You have to wonder where some authors get their ideas or how their work relates to their own life, but you don't have to wonder with Edgar Allan Poe. First, his father abandoned the family; then his mother died when he was very young, and his foster father, John Allen, erratically swung between lenience and extreme discipline; finally, Poe married his much younger cousin Virginia, who died at an early age. Is it any wonder, then, that Poe's work focused on the macabre, the bizarre, and the outcast? No. The wonder is that he found a way to make such striking art from his suffering. Before his death at age 40, Edgar Allan Poe raised the American short story to a new level, writing works that completely modernized detective fiction, science fiction, and, of course, the horror story.
- Poe attended the University of Virginia...until he had to drop out due to lack of money. It seems that Poe had a gambling problem, and his foster father got tired of bailing him out.
- Broke, Poe lied about his age and joined the army. He served two years...and then got himself dismissed by court martial.
- Poe’s short stories featuring C. Auguste Dupin shaped the modern mystery story so much that Arthur Conan Doyle compared Sherlock Holmes to Dupin, and the Mystery Writers of America give an award named the Edgar—after Poe, of course.
- Poe’s bizarre life didn’t stop just because he died in 1849. He was buried in an unmarked grave, and when gossip finally led to a stone being ordered, it was destroyed in a train accident.
- Ever since 1949, someone has left a bottle of cognac and some roses on Poe’s grave. Who is leaving these things? And why?
Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. His mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, was a talented actress from an English theatrical family. Because Poe’s father, David Poe, Jr., a traveling actor of Irish descent, was neither talented nor responsible, the family suffered financially. After apparently separating from David Poe, Elizabeth died in Richmond, Virginia, in 1811. The young Edgar, though not legally adopted, was taken in by a wealthy Scottish tobacco exporter, John Allan, from whom Poe took his middle name.
For most of his early life, Poe lived in Richmond with the Allans, with the exception of a five-year period between 1815 and 1820 which he spent in England, where he attended Manor House School, near London. Back in America, he attended an academy until 1826, when he entered the University of Virginia. He withdrew less than a year later, however, because of various debts, many of them from gambling; Poe did not have the money to pay, and his foster-father refused to help. After quarreling with Allan about these debts, Poe left for Boston in the spring of 1827; shortly thereafter, perhaps because he was short of money, he enrolled in the United States Army under the name “Edgar A. Perry.”
In the summer of 1827, Poe’s first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, published under the anonym “A Bostonian,” appeared, but it was little noticed by the reading public or by the critics. In January, 1829, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant major and was honorably discharged at his own request three months later. In December, 1829, Poe’s second book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, was published, and it was well received by the critics. Shortly thereafter, Poe entered West Point Military Academy, possibly as a way to get into his foster-father’s good graces.
After less than a year in school, Poe was discharged from West Point by court-martial for neglecting his military duties. Most biographers agree that Poe deliberately provoked his discharge because he had tired of West Point. Others suggest that he could not stay because John Allan refused to pay Poe’s bills any longer, although he would not permit Poe to resign. After West Point, Poe went to New York, where, with the help of some money raised by his West Point friends, he published Poems by Edgar A. Poe, Second Edition. After moving to Baltimore, where he lived at the home of his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, Poe entered five short stories in a contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. Although he did not win the prize, the newspaper published all five of his pieces. In June, 1833, he entered another contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter and this time won the prize of fifty dollars for his story “Ms. Found in a Bottle.” From this point until his death in 1849, Poe was very much involved in the world of American magazine publishing.
During the next two years, Poe continued writing stories and trying to get them published. Even with the help of a new and influential friend, John Pendleton Kennedy, a lawyer and writer, he was mostly unsuccessful. Poe’s financial situation became even more desperate when, in 1834, John Allan died and left Poe out of his will. Kennedy finally persuaded the Southern Literary Messenger to publish several of Poe’s stories and to offer Poe the job of editor, a position which he kept from 1835 to 1837. During this time, Poe published stories and poems in the Messenger, but it was with his extensive publication of criticism that he began to make his mark in American letters.
