Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was an American writer, editor and literary critic and is mostly known for his Gothic short fiction and poetry. Much of his work incorporates suspenseful themes of horror and death. He is considered the inventor of the modern detective story and a contributor to the development of science fiction. Poe was known for writing vicious reviews and made a number of enemies because of them. He died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances, after being discovered nearly unconscious outside a bar room.
Some quick facts:
- Poe was the second of three children.
- His parents were traveling actors.
- His father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died when Poe was three years old.
- He was raised by John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant, and his wife Frances Allan.
- Allan tried to make Poe into a businessman, but Poe preferred writing poetry. Their relationship had many ups and downs.
- In 1826, Poe enrolled at University of Virginia, but left after one term due to lack of money. Allan had sent him there with less than one third of what he needed and Poe gambled to pay his debts and burned his furniture to stay warm.
- After leaving the university, he adopted the pseudonym “Henri Le Rennet”.
- In 1827, he published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane.
- That same year, at age 18, he enlisted in U.S. Army under the name “Edgar A. Perry” claiming he was 22. He served for two years, became a Sergeant Major and then tried to get out of the remaining three years by confessing his real name and situation. His commanding officer said the only way Poe could leave the army was if he reconciled with his foster father. Poe reached out to Allan for help, but Allan ignored his request. Eventually, however, Allan gave in and used his influence to get Poe into West Point.
- In 1830, Poe entered West Point and was thrown out eight months later.
- In 1833, he moved to Baltimore where one of his short stories, “MS. Found in a Bottle” won a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visiter.
- In 1835, Poe became an editor for Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, where his short stories were published. His boss fired him three weeks later for being drunk on the job, but he was eventually taken back and worked there until 1837.
- Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm in 1835. They had a happy marriage until her death in 1847, despite rumors of affairs. Poe was devastated by her death and lived only two more years.
- During this period, Poe became rivals with Rufus Griswold when Griswold took Poe’s place as editor (at a higher salary) of the publication, Graham’s Magazine. Poe had also written some biting reviews of Griswold’s work, adding to the rivalry.
- In 1845, “The Raven” was published and made Poe famous.
- In 1848, Poe met Nancy Richmond, the wife of a wealthy businessman. They had an intense, but platonic love affair.
- In 1849, Poe was found nearly unconscious outside a bar room. He died three days later. An article from Smithsonian.com – “The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” – explores different theories as to the cause of Poe’s death. Poe was found outside a polling house for elections on an election night. Popular theories include being beaten, excessive alcohol consumption, rabies, poisoning, murder, and the practice of “cooping” (a type of voter fraud in which a man was kidnapped and disguised and forced to vote multiple times for a candidate, receiving alcohol after each vote).
- After Poe’s death, Rufus Griswold wrote an unflattering obituary, and later, a memoir/biography about Poe in which he portrayed Poe as drunk and a womanizer. Ironically, the biography led to increased sales of Poe’s work.
- Griswold died of tuberculosis in 1857. The only decorations in his room when he died were three portraits, one of himself, one of Poe and one of the American poet Frances Osgood, who had a complicated and intense relationship with Poe!
Here is a partial list of Poe’s short fiction and poetry
“The Cask of Amontillado”
“The Pit and the Pendulum”
“The Purloined Letter”
“The Tell-Tale Heart”
Thanks to the following websites for providing information about Poe:
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