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best biography of poe

The 5 Best Books on Edgar Allan Poe

Essential books on edgar allan poe.

edgar allan poe books

There are countless books on Edgar Allan Poe, and it comes with good reason, he was a writer, poet, editor, and literary critic best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and horror. Moreover, Poe is widely regarded as the central figure of Romanticism in the United States, and of American literature.

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night,” he remarked.

In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s foremost writers to the heights of his craft, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy by Jeffrey Meyers

best biography of poe

This biography of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), a giant of American literature who invented both the horror and detective genres, is a portrait of extremes: a disinherited heir, a brilliant but exploited author and editor, a man who veered radically from temperance to rampant debauchery, and an agnostic who sought a return to religion at the end of his life. Acclaimed biographer Jeffrey Meyers explores the writer’s turbulent life and career, including his marriage and multiple, simultaneous romances, his literary feuds, and his death at an early age under bizarre and troubling circumstances.

The Reason for the Darkness of the Night by John Tresch

edgar allan poe books

In  The Reason for the Darkness of the Night , John Tresch offers a bold new biography of a writer whose short, tortured life continues to fascinate. Shining a spotlight on an era when the lines separating entertainment, speculation, and scientific inquiry were blurred, Tresch reveals Poe’s obsession with science and lifelong ambition to advance and question human knowledge.

Even as he composed dazzling works of fiction, he remained an avid and often combative commentator on new discoveries, publishing and hustling in literary scenes that also hosted the era’s most prominent scientists, semi-scientists, and pseudo-intellectual rogues. As one newspaper put it, “Mr. Poe is not merely a man of science – not merely a poet – not merely a man of letters. He is all combined; and perhaps he is something more.”

Taking us through his early training in mathematics and engineering at West Point and the tumultuous years that followed, Tresch shows that Poe lived, thought, and suffered surrounded by science – and that many of his most renowned and imaginative works can best be understood in its company. He cast doubt on perceived certainties even as he hungered for knowledge, and at the end of his life delivered a mind-bending lecture on the origins of the universe that would win the admiration of twentieth-century physicists.

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl

best biography of poe

Baltimore, 1849. The body of Edgar Allan Poe has been buried in an unmarked grave. The public, the press, and even Poe’s own family and friends accept the conclusion that Poe was a second-rate writer who met a disgraceful end as a drunkard. Everyone, in fact, seems to believe this except a young Baltimore lawyer named Quentin Clark, an ardent admirer who puts his own career and reputation at risk in a passionate crusade to salvage Poe’s.

As Quentin explores the puzzling circumstances of Poe’s demise, he discovers that the writer’s last days are riddled with unanswered questions the police are possibly willfully ignoring. Just when Poe’s death seems destined to remain a mystery, and forever sealing his ignominy, inspiration strikes Quentin – in the form of Poe’s own stories. The young attorney realizes that he must find the one person who can solve the strange case of Poe’s death: the real-life model for Poe’s brilliant fictional detective character, C. Auguste Dupin, the hero of ingenious tales of crime and detection.

In short order, Quentin finds himself enmeshed in sinister machinations involving political agents, a female assassin, the corrupt Baltimore slave trade, and the lost secrets of Poe’s final hours. With his own future hanging in the balance, Quentin Clark must turn master investigator himself to unchain his now imperiled fate from that of Poe’s. The author’s groundbreaking research – featuring documented material never published before – opens a new window into the truth behind Poe’s demise, literary history’s most persistent enigma.

Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn

best biography of poe

Renowned as the creator of the detective story and a master of horror, the author of “The Red Mask of Death,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” Edgar Allan Poe seems to have derived his success from suffering and to have suffered from his success. “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” have been read as signs of his personal obsessions, and “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Descent into the Maelstrom” as symptoms of his own mental collapse.

Biographers have seldom resisted the opportunities to confuse the pathologies in the stories with the events in Poe’s life. Against this tide of fancy, guesses, and amateur psychologizing, Arthur Hobson Quinn’s biography devotes itself meticulously to facts. Based on exhaustive research in the Poe family archive, Quinn extracts the life from the legend, and describes how they both were distorted by prior biographies.

Poe-Land by J. W. Ocker

edgar allan poe books

Edgar Allan Poe was an oddity. His life was odd, his literature is odd, his legacy is odd. Actually, his legacy is the oddest part about him. In  Poe-Land , J. W. Ocker explores Poe’s strange physical legacy along the East Coast and across the ocean by touring Poe’s homes, examining artifacts from his life – locks of his hair, pieces of his coffin, original manuscripts, the bed where his wife died – and traveling to the many memorials dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe.

Along the way, Ocker meets Poe fans from a range of backgrounds and professions – actors, museum managers, collectors, writers, professors, businessmen, sculptors, historians – who have dedicated some part of their lives to Poe and his legacy. A unique travel diary, this gem among books on Edgar Allan Poe follows the afterlife of the poet, author, and critic who invented detective fiction, advanced the emerging genre of science fiction, and elevated the horror genre.

The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

best biography of poe

Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Edgar Allan Poe. Even so, no one is really sure who Poe was. Many people say that he was as crazy as the characters he wrote about. Others say that Poe was a driven man with a simple wish. He wanted to write and to make a living by his writing. Even though Poe lived a miserable life, he wrote some of the most interesting and original literature ever created.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in January of 1809, the son of Boston actors. He was orphaned before he was 3 and was taken in by his godfather, John Allan, a merchant of Richmond, Virginia. After incurring gambling debts at the University of Virginia, he joined the army where, at 18, he published his first poems. He was dismissed from West Point, and then worked for various literary magazines. In 1836, while living in Baltimore, he married his 14-year-old cousin. He achieved acclaim for “The Raven” in 1845; two years later his wife died. In October of 1849, shortly after his engagement to a love of his youth, Poe was found semiconscious in the streets of Baltimore. He died days later. This book is a wide-ranging collection of his stories and poems.

