Authors: Edgar Allan Poe

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American short-story writer and poet

January 19, 1809

Boston, Massachusetts

October 7, 1849

Baltimore, Maryland

Biography

Few American writers have been and remain as widely appreciated, misunderstood, and influential as Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was the second of three children born to David Poe and Elizabeth Poe, both actors. Following his mother’s death in 1811, young Edgar became a member of the childless family of John Allan, a Scottish tobacco merchant in Richmond, Virginia. He was given the name Edgar Allan and treated as the son of the family. {$I[AN]9810001467} {$I[A]Poe, Edgar Allan} {$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Poe, Edgar Allan} {$I[tim]1809;Poe, Edgar Allan}

Edgar Allan Poe

(Library of Congress)

When John Allan sailed for England to establish a branch of the firm, Edgar went with him and his wife. He was kept in an English school most of the time until the Allans returned home in 1820. After further schooling in Richmond, Poe was taken to Charlottesville, where in February he was entered as a student in the University of Virginia. He continued as a student for the more than ten months’ session. He excelled in his classes, but he also accumulated some debts, over which he and Allan quarreled; as a result, Poe left Richmond, a penniless youth.

Why Poe chose to go to Boston is unknown. He arranged there for the publication of a brief volume of poems, Tamerlane, and Other Poems, and on May 26, 1827, he enlisted under the name Edgar A. Perry in the United States Army. In 1829, he secured a discharge from the Army and entered West Point in 1830 as a cadet. Meanwhile, after the death of his first wife, John Allan married again. Soon afterward, there was a final rift between Allan and Poe. Poe was also dismissed from the academy. He had published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in 1829, and upon leaving West Point he published Poems in 1831. There followed an obscure period in Baltimore before he went to Richmond in 1835 to work on the Southern Literary Messenger until the end of 1836. He had married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, and he took her and his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, to New York. Soon he removed to Philadelphia where he became first an associate editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and later editor of its successor, Graham’s Magazine. In April 1844, he returned to New York, and in 1846 he rented the little cottage in Fordham, just out of the city, where Virginia died on January 30, 1847, and where Poe and Mrs. Clemm continued to live until Poe’s death. He had published stories and articles in various magazines and had worked on the New York Mirror and edited the Broadway Journal.

The publication of his prize-winning story “The Gold Bug” in the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper in 1843 had brought him some recognition, but he became famous in 1845 with the printing of “The Raven” in the Evening Mirror and the Whig Review. In 1849, the year in which appeared “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and other of his best-known poems, Poe visited Norfolk and Richmond on a lecture tour. He had broken his engagement to marry the poet Helen Whitman, and in Richmond he became engaged to his former sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, now the widow Shelton. From the time of his leaving Richmond, his movements are unknown until he was found in an unconscious condition in Baltimore. He died in a hospital on October 7, 1849. He was interred the next day in the churchyard of the Westminster Presbyterian Church. His wife, Virginia, was later removed from the vault of the Valentines, owners of the Fordham cottage, to a place beside his grave.

Edgar Allan Poe—poet, critic, short-story writer, and mystic theorist—is as important for his influence on the literature of the world as he is for the works in themselves. He was an innovator in the field of pure poetry and of symbolism. Of lesser importance was his mastery of certain technical devices, such as assonance, rhythm, and rhyme, as evidenced in “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and “Ulalume.” His influence was especially great in France through Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and the Symbolists. “To Helen,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Haunted Place,” “The Raven,” “Israfel,” “The City in the Sea,” and “Ulalume” are probably among the most universally admired short poems in the English language.

At the time of his death, Poe was perhaps best known in the United States as a literary critic. He is today credited with developing a theory of what has come to be known as “pure poetry,” with articulating the first definition of the short story as a distinct literary form, and with inventing the detective story.

His prose tales were unique for his day. Aside from his detective stories, namely “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” his most characteristic stories were tales of impressionistic effect. Many of them contained a psychological theme, often the theme of obsession or monomania, such as “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Others were built on a study of conscience, such as “Ligeia” and “William Wilson.” Almost all of Poe’s themes and techniques coalesce in what is perhaps his most-discussed story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

The magic of Poe—his power to arouse terror in his readers and to make them partake of the sensations he evokes as though they had lived them—are the effects of his conscious art. His poems are remarkable for their beauty and melody, his tales for the intensity with which the artist brings readers under his spell. He is associated especially with his dark and terror-filled stories; he is, perhaps, the world’s master of the macabre.

