illustrated portrait of American author of gothic fiction Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

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What inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write?

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Poe wrote to earn a living and because he had a passion for writing. As a young man, his foster father expected Poe to enter the tobacco business, but he showed little interest or aptitude for it. There were few career paths available to a young man without connections, and writing was one of the ways he could support himself. Moreover, he had written stories and poetry since the time he was a boy.

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Poe wrote to earn a living, although it might have been a meager living at times, and because he had a passion for writing. As a young child, he lost his mother and his father abandoned the family. After this, Poe was taken in by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan's family. While his foster mother doted on him, he did not have a warm relationship with his foster father. Initially, his foster father expected Poe to enter the tobacco business, but Poe apparently had little interest or aptitude for business. Then, after the death of his foster mother, Mr. Allan essentially abandoned Poe, and he was left on his own again for the second time in his life.

There were few career paths available to him without any support of a family with connections and money to get him started. He was not prepared to enter the practice of law or to teach, as many young with a proper education did at that time. He also did not have any affiliations with merchants who might have taken him in to teach him a trade.

One of the few avenues open to him was the military, which he tried for a period. Another path was writing, and he wrote prodigiously for magazines to support himself. Moreover, he had always had an interest in literature since he was a young boy. The Poe Museum notes that

Poe dreamt of emulating his childhood hero, the British poet Lord Byron. The backs of some of Allan’s ledger sheets reveal early poetic verses scrawled in a young Poe’s handwriting and show how little interest Edgar had in the tobacco business.

According to the Poe Museum, Poe wrote stories in a variety of genres, including the horror stories for which he is well known, as well as science fiction, mysteries, and adventures, among other genres.

With an active imagination and gift for writing, Poe was able to take stories that he read in the newspapers and turn them into enjoyable tales that editors and publishers would pay for. In fact, some of his stories were inspired on real life occurrences, according to the Poe Museum.

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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.

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