If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Edgar Allan Poe, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on Ralph Waldo Emerson !

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Fiction » Mystery

The best edgar allan poe books, recommended by shawn rosenheim.

The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Poe to the Internet by Shawn Rosenheim

The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Poe to the Internet by Shawn Rosenheim

You can’t turn on a television or pass an airport bookstore without seeing the influence of America’s most generative writer, Edgar Allan Poe. He orginated true life crime and detective fiction, sci-fi and horror story tropes, and wrote unforgettable poems. Poe expert Shawn Rosenheim , a professor at Williams College, recommends where to start with Poe, as well as the best books about his influence.

Interview by Eve Gerber

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books - Poe: Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe: Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays by Edgar Allan Poe

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books - The Detective Stories of Edgar Allan Poe: Three Tales Featuring C. Auguste Dupin by Edgar Allan Poe

The Detective Stories of Edgar Allan Poe: Three Tales Featuring C. Auguste Dupin by Edgar Allan Poe

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books - Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn

Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books - Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe by Daniel Hoffman

Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe by Daniel Hoffman

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books - Pym: A Novel by Mat Johnson

Pym: A Novel by Mat Johnson

best biography of poe

1 Poe: Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays by Edgar Allan Poe

2 the detective stories of edgar allan poe: three tales featuring c. auguste dupin by edgar allan poe, 3 edgar allan poe: a critical biography by arthur hobson quinn, 4 poe poe poe poe poe poe poe by daniel hoffman, 5 pym: a novel by mat johnson.

You’ve edited and written books about Edgar Allan Poe. Please introduce him to readers who may not be familiar with him and make the case that Poe deserves a central place in the pantheon of nineteenth century American writers.

I’d start with the fact that he’s unquestionably the most influential American writer ever, bar none. He invented detective fiction and most of its subgenres – the locked-room mystery, the ratiocinative detective story (think Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes ), as well as true crime . He was one of the first writers of speculative and science fiction . He deeply influenced horror fiction , not only directly, but through his effect on writers like H.P. Lovecraft and directors like Alfred Hitchcock. He was a pioneer of the literary hoax. In short, you can’t turn on television or pass an airport bookstore without encountering Poe’s work everywhere.

What’s also important is the fact that Poe lived by his literary work as a writer and editor, at a time when doing so was almost impossible. He had to craft a living out of nothing but his wits and industry. He was absolutely an aesthete—he more or less coined the phrase “art for art’s sake”—but he was also deeply attuned to the market. He had to be. His aestheticism and his commercial intelligence came together in his belief that the proper work of fiction isn’t to construct a well-made realist world, but to create an intense effect in readers –  to do something to them. Sensation was his primary goal, and if it meant writing about lurid subjects—murderous orangutans, bodies walled up alive, spiritual possession—he was fine with that, though it set the teeth of many American critics on edge. Abroad it was a different story – Poe has always been enormously popular, and he deeply influenced writers as different as Arthur Conan Doyle , Fyodor Dostoevsky , and Charles Baudelaire. There are probably 40 books just on Poe’s influence on different national literatures, but at home, in America, he was often seen as something of an embarrassment.  But his interest in effect is one of the things that makes Poe so modern.

Poe was a cryptic writer and also a cryptologist. Can you please brief us on this aspect of his legacy, which you explored in your book, The Cryptographic Imagination ?

Poe invented detective fiction in 1841, with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Since then, detective stories have colonized the world. They became popular partly because they provided a way for readers to negotiate the dangers and pleasures of cities, which, beginning in the early 19th century, became larger, denser, and filled with immigrants – in short, they became socially illegible to a much greater degree.

“Poe often pitches his stories between terror and absurdity”

And detective fiction, in ways that I show in the book, depends on Poe’s study of cryptography. Poe became a celebrated amateur cryptographer and through his writings figured out that language doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning. Language was just a system, an elaborate code. There’s nothing doglike about the words for “dog”:  chien , hund, perro . We’ve recognized that for the last century, but that insight was very unusual in Poe’s day. One could say that Poe used cryptography to invent detective fiction, which takes place in a world in which everything is a sign, and in which power comes not from physical strength but from the ability to decode those signs – to become what Poe called “the king of secret readers.” Versions of this fantasy also structure spy novels, adventure stories like Treasure Island , and, more recently, stories that turn on computer codes or genetic algorithms (William Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy, Richard Powers’s The Goldbug Variations ).

Turning to the books, you first recommendation is Poe: Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays . Why is the Library of America collection the right place to start?

It’s a beautifully made book—well-bound with lovely paper. The editorial choices are smart. And in one volume you get most of what Poe wrote: all the poetry, all the stories, his sole novel ( The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym) and much of his criticism and essays. Which is great, because readers can dip in wherever they like, and watch as Poe takes an idea and works it through different genres, shifting from, say, gothic romance to satire to speculative fiction. The book captures the restlessness of his invention.

Please describe a few of your favorites from this collection.

Maybe the key thing Poe offers is how much pleasure there can be in the deep absorption produced by reading a sonically dense, image-rich story or poem – and how that pleasure can be doubled by a style that leads us up to the very edge of disbelief. It’s there in the first line spoken by the unreliable narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart”:  “TRUE! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” Well, maybe because you murdered an old man for no particular reason, hid his dismembered body under the floorboards, and now are so tortured by the sound of his still-beating heart that you’re about to confess to the police. Is this horror or humor?  Poe often pitches his stories between terror and absurdity. The real interest is less the crime itself than the contest between how the arrogant, erudite narrator wants to present himself, and what readers can see despite his best efforts.

