The celebrated Gothic poet and author Edgar Allan Poe was a controversial figure. The great American writer is remembered not just for the vivacity and sensuality of his horror tales, but also for his marriage to a very young girl, his alcoholism, his gambling debts, and a tendency to make foes of those he encountered.
He was born, in 1809, in Boston – the second child of two working actors. He died in Baltimore, of unexplained circumstances. Over the years, the death has been attributed to a great many different things; cholera, delirium tremors, and even rabies, but there is no hard proof to confirm any of these suspicions. He is admired for Gothic masterpieces like The Raven, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Tell Tale Heart.
In 1810, when Poe was just a year old, his father left the family –twelve months later, his mother died. Now an orphan, he was taken under the supervision of a family from Virginia who never formally adopted him, but raised him until he was in his early twenties. However, the older Poe became, the more he clashed with his adoptive father over gambling debts.
A Rebel without a Cause
After a single semester spent at the University of Virginia, his father stopped paying the fees and Poe was kicked out. In 1827, he took on a fake name and joined the armed forces. It was during this period that he first began to write and publish poetry, with Tamerlane and Other Poems being released in 1827, under an assumed moniker.
It would take the death of Frances Allan, his adoptive mother, to bring Poe and his ‘father’ (John Allan) back together. However, the reconciliation was to be short lived after John, once again, refused to help Poe with his debts and the young writer was forced to abandon his studies to become an officer’s cadet. It was at this point that a career as a great poet seemed to beckon.
In order to start his career, Poe moved in to the house of an aunt, which she shared with her daughter, Virginia. He narrowed his focus and began to concentrate almost exclusively on prose narratives. To drum up interest in his work, he submitted pieces to every periodical and magazine that he could, including Gentlemen’s Magazine, Broadway Journal, and Graham’s Magazine.
Finding Love in Unexpected Places
In 1835, he would make one of his most controversial decisions, particularly from the perspective of a contemporary mind. He tied the knot with his thirteen year old cousin, Virginia, by fraudulently claiming that he was 21. Whilst the two would later hold a second ceremony, in order to legalise the relationship, the initial romance was not quite so inspiring. Yet, Virginia and Edgar did end up spending eleven years together.
During this period, Poe penned some of his most celebrated pieces, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell Tale Heart, The Raven, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Black Cat. Unfortunately, Virginia died after a battle with tuberculosis, in 1847, and Poe sank into a great depression. He continued to gamble and drink very heavily and made a great deal of enemies in Baltimore.
The Mysterious Passing of Poe
In 1849, he embarked on a trip from Richmond to Philadelphia, in order to fulfil an editing contract. Yet, for reasons which have never been established, he delayed his journey and stopped off in Baltimore. It was here that he was later found in a semi-conscious state, barely coherent, and unable to explain what had happened. He died four days later, officially, of ‘acute congestion of the brain.’
To date, nobody really knows what killed Edgar Allan Poe. There are some who think it was rabies. There are others who believe that he was the victim of ‘cooping,’ a vicious and highly criminal form of voting fraud, in which innocent bystanders were kidnapped and forced to vote for a particular candidate, as many times as possible. The victims were often forced to don multiple disguises, in order to evade detection, and Poe was dressed in a mysterious set of clothes when found – they did not belong to him.
Miscellaneous Bio Brief
Edgar Allan Poe, Poet and writer of macabre tales, was born at Boston, where his parents, who were both actors, were temporarily living. He was left an orphan in early childhood in destitute circumstances, but was adopted by a Mr. Allan of Richmond, Virginia. By him and his wife he was treated with great indulgence, and in 1815 accompanied them to England, where they remained for five years, and where he received a good education, which was continued on their return to America, at the Univ. of Virginia. He distinguished himself as a student, but got deeply into debt with gaming, which led to his being removed. In 1829 he pub. a small vol. of poems containing Al Araaf and Tamerlane. About the same time he proposed to enter the army, and was placed at the Military Academy at West Point. Here, however, he grossly neglected his duties, and fell into the habits of intemperance which proved the ruin of his life, and was in 1831 dismissed. He then returned to the house of his benefactor, but his conduct was so objectionable as to lead to a rupture. In the same year P. pub. an enlarged ed. of his poems, and in 1833 was successful in a competition for a prize tale and a prize poem, the tale being the MS. found in a Bottle, and the poem The Coliseum. In the following year Mr. Allan d. without making any provision for P., and the latter, being now thrown on his own resources, took to literature as a profession, and became a contributor to various periodicals. In 1836 he entered into a marriage with his cousin Virginia Clemm, a very young girl, who continued devotedly attached to him notwithstanding his many aberrations, until her death in 1847. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym appeared in 1838, and in 1839 P. became ed. of the Gentleman's Magazine, in which appeared as Tales of the Arabesque and Grotesque many of his best stories. In 1845 his famous poem, The Raven, came out, and in 1848 Eureka, a Prose Poem, a pseudo-scientific lucubration. The death of his wife gave a severe shock to his constitution, and a violent drinking bout on a visit to Baltimore led to his death from brain fever in the hospital there. The literary output of P., though not great in volume, limited in range, and very unequal in merit, bears the stamp of an original genius. In his poetry he sometimes aims at a musical effect to which the sense is sacrificed, but at times he has a charm and a magic melody all his own. His better tales are remarkable for their originality and ingenuity of construction, and in the best of them he rises to a high level of imagination, as in The House of Usher, while The Gold Beetle or Golden Bug is one of the first examples of the cryptogram story; and in The Purloined Letters, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue he is the pioneer of the modern detective story.