An American writer, editor, and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story. He is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction.
He was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career. His father abandoned the family in 1810, (Mabbott, Thomas) and his mother died the following year. Thus orphaned, the child was taken in by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia. They never formally adopted him, but he was with them well into young adulthood. (Mabbott, Thomas) Tension developed later as John Allan and Edgar Poe repeatedly clashed over debts, including those incurred by gambling, and the cost of Poe’s secondary education. He attended the University of Virginia but left after a year due to a lack of money. (Mabbott, Thomas)
Edgar Poe quarreled with John Allan over the funds for his education and enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name. It was at this time that his publishing career began with the anonymous collection credited only to ‘a Bostonian’.(Mabbott, Thomas) Edgar Poe and John Allan reached a temporary compromise after the death of Frances Allan in 1829. Poe later failed as an officer cadet at West Point, declaring a firm wishes to be a poet and writer, and he ultimately parted ways with John Allan. (Mabbott, Thomas)
In 1824, he served as the lieutenant of the Richmond youth honor guard as Richmond celebrated the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette. In March 1825, John Allan’s uncle and business benefactor William Galt died, who was said to be one of the wealthiest men in Richmond, leaving Allan several acres of real estate. (The PoeMuseum)
Poe may have become engaged to Sarah Elmira Royster before he registered at the University of Virginia in February 1826 to study ancient and modern languages.(The PoeMuseum) The university was in its infancy, established on the ideals of its founder, Thomas Jefferson. It had strict rules against gambling, horses, guns, tobacco, and alcohol, but these rules were generally ignored. Jefferson had enacted a system of student self-government, allowing students to choose their own studies, make their own arrangements for boarding, and report all wrongdoing to the faculty. The unique system was still in chaos, and there was a high dropout rate.
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During his time there, Poe lost touch with Royster and also became estranged from his foster father over gambling debts. He claimed that Allan had not given him sufficient money to register for classes, purchase texts, and procure and furnish a dormitory. Allan did send additional money and clothes, but Poe’s debts increased. He gave up on the university after a year but did not feel welcome returning to Richmond, especially when he learned that his sweetheart Royster had married Alexander Shelton. He traveled to Boston in April 1827, sustaining himself with odd jobs as a clerk and newspaper writer, and he started using the pseudonym Henri Le Rennet during this period. (The PoeMuseum)
Poe was unable to support himself, so he enlisted in the United States Army as a private on May 27, 1827, using the name ‘Edgar A. Perry’. (The PoeMuseum) He first served at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor for five dollars a month. Poe’s regiment was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina and traveled by ship on the brig Waltham on November 8, 1827. (The PoeMuseum) Poe was promoted to ‘artificer,’ an enlisted tradesman who prepared shells for artillery, and had his monthly pay doubled. He served for two years and attained the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery; he then sought to end his five-year enlistment early. He revealed his real name and his circumstances to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Howard. Howard would only allow Poe to be discharged if he reconciled with John Allan and wrote a letter to Allan, who was unsympathetic. Several months passed and pleas to Allan were ignored; Allan may not have written to Poe even to make him aware of his foster mother’s illness. Frances Allan died on February 28, 1829, and Poe visited the day after her burial.(The PoeMuseum) Perhaps softened by his wife’s death, John Allan agreed to support Poe’s attempt to be discharged in order to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Poe was finally discharged on April 15, 1829, after securing a replacement to finish his enlisted term for him.(Giordano, Robert) Before entering West Point, Poe moved back to Baltimore for a time to stay with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm, his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Meanwhile, Poe published his second book Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems in Baltimore in 1829. (Giordano, Robert.)
In February 1831 and released a third volume of poems, simply titled Poems. The book was financed with help from his fellow cadets at West Point, many of whom donated 75 cents to the cause, raising a total of $170.(Mabbott, Thomas) They may have been expecting verses similar to the satirical ones that Poe had been writing about commanding officers. It was printed by Elam Bliss of New York, labeled as ‘Second Edition,’ and including a page saying, ‘To the U.S. Corps of Cadets this volume is respectfully dedicated’. The book once again reprinted the long poems ‘Tamerlane’ and ‘Al Aaraaf’ but also six previously unpublished poems, including early versions of ‘To Helen’, ‘Israfel’, and ‘The City in the Sea’.
According to literary theory, Poe’s writing reflects his literary theories, which he presented in his criticism and also in essays such as ‘The Poetic Principle’. He disliked didacticism and allegory, though he believed that meaning in literature should be an undercurrent just beneath the surface. Works with obvious meanings, he wrote, cease to be art. He believed that work of quality should be brief and focus on a specific single effect.
Like many famous artists, Poe’s works have spawned imitators. One trend among imitators of Poe has been claims by clairvoyants or psychics to be ‘channeling’ poems from Poe’s spirit. One of the most notable of these was Lizzie Doten, who published Poems from the Inner Life in 1863, in which she claimed to have ‘received’ new compositions by Poe’s spirit. The compositions were re-workings of famous Poe poems such as ‘The Bells’, (Mabbott, Thomas) but which reflected a new, positive outlook.
Poe brought about several changes in the literary style of his time period. Poe, as a writer, poet, editor and a critical writer influenced not only American literature, but he also had an impact on international literature. He was one of the first writers to develop the genre of both detective fiction and horror. Stories like “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Black cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as well as poems like the “Raven” set him apart from other writes of his time. “Many anthologies credit him as the ‘architect’ of the modern short story.(Mabbott, Thomas) He was also one of the first critics to focus primarily on the effect of the style and of the structure in a literary work; as such, he has been seen as a forerunner to the ‘art for art’s sake’ movement.” Poe’s style still impacts writers today. ‘Nearly every important American writer after Poe shows signs of influence, especially when working in the gothic mode or with grotesque humor. The French, Italians, and writers in Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas acknowledge and demonstrate their debts to Poe in technique and vision.’ Steven King, Clive Barker and others have followed in the footsteps of Poe. The genre of horror is bigger today than ever and Edgar Allan Poe was at the forefront of this style of writing. ‘
It was Edgar Poe who almost single-handedly created the genre of short story and determined its future development into what we have today. Of course, there were short stories before him – but they were completely different in character and presentation, possessing something akin to anecdotal quality. They were considered to be rather written renditions of oral narratives rather than a thing in itself possessing a distinct literary quality. Even their common naming before Poe – tales – reflected it.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, ‘in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance,” according to Joseph W. Walker who found him. He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. (Mabbott, Thomas) He was not coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. He is said to have repeatedly called out the name ‘Reynolds’ on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say that Poe’s final words were ‘Lord help my poor soul’.
One cannot omit the fact that it was Poe who basically created the entire genre of literature – detective stories. It is often dismissed as pure entertainment, but it plays an enormous role in lives of people – the entire segment of pop culture can in this or that way be referred to it. Thus the people who