When I was much younger, one of my favorite authors was Edgar Allen Poe (the Shakespeare of America). I would read and reread the likes of "The Fall of the House of Usher,", "The Raven," "Tell-Tale Heart." I would read for hours after I was supposed to be in bed asleep by a flashlight which I kept hidden under between my mattress and box springs. I could not read enough. I know for you the name Poe brings to mind images of murderers and madmen, premature burials, and mysterious women who return from the dead. His works have been in print since 1827 and here I was in the 60's and 70's devouring ever single word on the pages that unfolded before me. The three stories I mentioned were three of my all time favorites, barring none. But that is not all he wrote. His writings include short stories, poetry, a novel, a textbook, a book of scientific theory, and hundreds of essays and book reviews. He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the science fiction genre, but did you know that he actually made his living as America’s first great literary critic and theoretician. Poe’s reputation today rests primarily on his tales of terror as well as on his haunting lyric poetry. Like most writers of his kind, Poe is seen as a morbid, mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of moonlit cemeteries or crumbling castles. This is the Poe of legend. But much of what we know about Poe is wrong, the product of a biography written by one of his enemies in an attempt to defame the author’s name. By the age of thirteen, Poe had compiled enough poetry to publish a book, but his headmaster advised Allan against allowing this. In 1826 Poe left Richmond to attend the University of Virginia, where he excelled in his classes while accumulating considerable debt. The miserly Allan had sent Poe to college with less than a third of the money he needed, and Poe soon took up gambling to raise money to pay his expenses. Humiliated by his poverty and furious with Allan for not providing enough funds in the first place, Poe returned to Richmond and visited the home of his fiancée Elmira Royster, only to discover that she had become engaged to another man in Poe’s absence. The heartbroken Poe’s last few months in the Allan mansion were punctuated with increasing hostility towards Allan until Poe finally stormed out of the home in a quixotic quest to become a great poet and to find adventure. He accomplished the first objective by publishing his first book Tamerlane when he was only eighteen, and to achieve the second goal he enlisted in the United States Army. briefly reconciled, and Allan helped Poe gain an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. At the age of twenty-seven, Poe brought Maria and Virginia Clemm to Richmond and married his Virginia, who was not yet fourteen. The marriage proved a happy one, and the family is said to have enjoyed singing together at night. Virginia expressed her devotion to her husband in a Valentine poem now in the collection of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and Poe celebrated the joys of married life in his poem “Eulalie.” In the face of poverty Poe was still able to find solace at home with his wife and mother-in-law, but tragedy struck in 1842 when Poe’s wife contracted tuberculosis, the disease that had already claimed Poe’s mother, brother, and foster mother. The January 1845 publication of “The Raven” made Poe a household name. He was now famous enough to draw large crowds to his lectures, and he was beginning to demand better pay for his work. He published two books that year, and briefly lived his dream of running his own magazine when he bought out the owners of the Broadway Journal. The failure of the venture, his wife’s deteriorating health, and rumors spreading about Poe’s relationship with a married woman, drove him out of the city in 1846. At this time he moved to a tiny cottage in the country. It was there, in the winter of 1847 that Virginia died at the age of twenty-four. Poe was devastated, and was unable to write for months. His critics assumed he would soon be dead. They were right. Poe only lived another two years and spent much of that time traveling from one city to the next giving lectures and finding backers for his latest proposed magazine project to be called The Stylus. Poe spent the last days of his life in Washington College Hospital, far from his home and surrounded by strangers. Poe died on October 7, 1849 at the age of forty. The exact cause of Poe’s death remains a mystery to this day. January 19th, 1809 so Happy Birthday E.A. Poe and thank you for many joyous hours of indulging in the art of reading, dreaming, and imagining. Want to learn more about Poe? Click here and visit the musuem site in Richmond, Virginia.
To Joey, With Love....WINNER!
8 months ago