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“The Facts in the Case of Monsieur Valdemar” pretends to be a dry, factual report about a person who has been left in suspended animation, after having been hypnotized at the moment of death. It ends, though, like a B-horror movie. Once taken out of hypnosis, Monsieur Valdemar’s tongue begins shrieking “dead! Dead! Dead! Dead!” even as his body dissolves into a “nearly liquid mass of loathsome — of detestable putridity.” How should we take this? Poe’s asking us to consider our own reactions as readers. What are we hungry for?

Next, you’ve chosen a capsule collection from Soft Skull. Please tell me about The Detective Stories of Edgar Allan Poe: Three Tales Featuring C. Auguste Dupin

It contains three stories, and each of them represents what is possible to do in the genre.

The first is “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first detective story ever. It establishes the convention of the reclusive but brilliant detective along with his sidekick who narrates the story. It’s the first locked-room mystery. Two bodies are found stuffed into a chimney in a locked apartment in Paris and nobody can figure out how it happened. It sets up so many of the tropes that are now familiar from detective fiction. Although Dupin is physically unprepossessing, he decodes the crime scene like a mind reader.

“The Purloined Letter” concerns a missing piece of royal correspondence whose contents, if publicized, will be disastrous to the regime. So the detective sets out to find the letter. It’s the forerunner of postmodern detective fiction by the likes of Jorge Luis Borges or Paul Auster, where the mysteries are metaphysical puzzles about language and thought as much as they’re attempts to solve a crime.

“Sensation was his primary goal”

The third story, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” is the first murder mystery to be based on a real case – the story of Mary Rogers, a Broadway salesgirl whose strangled body washed up along the Hudson. Poe transposes the story to Paris, but Poe quotes at great length from actual newspaper articles, assuming that he’s smart enough to figure out what actually happened. In fact, he gets it wrong – Rogers died of a botched abortion, not of murder – but the disturbing pattern of the hyperrational male obsessively inspecting a dead female body sets the pattern still followed by shows like CSI today.

Sirs Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Hitchcock are both blurbed on the back of this book. You sketched Poe’s imprint on detective stories. Say a few more words about his impact on film?

There have been well over a hundred film adaptations of Poe’s stories, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s, when Roger Corman made a series of movies starring Vincent Price. But Poe’s real influence has less to do with his plots than with his emphasis on creating intense sensations in his audience. In that sense, Hitchcock’s most Poe-like work is Psycho :  it’s a completely lurid story, shot on a tiny budget with Hitchcock’s television crew. And it was, dollar for dollar, the most commercially successful film of Hitch’s career. Poe’s mix of sensational subject matter with carefully controlled narration isn’t at all far from the game that Hitchcock played for most of his career.

Turning to nonfiction, you recommend Arthur Hobson Quinn’s Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography . Please tell me about it.

It’s an older biography, but it’s the best. Most recent biographies overemphasize the gothic elements in Poe’s life, making him out to be a version of his obsessive characters. That’s an injustice. Poe certainly could be melancholic, and he had a terrible problem with drinking. But he was also a very canny, extremely hardworking writer. There were very few American writers in Poe’s time who could support themselves through literature alone, partly because there were no international copyright agreements, and publishers could pirate Dickens, etc., for free. So Melville became a customs agent. Hawthorne became a diplomat. But Poe hustled and hustled, working as an editor, an exacting critic, and writer for his entire life. At a time when literary criticism was mostly puffery—praising writers who could help your career—Poe  actually offered sophisticated insights into American writing. Quinn details Poe’s professional and personal life in a way that makes him real.

For a long time, Poe had bad luck in his biographers. His first biographer was his literary executor, Rufus Griswold. But Griswold hated Poe. He wrote a biography full of lies and exaggerations. For a long time, those lies served as the conventional wisdom about Poe. Quinn details the difference between what Griswold alleged and what the records show in very revealing ways.

If Poe wrote his own life of Poe, he surely would’ve focused on the lurid details of his own life. What were the sensational details that could be plucked out of the story of the hardworking writer’s life? What were the sensational aspects of his biography that made him subject to this misinterpretation?

Well, he married his cousin Virginia when she was 13. It wasn’t as aberrant then, but it was still unusual and remarked on. They seem to have been very happy together until she contracted tuberculosis – one of the reasons the disease is so common in his writing. For years, she would oscillate between near-death sickness and apparent health. That oscillation tortured Poe, who couldn’t help but imagine that she was recovering, even as he carried the lurking knowledge of the truth.

I’d also mention Poe’s strange relationship with alcohol. He wouldn’t drink for long periods, but when he did, it completely disrupted his life.  He got in fights, lost friendships, was fired from jobs. And then the fit would pass, and he’d be left picking up the pieces.

Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe by poet Daniel Hoffman is your next choice.

Hoffman is a very talented poet and critic who brings the right spirit to his project by making his own relationship with Poe’s writing a part of his study. He’s full of sharp insights, but his voice is engaging and human. The poet James Russell Lowell has a great line about Poe: “Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge.” Poe is an erratic writer: some of his writing is juvenile, or just plain whacked. That’s partly because Poe was often writing under economic pressure but, also, as Hoffman shows, because Poe was such an experimentalist. He was always exploring new ways to influence his readers.

Hoffman gets at the fact that Poe creates incredibly absorptive stories and poems. If you like them, you disappear into them, they become their own world. Poe stories aren’t aimed at illuminating the real world in a literal way, they create an alternative experience. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe is a lot of fun to read. It’s playful and experimental, providing an account of the ways that Poe shaped Hoffman’s sense of his own possibilities as a writer.

What should we know about Poe’s poetry?

Poe’s poetry is extremely musical. It’s full of complicated rhymes and intricate sound patterns. Since about 1900, American poetry has moved toward a more vernacular free verse that usually does away with rhyme. Poe explores the pleasure of repetition and pattern in extravagant ways. His poems are intricate ornaments for your ears, as well as for your mind.

