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Edgar Allan Poe

By majacha7 Aug 30, 2013 2180 Words
Edgar12 Edgar Allan Poe

born January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
died October 7, 1849, Baltimore, Maryland.

American short story writer, poet, novelist, essayist, editor, and critic, famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre.

The atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivalled in American fiction, earning him, rightfully, the title of father of modern horror literature.

His tale "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) initiated the modern detective story.

His "The Raven" (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national (American) literature.

Regarded in literary histories and handbooks as:
* the architect of the modern short story,
* also the principal forerunner of the “art for art’s sake” movement in nineteenth-century European literature.


Poe was the son of professional actors who died before he was 3 years old, and he was raised in the home of John Allan (presumably his godfather), an exporter from Richmond, Virginia, who never legally adopted his foster son.

He was later taken to Scotland and England (1815–20), where he was given a classical education that was continued in Richmond.

He distinguished himself academically but was forced to leave after less than a year because of gambling debts and his guardian refused to let him continue.

Poe’s relationship with Allan disintegrated upon his return to Richmond in 1827, and soon after Poe left for Boston, where he enlisted in the army and also published his first poetry collection, Tamerlane, and Other Poems (1827).

Poverty forced him to join the army, but after the death of his foster mother, John Allan purchased his release from the army and helped him get an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before going, Poe published a new volume at Baltimore, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829). Allan would neither provide him with sufficient funds to maintain himself as a cadet nor give the consent necessary to resign from the Academy, so he did everything he could to be expelled from the academy.

He went to New York City and brought out a volume of Poems, containing several masterpieces, some showing the influence of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

He then returned to Baltimore, where he lived at the home of his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, and where he began to write stories. In 1833 his "MS. Found in a Bottle" won $50 from a Baltimore weekly, and by 1835 he was in Richmond as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. There he made a name as a critical reviewer and married his young cousin Virginia Clemm, who was only 13.

Poe was dismissed from his job in Richmond, apparently for drinking, and went to New York City. He sank into gambling, dissipation, alcohol and laudanum abuse.

After his wife’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe became involved in a number of romantic affairs. While he prepared for his second marriage that Poe, he arrived in Baltimore in late September of 1849 and on October 3, he was discovered in a state of semiconsciousness; he died four days later without regaining consciousness.

The outstanding fact in Poe's character is a strange duality. He was * gentle and devoted with those he loved,
* a sharp critic with others, who found him irritable and self-centred.

* Much of Poe's best work is concerned with terror and sadness, * in ordinary circumstances the he was a pleasant companion.

He was not a man of his time: Kenneth Silverman, a recent Poe biographer, observes:

“at a time when James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson [and others] were creating a feeling of space and self-reliant freedom, he was creating in his many accounts of persons bricked up in walls, hidden under floorboards, or jammed in chimneys a mythology of enclosure, constriction, and victimization.”

* a dissolute alcoholic,
* chronically short of money,
* irregular journalistic jobs to earn for a living
* dark and melancholic despair with a drive toward death

All the above shaped his fiction:
* dark and melancholic despair
* acute claustrophobia – the sense of imprisonment and its finality. * the progressive narrowing of the safe ground between fascination and fear * unlike most American writers of his time, he set few of his tales in the US. * Although he does not write directly about slavery, due to his preference for the narrative setting of “elsewhere,” Toni Morrison said that “no early American writer is more important to the concept of African Americanism than Poe.” * characters oriented toward the tomb from the very start * the return of the dead

* the tropes of Gothic haunting

Blackwood’s Magazine

Edgar Allan Poe was famously a Blackwood’s reader
Poe is also considered to have been influenced by William Mudford's “The Iron Shroud”, a short story about an iron torture chamber which shrinks through mechanical action and eventually crushes the victim inside. Poe apparently got the idea for the shrinking chamber in the "Pit and the Pendulum" after Mudford's story was published in Blackwood's magazine in 1830 Focus on the terrors of anticipation - the turn to the psychological: * the clumsy Gothic machinery of the previous century gives way to a more modern and sophisticated conception of a purely internal drama. * Poe focused less on the traditional elements of gothic stories and more on the psychology of his characters as they often descended into madness.

He believed that terror was a legitimate literary subject.


He was influenced by earlier literary figures and movements
* the stories of E. T. A. Hoffman
* the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe,
* the Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century

The influence of Poe’s tales in the work of later writers: * He is regarded as an ancestor of such major literary movements as Symbolism and Surrealism * psychological horror (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is thought to be an explicit extension of Poe’s interest in themes like madness, horror, and suspense), * ghost stories (Turn of the Screw),

* weird tales (“Shadow over Innsmouth” - H. P. Lovecraft’s devotion to Edgar Allan Poe was sometimes so strong that he once called him “my God of Fiction”), * haunted house stories (Stephen King’s The Shining incorporates Poe’s inexplicabilities, doubles, dream life, and madness), * graphic slasher stories (Psycho), and

* urban horror stories (Rosemary’s Baby)

He was an author and a critic of the works of his contemporaries. His theory of literary creation:

1. a work must create a unity of effect on the reader to be considered successful;

2. the production of this single effect should not be left to the hazards of accident or inspiration, but should to the result of the author’s devotion to the minutest detail of style and subject. * in poetry, this single effect must arouse the reader’s sense of beauty, an ideal that Poe closely associated with sadness, strangeness, and loss; * in prose, the effect should be one revelatory of some truth, as in “tales of ratiocination” or works evoking “terror, or passion, or horror.”

