Edgar Allan Poe

Richard Kopley

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Edgar Allan Poe

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Born to a gifted actress and a less talented actor, Edgar Allan Poe (b. 1809–d. 1849) was orphaned in 1811 and taken in by the Allans of Richmond. Over time, tensions with John Allan grew, culminating with young Poe’s withdrawal from the University of Virginia in 1826 for incurring gambling debts and leading to his 1827 voyage to Boston. Poe published Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), then joined the army, eventually serving as a cadet at West Point, and, after deliberately causing his own court-martial, lived in Baltimore with his aunt Maria Clemm, his cousin Virginia, and his brother, Henry (who died in 1831). Having published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829) and Poems (1831), Poe shifted to fiction, and in 1835 he became an editor of Richmond’s Southern Literary Messenger. He published short stories, poems, and criticism, and he began to write his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Owing to his drinking, however, he lost his job in 1837 and ventured, with his new wife, Virginia, and his aunt (now his mother-in-law), to New York City—where he published Pym (1838)—and then to Philadelphia. In 1842 Virginia developed tuberculosis, his drinking intensified, and his poverty continued—indeed, he declared bankruptcy late that year. Yet, also during the Philadelphia period, he served as a magazine editor and wrote some of his greatest stories. His collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in 1840, and he soon thereafter created the modern detective story. In 1844 Poe and his family moved to New York City, where he achieved his greatest fame with “The Raven” in 1845. Also, he published The Raven and Other Poems (1845) and Tales (1845). But his drinking interfered with his editing the Broadway Journal, and he became involved in literary and legal conflicts. He and his family moved to Fordham, and Virginia died there in January 1847. In 1848 he published his cosmological prose-poem, Eureka, and in 1849 he returned to Richmond and became engaged to a wealthy widow, Elmira Royster Shelton, whom he had known in his youth. But he clearly was unhappy with the arrangement. Exactly what happened in Baltimore is not known, but on 3 October 1849 he was found inebriated and “rather the worse for wear”; he died in the Washington College Hospital four days later. Rufus Griswold, his literary executor, wrote an infamously hostile obituary, from which Poe’s reputation has never fully recovered. Certainly, Poe had his share of mortal frailties, but he also created immortal works of literature.

Article.  13925 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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