Although not originally well received, Edgar Allan Poe, became one of the most influential literary writers in American history. As a child, he wrote numerous poems, many which were later published. As a young adult he focused much of his attention on short fiction. He was credited with creating the detective story and known for his psychological and often violent thrillers. He is also known for his macabre themes and for having a fascination with death. Literary students should recognize these characteristics associated with Poe's writings were shaped by many tragedies in his life, such as abandonment of his father, untimely death's of his mother, brother, wife, and other loved one's, and the problems he faced with his adoptive father.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to New York where his father, David Poe, resumed his acting career. David soon quit acting and abandoned his family. He died a short time later (Harrison 22). Soon afterward, Edgar's mother, Elizabeth, became ill and died (Nilsson). A young woman named Frances (also known as Fanny) and her husband, John Allan, took in Edgar. Soon thereafter, John, a tobacco trader, moved the family to England. There, Edgar began his first formal education. In 1820, when the tobacco market in London collapsed, the Allan's returned to New York (Benfey; Nilsson).
Edgar continued his education, excelling in Latin and French. During this time he was also in search of a maternal figure. Although fond of Fanny Allan, her poor health limited her ability to fulfill a motherly role. Edgar found a substitute in Mrs. Jane Stanard, a mother of one of his classmate's. Unfortunately, she died a year later at age thirty-one (Nilsson). After her death, John Allan described Edgar as "sulky and ill tempered to all the family" (qtd. in Thompson). Mr. Allan felt insulted by Edgar's behavior, especially when considering all he had done for Edgar. This was the beginning of the deterioration of the relationship between Edgar and John Allan that would provide conflict in Edgar's life for many years to follow (Thompson).
In 1826, Edgar attended the University of Virginia. He was an outstanding student and excelled in various languages, debating, writing, and athletics. At age sixteen he fell in love with and became engaged to a girl named Elmira Royster. While away at college, he wrote her frequently but her father intercepted the letters (Thompson). Edgar was upset when he did not receive any replies. In addition to this disappointment, life at the school was chaotic and dangerous (Benfey). There were fights with students throwing bricks and bottles at professors and problems with students gambling. Edgar described one situation in a letter to John Allan in which he stated that one student was struck on the head with a large stone and in response he pulled a pistol. On another occasion he wrote about a student that bit another student, which Edgar described as, "it is likely that pieces of flesh as large as my hand will be obliged to be cut out" (Carlson).
While away at school, Poe obtained large gambling debts and blamed John Allan for not providing proper financial support. When, Poe returned to Richmond during a school break, Allan reportedly broke off Poe's engagement to Elmira (Carlson). He (Allan) then sent Edgar to work at his company instead of sending him back to school (Thompson). In 1827, Edgar and John Allan's relationship completely fell apart. Poe wrote, "I've heard you say. . . that you have no affection for me" (qtd. in Nilsson). Edgar moved out and while "on the streets" developed a problem with alcohol. Before long he obtained employment with a small newspaper and provided the printer with some of his early manuscripts. This resulted in a booklet entitled, "Tamerlane and Other Poems." The main poem is a story about a warrior who returns home to find his childhood love has died and all his dreams gone. The...
Cited: Benfey, Christopher. "Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance." The New Republic 24 Feb. 1992.
Carlson, Eric W. "Edgar Allan Poe." Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 74 "American Short-Story Writers Before 1880." 1988 pp. 303-322. The Gale Group Harrison, James A. Life of Edgar Allan Poe New York: Haskell, 1970.
Nilsson, Christoffer. Qrisse 's Edgar Allan Poe Pages 1996-1998. 29 Nov. 1999 Poe 's Tales of Mystery and Imagination. London: Dent, 1963 Shea, Christopher. "Researcher Says Rabies, Not Alcoholism, May Have Killed Poe" Chronicle of Higher Education Sept. 1996. 2 Dec. 1999 Thompson, G.R. "Edgar Allan Poe." Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 3. "Antebellum Writers in New York and the South." 1979. pp. 249-297. The Gale Group Note: In addition, the following source was indirectly used: "Edgar Allan Poe." Encarta 1999. CD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft,1993-1998
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