended to or not.
His influence has carried into the technological world as well. Although television was not invented during Poe’s time, he has made a mark in cinematography. Filmmakers have been influenced by the author’s style of piecing scenes together, especially in his book Phantasy-Pieces. This “montage system of organization (in which a new concept emerges from the juxtaposition of two different texts) anticipates the technique of filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein,” comments James M. Hutchisson (“The Permanence of Poe”). The montage is a common technique utilized in many movies today, and the fact that Poe played a part in developing this demonstrates how he was the precursor to modern methods. Poe’s work is portrayed in television shows as well. In the popular satirical comedy The Simpsons, an adapted version of Poe’s “The Raven” was written for the show (The Raven: The Simpsons Version). Through the use of media, Poe’s works are distributed more efficiently to a broader audience than ever before. The increase in technology has in turn increased the knowledge of Poe’s works, even though he died many years ago. The Following is another testament to Poe’s enduring legacy. The hit drama series centers on a retired detective being drawn back into the police force after a man he put in prison forms a cult that uses Edgar Allan Poe for inspiration (Fox Broadcasting Company). The show fuels society’s current obsession with mystery and crime, both fundamental themes in Poe’s work. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, “He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the science fiction genre” (“Poe’s Life”). This style of writing has been utilized by many other crime-based shows today. Although Poe has died, he continues to capture attention because his writings encompass what society craves. Because of this, future generations are still familiar with the famous writer’s works.
Whether he proposed to or not, Edgar Allan Poe has greatly influenced the fine arts. From literature to art and television, the author has continuously proven to be before his time. Poe made strides in changing the subject matter, organization, and content of his writing during a time when literature had set guidelines. By fearlessly challenging society’s expectations, he allowed countless people to grow and further develop as writers, artists, and thespians alike. For this reason, Edgar Allan Poe will continue to be remembered for his legacy of darkness that did indeed shine a ray of light upon the world of fine arts.
Crow, Charles L. “Introduction.” Introduction. American Gothic: An Anthology, 1787-1916. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999. 1-2. Print.
“Edgar Allan Poe.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.
The Following. Fox Broadcasting Company. N.d. Television.
Frank, Michael. “Underestimate Poe’s Legacy? Nevermore.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Mar. 1999. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
James M. Hutchisson. “The Permanence of Poe.” Poe Studies 43.1 (2010): 104-115. Project
MUSE. Web. 7 Jan. 2014.
McCord, Andy. “Contemporary Images Dominate Fall Photo Sales.” ARTnews. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: New Modern Library, 1938. N. pag. Print.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: New Modern Library, 1938. N. pag. Print.
“Poe’s Life.” Edgar Allan Poe Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.
Rahm, Shay. “The Terror In Taboo: The Writings of Edgar Allan Poe as Social Commentary.” Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
The Raven: The Simpsons Version. TeacherTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
Strasnick, Stephanie. “That’s So Raven: Artistic Visions of Poe.” ARTnews. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014.
“Top Ten Artists Influenced by Edgar Allan Poe.” ARTISTdirect. N.p., n.d. Web.
Posted in Uncategorized on March 13, 2014 by ssteier. Leave a comment › Edit
The Birth of a Broken Heart
He never had the chance. The arduous life of Edgar Allan Poe may have been drastically different if he could have started on the right foot, but he never had the chance. When he was the age of two, his mother passed away, and his father had already abandoned the family. And thus, young Poe was pushed into an unforgiving world at such an early age. What effects would the loss of not only one parent, but two, have on the mind of an innocent child? How might have those effects impacted Poe’s life in the long term? The lack of a dependable parental figure during his early childhood scarred Poe in ways that would never be allowed to heal. Constant rejection, whether intentional or unintentional, of loved ones plagued his life, and it seemed the only thing he could depend on was tragedy itself. What could have been done to aid Poe during these difficult times? With the help from modern research that study the psychological effects of the loss of a parent, his life can be compared to what could have been.
Edgar Allan Poe never had the opportunity to truly know his biological mother Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. She was an English actress who was known for her beauty and talents in theatrics. When she moved to America, she lived a short marriage with David Poe, Jr. before separating due to a quarrel. Thus, Elizabeth became the single parent of three children: Henry, age three; Edgar, age two; and Rosalie, age one. Tragedy struck when she contracted tuberculosis in October 1811, and died at the age of 24 on December 8 that same year. It is believed that David also died of unknown causes within a few weeks of his wife’s death. After her death, Edgar was not only torn away from his parents, but he was also separated from his siblings. The children were sent away to strangers, and though they never legally adopted him, the wealthy Allans took in Edgar (Benton 1-2). Undoubtedly, this drastic turn of events must have taken a toll on the Poe’s psyche.
Some modern psychologists have tried to isolate the long-term factors that would play a large role on the mind of a child after the death of a parent. In her study, “The long-term impact of early parental death: lessons from a narrative study,” Jackie Ellis and her team “explored the individual experiences of those who had experienced the death of a parent(s) before the age of 18, and investigated how such experiences were perceived [by the individual] to impact [his or her] adult life” (Ellis). Before the experiment was conducted, previous research had shown there are numerous damaging impacts associated with childhood neglect including a greater vulnerability to depression, increased probability of substance abuse, and greater risks of criminal behavior. The team conducted the study through qualitative means, by asking participants, “Can you tell me how the death of your parent has affected your life?” The participants, who were then adults, spoke about their perceived impacts freely, and what was found was that although each participant’s experience of parental death was unique, all of their narratives were organized around three common themes: continuity, social networks and affiliations, and communication.
