Edgar Allan Poe

(1809—1849) American short-story writer, poet, and critic

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born in Boston, Massachusetts. He became an orphan in early childhood, and was taken into the household of John Allan. He came to England with the Allans (1815–20) and attended Manor House school at Stoke Newington (which he describes in his Doppelgänger story ‘William Wilson’, 1839). He published his first volume of verse, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827, anonymously), then enlisted in the US army. He was sent to Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, which provided settings for ‘The Gold Bug’ (1843) and ‘The Balloon Hoax’ (1844). He entered West Point in 1830, having published a second volume of verse, Al Aaraaf (1829); he was dishonourably discharged in 1831, for intentional neglect of his duties, and published a third volume of verses Poems (1831, containing ‘To Helen’). He worked as editor on various papers, and began to publish his stories in magazines. His first collection, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839, for 1840), contains one of his most famous works, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, a Gothic romance in which the narrator visits the crumbling mansion of his childhood companion, Roderick Usher, to find both Usher and his twin sister Madeline in the last stages of mental and physical weakness; Madeline is buried alive while in a trance, arises, and carries her brother to death, whereupon the house itself splits asunder and sinks into the tarn. The title poem of The Raven and Other Poems (1845) brought him fame, but he and his ménage continued to suffer poverty and ill health, his wife dying in 1847. He died in Baltimore, five days after having been found semi‐conscious and delirious, from alcohol, heart failure, epilepsy, or a combination of these. His posthumous reputation and influence have been great. Freudian critics (and Freud himself) have been intrigued by the macabre and pathological elements in his work, ranging from hints of necrophilia in his poem ‘Annabel Lee’ (1849) to the indulgent sadism of ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ (1843); existentialism has been detected in the motiveless obsession in such stories as ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ (1846). Readers have been impressed by the cryptograms and mysteries of the stories which feature Poe's detective, Dupin (‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’, 1841; ‘The Purloined Letter’, 1845) and the morbid metaphysical speculation of ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Waldemar’ (1845).

Subjects: Literature.

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