Although much of Poe’s early criticism is routine review work, he began in his reviews to consider the basic nature of poetry and short fiction and to develop theoretical analyses of these two genres, drawing upon the criticism of A. W. Schlegel, in Germany, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in England. Poe’s most important contribution to criticism is his discussion of the distinctive generic characteristics of short fiction, in a famous review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales (1837). Poe makes such a convincing case for the organic unity of short fiction, argues so strongly for its dependence on a unified effect, and so clearly shows how the form is more closely allied to the poem than to the novel that his ideas have influenced literary critics ever since.
In 1836, Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, a decision which, because of her age and relationship to Poe, has made him the subject of much adverse criticism and psychological speculation. In 1837, after disagreements with the owner of the Messenger, Poe moved to New York to look for editorial work. There he completed the writing of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), his only long fiction, a novella-length metaphysical adventure. Unable to find work in New York, Poe moved to...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His parents, David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, were actors at a time when the profession was not widely respected in the United States. David was making a success in acting when alcohol addiction brought an end to his career. He deserted his family a year after Edgar’s birth; Elizabeth died a year later in 1811, leaving Edgar an orphan in Richmond, Virginia. There, he was taken in by John Allan, who educated him well in England and the United States. Poe was a sensitive and precocious child; during his teens, his relations with his foster father declined. Stormy relations continued until Allan’s first wife died and his second wife had children. Once it became unlikely that he would inherit anything significant from the wealthy Allan, Poe, at the age of twenty-one, having already published a volume of poetry, began a literary career.
From 1831 to 1835, more or less dependent on his Poe relatives, he worked in Baltimore, writing stories and poems, a few of which were published. In 1835, he secretly married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, when she was thirteen. From 1835 to 1837, he was assistant editor of The Southern Literary Messenger, living on a meager salary, tending to drink enough to disappoint the editor, publishing his fiction, and making a national reputation as a reviewer of books. When he was fired, he moved with his wife (by then the marriage was publicly acknowledged) and her mother to New York City, where he lived in poverty, selling his writing for the next two years. Though he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym in 1838, it brought him no income. He moved to Philadelphia that same year and for several months continued to live on only a small income from stories and other magazine pieces. In 1839, he became coeditor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. Before drinking led to his losing this job, he wrote and published some of his best fiction, such as “The Fall of the House of Usher.” He took another editing position with Graham’s Magazine that lasted about a year. He then lived by writing and working at occasional jobs. In 1844, he went with his family back to New York City. His wife, Virginia, had been seriously ill, and her health was declining. In New York, he wrote for newspapers. In 1845, he published “The Raven” and Tales, both of which were well received (“The Raven” was a popular success), though again his income from them was small. In the early nineteenth century, an author could not easily earn a satisfactory income from writing alone, in part because of the lack of international copyright laws. He was able to purchase a new weekly, The Broadway Journal, but it failed in 1846.
After 1845, Poe was famous, and his income, though unstable, was a little more dependable. His life, however, did not go smoothly. He was to some extent lionized in literary circles, but his combination of desperation for financial support with alcoholism and a combative temper kept him from dealing well with being a “star.” Virginia died in 1847, and Poe was seriously ill for much of the next year. In 1849, he found himself in Richmond, and for a few months he seemed quite well. His Richmond relatives received and cared for him kindly, and he stopped drinking. In October, however, while on a trip, he paused in Baltimore, became drunk, was found unconscious, and was carried to a local hospital, where he died on October 7, 1849.
Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1809. When his parents, David Poe, Jr., and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, indigent actors, died when he was two years old, Poe was taken in by a wealthy tobacco exporter, John Allan. In 1826, Poe entered the University of Virginia but withdrew after less than a year because of debts Allan would not pay. After a brief term in the Army, Poe entered West Point Academy, argued further with Allan about financial support, and then purposely got himself discharged. In 1831, he moved to Baltimore, where he lived with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia.
After winning a short-story contest sponsored by a Philadelphia newspaper, Poe was given his first job as...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Edgar Allan Poe was born to parents who were professional actors. Poe always believed that he inherited his talents as a reciter of verse especially from his mother, and it is not farfetched to see his lifelong concern for the effect of the poem on the reader as an outgrowth of this early exposure to the stage. One of the most important events of his early life was the death of his mother when he was not yet three, and his poetry bears the imprint of his various attempts to find an ideal woman adequate to her memory. Because his father abandoned the family about this time and probably died shortly thereafter, young Poe was taken into the family of John Allan, a merchant from Richmond, Virginia. It was from Allan that Poe took his...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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, an actor, and Elizabeth Poe, an actress. 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.