“He had to craft a living out of nothing but his wits and industry”

Poe’s most famous poem is “The Raven,” which became such an enormous hit that he toured the US reading it at theaters. “The Raven” is about this bird that appears one stormy night in the room of a man who just lost his love. The raven comes in and says one word: “nevermore.” The narrator poses a series of questions for the raven, “Will I see my love again?” and “Will there be any hope for me in heaven?” Each question gets more dire, and the answer is always “nevermore.”  That kind of self-vexing pleasure is at the core of many Poe poems and romantic tales. We turn to Poe’s poems about loss not just for comfort but to wiggle the tooth that aches us.

Finally, you recommend Pym: A Novel , by contemporary novelist Mat Johnson. This is a satirical fantasy story that made countless best of the year lists back in 2011.

Poe only wrote one novel— The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym— and even that breaks off suddenly, with no proper ending. Pym: A Novel is a comic satire that uses Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket to engage the blinding and destructive effects of whiteness in American culture.

Pym starts out as an adventure at sea, with shipwrecks and mutinies and cannibalism. Eventually, Pym arrives at an island called Tsalal, where the inhabitants are entirely black – even their teeth are black – and are terrified of whiteness. The black-skinned figures attack the crew, and Pym and his racially-mixed companion Dirk Peters hide out in enormous Hebrew hieroglyphs cut a hundred feet into the ground. Once they escape, they sail toward the South Pole. The water turns warm, and then hot; ash falls from the sky; and then, as a huge white figure emerges from the ocean mist, the novel ends. It’s a crazy book, but influential. Toni Morrison recommends it as a way to illuminate the structural heart of American racism.

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Mat Johnson, a Black graphic novelist and critic, rewrites Poe’s story today. Now the main character is a Black professor of literature who pursues the story of Pym to Antarctica, where he finds a tribe of savage white creatures, a biosphere built by a character modeled on the painter Thomas Kincaid, and storerooms full of Little Debbie snack cakes. Johnson’s satire takes on many of the absurdities in American attitudes toward race, but it’s also an extremely smart reading of Arthur Gordon Pym , which Johnson quotes from and parodies at length. In Johnson’s hands, Poe’s racism becomes a resource for understanding how America’s caste system developed – in particular, how it relied on an unmarked invisibility around whiteness that locked in forms of domination and control.  Johnson is also alive to the instability of Poe’s racism, as ambivalent figures like Peters turn out to be stronger, smarter and more poised than the ostensible hero. Opening up the perversity of racial ideologies is an essential part of destroying their social power, and Johnson’s satire does that in provocative, often hilarious ways.

You mentioned that Verne wrote a book inspired by Poe. H. G. Wells also acknowledged Poe as an influence. How does Poe continue to influence fantasy ?

Elements of his plots, bits of his poetry, characters borrowed from his works continue to show up in weirdly diverse places – Lovecraft Country is an interesting example, because it reworks Lovecraft, and by implication Poe, partly to wrestle with the racism of the original works. At other times, Poe becomes an icon for the kind of intensity the filmmakers or writers want to achieve – again, in works as different as Picnic at Hanging Rock  or The Lost Boys, or Truffaut’s adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 , where the central character chooses to save and memorize Poe’s Tales of Mystery & Imagination rather than burn it.

So, the most macabre of writers is the one whose influence is most immortal?

Just so. In large part, that’s because we now live in a world where Poe’s aesthetics of intensity have carried the day. I’m still astonished to see the range of people who have a vital relation to Poe – often people you’d never suspect of reading 19th century literature.  Unlike Hawthorne, say, Poe doesn’t rely on English professors for his continued success.

March 3, 2021

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Shawn Rosenheim

Shawn Rosenheim

Shawn Rosenheim is Professor of English at Williams College in Massachusetts.

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Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was a writer and critic famous for his dark, mysterious poems and stories, including “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

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Who Was Edgar Allan Poe?

Quick facts, army and west point, writing career as a critic and poet, poems: “the raven” and “annabel lee”, short stories, legacy and museum.

FULL NAME: Edgar Allan Poe BORN: January 19, 1809 DIED: October 7, 1849 BIRTHPLACE: Boston, Massachusetts SPOUSE: Virginia Clemm Poe (1836-1847) ASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Capricorn

Edgar Allan Poe was born Edgar Poe on January 19, 1809, in Boston. Edgar never really knew his biological parents: Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a British actor, and David Poe Jr., an actor who was born in Baltimore. His father left the family early in Edgar’s life, and his mother died from tuberculosis when he was only 2.

Separated from his brother, William, and sister, Rosalie, Poe went to live with his foster parents, John and Frances Allan, in Richmond, Virginia. John was a successful tobacco merchant there. Edgar and Frances seemed to form a bond, but he had a more difficult relationship with John.

By age 13, Poe was a prolific poet, but his literary talents were discouraged by his headmaster and by John, who preferred that young Edgar follow him in the family business. Preferring poetry over profits, Poe reportedly wrote poems on the back of some of Allan’s business papers.

miles george, thomas goode tucker, and edgar allan poe

Money was also an issue between Poe and John. Poe went to the University of Virginia in 1826, where he excelled in his classes. However, he didn’t receive enough money from John to cover all of his costs. Poe turned to gambling to cover the difference but ended up in debt.

He returned home only to face another personal setback—his neighbor and fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster had become engaged to someone else. Heartbroken and frustrated, Poe moved to Boston.

In 1827, around the time he published his first book, Poe joined the U.S. Army. Two years later, he learned that his mother, Frances, was dying of tuberculosis, but by the time he returned to Richmond, she had already died.

While in Virginia, Poe and his father briefly made peace with each other, and John helped Poe get an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Poe excelled at his studies at West Point, but he was kicked out after a year for his poor handling of his duties.

During his time at West Point, Poe had fought with John, who had remarried without telling him. Some have speculated that Poe intentionally sought to be expelled to spite his father, who eventually cut ties with Poe.