One, continuity, referred to unbroken consistence of a person’s everyday life, is important in the occurrence of parental death. For example, after both her parents died, one participant chose to live with a family friend nearby rather than move to a family member’s house because she did not want to move and change her entire life, her school, and her friends. These were the only constants in her life, and she felt that by holding on to some normality in his otherwise chaotic life, she could avoid her enormous loss. On the other hand, Poe was constantly reminded of what could have been. He did not have a sense of continuity after his mother’s death, and his father’s abandonment. Instead, he was thrown into the arms of strangers. It was also known that John Allan was not the best of fathers, and was not as fond as his wife Frances Allan with the idea about taking in young Poe (Person 129). This barrier likely to have caused a sense of rejection in young Poe – his biological father left the family and now the man that chose to take him in is just as emotionally rejecting. That is not to say Poe was not “cared” for – in fact John Allan spoiled him, not with love, but with money. As such, Poe himself said when speaking of his foster parents, “he never received the parental affection or family sympathy” that he longed (Pruette 372). Furthermore in the study, when another participant was eight, she was separated from her sister after her mother’s passing, and had to live with her grandmother. As a result, she had no one to confide with and was confused of the reason why she was separated from her sister so she associated the separation with rejection, which contributed to her loneliness and isolation. Much like the participant in the study, Poe was also separated from his siblings, which would have likely intensified his loneliness in the strange world he was then living.
Two, the study suggested the role of social networks and affiliations outside the family serve as positive outlets. Support from religious organizations, school, and other involvements “provided access to role models, moral guidance, and a sense of security.” However, when Poe was age six, the Allans moved to London, and he later remembered his experiences there attending boarding schools as “lonely and unhappy.” Back in America as a teenager in 1820, the family moved around several times which would have made it difficult for Poe to develop meaningful and deep relationships with others in school, which would also disrupt his sense of continuity (“American”). The constant movement and changes in his life is likely to have been taxing on his strength, and Poe might have built up a barrier to avoid the risk of being disappointed when people came in and out of his life.
The last theme many of the participant’s narratives incorporated was the key of communication. Whether or not the participants as children were given accurate and timely information concerning the death of their parents contributed to the level of grief and suffering recalled later in adult memory. Even though he never personally knew his mother and father, it is fair to imagine that the mystery of what they might have been like could have been far more influential to Poe than the actual deaths themselves. For example, Poe wrote a letter to Beverley Tucket in 1935 in response to her knowing his mother, “In speaking of my mother you have touched a string to which my heart fully responds. To have known her is to be the object of great interest in my eyes. I myself never knew her – and never knew the affection of a father… the want of a parent affection has been the heaviest of my trials” (Benton 1). His seeking out to people of what his mother might have been like is one of the most heart-wrenching stories of Poe not many people realize. Furthermore, my research was inconclusive to the specific details of how young Poe found out about his mother’s death. When did he learn about her death? And did he understand the cause of her death? At the age of two, he was probably too young to understand what happened even if it was explained to him. The disconnection and untimely distance in communication might have led Poe to construct his own story to fill in the gaps to explain her death – perhaps a story that translated onto paper.
In addition to the three themes found in personal narratives, in a separate study conducted by psychologist J.W. Worden, and the Harvard Child Bereavement Study, children should follow a four point process, called the Four Tasks of Mourning, to successfully handle parental death. According to Worden, first the child must accept the reality of the parent’s death. Second, the child must experience the grieving and emotional pain of the loss. Third, the child must adjust to the world in which the deceased is no longer there. And fourth, the child must find ways to memorialize the deceased and relocate the lost parent within his life in a different way (Worden 13-16). It is difficult to discern whether or not he accepted his mother’s death as a child, but nevertheless he later is forced to relive the experience with the death of Frances Allan. Poe does, however, experience the pain of the loss and expresses his melancholy in his first publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems in his poem “Dreams”: “Oh! That my young life were a lasting dream! […] A chaos of deep passion, from his birth” (Poe 26). Here he wishes that his life were a sweet dream where he could escape the pain and sorrow, and the deep passion he describes iterates the anger and frustration of his early loss of his mother.
As such, he was always in search for a female figure to fulfill the role as “mother” and replace the women (his biological and foster mother) that died early in his life. Poe was in search for love: he pursued Frances Osgood, Sarah Royster, and Sarah Whitman, but was only married to Virginia Eliza Clemm. For the third step, Poe is unable to adjust to the world in which his mother is not there because he does not truly know what life with her must have been like. Instead he jumps to the fourth step, and becomes memorializes his mother in the form of his writings and in his search for romantic relationships. Instead of letting go, Poe hoped to keep his mother alive through his writing. For example, in “The Raven,” the narrator grieves about a “lost Lenore.” At one point he asks the raven if his “soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant of Aidenn, it shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore.” Here Poe may be speaking of his mother, and desperately questions if he will ever see her again in paradise. By writing about his mother, he is essentially reliving her death. The scar never heals.
Underneath the morbidity of Poe’s stories was a raw pain and suffering. He had very few of the necessary ingredients to move on psychologically from his early family tragedy. Instead, he had to face his grief alone; he had no continuity, no dependable social networks, and no open communication with his foster father. Instead of healing, more grief kept piling onto his back. Poe was merely trying to escape the clutches of the death of his mother and the rejection of his father. He is much more than a peculiar guy who wrote about murder, love, and revenge for life was unfair to his tormented soul. I have grown sympathetic toward Poe because behind the façade that Poe used to convey horror and insanity in himself and his characters was an innocent child looking for affection. All he wanted and all he needed were for someone to love him and those who did love him were swept away by the unpredictable sea that is life. He never had the chance.
