edgar allan poe (1809 – 1849)


life and works
Early years
Poe was born in Boston from two touring actors, David Poe and Elisabeth Arnold Hopkins. They died very young, about two years after Edgar’s birth and the future writer was divided from his brother Henry and his sister Rosalie and adopted by Mrs. Frances Allan from Richmond.
Edgar Allan (the second name was due to his new family’s surname) was educated in England, at Stake Newington where his family moved.

At university
In 1820 the Allans and Poe returned to Richmond and Edgar attended the University of Virginia (1826). As a student he was quite successful, but because of his passion for gambling, he got indebted : his step-father refused to support him, and Edward was forced to leave university.
In Boston he wrote and published his first book, Tamerlane, and some Minor Poems , most of them dedicated to Elmira Royster, his first love already married.

At the academy
Meanwhile, Mrs. Allan died after she had refused to meet Edgar again, and so the writer joined West Point Academy in the hope to regain his step-father’s love, but there he only succeeded in getting expulsion from the academy.
Back again in Baltimore with his aunt Marie Clemm, he began writing stories for which there was a market: he needed money as Mr. Allan had died without leaving him a cent.

The beginning of his career
He published five tales in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier (1832) and became an editorial assistant at The Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond (1835). There he married Virginia Clemm (1836), his fourteen-years-old cousin and created a reputation of his own as a keen critic.
In 1837 Edgar Allan Poe left his job and moved to New York where he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) in which factual material and wild fancies were combined under the influence of Melville’s Moby Dick.
In the same year he began editing the Burton’s Magazine in Philadelphia, where he worked for a year writing The Fall of the House of Husher and William Wilson based on studies of double and neurotic personalities.

Misfortunes
Because of drinking, that was the bane of his life, Poe lost his job in 1840 and together with his wife he found himself once more on the edge of poverty.
Moreover Virginia burst a vessel in her throat and, even though she soon recovered, the writer’s restlessness began to grow.

Detective stories and poetry
Fortunately, Poe’s former employer recommended him to the publisher of Graham’s Magazine where he worked as an editor and wrote his first detective story The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
In 1843 his Gold Bug won a prize of $100 from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper.
In New York he wrote The Balloon Hoax for The Sun (1844) and in The Evening Mirror, where he worked as sub editor, The Raven (1845) his most famous poem, appeared.
During the second half of 1840s he was editor of a short lived weekly Broadway Journal, published his Tales and wrote For Godey’s Lady’s Book, a series of gossipy sketches on personalities of the day on The Literati of New York.

The last years
Meanwhile his wife Virginia had died in 1847. In 1848 Poe moved to Providence and published the lecture Eureka, a transcendental explanation of the universe.
Back in Richmond (1849) he got engaged to Elmira Royster, now a widow, but his drinking was to be fatal to his weak heart and the writer died in Baltimore on October 7th, 1849.

Poe’s personality
As to the author’s personality, people who met him witness the coexistence in himself of two personalities: Poe was kind and devoted to the ones he loved, irritable and humoral to others. He was, for someone, a pleasant friend, amiable and talkative whose musical voice and sense of humour attracted everyone; for others was just a self-centred man, a sharp critic, violent, immoral and drug-addict.

Works

The Tales
Poe transferred the dualism of his personality into his tales, combining logic and rationality with imagination and fancy, “the self-destructive romantic artist and the self-control of the conscious and conscientious craftsman” (R. Asselineau, E. A. Poe, Minneapolis, 1970)
The Tales of Ratiocination (The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841; The Mystery of Marie Roget, 1842; The Golden Bug,1843 and The purloined Letter,1845) are guided by reason. In them a brilliant private detective, Mosieur Dupin, uses a deductive and psychological method to solve a mystery. These tales became a model for the future development of detective fiction.

The Tales of Imagination: or as Poe called them Tales of the Grotesque (comic stories) and Arabesque (horror stories), include some of the best known tales, among them those inspired by women ( Berenice,1835; Morella,1835 and Ligeia,, 1839) and the ones collected in this volume.

The tales are usually based on the search of man for his self. His characters are usually closed into a little, sometime undefined, place that represents the mother’s womb and feel terror for what is in themselves and not for the world outside. They have destructive passions for women that are intelligent and beautiful but condemned to fade away.
The themes are mainly based on the relationship between life and death and love and death and always aim at creating fear and anguish in the reader’s mind.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) is the only long story Poe wrote and resumes all the characteristics of the short stories.

Poems

Even though Poe’s world-fame is linked to his tales, he was mainly attracted by poetry, assuming that poetry-writing is an almost divine act because the poet creates something.
His poems include:
The Raven (1845) that sums up his poetic theory and consists of eighteen six-line stanzas written according to Poe’s poetic principles described in the Philosophy of Composition (see essays).

and a group of poems written between 1841-49, the best of which are Ulalume, Annabel Lee and Eureka, a Prose Poem, a treatise on the creation of the universe.

The Critical Writings

The Rationale of Verse (1843), The Philosophy of Composition (1846), The Poetic Principle (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Longfellows’s Ballads, Charles Dickens and Marginalia (a collection of essays).
In these essays Poe condemns long poems or didactic ones because a poet’s mind is more interested in emotions of melancholy and nostalgia. The bulk of his critical essays is about poetic technique and practical criticism of details.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe published in 1841. and belongs to his tales of ratiocination.
C. Auguste Dupin in Paris solves the mysterious brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language he/she spoke, so Dupin assumes they were not hearing a human voice at all. He finds a hair at the scene of the murder that is quite unusual; “this is no human hair”, he concludes. Dupin puts an advertisement in the newspaper asking if anyone has lost an “Ourang-Outang”. The ad is answered by a sailor who comes to Dupin. The detective asks for all the information the sailor has about the murders in the Rue Morgue. The sailor reveals that he had been keeping a captive orangutan which escaped with the sailor’s shaving razor. When he followed the orangutan, it escaped by climbing a wall up to a lightning rod, and entered the apartment in the Rue Morgue through a window.

 

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