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Edgar Allan Poe 2 Essay, Research Paper
Edgar Allan Poe
Many authors have made great contributions to the world of
literature. One of these is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is known as the father of
the American short story, as well as the father of the detective story. But
who was Edgar Allan Poe? What was the man himself actually like?
These questions may be answered in part, but the whole truth of Edgar
Allan Poe s life can never be known for sure, and maybe this is exactly
how he wanted it. The brilliance of his work, however is indisputable, and
Edgar Allan Poe is known throughout the world for his works. By his use
of horror, humor, darkness, sarcasm, and the ridiculous he has been the
inspiration of many famous authors, and this surly will continue to for
many years to come.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, to David
and Elizabeth Poe. He had one brother, William, born on January 30,
1807, and one sister, Rosalie, born on December 20, 1810. Shortly after
the birth of Rosalie, David Poe abandoned his young wife and children.
Suffering from tuberculosis, Mrs. Poe came to Richmond with her two
youngest children. The oldest boy, William, had been left with relatives
in Baltimore. Shortly after her arrival in Richmond, Elizabeth Poe died.
Edgar, known for being a handsome little boy, was taken in by Mr. and
Mrs. John Allan. Rosalie was taken by another family. Mrs. Allan soon
became very attached to Edgar and wanted to formally adopt him, but her
husband refused to take this step. It has been said that his disapproval of
actors and the acting profession (both of Poe s parents were in the theater)
was the reason for his not wanting to adopt Poe.
At the age of six, Edgar moved with his foster family to England,
where they lived for about five years. At this time, the Allans and Poe
returned to Richmond, where they remained until Poe went away to
college. The reckless activities of Poe while in college angered his foster
father so much that he refused to pay for any more of Poe s schooling.
Poe returned home for a short time and then enlisted in the army. Poe at
first did very well in the military and was promoted several times. He
began to become unhappy in the Army, and was eventually able to
persuade his foster father to give him money which with he was able to
purchase his way out of the military. Not long after leaving the Army, Poe
gained entrance to West Point. He decided he didn t like this style of
military life much sooner than before and misbehaved so badly that he
was thrown out of West Point. Unfortunately, this was around this same
time that Poe s foster mother died. Since she was the only one who was
able to bridge the huge gap between Poe and Mr. Allan, it was now that
almost all contact between the two ceased. When Mr. Allan died he left
no mention whatsoever of Poe in his will.
At this point in his life Poe decided to make a career of writing, and
publishes Al Aaraf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems in Baltimore in 1829.
In 1831 Poe submits several of his works to a contest. He doesn t win,
but they publish several of his stories without his name. He was finally
successful in winning a contest in 1833. He won $50.00 for his story,
MS. Found in a Bottle. After moving to Richmond, Poe became editor
of the Southern Literary Messenger. He remained here for about a year.
In 1836, Poe took his newlywed wife, Virginia, and his Aunt Clemm with
him to New York. (Virginia was his Aunt Clemm s daughter, so therefore
she was his cousin as well.) After a short time in New York, Poe again
moved his family, this time to Philadelphia. It was here in Philadelphia
that Poe started to become known for his literary work. He won several
prizes for his work and became the editor of certain papers. In 1846, Poe
moved his family back to New York. Here Poe s wife Virginia dies of
tuberculosis in 1847. The death of his wife was supposedly very hard on
Poe. After her death he moved back to Richmond for a short time. It
was near this time that he was finally beginning to be recognized and
applauded for his work. Sadly this lasted for a very brief time, because
Edgar Allan Poe s life ended in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
One thing that can be said for certain about Edgar Allan Poe is that
almost nothing can be said for certain about Edgar Allan Poe. In the
researching of this paper I came across so many different accounts of his
life, so many discrepancies in dates, and so many different descriptions of
his personality that I began to get very confused, and began to despair of
ever being able to write a through and accurate account of his life and
work. Eventually I realized that no one could write a complete and factual
account of the life of Edgar Allan Poe. After I accepted this fact I was
able to continue in my exploration of him.
There is a great deal of information about Poe, but very few
verifiable facts. Everything about him is controversial, literally from the
place and date of his birth to the exact location and date of his burial.
(Poe Society, Biography, p. 1) Some of the many disputed facts and
rumors about Poe s life include; the exact date of his birth, the legitimacy
of his younger sister, the date of the death of his mother, his birthplace,
the reason for his leaving college, his reasons for leaving certain jobs, his
use of alcohol and drugs, and of course the most widely disputed area of
his life, his death.
Everyone agrees that Poe was found on a street in Baltimore in a
very distressing condition. (Poe Society, Poe s Death, p. 2) It is also
widely agreed upon that his clothing had been changed from his usual
black, wool suit to very old, ragged, and stained clothing. From the
Baltimore street Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital were he
stayed until his death on October 7, 1849. How he came to be in the
condition he was found in, and what caused his death, is something that
no one can claim to be truly certain of. Why was Poe found in the street
in other clothing than his own? What was the reason for his delirium? It
has been said that Poe was reportedly ill at many different times in his life,
and wrote to Maria Clemm, on July, 1849 that I have been so ill – have
had the cholera, or spasms quite as bad, and can now hardly hold the
pen… (Ostrom, Letters, p. 452). The type of illnesses said to have
plagued Poe include; the overall effects of alcohol and drugs, lesions on
the brain, brain fever, heart disease, cholera, a rare enzyme disorder,
tuberculosis, epilepsy, diabetes, and, most recently, rabies. What exactly
happened to him in the hours prior to his being found on the street is
unknown as well. Some say that he was simply intoxicated, while others
claim that he was drunk as well as under the influence of opium. Some
assert that Poe, after drinking more that he should have, was mugged and
beaten. Others say that he was bribed with alcohol and then forced
brutally to vote repeatedly. ( This means of getting extra votes for a
candidate was called cooping. ) Judging by the numerous different
accounts and lack of sufficient evidence, the mystery behind Edgar Allan
Poe s death may never be revealed. Ironically, it is my own, and many
other s opinion, that he would have wanted it no other way.