“American National Biography Online: Poe, Edgar Allan.” American National Biography Online: Poe, Edgar Allan. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-01302.html>.
Benton, Richard P. “Friends and Enemies: Women in the Life of Edgar Allan Poe,” Myths and Reality, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1987, pp. 1-25. 25 Feb. 2014
Ellis, Jackie, Chris Dowrick, and Mary Lloyd-Williams. “The Long-term Impact of Early Parental Death: Lessons from a Narrative Study.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 106.2 (2013): 57-67. Feb. 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2014.
Person, Leland S. “Poe and Nineteenth-Century Gender Constructions.” A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe (2001): 129-165.
Pruette, Lorine. “A Psycho-Analytical Study of Edgar Allan Poe.” The American Journal of Psychology 31.4 (1920): 370-402. JSTOR. Web. 26 Feb. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1413669>.
Worden, James William. Children and grief: When a parent dies. Guilford Press, 2001.
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged childhood, death, loss, mother, psychology on March 13, 2014 by dlinggonegoro. Leave a comment › Edit
The Effect of Bullying
Edgar Allan Poe is world renowned but many people do not realize how much suffering Edgar truly had to endure, especially the suffering he faced at the hands of his foster father. His foster father John Allan initially was amazed and proud of the boy and was observed to boast the boy’s talents (Meyers 13). However, over time, for reasons that are still debated to this day, John’s pride in the boy transformed into contempt. This contempt led to a serious break in their relationship which caused Edgar an unfathomable amount of problems. But to get a better picture of how great the fall that Allan caused was, we must begin by seeing how John raised Edgar.
Edgar was taken in by John Allan and his wife when Edgar was 2 years old (J. Gerald Kennedy xi). Allan gave Edgar a superior education and set him up for a future of luxury. Allan seemed proud of Edgar and was very willing to give him any advantage in his education but was less willing to give that thing that Edgar desired most, affection (Ingram 21). Though this education helped Edgar become the top student, he was empty without the unconditional love that a parent usually bestows on a child (Ingram 25). To fill this emptiness, Edgar sought to gain affection of others and although he did find this care, it only made him more vulnerable. Mrs. Stannard was a woman who had shown him kindness and affection but when he needed her affection more than ever, she fell ill and died (Ingram 27). Thus, Edgar suffered his first of many torments that stemmed from Allan’s treatment of him.
Some sources show that Allan may have been the cause of Edgar’s future habits. According to the headmaster of one of the schools Edgar attended as a child, Edgar “‘would have been a very good boy if he had not been spoiled by his parents… But they spoiled him, and allowed him an extravagant amount of pocket-money, which enabled him to get into all manner of mischief’” (Meltzer 24). This source argues that Edgar’s bad behavior was a result of his upbringing.
The relationship between Edgar and Allan soured during one of the worst times during Edgar’s life. Many terrible things happened near this time in his life and it seemed as if his life was falling apart and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. These things “influenced his sudden transformation from a darling child into an ungrateful son” (Meyers 20). This transformation further intensified tensions between Allan and Poe.
Evidence shows that Allan was not the stable father figure that Edgar needed in his life. “‘I know that often when angry with Edgar he threatened to turn him adrift, and that he never allowed him to lose sight of his dependence upon his charity’” (Meyers 19). Allan made Edgar feel worthless by emphasizing how heavily Edgar relied on his help. However, when Edgar had the opportunity to become independent and successful, Allan seemed to ruin his chance. The strongest evidence of this is when Edgar went to college.
Arguably the most visible negative influence Allan had on Edgar’s life was the situations surrounding Edgar’s college experience. Allan did not send Edgar enough money for Edgar to pay his basic debts at college (Meyers 26). The motives for Allan not sending enough money for Edgar to be successful at college are still uncertain (Meyers 28). Edgar’s college experience was cut short when Allan took Edgar out of the college after Edgar’s first year at the university. Edgar argued that although he had run up a large debt while at college, it was not his fault and that he was forced into debt because he was not given enough money to start the year (Meyers 27).
Allan and Edgar had a heated confrontation a few months after Edgar came back from college and Edgar decided to move away (Meltzer 38). Edgar suffered with poverty and sickness after he left the Allan home and joined the army as a means of sustenance (Kennedy xiii). Edgar eventually realized that he would not be happy in the army. He talked to his commanding officer about the hardships he had faced and his commanding officer said that Edgar could leave the army if he reconciled with Allan (Meltzer 43). Edgar sent many letters asking Allan for forgiveness and help and even plead that he wanted to go to West Point without a response from Allan (Meltzer 43). However, when Allan’s wife became deathly ill, Allan had a change of heart and he consented to Edgar leaving the army to go to West Point. Edgar rushed back to see his foster mother before she died but arrived the night after she was buried (Meltzer 44).
Once again, Poe excelled in academics while at West Point (Ingram 77). However, another misfortune struck Poe. While at West Point, he got a letter from Allen stating that he had married another woman and that he never wanted to hear from Poe again. This really affected Edgar who had been raised believing that he was the heir to the fortune that Allan possessed (Meltzer 50). In response to this news, Edgar decided that he no longer wanted to attend West Point. Unfortunately, because Allan had signed the papers that allowed Edgar to enroll in West Point, Allan had to consent to Edgar’s dismissal from West Point (Meyers 47). This presented the perfect opportunity for Allan to keep Edgar from bothering him for the next few years and Allan steadfastly refused to let Edgar leave West Point. In response to this, Edgar decided to get kicked out of West Point (Meltzer 50).
