During his life, Edgar Allan Poe was a figure of controversy and so became reasonably well known in literary circles. Two of his works were recognized with prizes: “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” and “The Gold-Bug.” “The Raven,” his most famous poem, created a sensation when it was published and became something of a best-seller. After his death, Poe’s reputation grew steadily—though in the United States opinion remained divided—until by the middle of the twentieth century he had clear status as an author of worldwide importance. Poe’s achievements may be measured in terms of what he has contributed to literature and of how his work influenced later culture.
Poe was accomplished in fiction, poetry, and criticism, setting standards in all three that distinguish him from most of his American contemporaries. In fiction, he is credited with inventing the conventions of the classical detective story, beginning the modern genre of science fiction, and turning the conventions of gothic fiction to the uses of high art in stories such as “The Fall of the House of Usher.” He was also an accomplished humorist and satirist. In poetry, he produced a body of work that is respected throughout the world and a few poems that have endured as classics, notably “The Raven,” as well as several poems that, in part because of their sheer verbal beauty, have persistently appealed to the popular imagination, such as “The Bells” and “Annabel Lee.” In criticism, Poe is among the first to advocate and demonstrate methods of textual criticism that came into their own in the twentieth century, notably in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” in which he analyzed with remarkable objectivity the process by which “The Raven” was built in order to produce a specified effect in its readers.
Poe’s influence on later culture was pervasive. Nearly every important American writer after Poe shows signs of influence, especially when working in the gothic mode or with grotesque humor. The French, Italians, and writers in Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas acknowledge and demonstrate their debts to Poe in technique and vision. Only to begin to explore Poe’s influence on twentieth century music and film would be a major undertaking. In terms of his world reputation, Poe stands with William Faulkner and perhaps T. S. Eliot as one of the most influential authors of the United States.