Themes and Characters
The character in The Man Who Was Poe who is likely to spark the most interest is Edgar Allan Poe, the author who is often regarded as the greatest short story writer of all. The facts of his life are disputed; he did not help matters by sensationalizing some of his life in his letters. After his death, those who first wrote of his life, especially Rufus W. Griswold, Poe's literary executor, depicted him in a bad light. They did this to to sully his reputation—of which they were envious—but also to sell newspapers, sensational stories attracting large audiences then as they do now.
Poe was depicted as man thrown out of the army for drunkenness, as is mentioned in The Man Who Was Poe, and as a drug abuser whose drug-induced delusions inspired his tales and poems such as "The Raven." There seems little room for doubt that he did sometimes behave oddly in public, stumbling as if drunk, and he did have trouble holding down jobs, although was a good and moderately successful newspaper editor for many years. Beginning with Arthur Hobson Quinn's Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, published in 1941, researchers began to reassess Poe's life; Quinn pointed out significant flaws in the depictions of Poe's dissolution.
Since the mid-1970s, information has come to light that suggests that Poe was actually a fine, robust military officer who had to end his military career because illness. Medicine was barely becoming a science in Poe's day, and few physicians had a clue as to what was wrong with him, although modern researchers suggest that he had multiple sclerosis, a disease that often has its first onset when its victim is an adult, and which comes and goes, allowing its victim to speak and move about normally, sometimes for long periods, before resurfacing and restricting its victim's speech and mobility. In addition, there is evidence that Poe was allergic to alcohol and rarely touched it. Thus the alternative view of Poe is of a man who fought a poorly understood, debilitating disease with remarkable achievements, and who was far from being a whimpering man lost in a haze of drugs and alcohol, being instead a strong man of strong purpose who worked hard and responsibly all of his life. His death has been alternately described as the result of a prolonged drinking binge and the result of a seizure which left him prostrate and unable to coordinate his movements, leaving him to be made so ill by exposure to cold that he died shortly after being discovered. Those in favor of the latter view cite his recent marriage to a woman he had been unable to marry when young because he was poor and her father was rich and rejected him; he had every reason to live and to behave himself.
Regardless as to which view of Poe is true, Avi has chosen the traditional image of Poe as a tormented personality haunted by the deaths of close family members and of his wife. When Edmund meets him, Poe is in the throes of a delusion, and Edmund seems like a demon to...
(The entire section is 1220 words.)