Edgar suffered throughout the rest of his life with poverty and although he repeatedly asked Allan for help, he received little. In their last meeting, Allan threatened Poe and told him to get out of the house (Meyers 69). Allan didn’t even mention Poe’s name in his will (Ingram 89). Poe suffered with poverty and didn’t receive more money from Allan. As stated in Jeffrey Meyers’s book, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy, “Poe had been taught the habits and tastes of a gentleman, but denied the means to support them” (69).
This part of the essay will focus on how my interpretation of Poe and of his works has changed as a result of my research. Although almost everybody recognizes the name Edgar Allan Poe, the majority of these people know very little more about Poe than the fact that his works are generally morbid. Before I researched his life, the only things I knew in connection with Poe were some of his most famous works. As a result of my research I have gained an entirely different view of Poe. I do not know how a person can read the story of Edgar Allan Poe’s life and not feel sympathetic towards him. Obviously, he had some faults but by looking at the picture as a whole, it can be seen why he had these faults. As an orphan, Edgar lacked the care and support of his real parents, and he would have been extremely sensitive and very dependent on receiving affection. As if losing his parents was not enough sorrow, everyone who he cared about either died or left him. To top it all off, his foster father constantly berated him.
I used to think of Poe as a creepy guy who was very obsessed with dark things, but after reading the story of his life, I cannot think of him like that again. When I think of Poe now, I think of an emotionally wounded and insecure person who latched onto anyone who would give him affection and in his unfortunate case, everyone who gave him affection either died or separated from him. This would be very traumatic and I can guarantee that I would be messed up if I had been an orphan and my foster father, the man who was supposed to love me and make me feel accepted, usually was mean to me and made me feel unwanted. By constantly bringing up the fact that Poe was dependent on him and without him, nobody cared about Poe, Allan was very emotionally abusive and caused Poe to become really insecure and very needy. This insecurity and neediness for affection set Poe up to be exceptionally affected when he suffered a loss of someone he cared about. Poe did not have a person he could go to for support and this, along with his constant misfortunes, led to him having a very unstable life and emotional state. Poe did not have anything in his life going in his favor, and although he was amazingly talented and smart, those attributes alone can only help a person to a certain extent. There needs to be balance for a system to be successful and Allan constantly upset the balance that was Poe’s life. Allan set him up to fail at the university by not giving him enough money to pay his bills and even though Poe persisted and received good grades, Allan pulled him out of the university and severely harmed his future career prospects. Though he had some bad habits while in college, pulling him out of college only served to put him in an even worse position because now Poe had no place to go in terms of career paths. As if his career path falling apart wasn’t bad enough, the woman that Poe loved and whom he had engaged, had been convinced that Poe had forgotten her and she had married another man. Within a very short time, Poe’s life was completely thrown out of balance.
Thus, I have gained from my research of Poe a new understanding of suffering and perseverance. I can never look at his stories the same because I now know how hard it must have been for him to relate the terrible things that happened in his life. The relation of his life in his stories is also more evident to me now that I know his life story. In his story, “The Oval Portrait,” Poe shows a negative view towards paternalistic society and now I know his personal relationship with his father figure, I can see much more easily why he portrayed paternalistic society in this way. I guess it really is true that if a person puts in the effort to get to know the author before reading a text, the text will seem much more meaningful and passionate.
Ingram, John H. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters, and Opinions. 1st ed. London: W. H. Allen and, 186. Google Books. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Kennedy, J. Gerald, ed. The Portable Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Google Books. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Meltzer, Milton. Edgar Allan Poe: A Biography. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century, 2003. Google Books. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Cooper Square, 2000. Google Books. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged father-son relationship, Poe, research, sorrow, suffering on March 13, 2014 by andrewsherer. Leave a comment › Edit
RUFUS WILMOT GRISWOLD: THE MAN BEHIND, ASIDE POE
“[Although] he is ingenious, clear and forcible, he has shown little independence and little power of rising above the consideration of the individual subject to general principles. His chief skill lies in the dissection of sentences,” wrote Rufus Wilmot Griswold about Edgar Allan Poe in his book, Prose Writers of America (524). As the previous statement demonstrates, Griswold and Poe were rivals in the literary world, and it can easily be seen through Griswold’s own pen. While the Griswold-Poe rivalry may seem careerist or even petty, the interactions between these two men are critical in understanding Poe’s works and his legacy. The interactions between Poe and Griswold demonstrate that Poe’s formal literary career was important to him and the nature of Poe’s death revealed the fragility of Poe’s works.
In 1841, Rufus Wilmot Griswold first encountered Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia when Poe was the editor of Grahm’s Magazine, and Griswold was writing the anthology Poets and Poetry of America. At this time, the two men were furthering their careers in the “publishing center of the colonies” (Allen 427). The two men soon realized the politics of the literary world, and they came to each other’s assistance. While Griswold saw a rising young editor with a subscribership of 37,000 individuals, Poe also saw Griswold as an opportunity; Poe could use Griswold as a springboard for his poetry through a publication in Griswold’s anthology (Ash 4,6). Even though Poe made an appearance in Griswold’s work, the men’s relationship soon deteriorated.
Although Griswold did succeed Poe in his position at Grahm’s, it was never his intention. According to William Gill, Griswold had simply been asked to substitute for Poe in his absence due to illness, yet Poe was outraged at this, and he would not return to work (109-112). While individuals may assume that Griswold was the entire reason for Poe’s departure, it is worth noting that Poe was relatively underpaid at the magazine compared to the other staff members, and his salary paled in comparison to compensation that the writers received (Allen 483). Alternatively, it is not unreasonable to assume that such a salary was due to Poe’s mistreatment of his employees and his professional behavior. Nevertheless, Griswold soon left Grahm’s as well, and some scholars believe it was not Griswold’s presence, which enticed Poe’s departure but merely Grahm’s management (Ash 18-19).
