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The Life and Work of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents who were traveling actors. His father David Poe Jr. died probably in 1810. Elizabeth Hopkins Poe died in 1811, leaving three children. Edgar was taken into the home of a merchant from Richmond named John Allan. The remaining children were cared for by others. Poe’s brother William died young and sister Rosalie later became insane. At the age of five Poe could recite passages of English poetry. Later one of his teachers in Richmond said: “While the other boys wrote mere mechanical verses, Poe wrote genuine poetry; the boy was a born poet.

Poe was brought up partly in England (1815-20), where he attended Manor School at Stoke Newington. Later it became the setting for his story ‘William Wilson’. Since Poe was never legally adopted, he took Allan’s name for his middle name. Poe attended the University of Virginia (1826-27), but was expelled for not paying his gambling debts. His expulsion led to a quarrel with Allan, who refused to pay the debts. Allan later disowned him. In 1826 Poe became engaged to Elmira Royster, but her parents broke off the engagement.

During his stay at the university, Poe wrote some stories, but not much is known of his beginning works. In 1827 Poe joined the U. S. Army as a common soldier under an assumed name, Edgar A. Perry. He was sent to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, which provided settings for his tales ‘The Gold Bug’ (1843) and ‘The Balloon Hoax’ (1844). Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), which Poe published at his own cost, did not do well. It has now become one of the rarest volumes in American literary history. In 1830 Poe entered West Point.

He was dishonorably discharged the next year, for intentional neglect of his duties. Apparently he did this out of his own strong desire to be released. In 1833 Poe lived in Baltimore with his father’s sister Mrs. Maria Clemm. After winning a prize of $50 for the short story ‘MS Found in a Bottle,’ he started a career as a staff member of various magazines, some of which were; the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond (1835-37), Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in Philadelphia (1839-40), and Graham’s Magazine (1842-43). During these years he wrote some of his best-known stories.

Southern Literary Messenger he had to leave partially due to his alcohol addiction. In 1836 Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. She bust a blood vessel in 1842, and remained virtually invalid until she died from tuberculosis five years later. After Virginia’s death, Poe began to lose his struggle with drinking and drugs. He had several romances, including an affair with the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who said: “His proud reserve, his profound melancholy, his unworldliness – may we not say his unearthliness of nature – made his character one very difficult of comprehension to the casual observer.

In 1849 Poe became engaged to Elmira Royster, who was at that time Mrs. Shelton. To Virginia he addressed the famous poem ‘Annabel Lee’ (1849) – its subject, Poe’s favorite, is the death of a beautiful woman. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, which was Poe’s first collection appeared in1840. It contained one of his most famous works, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher. ‘ In the story the narrator visits the crumbling mansion of his friend, Roderick Usher, and tries to dispel Roderick’s gloom.

Although his twin sister, Madeline, has been placed in the family vault dead, Roderick is convinced she lives. Madeline arises in trance, and carries her brother to death. The house itself splits asunder and sinks into the tarn. The tale has inspired several film adaptations. Roger Corman’s version from 1960, starring Mark Damon, Harry Ellerbe, Myrna Fahey, and Vincent Price, was the first of the director’s Poe movies. The Raven (1963) collected old stars of the horror genre, Vincent Price, Peter, Lorre, and Boris Karloff.

According to the director, Price and Lorre “drove Boris a little crazy” – the actor was not used to improvised dialogue. Corman filmed the picture in fifteen days, using revamped portions of his previous Poe sets. In Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), Poe’s longest tale, the secret theme is the terror of whiteness. Poe invented tribes that live near the Antarctic Circle. The strange brutish humans are black, even down to their teeth. They have been exposed to the terrible visitations of men and white storms. These are mixed together, and they slaughter the crew of Pym’s vessel.

The Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges has assumed that Poe chose the color intuitively, or for the same reasons as in Melville explained in the chapter ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’ in his Moby-Dick. Later the ‘lost world’ idea was developed by Edgar Rice Burroughs in The Land That Time Forgot (1924) and other works. Poe suffered from bouts of depression and madness, and he attempted suicide in 1848. After a drink at a birthday party while on his way to visit his new fiancee in Richmond in September the following year he disappeared for three days. He turned up in delirious condition in Baltimore gutter and died on October 7, 1849.