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Deep-diving into Edgar Allan Poe’s Life on his Birthday

Edgar Allan Poe, famously recognised as the father of the modern detective story and considered the master of the macabre, is an American writer from the 19th century. Famously known for his poems To Helen (1831), The Raven (1845), and Annabel Lee (1849); his short stories The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) and The Cask of Amontillado (1846); and the gothic horror story The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), Poe’s stories have been credited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) as “a model (of detective stories) of all time.” 


Early Life

From a very early age, we see Poe’s life not be one that was easy or in any way untroubled. 

Abandoned by his father, David Poe, Jr., within a year of his birth and left with an ailing mother, English-born actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe, who soon died in the year after, Poe’s infancy and early childhood begin fraught with tragedy. Poe was then taken in by John Allan (presumed to be his godfather) and his wife Frances Allan, but was never formally adopted by them–something that could not have been easy on the mind of an already troubled young man. Unfortunately,  Frances Allan was chronically ill, and Poe experienced her illness as he did his mother's, while he was never really able to see John Allan as anything more than a false father. 


Young Adulthood

He attended the University of Virginia for eleven months in 1826, however, his gambling losses led to John Allan disallowing him to continue. Being forced to leave, he blamed John Allan’s miserliness for his troubles. 

In all his relationships with parental figures, none of which seemed to have been close to untroubled, we find echoes of the ensuing impact they had on Poe’s life as we trace his writing to be full of sick mothers and guilty fathers.


A Stint in the Army

Unable to make a living for himself, Poe went on to enlist in the United States Army but then had to end his five-year enlistment early due to the death of his foster mother, Frances Allan. John Allan then helped Poe get an appointment in the U.S. Military Academy, however, due to his absentism, Poe was expelled. 


Life as a Writer

Poe went on to Baltimore and began to write stories, highly inspired by the writings of Percy Shelley, John Keats, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His MS. Found in a Bottle won $50 in 1833 and he became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger by 1835. Having been dismissed from his job, he went to New York, publishing The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym in 1838 and becoming the coeditor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. His monthly feature contract helped him write two stories based on the theme of supernatural horror, William Wilson and The Fall of the House of Usher. In 1839, he wrote the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and in 1841, he published his first detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He worked as an editor at Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine, New York Mirror, and Broadway Journal. During his time at the New York Mirror, Poe published his most famous and renowned poem, The Raven. Throughout these years, Poe kept writing and publishing his writings. 


Marital Life

When 27, Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm while she was only 13, but then lost her to tuberculosis merely 11 years later in 1847.



Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 in Baltimore due to phrenitis, or swelling of the brain, as stated on his death certificate. However, a considerable mystery surrounds his death and it remains unclear whether he died from drinking, heart failure, epilepsy, or the many other causes of death that were rampant during the time. 


Poe’s Legacy

Remembered as one of the most well-known writers of dark romanticism, a sub-genre of romanticism obsessed with the irrational, the demonic, and the grotesque, Poe was highly dependent on his imaginative thinking as he weaved his writings. Throughout Poe’s writings, instances of irrational behaviour, obsessive thoughts, and madness can be found, either through his story’s protagonists or through the general theme. His vivid and detailed descriptions of things too grotesque for most also lead one to believe that either these did not affect him in the same way they would do others, owing to his already troubled mind due to his turbulent life, or that these were projections of his subconscious, which was again scarred by the events throughout his life, which found a way onto paper and then ultimately, lead him to an acceptance of his sanity or insanity.


Nevertheless, Poe’s literary contribution is one that cannot be ignored as he managed to create, through his writing style and his themes, a description portraying the complexity of the human mind, an extraordinary feat of writing that comes to leave a lot to the interpretation and analysis of his readers.


Image Credits: scifi.radio

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