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Edar Allan Poe
May 7, 1999
A Reflection of the Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is a name even the literary illiterate know, but not many people know Edgar Allan Poe the person. When reading the works of this poetic genius many might think that he had a vivid imagination or just a morbid soul. The truth is that the works of Poe are based on his own life, the life of an orphan who suffered from an obsessive compulsive disorder and who eventually became diseased by alcoholism. Understanding Poe the man, who had true medical problems that caused erratic behavior and depression among many other things, is to have an understanding of the true meaning hidden behind the words of his poetry.
Poe earned his place as a major figure in American letters for his tales of the bizarre and fantastic, short stories that are structurally brilliant and considered precursors of many forms and themes in subsequent American and European literature (Bloom, Harold p.491). Born of impoverished parents and orphaned at the age of two, Poe lived a brief and tragic life: a life whose legend has often proved an overpowering influence on the critical reception of his work (Bloom, Harold p.491).
Before Poe was three years old both of his parents died, and he was raised in the house of John Allan, a prosperous exporter from Richmond, Virginia, who never legally adopted his foster son. Poe attended many of the best schools at that time. At the University of Virginia he distinguished himself academically, but after little more than only one year he had to leave because of financial debt and lack of adequate funds from Allan. Poe went on to enlist himself in the army where he finished and published his first poetry collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. These works received no recognition. When his second set of works appeared in 1829, it received only slight attention. Also in 1829 Poe was honorably discharged from the army, having attained the rank of regimental sergeant major, and was then admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point (Gale Research p.1). However because Allan would neither provide Poe with sufficient funds to maintain himself as a cadet nor give the consent necessary to resign from the Academy, Poe gained a dismissal by ignoring his duties and violating regulations (Gale Research p.1).
He went on to New York after this where his third collection of works were published and then he moved on to Baltimore. Over the next few years the first of Poe’s short stories appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier and his “MS. Found in a Bottle” won a cash prize for the best story in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor (Gale Research p. 2). Despite this Poe was still broke and the death of Allan didn’t provide him with any legacy. Finally things began to look up financially when he accepted an editorship at The Southern Literary Messenger. His writing for the Messenger exhibited a unique talent for criticism characterized by a probing analytical quality (Bloom, Harold p.1). With this job Poe made himself known as a wonderful author of all types of writing and as a critic with such imagination and insight that the world has yet to see someone as brilliant as he.
After his wife’s death from tuberculosis in1847, Poe became involved in a number of romantic affairs. It was while he prepared for his second marriage that Poe, for reasons unknown, arrived in Baltimore, and about one month after his arrival he was discovered in a state of semi-consciousness; he died four days later without regaining the necessary lucidity to explain what had happened during the last days of his life (Gale Research p. 2).
Aside from a common theoretical basis, there is a psychological intensity that is characteristic of Poe’s writings, especially the tales of horror that comprise his best and his best known works (Gale Research, p. 3). These stories which include “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” are often told by a first person narrator, and through this voice Poe probes the workings of a character’s psyche (Gale Research, p. 3). This technique foreshadows the psychological explorations of
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Edgar Allan Poe, Tamerlane and Other Poems, Southern Literary Messenger, MS. Found in a Bottle, Edgar Allan Poe in popular culture, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe
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