Author Works Short Fiction: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840 The Prose Romances of Edgar Allan Poe, 1843 Tales, 1845 The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, 1976 (Stuart Levine and Susan Levine, editors) Long Fiction: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, 1838 Drama: Politian, pb. 1835–36 Poetry: Tamerlane, and Other Poems, 1827 Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, 1829 Poems, 1831 The Raven, and Other Poems, 1845 Eureka: A Prose Poem, 1848 Poe: Complete Poems, 1959 Poems, 1969 (volume 1 of Collected Works) Nonfiction: The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 1948 Literary Criticism of Edgar Allan Poe, 1965 Essays and Reviews, 1984 Miscellaneous: The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 1902 (17 volumes) Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 1969, 1978 (3 volumes) Bibliography Ackroyd, Peter. Poe: A Life Cut Short. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2008. Part of Ackroyd’s Brief Lives series, a compelling, perceptive biography. Bittner, William. Poe: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962. This volume is a reliable study of Poe’s life and is suitable for general readers. Bloom, Harold, ed. Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Chelsea House, 2006. Compilation of essays by leading Poe scholars on various aspects of the author’s work, including the boundaries of the detective-fiction genre and its relationship to psychoanalysis. Bibliographic references and index. Brown, Arthur A. “Literature and the Impossibility of Death: Poe’s ‘Berenice.’” Nineteenth-Century Literature 50 (March, 1996): 448–463. Argues that Poe’s stories of the dead coming back to life and of premature burial dramatize the horror of the impossibility of dying. In “Berenice,” our attention to the details of the tale reproduces the narrator’s obsession with that which speaks of death and does not die and thus implicates us in his violation of the still-living Berenice in her tomb. Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe. 2d ed. Boston: Twayne, 1977. This study of Poe’s life and works offers an excellent introduction. The book includes a chronology of his life and an annotated, select bibliography. Burluck, Michael L. Grim Phantasms: Fear in Poe’s Short Fiction. New York: Garland, 1993. Considers the question of why Poe focused primarily on portraying weird events in his stories. Discusses the gothic conventions Poe used to achieve his effects. Argues that neither drugs nor insanity are responsible for Poe’s gothic tales, but rather they were a carefully thought out literary tactic meant to appeal to current public taste and the general human reaction to fear. Carlson, Eric, ed. Critical Essays on Edgar Allan Poe. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. This supplement to Carlson’s 1966 volume (below) offers a cross section of writing about Poe from the 1830’s to the 1980’s. Many of the essays deal with short stories, illustrating a variety of interpretive strategies. Carlson, Eric, ed. The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966. This selection of critical essays from 1829 to 1963 is intended to illustrate the development of Poe’s literary reputation. It includes a number of the most important earlier essays on Poe, including Constance Rourke’s discussion of Poe as a humorist. Also includes several essays by French and British critics. Crisman, William. “Poe’s Dupin as Professional, the Dupin Stories as Serial Text.” Studies in American Fiction 23 (Autumn, 1995): 215–229. Part of a special section on Poe. Argues that the Dupin stories bear out his mesmeric revelation that mind forms one continuum with inert substance. Poe’s emphatic insistence on the role of the material and the materialistic in his detective tales makes them important psychological statements. Frank, Lawrence. “‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’: Edgar Allan Poe’s Evolutionary Reverie.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 50 (September, 1995): 168–188. Claims that Poe’s story explores the implications of the nebular hypothesis and did not reinforce the prevailing orthodoxy; rather it may have been in the service of an emerging Darwinian perspective. Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. A perceptive study of Poe’s personality and work. As the title suggests, Hoffman finds many Poes, a man and artist of many masks. He traces the coherence of the poet’s work through the unity of his images. Howarth, William L. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Poe’s Tales. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. This volume contains fifteen essays on Poe’s stories, several offering general points of view on his fiction but most offering specific interpretations of tales such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Ligeia,” “William Wilson,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Includes a chronology of Poe’s life, a bibliography, and a helpful index to the stories discussed. Hyneman, Esther K. Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles in English, 1827–1973. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1974. The quantity and variety of writings on Poe make it exceedingly difficult to compile complete lists. This volume, supplemented by American Literary Scholarship: An Annual for coverage of subsequent years, will provide an ample resource for most readers. Irwin, John T. The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytical Detective Story. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. An analytical/theoretical discussion of Poe and Borges’s contribution to the detective story. Argues that Borges doubles Poe’s three most famous detective stories—“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”—in three of his own stories. Kennedy, J. Gerald. A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Considers the tensions between Poe’s otherworldly settings and his representations of violence, delivers a capsule biography situating Poe in his historical context, and addresses topics such as Poe and the American publishing industry, Poe’s sensationalism, his relationships to gender constructions, and Poe and American privacy. Includes bibliographic essay, chronology of Poe’s life, bibliography, illustrations, and index. Martin, Terry J. Rhetorical Deception in the Short Fiction of Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998. An original reading of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Martin seeks to identify this story and those by Hawthorne and Melville as “a significant sub-genre of the modern short story.” May, Charles E. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. An introduction to Poe’s short stories that attempts to place them within the nineteenth century short narrative tradition and within the context of Poe’s aesthetic theory. Suggests Poe’s contributions to the short story in terms of his development of detective fiction, fantasy, satire, and self-reflexivity.

Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1998. An introductory critical study of selected works and a short biography of Poe. Includes bibliographical references and index. Perry, Dennis R. Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003. This work discusses the thematic and stylistic parallels between Alfred Hitchcock’s film and Poe’s writing, both in general terms and through comparisons of specific works. Bibliographic references and index. Pillai, Johann. “Death and Its Moments: The End of the Reader in History.” MLN 112 (December, 1997): 836–875. Argues that Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” establishes its modernity by both affirming and denying its status as a narrative of historical events; contends the story declares its fictive nature in its relation to history, which it purports to transcend or slide past; concludes it is the hermeneutical relation of the narrative voice of the tale to the narrative voice of criticism that determines the story’s paradoxical temporality. Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1998. A comprehensive biography of Poe, with a new introduction by Shawn Rosenheim, is devoted to fact and describes how Poe’s life and legend were misconstrued by other biographers. Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. The first major biography of Poe in fifty years, a close reading of the writer’s life and work. Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe, A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 2001. A thorough guide to the life and works of Poe. Thoms, Peter. Detection and Its Designs: Narrative and Power in Nineteenth-Century Detective Fiction. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998. A study of early detective fiction from readings of Poe’s Dupin stories to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Whalen, Terence. Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. A brilliant study of Poe that provides an inventive understanding of his works and his standing in American literature.

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