After leaving West Point, Poe published his third book and focused on writing full-time. He traveled around in search of opportunity, living in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond. In 1834, John Allan died, leaving Poe out of his will, but providing for an illegitimate child Allan had never met.

Poe, who continued to struggle living in poverty, got a break when one of his short stories won a contest in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter . He began to publish more short stories and, in 1835, landed an editorial position with the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. Poe developed a reputation as a cut-throat critic, writing vicious reviews of his contemporaries. His scathing critiques earned him the nickname the “Tomahawk Man.”

His tenure at the magazine proved short, however. Poe’s aggressive reviewing style and sometimes combative personality strained his relationship with the publication, and he left the magazine in 1837. His problems with alcohol also played a role in his departure, according to some reports.

Poe went on to brief stints at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine , Graham’s Magazine , as well as The Broadway Journal , and he also sold his work to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger , among other journals.

In 1844, Poe moved to New York City. There, he published a news story in The New York Sun about a balloon trip across the Atlantic Ocean that he later revealed to be a hoax. His stunt grabbed attention, but it was his publication of “The Raven,” in 1845, that made Poe a literary sensation.

That same year, Poe found himself under attack for his stinging criticisms of fellow poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow . Poe claimed that Longfellow, a widely popular literary figure, was a plagiarist, which resulted in a backlash against Poe.

Despite his success and popularity as a writer, Poe continued to struggle financially, and he advocated for higher wages for writers and an international copyright law.

Poe self-published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems , in 1827. His second poetry collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems , was published in 1829.

As a critic at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond from 1835 to 1837, Poe published some of his own works in the magazine, including two parts of his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym . Later on came poems such as “Ulalume” and “The Bells.”

“The Raven”

Poe’s poem “The Raven,” published in 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror , is considered among the best-known poems in American literature and one of the best of Poe’s career. An unknown narrator laments the demise of his great love Lenore and is visited by a raven, who insistently repeats one word: “Nevermore.” In the work, which consists of 18 six-line stanzas, Poe explored some of his common themes: death and loss.

“Annabel Lee”

This lyric poem again explores Poe’s themes of death and loss and might have been written in memory of his beloved wife, Virginia, who died two years prior its publication. The poem was published on October 9, 1849, two days after Poe’s death, in the New York Tribune .

In late 1830s, Poe published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque , a collection of short stories. It contained several of his most spine-tingling tales, including “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Ligeia,” and “William Wilson.”

In 1841, Poe launched the new genre of detective fiction with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” His literary innovations earned him the nickname “Father of the Detective Story.” A writer on the rise, he won a literary prize in 1843 for “The Gold Bug,” a suspenseful tale of secret codes and hunting treasure.

“The Black Cat”

Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” was published in 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post . In it, the narrator, a one-time animal lover, becomes an alcoholic who begins abusing his wife and black cat. By the macabre story’s end, the narrator observes his own descent into madness as he kills his wife, a crime his black cat reports to the police. The story was later included in the 1845 short story collection, Tales by Edgar Allan Poe .

Later in his career, Poe continued to work in different forms, examining his own methodology and writing in general in several essays, including “The Philosophy of Composition,” “The Poetic Principle,” and “The Rationale of Verse.” He also produced the thrilling tale, “The Cask of Amontillado.”

virginia clemm poe

From 1831 to 1835, Poe lived in Baltimore, where his father was born, with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia. He began to devote his attention to Virginia; his cousin became his literary inspiration as well as his love interest. The couple married in 1836 when she was only 13 years old and he was 27.

In 1847, at the age of 24—the same age when Poe’s mother and brother also died—Virginia passed away from tuberculosis. Poe was overcome by grief following her death, and although he continued to work, he suffered from poor health and struggled financially until his death in 1849.

Poe died on October 7, 1849, in Baltimore at age 40.

His final days remain somewhat of a mystery. Poe left Richmond on ten days earlier, on September 27, and was supposedly on his way to Philadelphia. On October 3, he was found in Baltimore in great distress. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital, where he died four days later. His last words were “Lord, help my poor soul.”

At the time, it was said that Poe died of “congestion of the brain.” But his actual cause of death has been the subject of endless speculation. Some experts believe that alcoholism led to his demise while others offer up alternative theories. Rabies, epilepsy, and carbon monoxide poisoning are just some of the conditions thought to have led to the great writer’s death.

Shortly after his passing, Poe’s reputation was badly damaged by his literary adversary Rufus Griswold. Griswold, who had been sharply criticized by Poe, took his revenge in his obituary of Poe, portraying the gifted yet troubled writer as a mentally deranged drunkard and womanizer. He also penned the first biography of Poe, which helped cement some of these misconceptions in the public’s minds.

Although Poe never had financial success in his lifetime, he has become one of America’s most enduring writers. His works are as compelling today as they were more than a century ago. An innovative and imaginative thinker, Poe crafted stories and poems that still shock, surprise, and move modern readers. His dark work influenced writers including Charles Baudelaire , Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Stephane Mallarme.

The Baltimore home where Poe stayed from 1831 to 1835 with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, Poe’s cousin and future wife Virginia, is now a museum. The Edgar Allan Poe House offers a self-guided tour featuring exhibits on Poe’s foster parents, his life and death in Baltimore, and the poems and short stories he wrote while living there, as well as memorabilia including his chair and desk.

  • The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.
  • Lord, help my poor soul.
  • Sound loves to revel near a summer night.
  • But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.
  • They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
  • The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
  • With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not—they cannot at will be excited, with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.
  • And now—have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses?—now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart.
  • All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.
  • I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active—not more happy—nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.
  • [I]f you wish to forget anything upon the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.
  • Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.

