Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe
Editor, Poet, Master of the Short Story 1809-1849

The son of poor stage actors, Edgar Allan Poe was orphaned before he was three years old. Although he was raised by John Allan, a wealthy merchant from Richmond, Virginia, Poe never quite fit in to his adoptive family. He was haunted by his mother’s death, erratic in his behavior, and often spiteful. Allan, a serious and demanding figure, was often disappointed in young Edgar. Yet Poe was determined to succeed in American society. And he ultimately achieved the fame and influence he sought by turning his personal tragedies into ghostly, obsessive stories and poems, including some of the greatest masterpieces of American literature.
   As a young man, Poe lived an aimless and unfocused life, drifting in and out of schools and jobs. For a short time, he attended the U.S Military Academy at West Point, New York. But he could not complete anything he started, often because of his own misbehavior. Only his poetry held his attention. He managed to publish three volumes, Tamerlane and other Poems (1827), Al Aaraaf (1829), and Poems (1831), while the rest of his life appeared in disarray. Confident in his literary skill, Poe finally decided that he would make his name in America’s growing literary industry. It was a daring choice: The public did not favorably receive his early poetry.
   Poe’s primary goal was to operate and write for a literary magazine of his own. But despite his literary talent, he had a reputation for being unpredictable and dishonest. Few investors trusted him to run a business without oversight. So instead of buying a magazine, he made his mark as an editor for popular journals such as The Southern Literary Messenger, Graham’s Magazine, and The Broadway Journal. In these and other magazines, Poe published his fiery, entertaining brand of literary criticism. He became famous for his attacks against even the most celebrated writers in America. The most popular poet in the country, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was one of his favorite targets. Poe’s harsh, sarcastic style did not make him very popular with other writers, but it sold magazines. And in his less vicious articles, Poe proved to be an intelligent and astute judge of literature. In this way, he managed to provide the country with new standards for good writing.
     During his lifetime he was best known, and often despised, for his work as a critic. But his later reputation was based on his skill as a poet and as a writer of short stories. His most famous poem, “The Raven”, created a popular sensation when it was published in 1845. A haunting meditation on death, it featured a rhythmic, musical style. He had been writing in this style for years, introducing it in early poems such as “The Sleeper”, and he would continue to develop it in later poems including “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells”. But “The Raven” was considered the high point of his poetic career.
    Death and mourning, the subjects of his best poems, also became the themes of his greatest fiction. In tales such as “The Fall of the  House of Usher” “1839”, “The Pit and  the Pendulum” (1842), “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), and ”The Cast of Amontillado” (1846), Poe transformed the anger, loss, and sense of abandonment he experienced at a young age into some of the most chilling stories in American literature. These stories also exhibited the precise control Poe exercised over his best writing, as he presented unexpected, frightening plot twists in beautiful language. They made him the most important American writer in the style known as Gothic, which often featured haunted castles, ghosts, and other horror-story and science-fiction features.
     But nowhere was Poe’s literary control more evident than in his mysteries “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Gold Bug” (1843), “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842-3), and “The Purloined Letter” (1844).
    Considered the first detective stories ever written, these works combined Poe’s interests in scientific investigation with his desire to shock his audience. They combined the plot twists of Gothic stories with exercises in logic and deduction to create a new literature genre.
     The vast majority of Poe’s articles, poems, and stories were published in magazines, a relatively new medium in the early nineteenth century. Poe, a true lover of the medium, tried to raise magazine writing to the level of high art. He often succeeded. Sadly, he was less successful in his personal life. Beginning with the death of his mother, he was continually tormented by tragedy. The worst blow was the death of his young wife, Virginia, in 1847. Broken by her death and defeated by his personal and literary foes, Poe struggled with his own sicknesses, including alcoholism, as well as his poverty until his final days. When he died on October 7, 1849, his reputation was in jeopardy. His writings were more popular in Europe than in United States, where he had made many enemies with his harsh criticism and difficult personality. But since his death, Poe has been recognized and celebrated as one of the most important writers of the past past two centuries: a journalism pioneer, a gifted Gothic writer, and the father of the modern detective story.

More detailed information can be found in  the "Extraordinary American Writers" John Tessitore, and issued by The Scholastic Inc. in the USA.Information should be used just for educational purposes.


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