Edgar Allan Poe was a bizarre and often scary writer. People throughout history have often wondered why his writings were so fantastically different and unusual. They were not the result of a diseased mind, as some think. Rather they came from a tense and miserable life. Edgar Allan Poe was not a happy man. He was a victim of fate from the moment he was born to his death only forty years later. He died alone and unappreciated. It is quite obvious that his life affected his writings in a great way. In order to understand why, the historical background of Poe must be known.
Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. His parents were touring actors and both died before he was three years old. After this, he was taken into the home of John Allan, a prosperous merchant who lived in Richmond, Virginia.1 When he was six, he studied in England for five years. Not much else is known about his childhood, except that it was uneventful.
In 1826, when Poe was seventeen years old he entered the University of Virginia. It was also at this time that he was engaged to marry his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. He was a good student, but only stayed for a year. He did not have enough money to make ends meet, so he ran up extremely large gambling debts to trying make more money. Then he could not afford to go to school anymore. John Allan refused to pay off Poe's debts, and broke off his engagement to Sarah Elmira Royster. Since Poe had no other means of support, he enlisted in the army. By this time however, he had written and printed his first book, Tammerlane, and Minor Poems (1829).2
After a few months though, John Allan and Poe were reconciled. Allan arranged for Poe to be released from the army and enrolled him at West Point. During this time, his fellow cadets helped him publish another book of poetry. However, John Allan again did not provide Poe with enough money, and Poe decided to leave this time before racking up any more debts
Still, Poe had no money and necessity forced him to live with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, in Baltimore, Maryland. None of his poetry had sold particularly well, so he decided to write stories. He could find no publisher for his stories, and so resorted to entering writing contests to make money and receive exposure. He was rarely successful, but eventually won. His short story, "MS. Found in a Bottle" was well liked and one of the judges in the contest, John P. Kennedy, befriended him.3
It was on Kennedy's recommendation that Poe became assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, published at Richmond by T.W. White. It was at this time that Poe went through a period of emotional instability that he tried to control by drinking. This was a mistake because he was extremely sensitive to alcohol and became very drunk just from one or two drinks.
In May of 1836 Poe married his cousin, Virginia and brought her and her mother to live with him in Richmond. It was during this time that Poe produced a number of stories and even some verse.4
Over the next few years, Poe went from good times to bad. He had become the editor of magazines and had written books, but none of these were paying off enough. He would always be laid off the editorial staff for differences over policies. He was doing so poorly that by the end of 1846 he was asking his friends and admirers for help.
He was then living in a cottage with Mrs. Clemm and Virginia. Virginia was dying of consumption and had to sleep in an unheated room. After six years of marriage she had become very ill, and her disease had driven Poe to distraction.
Virginia died on January 30, 1847, and Poe broke down. It is here that much is learned about him and why he wrote the way he did. All of his life he had wanted to be loved and to have someone to love. Yet one by one, he kept losing the women in his life. His mother, Mrs. Allan, and now Virginia. He had wanted to...