While reading Poe s work for the first time I was struck by how
familiar his writings were to many of the short stories included in Alfred
Hitchcock s Mystery Magazine. I had found several copies of this
magazine in a thrift store and happily read every one of the short stories
contained in them. The dates on the magazines ranged from April 1967
to June 1988. While the stories included in these magazines were written
by others, they had to be approved of by Hitchcock himself. Each of the
magazines had a small introduction in them written by Hitchcock as well.
The dry, slightly sarcastic, tone of Hitchcock s writings in relevance to the
strange and abnormal is very much the same as the style of Poe, and of
the many other authors who s names appear above Poe s works. The
influence Poe had on many of the mystery and detective short stories
included in Hitchcock s magazine are quite easily recognized. While his
style of writing, especially that of the deductive reasoning of a very keen
and observant detective, is often seen and some of his titles are borrowed
as well. In one magazine a story called The Purloined Letter is
included, and in another a story named The Tale-Tell Heart is featured.
Needless to say these stories are very reminiscent of Poe s stories by the
The influence of Edgar Allan Poe goes far beyond the genre of
mystery and detective stories. His works have been known to influence
the writers of science fiction, horror, and gothic stories as well. Some of
these include, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and C.S. Lewis.
Poe s influence on the writing s of C.S. Lewis is shown in the story,
MS. Found in a Bottle. This story contains an account of a boat sailing
into blackness and caught into a current that pulls it toward some
unknown, yet horrible fate. The feelings of foreboding and despair in this
passage are reflected in a very similar passage written in The Chronicles
of Narnia , by C.S. Lewis. In book three of the series much of the story is
written while the characters are at sea. In Lewis s story the main
characters boat sails into a dark, horror-filled, unknown place. All
onboard begin to experience dark, foreboding feelings, just like the
feelings of the narrator of MS. Found in a Bottle. In this tale, however,
the characters manage to find their way out, with a little help from Divine
Intervention. Poe s character, on the other hand was not so lucky. The
idea of the boat being pulled by a strange current is used throughout
Lewis s book as well.
The many works of Poe, while all excellent writings, vary greatly in
their content and style of writing. Maybe the pen names Poe used on
many of his more outlandish writings showed his own keen awareness of
his varying writing styles. The tone of Poe s writings moves along almost
the entire length of human emotions. In his stories, The Murder in the
Rue Morgue , The Purloined Letter , and The Gold Bug , Poe has
been said to have invented the modern day detective story. The
suspenseful and deliberate way that Poe leads us down his path to the
solution of the mysteries in these stories is a pattern for innumerable
mystery and detective writers. His excellent use of suspense and horror is
demonstrated in The Pit and the Pendulum , The Mask of Red
Death , Morella , and The Cask of Amontillado. He takes this use of
suspense and horror and with it weaves the mysteries of human nature
and the issue of guilt in such works as The Black Cat and The
Tell-Tale Heart. The dark and foreboding tones in The Imp of the
Perverse are almost ridiculed by Poe himself in The Sphinx. In Some
Words With a Mummy , Hop-Frog or The Eight Chained
Orang-Outangs , and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar , Poe adds
touches of humor and pokes fun at most of the characters in these
explicit, and sometimes violent, horror stories. He combines this same
silly nature with suspense in The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether.
The total ridiculousness of the narrators in How to Write a Blackwood
Article , A predicament , and Why the Frenchman Wears His Arm in
a Sling is exposed in their vain, superficial, and ignorant manner of
telling their tales. The use of long, senseless words that, when
pronounced, say something, is used throughout The Devil In the Belfry.
(He does this as well in Some Words With a Mummy. The mummy s
name is Allamistakee ; in other words, all a mistake.) Poe shows his
romantic side in The Spectacles. This romance is combined with
sadness in The Oblong Box and Poe shows us that he is capable of a
happy ending in the romance Eleonora.
At the end of my writing about Edgar Allan Poe, I have come to the
conclusion that the best way to understand a little about Poe is to read his
works. Of the many online works I found that were written by Poe, I
downloaded almost all of his short stories and succeeded in reading
thirty-two of them. The wide range of his literary style and amazing ability
is clearly shown in his many works. Something else notable about Poe is
the prolificacy of his work. He managed to write an enormous amount of
detailed and intricate stories, not to mention all of his poetry, in a
relatively short lifetime. Writing a paper about Edgar Allan Poe can be in
some aspects very challenging because of the many conflicting views and
opinions of Poe and his life, but this difficulty is more than adequately
compensated for in the quality of his works.
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.: Baltimore Maryland,
May 1, 1997, http://www.eapoe.org/
Lewis, C. S., The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, New York, New York:
Harpercollins Publishers, 1952.
Miller, John Carl, Building Poes Biography, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University Press, 1977.
Moran, Dr. John J., A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe, Washington D.C.:
W. F. Boogher, 1885.
Philips, Mary Elizabeth, Edgar Allan Poe, The Man, 2 Volumes, Chicago:
John C. Winston, 1926.
Quinn, Arthur Hobson, Edgar Allan Poe; A Critical Biography, New
York: D. Appleton Century Company, 1941.
Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log. Boston: G.K. Hall
& Co, 1987.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Edgar Allan Poe: The Man Behind the Legend.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1963.
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