What inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write?  

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe probably considered himself primarily a poet, and he wrote poetry to express his feelings. There never has been much money in poetry, and Poe was always in financial difficulties after his foster father John Allan disowned him. Poe's talent was obviously in the literary field. He is remembered as a short story writer, a poet, an essayist, and a critic, but he earned much of his income as an editor. He filled up pages of the magazines he edited with his own writings, and he was so intelligent and so gifted that the magazines he edited prospered. He would have had no serious financial problems if he hadn't had a drinking problem.

Here is an example of Poe's impeccable style from the opening paragraph of his famous story "The Cask of Amontillado":

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitively settled--but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity.

Notice how each sentence is constructed so that the most important word comes at the end. The last words in the above example are: "revenge," "threat," "risk," and "impunity."

Poe became responsible for the financial support of his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, and he subsequently married his thirteen-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. What inspired Poe to write was what inspires many writers: he needed money, and writing was the only way he knew how to get it. He either made money as a freelance contributor to literary magazines or wrote to fill up pages on the magazines that employed him in an editorial capacity. He also earned some money by lecturing on literature and reading some of his own works. His poem "The Raven" was a huge popular success, and he often read this poem in theaters.

Poe has a reputation for being a writer with a morbid imagination which he used to construct his weird tales. It seems likely, however, that his experience as an editor had taught him what the reading public liked. In other words, he was giving readers what he thought they wanted. Even today the newspapers and other media are filled with true stories about kidnappings, murders, mysterious disappearances, and other such lurid material. Poe invented the detective story, and detective novels are the most popular literary genre today. Readers have an insatiable appetite for stories exposing the dark side of humanity.

If Poe had not been chronically pressed for money, he probably would have written mostly poetry, in which case the world would have been deprived of many great short stories such as "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." His stories influenced writers all over the world. Arthur Conan Doyle acknowledged that his Sherlock Holmes tales were directly inspired by Poe's stories of ratiocination featuring August Dupin. Charles Baudelaire, author of the macabre poems in his Flowers of Evil, translated Poe into French and made him known to readers and creative writers all over Europe. Dostoyevsky was one of the famous writers indebted to Poe; so were Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, Vladimir Nabokov and many others.