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Edgar Allan Poe: Biography, Works, and Style

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  1. 0:05 Biography
  2. 5:22 His Works
  3. 6:24 His Style
  4. 7:57 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Heather Carroll

Heather teaches high school English. She holds a master's degree in education and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

This video introduces Edgar Allan Poe, the father of the modern mystery story. Through his works, like 'The Raven' and 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' Poe reflected the characteristics of Dark Romanticism by creating horrific storylines and characters while exploring the dark, irrational depths of the human mind.

Biography

Edgar Allan Poe is a pop culture legend. His works have been translated into nearly every language. His legacy as the inventor of detective fiction has kept him in more than just literature textbooks. He's known to have influenced such great horror writers as Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock and even science-fiction's Ray Bradbury. His stories have been made into countless film adaptations. Even his famous poem 'The Raven' was part of The Simpsons' very first 'Treehouse of Horrors' Halloween episode.

The writings of Edgar Allan Poe have inspired many modern-day horror and science-fiction writers.
Edgar Allan Poe Picture

It might not be a surprise to those who have read Poe's works that he had a rather sad childhood. Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, the second of three children. His parents, who were traveling actors, died when he was young, so he was sent to live with a wealthy merchant, John Allan, and his wife, Frances, in Richmond, VA. Frances served as a good mother to Edgar, but John proved to be a less-than-supportive foster father. Despite the fact that they never adopted Edgar, Allan was added to his name, and he spent his younger years traveling with the couple and learning the family business. Poor Edgar wasn't terribly interested and spent a good deal of his time writing poems instead. By the age of 13, he had enough poems to publish an anthology, but he was discouraged by both his teacher and his foster father, who preferred he stay in the family business.

At the age of 17, Poe left for the University of Virginia, but because his foster father would not help him pay his bills, he wound up in debt. To offset this, Poe turned to gambling, which only made matters worse. It is said that Poe became so desperately poor that he had to burn his furniture to keep warm. That was a turning point in Poe's relationship with Mr. Allan. Poe resented him for not helping him financially, especially since there was plenty of money available. His situation worsened when he returned home from school to find his fiancée engaged to someone else.

While this was all devastating to Poe, he vowed that he would find success and published his first book, Tamerlane, under the name Edgar A. Perry. He was only 18. He also enlisted in the army, and after two years of service, he returned home in hopes of seeing Frances - the only mother he had known - who had become sick. Sadly, he arrived too late to say his good-byes, a tragedy which haunted him. He remained in Richmond long enough to publish another book of poetry before heading to West Point.

He wasn't there for long, though. After starting, Poe heard that John Allan had remarried without telling Poe or inviting him to the wedding. Since Poe was there on Allan's recommendation, he did his best to get kicked out. As a result, Poe chose to focus on writing and completely severed ties with Mr. Allan. In 1831, at the age of 22, he moved to Baltimore. After being robbed by one of his relatives, he wound up staying with his aunt, Maria Clemm, who became a mother to him. He also lived with his young cousin, Virginia.

Poe continued to live in poverty in Baltimore. Even when Allan died, he left Poe out of his will, so Poe received no help from the man who had raised him. To make money, Poe wrote and sold short stories. This eventually led to a position at the Southern Literary Messenger as an editor and critic, which moved him back to Richmond. Within a year, the magazine became extremely popular thanks to Poe's stories and nasty reviews. By the age of 27, Poe was able to bring Maria and Virginia to Richmond. In 1836, he married his cousin Virginia; she was only 13 years old.

Mostly, the 1830s and early 1840s were good to Poe. He moved to New York, to Philadelphia and back to New York. He wrote some of his best stories and became famous in his own time, quite a feat for any writer (though it did not make him rich). In 1845, Poe's popularity exploded with the publication of 'The Raven.' He traveled the country presenting lectures and solidifying his reputation.

However, in 1847, his treasured wife, Virginia, died, and Poe began to struggle. He was no stranger to loss, but that didn't ease the tragedy of losing his 24-year old wife. He suffered from writer's block for months.

His short but tormented life came to a tragic end on October 7, 1849. He briefly disappeared only to be found five days later in a bar that was being used as an election polling station. He was struggling to stay alive. No one really knows where he had been or what brought about Poe's death. At the time, it was believed to be congestion of the brain. Other speculation has blamed alcoholism.

His literary adversary, Rufus Griswold, wrote a nasty, vengeful obituary of Poe in hopes of paying him back for the critiques Poe made of Griswold's work. His account of the author's life, which began with, 'This announcement will startle many but few will be grieved by it,' claimed that Poe 'had few or no friends' and led people to believe that Poe led a drug- and alcohol-induced life. This is the biography that most people know of Poe, though many sources say those are only myths. Nonetheless, Griswold's attempts to attack Poe only brought more attention to his work, causing sales to skyrocket.

His Works

Of course, with all of this tragedy in his life, it is no wonder that Poe often wrote about madmen, murder, being buried alive and death. His psychological thrillers, however, gave way to the modern-day mystery, making him the father of the detective story. His 1841 publication of 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' was the first of these stories and the first to introduce C. August Dupin, Poe's recurring detective.

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