Edgar Allan Poe

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Why Edgar Allan Poe’s Death Remains a Mystery

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Is Poe the most influential American writer? A new book offers evidence.

best biography of poe

There are many, many biographies of Edgar Allan Poe, the most exhaustive being Arthur Hobson Quinn’s , first published in 1941, the most concise Peter Ackroyd’s 2009 “ Poe: A Life Cut Short .” Nearly all of them, however, are written by literary scholars, poets or novelists. By contrast, John Tresch’s “ The Reason for the Darkness of the Night ” situates our nation’s most influential writer, as I would claim Poe to be, against the backdrop of what its subtitle calls “the forging of American science.” Tresch himself is a distinguished historian of science, now at London’s Warburg Institute, and author of the prizewinning study, “ The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology After Napoleon .”

Is Poe really the most influential American writer? Note that I didn’t say “greatest,” for which there must be at least a dozen viable candidates. But consider his radiant originality. Before his death in 1849 at age 40, Poe largely created the modern short story, while also inventing or perfecting half the genres represented on the bestseller list, including the mystery (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Gold-Bug”), science fiction (“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion”), psychological suspense (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado”) and, of course, gothic horror (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” the incomparable “Ligeia”).

That’s just the fiction. W.B. Yeats once named Poe “the greatest of American poets,” which does sound absurd. Still, few poems are more famous than “The Raven” with its dolorous tocsin, “Nevermore.” Among my own earliest memories is hearing my steelworker father, not a bookish man, regularly murmur the first stanza of “Annabel Lee”: “It was many and many a year ago/ In a kingdom by the sea . . .”

Finally, Poe — like several of his characters — haunts us from beyond the grave. When we peer at the mournful figure in those familiar daguerreotypes, we seem to glimpse the emblematic image of the modern artist as misunderstood genius, prey to melancholy, drawn to self-destruction.

Mat Johnson’s ‘Pym’ reimagines Poe’s social satire

That morose view of Poe, still widespread, isn’t precisely accurate. As Tresch reminds us, Edgar grew up coddled by the wealth and status of his Richmond stepparents, excelled in many of his courses at the University of Virginia and, during his time at West Point, was well liked by his fellow cadets (over half of whom helped underwrite a volume of his poems). While it’s hard to imagine him in any uniform but a severe black suit, Poe actually served in the Army for four years, rising to the rank of sergeant major.

Though punctilious about his honor, in civilian life Poe normally comported himself with genteel courtliness. Professionally, he worked with astonishing diligence. By his early 30s, Poe had already edited major periodicals (the Southern Literary Messenger, Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine), interviewed international celebrities (such as the visiting Charles Dickens), written a respected guide to, believe it or not, seashells (“ The Conchologist’s First Book ”), earned notoriety as the “Tomahawk Man ” for his savage reviews of Emerson, Longfellow and other literary pooh-bahs, and even gone on the lecture circuit with a talk modestly titled “The Universe.” During these same years, Poe had also married his consumptive, teenage cousin, occasionally drunk peach brandy to excess (he chugged rather than savored) and regularly hobnobbed with the era’s intelligentsia.

As a lifelong “Magazinist,” Poe could write anything: humorous squibs, book reviews, parodies, articles about the latest scientific discoveries, exposés of quackery (most notably of Maelzel’s chess-playing automaton), critical essays on “the philosophy of composition,” an almost unreadable cosmological prose-poem called “Eureka” and, of course, those unforgettable stories of self-justifying murderers and shrill psychopaths: “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.” . . . “True — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

In “The Reason for the Darkness of the Night” (available June 15), Tresch emphasizes how much Poe infuses scientific discourse into his most fantastical imaginings. For example, in “A Descent Into the Maelstrom,” a sailor, whose boat has been sucked into a gigantic whirlpool, rather improbably saves himself by thinking like a physicist: He observes that cylindrical objects fell more slowly into the whirling vortex than other objects of the same size, so he quickly lashes himself to a barrel to escape from a watery grave. In another story, “The Man That Was Used Up,” Poe describes a highly decorated army officer who, because his body parts have been replaced by various prostheses, is actually a steampunk cyborg.

Poe’s fiction and journalism lead Tresch to discuss all sorts of scientific and pseudoscientific topics: code-breaking, phrenology (the once-popular belief that the bumps on your skull reveal your character), the naturalist-explorer Alexander von Humboldt, 19th-century astronomy, the popularity of hoaxes, P.T. Barnum, the vogue for mesmerism, theories of the universe, the birth of the Smithsonian Institution and, not least, the careers of the important early American scientists Joseph Henry and Alexander Dallas Bache.

An afternoon inside a bookstore was as glorious as ever. Here’s what I bought.

Obviously, Tresch packs quite a lot into his book — there’s even an ingenious deconstruction of the title page of Poe’s nautical novel, the macabre and tantalizingly enigmatic “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” Still, prospective readers of “The Reason for the Darkness of the Night” should be aware that it isn’t a sustained, detailed exposition of Poe’s life so much as a rich assemblage of biographical vignettes, brief story analyses and mini-essays on the era’s scientific beliefs.

In general, Tresch’s overall thesis — that Poe’s “deep familiarity with science was the fulcrum on which his thought balanced” — seems unarguable, given the presence of the “ratiocinative” in so much of what he wrote. Yet, ultimately, it is Poe’s other aspect, his ability to convey monomaniacal intensity, verging on hysteria, that we are drawn to, his gift for expressing what D.H. Lawrence floridly called “the prismatic ecstasy of heightened consciousness.”

Michael Dirda  reviews books for Style every Thursday.

THE REASON FOR THE DARKNESS OF THE NIGHT: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science

By John Tresch

Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 448 pp. $30

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Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. Poe’s father and mother, both professional actors, died before the poet was three years old, and John and Frances Allan raised him as a foster child in Richmond, Virginia. John Allan, a prosperous tobacco exporter, sent Poe to the best boarding schools and, later, to the University of Virginia, where Poe excelled academically. After less than one year of school, however, he was forced to leave the university when Allan refused to pay Poe’s gambling debts.

