Although Edgar Allan Poe is among the most widely read of all American writers, he has not always been taken seriously by critics. T. S. Eliot once said that Poe had the intellect of a “gifted young person before puberty,” and the great novelist Henry James remarked that an “enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.” Whereas it is true that Poe has often been more admired by adolescents than by adults, Poe may have influenced more young people to become writers and teachers of writing than any other American author. Jorge Luis Borges, the South American master of Magical Realism, and John Barth, America’s best-known practitioner of fabulism, are only two of the many writers who have admitted as much.
Recent literary studies have finally begun to justify what loyal readers of Poe have always believed—that Poe understood the nature of narrative better than any other nineteenth century writer. His stories, once dismissed as simple gothic thrillers, are now being analyzed for their self-conscious manipulation of narrative devices and their darkly existential view of reality. Poe, plagued during his life by debts, tragedy, and depression, is finally being recognized as a master of fictional technique and his works as the precursors of modern existential vision.