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...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, David Poe, Jr., and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, were struggling actors who died while Poe was a small child. The young Edgar was taken in by a wealthy Scottish tobacco exporter, John Allan, from whom he took his middle name.
For most of his early life, Poe lived in Richmond, Virginia, with the exception of a five-year period between 1815 and 1820 when the Allan family lived in England. Back in the United States, Poe attended an academy until 1826, when he entered the University of Virginia. He withdrew less than a year later because of...
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Edgar Allan Poe, one of America's most influential writers, was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents, both struggling actors, died when he was only three-years-old. Poe was raised—though never officially adopted—by John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virginia. Allan, a prosperous tobacco merchant, sent Poe to the finest schools, including the University of Virginia, where Poe immediately gambled away all of his money, racked up a massive amount of debt, and drank his first semester away. Even so, he managed to do well in his classes and earn the highest university honors.
This pattern of producing good work under unfavorable circumstances continued throughout Poe's life. Allan pulled Poe out of school because of Poe's dilettante habits, and the already distant relationship between the two went sour. Poe went to Boston, where he attempted to earn his living by writing. Sales were small, however, and he joined the army to earn his living expenses. He performed well in the army but did not enjoy the experience. After receiving an honorable discharge, Poe entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. Lack of financial support from Allan led to Poe's court-martial and dismissal.
Poe, then in his mid-twenties, married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia, and began to support Virginia and her mother. Poe's stories started to sell, but his financial situation never greatly improved. In the following years, he edited and published his work in several journals, which showcased his prodigious talent and innovation in the short story genre, in poetry, and in literary criticism. His work for these journals raised his stature in the literary community, but inevitably, he was fired from each of these jobs, as a result of either a bad economy or his cantankerous disposition.
Poe is often remembered for his short fiction, much of which he published while living in Philadelphia in the 1830s and 1840s. These stories include Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, which contains many of the supernatural and horror tales that people associate with the author. In 1845, he published his last story collection, Tales by Edgar A. Poe, which featured ‘‘The Purloined Letter,’’ considered by many critics to be one of the first detective stories. In addition to his short stories, Poe is well-known for his poetry, most notably ‘‘The Raven.’’
After his wife's death from tuberculosis in 1849, Poe took a trip to Baltimore for unknown reasons. He was found unconscious, and died a short time later on October 3, 1849. A brain lesion is the presumed cause of his death, but many critics and fans have speculated otherwise. Like the stories that Poe wrote, the exact cause of the author's death and the circumstances surrounding his last days remain a mystery.
Poe was born in Boston in 1809, the son of Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe, both minor professional actors. Both his parents died before he was three years old, and he was subsequently raised in the home of Frances Keeling Valentine Allan and her husband John Allan, a prosperous exporter from Richmond, Virginia. As a youth, Poe attended the finest academies in Richmond, his step-father overseeing his education, and he entered the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1825. He distinguished himself academically at the University but was forced to leave due to inadequate financial support from his step-father. Poe returned to Richmond in 1827 but soon left for Boston. There he enlisted in the army and published his first collection of poetry, Tamerlane, and Other Poems. Poe was discharged from the army in 1829, the same year he published a second volume of verse. Neither of his first two collections attracted much attention. After briefly attending West Point, Poe went to New York City and soon after to Baltimore. He married his cousin Virginia Clemm in 1836 after receiving an editorship at The Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. Poe thereafter received a degree of recognition, not only for his poetry and fiction, but as an exceptional literary critic. He also occasionally achieved popular success, especially following the publication of his poem “The Raven.”
Poe’s wife Virginia died from tuberculosis in 1847. After a period in which he was involved in various romantic affairs, Poe planned to remarry, but in late September, 1849 he arrived in Baltimore for reasons unknown. In early October he was discovered nearly unconscious; he died on October 7, never regaining sufficient consciousness to relate the details of the final days of his life. Since his death Poe’s work has been variously assessed, with critics disagreeing on its value. Today, however, Poe is acknowledged as a major literary figure, a master of Gothic atmosphere and interior monologue. His poems and stories have influenced the literary schools of Symbolism and Surrealism as well as the popular genres of detective and horror fiction.