Other Literary Forms
During his short literary career, Edgar Allan Poe produced a large quantity of writing, most of which was not collected in book form during his lifetime. He published one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), and several volumes of poetry, the most famous of which is The Raven and Other Poems (1845). Poe earned his living mainly as a writer and as an editor of magazines. For magazines, he wrote reviews, occasional essays, meditations, literary criticism, and a variety of different kinds of journalism, as well as poetry and short fiction.
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.
Although Edgar Allan Poe’s career was relatively short, he was the leading figure in the mid-nineteenth century transformation of the legendary tale into the form now known as the short story. Experimenting with many different styles and genres—the gothic tale, science fiction, occult fantasies, satire—Poe gained great recognition in the early 1840’s for his creation of a genre that has grown in popularity ever since—the tale of ratiocination, or detective story, which features an amateur sleuth who by his superior deductive abilities outsmarts criminals and outclasses the police.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” the first works in the Dupin series, created a small sensation in the United States when they were first published. Following fast on these works was “The Gold Bug,” which, although not featuring Dupin, focused on analytical detection; it was so popular that it was immediately reprinted three times. “The Purloined Letter ,” the third and...
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