illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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Student Question

How did Poe's popularity change from his lifetime, to just after his death, to now?

Quick answer:

Poe was not very popular during his life but became so after his death.

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Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer who lived from January 19, 1809 to October 7, 1849. During his life, he did not see much financial success as a writer. In 1827, he enlisted in the Army under the name “Edgar A. Perry”, and it was during this time he published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, a forty-page collection of which only 50 copies were printed. Four years later, he published another collection, entitled Poems, which was financially backed by his friends from the US Corps.

Thereafter, Poe turned to writing prose. His short story “MS. Found in a Bottle” was awarded a literary prize by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, which, in turn, landed him the position of assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger. He also subsequently worked at the Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and the Graham’s Magazine. Although Poe’s works such as The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and his prose collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque saw publication and were reviewed widely, Poe made very little money off of them.

In 1845, four years preceding his death, Poe published “The Raven” in the Evening Mirror and it became wildly popular – although Poe was paid a mere 9USD for the piece. Moreover, the Broadway Journal, which Poe had become the owner of in 1842, failed in 1846. His wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, died from tuberculosis in 1847. Two years after, Poe passed away at Washington Medical College. He was rushed there because he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and in need of immediate assistance.”

Nowadays, Poe is regarded as the forerunner of Romanticism in American literature. He is also credited with laying the groundwork for modern genres such as the detective narrative and science fiction. He is known to have influenced notable modern writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells. Poe is so beloved and respected that a copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, sold for $662,500 USD at Christie’s, New York—a record-setting amount in works of American literature.

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