AP English IV
21 February 2012
The Influence of Women in Edgar Allen Poe’s Works
Edgar Allan Poe is considered one of the most inspiring writers of the nineteenth century, creating a new extension to American literature. He is famously known for writing “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Raven.” His writings are often times considered dark and bleak due to past experiences. The experiences Poe includes in his writings are results of the women he met in his lifetime. Within the span of Poe’s forty-year lifetime, he encountered many women creating close relationships and bonds with them as they all cared or nurtured him in some way. The women in his life were all beautiful, though many of them had their lives cut short due to unknown illnesses (Weekes 149).“The image of the dead or dying women, young and beautiful and good, fills his fictions” (Ackroyd 14). The relationships Poe had with women illustrates the themes of the beauty of premature death and illnesses in women. One of the women includes Eliza Poe, Edgar’s mother, who died at the age of twenty-four of tuberculosis when Poe was only three years old. The women in Poe’s writings also extend to his mother’s friend, Jane Stanard; his foster mother, Frances Allan; and his thirteen year old wife, Virginia Clemm. The women in Poe’s life, who died at young ages, all had a lasting effect on Edgar Allan Poe and played a significant part in his literary works. The first woman in Poe’s life to play a role in his works was his mother Eliza Poe. Eliza Poe was born in London, England and migrated to America when she was nine years old. Eliza made a career as an actress, singer, and dancer. Eliza Poe started her career at the age of nine at the Federal Street Theatre in Boston. She was a very talented actress as she was able to have 201 different roles before she died. (Ackroyd 9). Her successes in her career and talent is referenced throughout Poe’s writing. The appreciation he had for Eliza's successes during her career is seen quite often in his writings. One example of Edgar referencing his mother is in his novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.” The performance of Eliza in the play, "Tekeli," may have been the basis for the name "Tekelili," that is cried multiple times at the end of the novel (Kopley and Hayes 195). Her talents are also described in Poe’s short story, “Berenice.” Berenice, the main character in the story, has “... meaning eyes-of sounds, musical yet sad...” (qtd. Bonaparte 215). The symbolism of the voice Berenice has embodies the talent of Eliza had as a singer. The fame of Eliza Poe is seen in many occasions throughout Poe’s writing. Along with the accomplishments in Eliza’s life, another appreciation Poe often times writes about is the beauty of her. Eliza was a young woman with a lively expression, dark ringlets of hair and quite rather larger eyes (Ackroyd 9). The most significant feature Eliza had was her luminous eyes. Her eyes play a role in Poe’s writing in his short story, “Liegia.” The character Liegia is a parallel to Eliza’s large eyes as it is a reminiscent of Eliza. (Bonaparte 215) Poe shows great appreciation for Eliza’s talents and beauty by referencing her in his writing. Along with the positives of Eliza’s life, her death is associated with his works. The event in Poe's life that he took very dearly was the death of his parents, his mother in particular as both of Poe's parents died about a few weeks apart of each other. As Poe wrote, "I have many occasional dealings with Adversity [SIC], but the want of parental affection has been the heaviest of my trials" (qtd. in Ackroyd 13). Eliza died of consumption and was the first death he had witness of a young woman. (Kopley and Hayes 194). Consumption is a disease that causes an infection in the host's lungs and causes the victim to have atrocious coughing attacks and repeatedly coughs up blood. This image of Eliza Poe in this condition and dying...
Cited: Vol. 2 of American Literature. 3 vols. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 1963.
Bonaparte, Marie. The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe. 1882. New York:
Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.
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