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Poe, Edgar Allen

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Source: Wikipedia


Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American poet, short story writer, editor and critic and one of the leaders of the American Romantics. He is best known for his tales of the macabre and his poems, as well as being one of the early practitioners of the short story and a progenitor of detective fiction, as well as crime fiction in the United States. Poe died at the age of 40, the cause of his death a final mystery. His exact burial location is also a source of controversy.


Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and actor David Poe, Jr. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died of tuberculosis when he was only two, so Poe was taken into the home of John Allan, a successful tobacco merchant in Richmond, Virginia. Although his middle name is often misspelled as "Allen," it is actually "Allan" after this family. After attending the Misses Duborg boarding school in London and Manor School in Stoke Newington, London, England, Poe moved back to Richmond, Virginia, with the Allans in 1820. Poe registered at the University of Virginia in 1826, but only stayed there for one year. He was estranged from his foster father at some point in this period over gambling debts Poe had acquired while trying to get more spending money, and so Poe enlisted in the United States Army as a private using the name Edgar A. Perry on May 26, 1827. That same year, he released his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems. After serving for two years and attaining the rank of Sergeant-major, Poe was discharged. In 1829, Poe's foster mother Frances Allan died and he published his second book, Al Aaraf. As per his foster mother's deathwish, Poe reconciled with his foster father, who coordinated an appointment for him to the United States Military Academy at West Point. His time at West Point was ill-fated, however, as Poe supposedly deliberately disobeyed orders and was dismissed. After that, his foster father repudiated him until his death in March 27, 1834.


Poe next moved to Baltimore, Maryland with his widowed aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. Poe used fiction writing as a means of supporting himself, and in December 1835, Poe began editing the Southern Literary Messenger for Thomas W. White in Richmond. Poe held this position until January, 1837. During this time, Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, in Richmond on May 16, 1836.


After spending fifteen fruitless months in New York, Poe moved to Philadelphia. Shortly after he arrived, his novella The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published and widely reviewed. In the summer of 1839, he became assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He published a large number of articles, stories, and reviews, enhancing the reputation as a trenchant critic that he had established at the Southern Literary Messenger. In 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes. Though not a financial success, it was a milestone in the history of American literature. Poe left Burton's after about a year and found a position as assistant editor at Graham's Magazine.


One day while Virginia, who had a lovely voice, was singing for Poe, she coughed and a tiny drop of blood appeared on her lip. It was the first sign of the tuberculosis that would make her an invalid and eventually take her life. Poe began to drink more heavily under the stress of Virginia's illness. He left Graham's and attempted to find a new position, for a time angling for a government post. He returned to New York, where he worked briefly at the Evening Mirror before becoming editor of the Broadway Journal. There he became involved in a noisy public feud with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. On January 29, 1845, his poem "The Raven" appeared in the Evening Mirror and became a popular sensation.


The Broadway Journal failed in 1846. Poe moved to a cottage in the Fordham, The Bronx, New York. The Poe Cottage is on the south east corner of the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road and is open to the public. Virginia died there in 1847. Increasingly unstable after his wife's death, Poe attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe's drinking and erratic behavior; however there is also strong evidence that Miss Whitman's mother intervened and did much to derail their relationship. According to Poe's own account, he attempted suicide during this period by overdosing on laudanum. He then returned to Richmond and resumed a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, who, by that time, was a widow.


On October 3, 1849 Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious and "in great distress, and... in need of immediate assistance," according to the man who found him. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died early on the morning of October 7. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and wearing clothes that were not his own. Some sources say Poe's final words were "It's all over now; write Eddy is no more." referring to his tombstone. Others say his last words were "Lord, help my poor soul."


In the absence of contemporary documentation (all surviving accounts are either incomplete or published years after the event; even Poe's death certificate, if one was ever made out, has been lost), it is likely that the truth of Poe's death will never be known. No other major American writer in the nineteenth century except Sidney Lanier and Stephen Crane lived a shorter life span.


Poe is buried on the grounds of Westminster Hall in Baltimore.


Detective Fiction


Poe is often credited as being an originator the genre of detective fiction with his three stories about Auguste Dupin, the most famous of which is "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." (Poe also wrote a satirical detective story called "Thou Art the Man") There is no doubt that he inspired mystery writers who came after him, particularly Arthur Conan Doyle in his series of stories featuring Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was once quoted as saying, "Each of Poe's detective stories is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?" (Poe Encyclopedia 103). Though Poe's Auguste Dupin was not the first detective in fiction, he became an archetype for all subsequent detectives.


The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards for excellence in the genre the "Edgars."




Poe had a keen interest in the field of cryptography, as exemplified in his short story The Gold Bug. In particular he placed a notice of his abilities in the Philadelphia paper Alexander's Weekly (Express) Messenger, inviting submissions of ciphers, which he proceeded to solve.6 His success created a public stir for some months. He later wrote essays on methods of cryptography which proved useful in deciphering the German codes employed during World War I.


Poe's success in cryptography relied not so much on his knowledge of that field (his method was limited to the simple substitution cryptogram), as on his knowledge of the magazine and newspaper culture. His keen analytical abilities, which were so evident in his detective stories, allowed him to see that the general public was largely ignorant of the methods by which a simple substitution cryptogram can be solved, and he used this to his advantage. The sensation Poe created with his cryptography stunt played a major role in popularizing cryptograms in newspapers and magazines.


Many of Poe's works are available from Project Gutenberg.


Detective bibliography


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