Even though Ash believes Poe and Griswold may not have become enemies due to Poe’s replacement, they fired shots at each other through the literary community. After Griswold gave a negative review of Poe in his book The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe reviewed Griswold’s book, and Griswold paid him for his effort. While the review was not positive, it was far from negative; therefore, Griswold decided to pay to publish the review because Poe’s name carried weight in some literary circles (Bayless 70). While Poe’s name carried weight even through his failures such as his attempt as an independent editor, it was not certain to carry such weight in his absence.
On October 7, 1849, the curtains closed on the life of Edgar Allan Poe, and at the time of his death, Poe had known Griswold for eight-and-a-half years. At the request of his editor, Griswold carelessly wrote Poe’s obituary, Death of Edgar Allan Poe, under his pen name Ludwig. Griswold’s editor, Horace Greely, very much disliked Poe, and he approved the piece (Bayless 161).
Even though the circumstances of Poe’s death and Griswold’s obituary for Poe are certainly bizarre, the situation surrounding Poe’s literary works is more bizarre. The bizarre nature stems from the man whom became his literary executor, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Although the circumstances, which transpired are still unknown, it is believed that Poe’s mother-in-law made Griswold Poe’s literary executor after Poe’s death as no statement by Poe himself exists (Bayless 166-167). While many may find Griswold to be treacherous to agreeing for such a position, his written statements do not imply such treachery as he wrote,
Poe was not my friend—I was not his—and he had no right to devolve upon me this duty of editing his works. He did so, however, and under the circumstances I could not refuse compliance with the wish of his friends here (Bayless 167).
Therefore, although Griswold’s attentions had been admirable, there is no doubt he indeed influenced Poe’s works, as one cannot simply edit a work without it undergoing change.
Although Poe and Griswold had a complicated eight-and-a-half year relationship, the two men were nevertheless highly influential on one another. The influence extends on how the two used the literary community as a sword-and-shield; just as Griswold critiqued Poe, Poe would return the favor. In turn, their views shaped the literary community of the time period as both of their names carried a heavy weight. However, the two not only shaped the literary community, they also shaped each other’s works.
While many interpretations can be made about the works of Poe on the whole or individual level, an interpretation cannot be made without the same text. For this reason, Griswold had a direct effect on Poe’s works. However, it must be stated that one must not over claim the importance of Griswold on Poe’s works. Although this may seem contradictory, other interests in Poe’s life legally challenged Griswold after he inherited the role of literary executor, and thus, he had limited access to Poe’s works (Bayless 176-180).
Even with the legal roadblock, Griswold was nothing if not creative; he managed to publish two volumes of Poe’s works and original writings. While these two volumes, Poems and Tales and The Raven of Other Poems, held Poe’s works, they held something far more important to the overall interpretation of his legacy; the texts also contained twenty prefatory pages including prefaces to the works by Poe (Bayless 175). In addition to the pages, the works also included statements from Poe’s mother-in-law and his good friend, Fanny Osgood. With these individuals in his text, Griswold not only defended himself from any possible legal challenge, they aided to both the 19th century’s understanding of Poe as well as the current century’s understanding of the man.
In addition for his work as Poe’s literary executor, Griswold also impacted Poe’s works while they were originally being written. As the time and social period affects every individual that lives in it, the same must be said for the work which is written by said author. While Poe was known to be socially difficult to individuals at times and his works are unarguably unique, Griswold and Poe were both part of the same literary circle. Therefore, it is unimaginable that Poe would not consider Griswold’s opinion before Griswold published a piece of Poe’s his book. Therefore, by understanding the time period and the politics of The Literary Capital, modern readers are more accurately able to interpret Poe’s works. Because just as Poe was free with his opinions and ideas about individuals of his time, including Griswold, literary critics of the time interpreted Poe’s works the same way, for Griswold states, “No mosaics were ever piled with greater deliberation. In no painting was ever conception developed with more boldness and apparent freedom” (34).
Allen, Hervey. Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. Vol. 2. New York: Doran, 1927. Print.
Ash, David F. The Relation of Rufus Wilmot Griswold to Edgar Allan Poe. Thesis. University of Iowa, 1929. Iowa City: Iowa, 1929. Print.
Bayless, Joy. “Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe’s Literary Executor.” Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe’s Literary Executor. Nashville: Vanderbuilt UP, 1943. Microform.Research Libraries Group Great Collections 28817 (1991): grid 357-458.
Gill, William F. The Life of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: C.T. Dillingham, 1877. Print.
Griswold, Rufus W. Prose Writers of America. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1847. Print.
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged editor, executor, griswold, Poe, rivalry on March 13, 2014 by 13nielsend. Leave a comment Edit
BI-POE-LAR AND OTHER ILLNESS
It is no question that the writer Edgar Allan Poe is not a normal person. Most famous for his dark, mysterious writings, Poe has built a very morbid reputation of his history. There are many experiences throughout Poe’s life that may have paved the way for these gothic ideals, such as the tragic death of his mother at the age of two. However, by examining his behaviors throughout his relatively short life, we can find that Poe may have had no choice in his style of writing. While experiences shape us as humans, there are certainly plenty of biological conditions that we are born into no matter our environment. It is not uncommon knowledge that Poe was afflicted with mental illness, but exploring the types of disorders he may have had can give us insight as to why and how his writing came about.
