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Who is Edgar Allan Poe?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Edgar Allan Poe is one the most prolific American writers of the 19th century. He is particularly well known for his short stories of horror and terror, and also for his long verse work, “The Raven.” He remains an enigmatic figure in literature, and many adore his work. There are Poe societies in virtually every state in the US. Other horror writers, particularly Stephen King, have been quite negative about his writing. In King’s novel, The Shining, Poe is referred to as “the great American hack.” However, since King’s stories can also be traced to earlier fiction attempts, this statement must be taken with a grain of salt.

Poe was born to actor parents in 1809. When both of his parents died within a couple of years of his birth, a merchant, John Allan, raised him. He would take Allan’s last name as his middle name in later years. Poe lived for several years in England as a child, but returned to the US in 1820.

In 1826, Poe attended the University of Virginia, but his unfortunate propensities as a gambler and drinker had already begun to manifest themselves. He was expelled for not paying gambling debts, causing a major rift between Poe and Allan. Using a false name and age, he entered the Army the following year and served two years as a soldier.

Poe attended West Point Academy for a short time, but was dishonorably discharged in 1830. The next three years of his life represent a bit of a mystery for many, but most biographers pick up his trail in 1833, when his first writing, “MS Found in a Bottle,” won a prize in a short story competition.

This success led him to regularly contribute to three magazines. Some of these contributions turned out to be some of his best-known work. While earning success as a writer in 1836, Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was only 13 at the time. She later had what many think was an aneurysm or stroke, and was rendered an invalid for most of her married life.

Clemm died in 1842, and many attribute Poe’s sinking into alcoholism and opium abuse to her death. However, it is clear that the writer had trouble with both prior to her death, and his path was clearly one of self-destruction even before he married Clemm. Poe survived Clemm by seven years, and his death remains mysterious. Historians know that he attempted suicide in 1848, but the next year, he seemed somewhat recovered. He disappeared from a birthday party in 1849, and he was later found delirious in a gutter, dying shortly after being found. No one can account for what happened to him in between his time leaving the birthday party and his later being found in such serious condition.

The works of Edgar Allan Poe are primarily composed of poems and short stories. The poem “Annabel Lee,” is thought to be a tribute to Virginia Clemm, though, it was written several years after her death. His short stories are fascinating examinations of evil, guilt, and madness. No one reads a Poe story expecting a happy ending. Some of his most famous works include “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and The Pendulum,” “The Mask of the Red Death,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” “The Black Cat,” is considered by some to be one of the most disturbing pieces he composed.

Many enjoy Poe’s detective stories. Two of his most famous “detection” novellas are The Murders of the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. His poetry, with the exception of a few, is considered amateurish when compared to other writers of the time, particularly the English Romantic writers.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By GrumpyGuppy — On Nov 12, 2010

@googie98: Edgar Allan Poe’s life began with tragedy. He never knew his father, because he left Poe’s mother shortly after Edgar was born. Poe’s mother died from tuberculosis when he was two years old. Death and dying always had a strong hold over him. When he passed a graveyard he was convinced that the spirits of the undead would come after him.

Poe liked to think of himself as logical and calculating, but all the time the great underground current of dark forces was heaving against his early Victorian world of science and progress and making life pretty difficult. His suffering showed through his art.

By googie98 — On Nov 12, 2010

Why was most of Edgar Allan Poe’s work dark and gloomy?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia...
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