Poe returned briefly to Richmond, but his relationship with Allan deteriorated. In 1827, Poe moved to Boston and enlisted in the United States Army. His first collection of poems, Tamerlane, and Other Poems  (George Redway), was published that year. In 1829, he published a second collection entitled Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems  (Hatch & Dunning). Neither volume received significant critical or public attention. Following his Army service, Poe was admitted to the United States Military Academy, but he was again forced to leave for lack of financial support. He then moved into the home of his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, Virginia, in Baltimore.

Poe began to sell short stories to magazines at around this time, and, in 1835, he became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, where he moved with his aunt and cousin Virginia. In 1836, he married Virginia, who was thirteen years old at the time. Over the next ten years, Poe would edit a number of literary journals including the Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia and the Broadway Journal in New York City. It was during these years that he established himself as a poet, a short story writer, and an editor. He published some of his best-known stories and poems, including “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Raven.” After Virginia’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe’s lifelong struggle with depression and alcoholism worsened. He returned briefly to Richmond in 1849 and then set out for an editing job in Philadelphia. For unknown reasons, he stopped in Baltimore. On October 3, 1849, he was found in a state of semi-consciousness. Poe died four days later of “acute congestion of the brain.” Evidence by medical practitioners who reopened the case has shown that Poe may have been suffering from rabies.

Poe’s work as an editor, poet, and critic had a profound impact on American and international literature. His stories mark him as one of the originators of both horror and detective fiction. Many anthologies credit him as the “architect” of the modern short story. He was also one of the first critics to focus primarily on the effect of style and structure in a literary work; as such, he has been seen as a forerunner to the “art for art’s sake” movement. French Symbolists such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud claimed him as a literary precursor. Charles  Baudelaire spent nearly fourteen years translating Poe into French. Today, Poe is remembered as one of the first American writers to become a major figure in world literature.

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Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography

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Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography Paperback – December 26, 1997

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  • Editorial Reviews

Now in paperback―the classic, monumental biography of Poe by Arthur Hobson Quinn.

Renowned as the creator of the detective story and a master of horror, the author of "The Red Mask of Death," "The Black Cat," and "The Murders of the Rue Morgue," Edgar Allan Poe seems to have derived his success from suffering and to have suffered from his success. "The Raven" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" have been read as signs of his personal obsessions, and "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Descent into the Maelstrom" as symptoms of his own mental collapse. Biographers have seldom resisted the opportunities to confuse the pathologies in the stories with the events in Poe's life. Against this tide of fancy, guesses, and amateur psychologizing, Arthur Hobson Quinn's biography devotes itself meticulously to facts. Based on exhaustive research in the Poe family archive, Quinn extracts the life from the legend, and describes how they both were distorted by prior biographies.

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  • Print length 804 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date December 26, 1997
  • Dimensions 6 x 1.76 x 9 inches
  • ISBN-10 0801857309
  • ISBN-13 978-0801857300
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Johns Hopkins University Press; First Edition (December 26, 1997)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 804 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0801857309
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0801857300
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 2.35 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 1.76 x 9 inches
  • #643 in American Literature Criticism
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  • Poe's Short Stories

Edgar Allan Poe

  • Literature Notes
  • Edgar Allan Poe Biography
  • About Poe's Short Stories
  • Summary and Analysis
  • "The Fall of the House of Usher"
  • "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"
  • "The Purloined Letter"
  • "The Tell-Tale Heart"
  • "The Black Cat"
  • "The Cask of Amontillado"
  • "William Wilson"
  • "The Pit and the Pendulum"
  • "The Masque of the Red Death"
  • Critical Essays
  • Edgar Allan Poe and Romanticism
  • Poe's Critical Theories
  • Cite this Literature Note

Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809, and died October 7, 1849; he lived only forty years, but during his brief lifetime, he made a permanent place for himself in American literature and also in world literature. A few facts about Poe's life are indisputable, but, unfortunately, almost everything else about Poe's life has been falsified, romanticized, slanderously distorted, or subjected to grotesque Freudian interpretations. Poe, it has been said at various times, was a manic depressive, a dope addict, an epileptic, and an alcoholic; moreover, it has been whispered that he was syphilitic, that he was impotent, and that he fathered at least one illegitimate child. Hardly any of Poe's biographers have been content to write a straight account of his life. This was particularly true of his early biographers, and only recently have those early studies been refuted. Intrigued with the horror and mystery of Poe's stories and by the dark romanticism of his poetry, his early critics and biographers often embroidered on the facts of his past in order to create their own imaginative vision of what kind of man produced these "strange" tales and poems. Thus Poe's true genius was neglected for a long time. Indeed, probably more fiction has been written about this American literary master than he himself produced; finally, however, fair and unbiased evaluations of his writings and of his life are available to us, and we can judge for ourselves what kind of a man Poe was. Yet, because the facts are scarce, Poe's claim to being America's first authentic neurotic genius will probably remain, and it is possible that Poe would be delighted.

Both of Poe's parents were professional actors, and this fact in itself has fueled many of the melodramatic myths that surround Poe. Poe's mother was a teenage widow when she married David Poe, and Edgar was their second son. Poe's father had a fairly good reputation as an actor, but he had an even wider reputation as an alcoholic. He deserted the family a year after Poe was born, and the following year, Poe's mother died while she was acting in Richmond, Virginia.

The children were parceled out, and young Poe was taken in as a foster-child by John Allan, a rich southern merchant. Allan never legally adopted Poe, but he did try to give him a good home and a good education.

When Poe was six years old, the Allans moved to England, and for five years Poe attended the Manor House School, conducted by a man who was a good deal like the schoolmaster in "William Wilson." When the Allans returned to America, Poe began using his legal name for the first time.