Many people have psychoanalyzed Poe’s writings and life. The most notable mental illnesses that scholars have ‘diagnosed’ Poe with are depression, bipolar disorder, and the less widely accepted, epilepsy. A diagnosis of depression is nearly a no-brainer. Evidence for Poe’s depression can be seen in his alcohol abuse and demeanor. For instance, “He was described by coworkers and family as chronically melancholic” which shows us that the symptoms of his depression could be seen outside of his personal writings (Giammarco). Also, studies have shown that having an alcohol abuse disorder is roughly four times more prevalent in people who have depression than those who do not (Grant and Harford). A diagnosis for depression begins to shape fairly well given these simple behaviors of Poe. His attempt to escape society and create his own fantasy is a strong sign that Poe had a depression disorder throughout his life.
The second mental illness that Poe may have been afflicted with is bipolar disorder. The support for this disorder in Poe’s life is much harder to correctly envision than it was for the depression case. Bipolar disorder is a change in moods from a deep depression to an incredibly happy mania or vise versa. However, contrary to popular belief, these mood swings are often prevalent for months, even years, at a time. The hardest part of finding support for bipolar disorder in Poe’s life would likely be locating parts of his life where he was having a manic episode. Manic episodes are often accompanied with feelings of superiority and indestructibility, which occasionally we can see in Poe’s life. For example, when Poe first arrives at college, he begins gambling and loses thousands of dollars (Bazil). This could be an event that was part of a manic episode; he made a lot of impulsive decisions and did not give much of a care to stop until he was forced to. Another possible manic event could have been when he joined the army. It was fairly soon after he joined the army that he was already looking to get discharged with the aid of his father (Giammarco). He once again made an irrational decision and had to face the consequences of it. These poor, impulsive decisions that Poe would occasionally make can certainly be evidence for a bipolar disorder, especially when he very clearly exhibits one pole of the disorder (the depression).
Strangely enough, it is possible that Edgar Allan Poe had a form of epilepsy throughout his life. Researchers believe this to be true for reasons that lie within Poe’s stories and his life. For instance, “In The Premature Burial, Poe states that the author of this tale is subject to attacks of ‘cataplexy’” (Bazil). Cataplexy is when a person is paralyzed but remains conscious throughout the event. This state is often typical of a different kind of epilepsy from what the public usually understands. Poe’s epilepsy would have consisted of complex partial seizures, which would be of the nature that he described in his story The Premature Burial (Bazil). This condition not only could have had potential influences on his writing, but also his eventual death. Before Poe died, he was found on the ground in the middle of a street and then was taken to a hospital where he died. While this event was likely induced by alcohol, a complex partial seizure could have been a culprit for the series of events that lead to his death.
Understanding the effects of his psychiatric condition on his writing is crucial to gaining further insight to the depth of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. We now know that there is evidence for depression, bipolar disorder, and even a form of epilepsy in Poe’s mental state; what does this mean for his writings? It is fairly obvious that we see his depression seep into his writing by simply examining the darkness and hopelessness of “The Raven”. In “The Raven” the famous word “Nevermore” gives us one of the best examples of Poe’s depressive outlook on life. The raven in the story is essentially telling an old man that his past happier feelings will nevermore exist and he will forever be stuck in a rut. The raven’s words very well could have represented Poe’s expectations of life and furthermore exemplified his case of depression.
While noticing Poe’s depression in his writing is a fairly simple task, picking up on where we can find instances of manic behavior to show his bipolar condition proves to be slightly more challenging. However, one prudent example lies within his story, “The Tell-Tale Heart”. “The Tell-Tale Heart” features a narrator that seemingly going through a manic stage. Thoughts are racing through the narrator’s mind, decisions are made irrationally, and a state of constant anxiety leads us to believe that this whole story could be based on what it feels like to have a manic episode in Poe’s point of view. The narrator’s statement, “The disease had sharpened my senses-not destroyed-not dulled them.” talks about a disease of which he feels heightened senses (Poe, Edgar Allan). The heightened senses produced by the disease could be the state of anxiety experienced in bipolar disorder. With this perspective, we can look at the troubled narrator in this story and understand with more depth why the narrator acted the way he did.
While Epilepsy is not a condition that is known to have profound creative consequences like bipolar and depression, Poe does seem to use his condition as inspiration in his story “The Premature Burial” as earlier mentioned. In this story, Poe describes a character that is buried alive but later finds out that he was actually in a state of cataplexy (Bazil). The cataplexy that Poe writes about in this story could be a depiction of what it felt like to have the type of epilepsy that he may have had. The metaphor, being buried alive, is just so strong that it would seem miraculous if Poe did not have an event like this happen to him for inspiration.
Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic writing is so vivid that it only makes sense he would have experienced some of these feelings first hand before writing about them. Depression, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy are incredibly fatiguing to the mind and body. But, the built up figurative energies that these mental illnesses create must be released in some way. Poe decided to release his energy, most of the time, in the form of writing. Having a mental illness seems to be a commonality between most famous artists. This is likely because they need a release of sorts just like Poe did. While it is unfortunate that some successful artists live their lives in anguish, their sacrifice is greatly received.
Bazil, Carl. “Seizures in the Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe.” Archives of Neurology 56.6 (1999)Print.
Giammarco, Erica. “Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychological Profile.” Personality and Individual Differences 54.1 (2013)Print.
Grant, Bridget, and Thomas Harford. “Comorbidity between DSM-IV Alcohol use Disorders and Major Depression: Results of a National Survey.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 39.3 (1995)Print.
Tien, Morris. “Literature Or Psychoanalysis: Poe’s Personality and His Works.” American Studies XX.4 (1990)Print.