* Gothic –recurring themes dealing with the questions of death (death and its physical signs, the effects of decomposition, concerns of premature burial, the reanimation of the dead, mourning). * Dark romanticism - many of his works are generally considered part of the dark romanticism genre, a literary reaction to transcendentalism which he disliked. * Science fiction – his response to emerging technologies such as hot air balloons in "The Balloon-Hoax". * Satires, humour tales, hoaxes, detective stories, poetry.

First person narrative
In the majority of Poe’s Gothic tales the narrative point of view is first person, and the reader is thus also placed inside the mind of this leading character-narrator who is on the brink of insanity. Stories often told by a first-person narrator to probe the workings of a character’s psyche: * “The Black Cat” (1843)

* “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)
* “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843

"The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839)

It was first published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine before it appeared in Poe’s collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1839)

Often described as a prime example of the Gothic short story and one of Poe’s most powerful stories. It is often considered to be one of the primary foundational texts of * modern horror,
* haunted house, and
* ghost stories.

A tale of sickness, madness, incest, and the danger of unrestrained creativity it is among Poe’s most popular and critically examined horror stories. The reader follows the mental disintegration of the principal persona, although the story is narrated by an outside visitor.

Poe used the term “ARABESQUE” to describe the ornate, descriptive prose in this and other stories in his collection. The story is also considered representative of Poe’s idea of “art for art’s sake,” whereby: * the mood of the narrative, created through skillful use of language, overpowers any social, political, or moral teaching. * The Decadent Aristocrat as a central character - mad, often artistic noble heir who took the place of the traditional Gothic villain.

Gothic conventions:

* the motif of the ancestral course
* claustrophobic atmosphere
* sombre mood, mystery,
* the fear of premature burial
* insanity
* death
* suspense
* supernatural
* incest
* the double:
- the Ushers - Roderick’s twin, Madeline Usher, a female doppelgänger with whom he appears to share an incestuous relationship. - Roderick Usher and the house

Roderick Usher

A gothic villain.
A cadaverous, deranged host, narrator’s childhood friend, the twin brother of Madeline usher. He is pale and dishevelled and has the symptoms of neurasthenia. His sanity dissolves. He crumbles mentally as his ancestral home mysteriously collapses and dissolutes. The story implies that Roderick, by forcing incestuous relations with his twin and double, has brought ruin on himself and on the doomed House of Usher. Usher’s sudden death results after his sister, an alter ego and possibly interpreted as the symbol of the unconscious state, breaks free of the family mausoleum and kills him as she collapses and expires on his body. Roderick – the conscious

Madeline – the unconscious

Madeline Usher

A female victim enclosed within the Gothic setting.
Like her hypersensitive twin, the ghostlike Madeline Usher suffers a catatonic seizure, a twin of death that leaves her immobile and mute. Roderick inters her in the family vault, that produces the images of claustrophobia and fears of premature burial. She revives after several days of life-in-death just as Roderick reads aloud to his unnamed guest a dragon-slaying hero tale, “The Mad Trist.”

She claws her way out of the family crypt. Still shrouded in white burial robes stained with blood, she stands dreamlike and mute with only enough energy left to confront her twin before expiring. The story implies that Roderick sexually abuses his sister.

The House

Walpole’s novel establishes a narrative tradition characterized by gloomy settings centered around an ancestral house or castle with subterranean chambers, permeated with an atmosphere of mystery, decay, and terror.

The ancient, decaying House of Usher, filled with tattered furniture and tapestries and set in a gloomy, desolate locale is a rich symbolic representation of its twin inhabitants, Roderick and Madeline Usher. The decayed House mirrors Usher’s mind

Poe incorporates “The Haunted Palace” (1839), a 48-line poem he introduced in the Baltimore Museum magazine. Described as Roderick’s original fantasy, the poem is an allegory of a royal dwelling threatened by an undesignated evil. As the menace besets the king, it announces the mental disorder and insanity, which serves as a mirror image of Usher’s advancing madness.

Some critical interpretations of the story:

H. P. Lovecratft - “Usher”, whose superiority in detail and proportion is very marked, hints shudderingly of obscure life in inorganic things, and displays an abnormally linked trinity of entities at the end of a long and isolated family history—a brother, his twin sister, and their incredibly ancient house all sharing a single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment. Clive Bloom - Poe’s tale “is probably the most interpreted short story ever written, its ambiguities endlessly fascinating” Richard Wilbur (in “The House of Poe”) - “The House of Usher is, in allegorical fact, the physical body of Roderick Usher, and its dim interior is, in fact, Roderick Usher’s visionary mind” Eric Savoy, “of all nineteenth-century American writers, Poe seems most thoroughly our contemporary in his attempt to give language and a narrative structure to what Freud came to describe as the unconscious”

While most of his works were not conspicuously acclaimed during his lifetime, Poe has come to be viewed as one of the most important American authors in the Gothic tradition. His stories and poems have become some of the most widely read in English-language literature. Today, Poe is recognized as one of the foremost progenitors of modern literature, and of the Gothic style in particular.

Further reading:
* Bloom, Harold, Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. * Catherine Spooner, Emma McEvvoy, The Routledge Companion to Gothic, Routledge, London and New York, 2007. * H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”. * Jerrold E. Hogle (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Cambridge University Press 2002. * Jessica Bomarito (ed.), Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion. Farmington Hills: Thomson Gale, 2006 * Snodgrass, Mary Ellen, Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature, New York: Facts on File, 2005.

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