Edgar Allan PoeEdgar Allan Poe was a bizarre and often scary writer. People throughouthistory have often wondered why his writings were so fantastically different andunusual. They were not the result of a diseased mind, as some think. Ratherthey came from a tense and miserable life. Edgar Allan Poe was not a happy man.He was a victim of fate from the moment he was born to his death only fortyyears later.
He died alone and unappreciated. It is quite obvious that hislife affected his writings in a great way. In order to understand why, thehistorical background of Poe must be known.Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809. His parentswere touring actors and both died before he was three years old. After this, hewas taken into the home of John Allan, a prosperous merchant who lived inRichmond, Virginia.1 When he was six, he studied in England for five years.Not much else is known about his childhood, except that it was uneventful.
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In 1826, when Poe was seventeen years old he entered the University ofVirginia. It was also at this time that he was engaged to marry his childhoodsweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. He was a good student, but only stayed for ayear. He did not have enough money to make ends meet, so he ran up extremelylarge gambling debts to trying make more money.
Then he could not afford to goto school anymore. John Allan refused to pay off Poe’s debts, and broke off hisengagement to Sarah Elmira Royster. Since Poe had no other means of support, heenlisted in the army. By this time however, he had written and printed hisfirst book, Tammerlane, and Minor Poems (1829).2After a few months though, John Allan and Poe were reconciled.
Allanarranged for Poe to be released from the army and enrolled him at West Point.During this time, his fellow cadets helped him publish another book of poetry.However, John Allan again did not provide Poe with enough money, and Poe decidedto leave this time before racking up any more debtsStill, Poe had no money and necessity forced him to live with his aunt,Mrs.
Clemm, in Baltimore, Maryland. None of his poetry had sold particularlywell, so he decided to write stories. He could find no publisher for hisstories, and so resorted to entering writing contests to make money and receiveexposure. He was rarely successful, but eventually won. His short story, MS.Found in a Bottle was well liked and one of the judges in the contest, John P.Kennedy, befriended him.
3It was on Kennedy’s recommendation that Poe became assistant editor ofthe Southern Literary Messenger, published at Richmond by T.W. White. It was atthis time that Poe went through a period of emotional instability that he triedto control by drinking. This was a mistake because he was extremely sensitiveto alcohol and became very drunk just from one or two drinks.In May of 1836 Poe married his cousin, Virginia and brought her and hermother to live with him in Richmond.
It was during this time that Poe produceda number of stories and even some verse.4Over the next few years, Poe went from good times to bad. He had becomethe editor of magazines and had written books, but none of these were paying offenough.
He would always be laid off the editorial staff for differences overpolicies. He was doing so poorly that by the end of 1846 he was asking hisfriends and admirers for help.He was then living in a cottage with Mrs. Clemm and Virginia. Virginiawas dying of consumption and had to sleep in an unheated room. After six yearsof marriage she had become very ill, and her disease had driven Poe todistraction.Virginia died on January 30, 1847, and Poe broke down. It is here thatmuch is learned about him and why he wrote the way he did.
All of his life hehad wanted to be loved and to have someone to love. Yet one by one, he keptlosing the women in his life. His mother, Mrs. Allan, and now Virginia. He hadwanted to lead a life of wealth and luxury and still, despite his tremendoustalent, was forced to live as a poor man.
When he reached manhood, after a sheltered childhood and teenage years,his life seemed to be caught up in failures. So, he did what most people do.He found a way to escape. His method was writing. He found so much in commonwith his characters, that his life began to emulate theirs. Although it isprobably the other way around.How tragic that the one thing that he was good at never seemed to do himany good.
No matter what he wrote, he just kept sinking further and furtherinto an abyss. This abyss could be called death or ultimate despair.When we read Poe’s stories, we often find ourselves wondering how such amind could function in society. This quotation from American Writers: ACollection of Literary Biographies, very accurately describes the landscape ofPoe’s stories: The world of Poe’s tales is a nightmarish universe.
You crosswasted lands, silent, forsaken landscapes where both life and watersstagnate. Here and there you catch sight of lugubrious feudal buildingssuggestive of horrible and mysterious happenings….
..The inside ofthese sinister buildings is just as disquieting as the outside. Everything isdark there, from the ebony furniture to the oaken ceiling.
The walls arehungwith heavy tapestries to which mysterious drafts constantly give ‘ahideousand uneasy animation.’ Even the windows are ‘of a leaden hue,’so that therays of either sun or moon passing through fall ‘with a ghastlylustre on the objects within.’ ..
…..it is usually night in the ghastly (oneof his favoriteadjectives) or red-blood light of the moon that Poe’stales take place-or in the middle of terrific storms lit up by luridflashes of lightning.
None of Poe’s characters could ever be normal, since they lived in thisbizarre world. All of his heroes are usually alone, and if they are not crazy,they are on their way to becoming so rapidly.This leads one to wonder, just how lucid Poe was when he wrote thesestories. Was he crazy or just upset and confused? Most texts and histories ofPoe have it that he was influenced not only by his life, but by other writers.These include Hawthorne, Charles Brockden Brown, E. T. A.
Hoffman, and WilliamGodwin to name a few. Many of his stories show similarities to the works of theaforementioned.Therefore another point is brought up, was Poe writing these stories asthe result of a tortured existence and a need to escape, or was he writing toplease readers and critics? In letters he wrote, he often pokes fun at hisstories and says that they are sometimes intended as satire or banter. Also inhis letters, he describes horrible events seemingly without any concern. So whocan tell how he really felt since he might not have been totally sane andrational at the time.Even though Poe writes such bizarre tales he is never quite taken inwith them. He fears but is at the same time skeptical.
He is frantic but atthe same time lucid. It is not until the very end that Poe was consumed bysomething, and died. It might have been fear or something worse, something thatcould only be scraped up from the bottom of a nightmare. That is what killedhim.
Poe’s stories contain within them a fascination for death, decay, andinsanity. He also displays very morbid characteristics and in some cases,sadistic. His murderers always seem to delight in killing their victims in themost painful and agonizing way. Still, terror seems to be the main theme. Thatis what Poe tries to bring about in his stories. For example, in The Fall ofthe House of Usher what kills Roderick Usher is the sheer terror of his sisterwho appeared to have come back from the dead.According to Marie Bonaparte, one of Freud’s friends and disciples, allthe disorders Poe suffered from can be explained by the Oedipus Complex and thetrauma he suffered when his mother died. The Oedipus Complex is best describedas a child’s unconscious desire for the exclusive love of the parent of theopposite sex.
The desire includes jealousy toward the parent of the same sexand the unconscious wish for that parent’s death. In fact, upon examining thewomen in Poe’s stories, we find that they bear striking resemblance to themother that Poe never had.So one gets a glimpse at how Poe’s life, filled with insurmountableobstacles and full of disappointments, indeed played a role in his writing. Agood comparison would be Vincent Van Gogh. He also endured hardship and died atan early age. Poe was only forty when he passed away. Insignificant in hislifetime, it was only after his death that he was appreciated.
He is nowacclaimed as one of the greatest writers in American history. It is indeed apity that he will never know or care.Biographies