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged Creativity, Poe Mental Illness, suffering on March 13, 2014 by dspinelli1. Leave a comment Edit
The Women of Poe
No matter how you look at it, the women in Edgar Allan Poe’s life had a tremendous effect on his work. Both the women of his family and the women in his love life contribute to his personality and mood, which both in turn contribute to his writing. This is very evident when his works, and the years in which they were written, are compared to the timeline of his life, namely his love life.
In order to understand why Poe wrote the way that he did at the times that he did, it is important to take a look at what was happening in his life. For instance, Poe’s parents were traveling actors and died when he was three years old (“Poe’s Life”). Thus, his parents did not create a significant impact on his writing. Then, at sixteen years old in 1825, Poe became engaged to a young woman named Elmira Royster who, after a few years of engagement, became engaged to another man while he was away (“Poe’s Life”). While this occurrence made him angry and hostile, it did not have a great effect on his writing because at the time, Poe had not become a writer yet.
The woman who arguably had the most effect on both his life and his work was Virginia Clemm. Virginia was Poe’s first cousin whom he married when she was thirteen years old and he was twenty-six years old (“Poe’s Life”). Their marriage lasted for 10 years, from 1836 to her death by tuberculosis in 1847 (“Poe’s Life”). To discover how this marriage affected Poe, it is important to know which of Poe’s pieces of works were published during this time frame. These include “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Raven,” and “Eulalie” (“Poe’s Life”). The one that is most obviously influenced by Virginia is “Eulalie,” which describes the happiness Poe feels in his marriage. However, there are many more works by Poe that are impacted by his marriage to Virginia.
The difference between “Eulalie” and these other works like “The Raven” and “The Oval Portrait” is the time during the marriage in which they were written. “The Oval Portrait”, for instance, was published in 1842, the year in which Virginia Clemm contracted tuberculosis (“Poe’s Life”). It is safe to assume that this significant part of his life caused Poe to let it affect his work. This information leads to a more clear interpretation of the story.
The painter in “The Oval Portrait” loved his wife dearly but paid more attention to painting a portrait of her to immortalize her beauty for the future instead of being with her in the present. However, with every stroke of the brush, the wife gets sicker and weaker. Finally, when the painting is finished, the painter turns to his wife only to discover she has died. When what is happening in Poe’s life at the time this short story was written is taken into account, the reader may make inferences. For instance, it is possible that when Edgar Allan Poe discovered that his beloved life will soon die of tuberculosis, he realized that he has taken her for granted for far too long. With that theory in mind, “The Oval Portrait” is an attempt to warn the men of his time that if they do not appreciate their wives in the present and instead focus on other things, they will soon regret it.
Another possible interpretation to “The Oval Portrait” with Virginia’s illness in mind is that Poe, represented in the story by the painter, wants to keep Virginia, represented by the painter’s wife, and immortalize her beauty. He already knows that his wife is dying and because he will not be able to keep her forever, he wants to create something that will allow him to be with her, even if not physically, forever. Although this second interpretation is possible, the first interpretation paints Poe in a better moral light and helps create a better memory of him.
Because Virginia was no doubt the most important woman in Poe’s life, it makes sense that she made an impact on the work that lead Poe to become a household name, “The Raven” (“Poe’s Life”). Going off of this assumption, Virginia is the “lost Lenore” who is causing the sorrow of the narrator (Poe). This sorrow, again, stems from the fact that Poe knows he will soon lose his wife. The raven, therefore, may represent his Virginia’s tuberculosis, or even God, as it is the raven that tells the narrator that he will never see Lenore again. In accordance with this theory of “The Raven”, the poem represents Poe’s anger and misery that comes from Virginia’s disease.
The fact that “The Raven”, arguably one of Poe’s darkest poems, was inspired by love is confusing to many. However, this can be attributed to Poe’s character. Gerard Friedrich, who wrote “Epitaph for Edgar Allan Poe”, describes his morbidity and complexity by saying, “Even the comforts of love were to him / A somber and painful riddle” (Friedrich). The epitaph goes on to briefly allude to the insanity and hallucinations that Poe was supposed to possess.
Although his wife made a significant impact on his writing, Virginia is not the only woman whom Poe wrote about. In fact, it has been said that Nancy Richmond, a woman with whom Poe carried on a platonic relationship, inspired some of his greatest poetry (“Poe’s Life”). Evidence that Poe had loving feelings for Nancy can be found in the poem “For Annie”. However, Nancy Richmond was married, and therefore unattainable, forcing Poe to move on.
This rejection from Nancy Richmond, and the rejection he received from former fiancée Elmira Royster, could have caused Edgar Allan Poe to hate women and think them evil. This is the opinion that Robert J. Belton possesses, calling Poe a surrealist. His evidence for this assumption is Poe’s “Berenice”, which was published in 1835 (Belton). The date, however, that the story was published causes some speculation, because it was after the days of Elmira Royster, who broke Poe’s heart, but before the days of Virginia Clemm, who put it back together. While Poe, at that time, may have had a very morbid and hateful view of women, much of his later work combats this view, as can be seen in the works previously mentioned.
Overall, it is evident that women had a large impact on Poe’s writing. Going further, it can be argued that this impact was for the better. The fact is that women greatly affected many of Poe’s highly respected and revered works. Also, the impact women had on Poe went much further than just impacted his daily life. They also impacted his writing, which in turn made him famous and venerated, changing his life in a completely different manner.
Belton, Robert J. “Edgar Allan Poe and the Surrealists’ Image of Women.” Woman’s Art Journal
8.1 (1987): 8-12. JSTOR. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Friedrich, Gerhard. “Epitaph for Edgar Allan Poe.” Books Abroad 27.4 (1953): 374. JSTOR.
Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Maligec, Christopher F. S. ““The Raven” as an Elegiac Paraclausithyron.” Poe Studies 42.1
(2009): 87-97. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: New Modern Library, 1938.
“Poe’s Life.” Edgar Allan Poe Museum : Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works : Richmond, Virginia.
N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Writing From His Roots
Edgar Allan Poe is famous for a lot of his eerie and somewhat weird pieces of writing, but what intrigues me so much about him, more specifically, is the style of his writing. I think that a major portion of the stylistic qualities found in his writing stem from his childhood and the things or events that he faced during that time period. For starters he faced a lot of instability and traumatic events. According to the Poe Museum it began when he was “Born to traveling actors” and only escalated when “Within three years of Poe’s birth both of his parents had died of tuberculosis” (Poe’s Life). Soon after the unfortunate death of both of young Eddie’s parents “He was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife” (Poe’s Life). His schooling, like his family life, was no exception to his unstable childhood; “He spent five years in Scotland attending grammar school… and later attended boarding school in England” (Loveday). Around the time he was in school Poe faced another challenge; “In his mid-teens, he became aware of his foster-father’s unfaithfulness to his wife. Arguments between [them] began” (Loveday) and continued throughout his youth. There is also evidence that Poe disagreed with his step-father’s occupation and way of life; “Early poetic verses found written in a young Poe’s handwriting on the backs of Allan’s ledger sheets reveal how little interest Poe had in the tobacco business” (Poe’s Life).
His extraneous childhood led him to a different type of thinking, first apparent in his poem “Alone” a lot of the key characteristics of his writing begin to emerge in this piece first blatantly: “From childhood’s hour I have not been. As others were” (Poe) and then less obviously later in the same piece: “Thou—in my childhood—in the dawn, of a most stormy life—was drawn from every depth of good and ill, the mystery which binds me still” (Poe). He disagreed with the ideals of John Allan, opposing the idea of a comfortable material wealth: finding it unnecessary. An analysis of Poe’s work states this clearly: “In his poetry, Poe expressed that [the displacement of the American Dream]” (Sanford). From the difficult obstacles he faced, one can see that he utilized his poetry as a way to escape and relay his emotions in a healthy way. Many analysts of Poe agree with the idea that there is a lot more to Poe’s writing hidden in the stylistic qualities of his work. One analysts wrote: “Poe could have chosen different routes, but in these moments or gaps of thought between irrational being to parrot to raven, Poe’s own experiences, preferences, and/or the muse which he denies exists prod him from one point to the next until he arrives at a solution rather than the solution” (Esplin). In other terms: the syntax that Poe utilizes in “The Raven” exemplifies his irrational thought process and the erratic experiences that shaped him in his childhood. It also explains that Poe doesn’t have a set “end” he just writes until the flow ends (a solution rather than the solution). This alone shows how much a writer’s past opens doors into deeper interpretations of their work.
Knowing about an author’s childhood can really offer insight into their work and allow for parallel and more in depth interpretations. There are definitely more things to be discovered in Poe’s writing after analyzing and understanding his childhood. Having information about his youth helps to offer important information to the reader that is not typically discovered when reading his pieces.
I am now even more perplexed by the eerie, seemingly crazy, syntax and diction of Poe’s pieces because of my new knowledge about his life. Seeing as Poe is not your typical writer, his work is dark and almost uncomfortable to read sometimes: although, he does manage to create an incredible flow and rhythm to his writing despite its abnormality. After learning a lot about his youth I attribute this rhythm to his ability to thrive regardless of the instability of his childhood. He went through countless struggles and unfortunate circumstances, but despite all of it he still managed to prosper in school especially grammar and literature.
His success in his writing parallels the success of his youth despite the dark, eeriness of it. The darkness that comes through in his writing appears to come from the hardships of his childhood. Losing a parent is extremely traumatic and it appears that Poe never got over their death, especially with the disagreements that continued between Poe and John Allan throughout his time as a teenager. It comes through in the abnormal syntax of his poem “Alone”. He arranges the words in a way that forces the reader to slow down and really process the meaning of each word due to improper sentence structure that often includes repetition. The repetition seems to show an emphasis and parallels the reoccurrence of hardships in Poe’s childhood. The diction of the same poem also has an important effect on its meaning. Poe often chooses words that indirectly portray his meaning, but with his style of writing he forces the reader to use a different level of thought to come to an interpretation. This allows for more possibilities and provokes conscious thought to discover the meaning of his works. Everyone has a past, and it is clear that the background of every individual is instrumental in his or her present. Regardless of the manner that it influences them, it will always have one. It could be through their words or any other manner. It is important to look further into the work of author’s and draw connections to their roots as a person. Often there is a lot more to be uncovered in each piece of writing. It’s important to remember that everyone has a story, and that story has an impact on him or her whether it be conscious or unconscious.
Works Cited Emron Esplin. “Borges’s Philosophy of Poe’s Composition.” Comparative Literature Studies 50.3 (2013): 458-489. Project MUSE. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. . Loveday, Veronica. “Edgar Allan Poe.” Edgar Allan Poe (2005): 1. Primary Search. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. Poe, Edgar Allan. “Alone.” Poetry X. Ed. Jough Dempsey. 29 Nov 2004. 11 Mar. 2014 . “Poe’s Life.” Edgar Allan Poe Museum : Poe’s Life, Legacy, and Works : Richmond, Virginia. N.p., 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. Sanford, Charles L. “Edgar Allan Poe: A Blight Upon The Landscape.” American Quarterly 20.1 (1968): 54-66 America: History & Life. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.