Poe and his foster-father often quarreled during his adolescence and as soon as he was able to leave home, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia. While he was there, he earned a good academic record, but Mr. Allan never allowed him the means to live in the style his social status demanded. When Poe tried to keep up with his high-living classmates, he incurred so many gambling debts that the parsimonious Mr. Allan prevented his returning for a second year of study.

Unhappy at home, Poe got money somehow (probably from Mrs. Allan) and went to Boston, where he arranged for publication of his first volume of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827). He then joined the army. Two years later, when he was a sergeant-major, he received a discharge to enter West Point, to which he was admitted with Mr. Allan's help. Again, however, he felt frustrated because of the paltry allowance which his foster-father doled out to him, so he arranged to be court-martialed and dismissed.

Poe's next four years were spent in Baltimore, where he lived with an aunt, Maria Clemm; these were years of poverty. When Mr. Allan died in 1834, Poe hoped that he would receive some of his foster-father's fortune, but he was disappointed. Allan left him not a cent. For that reason, Poe turned from writing poetry, which he was deeply fond of — despite the fact that he knew he could never live off his earnings — and turned to writing stories, for which there was a market. He published five tales in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832, and because of his talent and certain influential friends, he became an editorial assistant at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond in December 1835.

The editor of the Messenger recognized Poe's genius and published several of his stories, but he despaired at Poe's tendency to "sip the juice." Nevertheless, Poe's drinking does not seem to have interfered with his duties at the magazine; its circulation grew, Poe continued producing stories, and while he was advancing the reputation of the Messenger, he created a reputation of his own — not only as a fine writer, but also as a keen critic.

Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, when she was fourteen years old. He left the Messenger the following year and took his aunt and wife to New York City. There, Poe barely eked out a living for two years as a free-lance writer. He did, however, finish a short novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and sold it to the Messenger, where it was published in two installments. Harper's bought out the magazine in 1838, but Poe never realized any more money from the novel because his former boss had recorded that the Narrative was only "edited" by Poe.

From New York City, the Poes moved to Baltimore, and for two years, the young family lived in even more dire poverty than they had in New York City. Poe continued writing, however, and finally in May 1839, he was hired as a co-editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine. He held this position for a year, during which he published some of his best fiction, including "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "William Wilson."

Because of his drinking, Poe lost his job the following year. This was unfortunate because his Tales of the Grotesque, which had been published several months earlier, was not selling well. Once again, Poe and his wife found themselves on the edge of poverty, but Poe's former employer recommended Poe to the publisher of Graham's , and once again Poe found work as an editor while he worked on his own fiction and poetry.

In January 1842, Poe suffered yet another setback. His wife, Virginia, burst a blood vessel in her throat. She did recover, but Poe's restlessness began to grow, as did the frequency of his drinking bouts, and he left Graham's under unpleasant circumstances. He attempted to found his own magazine and failed; he worked on cheap weeklies for awhile and, in a moment of despair, he went to Washington to seek out President Tyler. According to several accounts, he was so drunk when he called on the President that he wore his cloak inside out.

Shortly afterward, Poe moved his family to New York City and began working for the Sunday Times. The following year was a good one: James Russell Lowell praised Poe's talent and genius in an article, and Poe's poem "The Raven" was published and received rave reviews. Seemingly, Poe had "made it"; "The Raven" was the sensation of the literary season. Poe began lecturing about this time and, shortly afterward, a new collection of his short stories appeared, as well as a collection of his poetry.

Most biographers agree that Poe died of alcoholism — officially, "congestion of the brain." However, in 1996, cardiologist R. Michael Benitez, after conducting a blind clinical pathologic diagnosis of the symptoms of a patient described only as "E.P., a writer from Richmond," concluded that Poe died not from alcoholic poisoning, but from rabies. According to Dr. Benitez, Poe had become so hypersensitive to alcohol in his later years that he became ill for days after only one glass of wine. Benitez also refutes the myth that Poe died in a gutter, stating that he died at Washington College Hospital after four days of hallucinating and shouting at imaginary people.

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Where to Start with Edgar Allan Poe

engraved portrait of Edgar Allen Poe

The Master of Macabre, the Father of American Gothic, Detective Fiction, and the Short Story, Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. Best known for his dark tales of horror, psychological terror, and madness, Poe’s own life was marked by both internal and external tragedies that undoubtedly shaped his work. 

Born to traveling actor parents as Edgar Poe, his father, David Poe Jr., abandoned the family, leaving Poe and his two siblings with their actress mother, Elizabeth “Eliza” Arnold Hopkins Poe, who died a year later from tuberculosis. While he was much too young (only two years old) to truly remember his birth mother, she was the first in a long string of women he loved that he would lose.  

"The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” —Edgar Allan Poe, "The Philosophy of Composition”

After the death of his birth mother, Poe and his siblings were split up and sent to live with separate families. Poe was left in the care of John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do family from Richmond, Virginia. Rechristened Edgar Allan Poe, he went on to live a comfortable early life with his foster family. He was educated at private academies and even traveled abroad. By all accounts, Poe was close to his foster mother, but his relationship with his foster father worsened over time. By the time he was an adult, Poe was disowned by the Allan family altogether.

After a failed attempt at the University of Virginia, where his gambling left him in severe debt, Poe enrolled in the U.S. Army in 1827. It was around this time that he began to publish poetry seriously, releasing Tamerlane and Other Poems the same year. In 1829, his foster mother, Frances Allan, died, marking the second loss of a prominent female figure in his life. That same year he published his second book of poems, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems . 

After a stint in the army, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he was dishonorably discharged for neglect of duty in 1831. Ultimately he chose a life as a writer over military service. Most notably, he was the first American author to try to make a professional living as a writer. He published his third volume of poetry, Poems , in 1831.

From that point on, he worked as a writer, editor, and literary critic for several newspapers and magazines, traveling around cities on the East coast from Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. 

He published his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1839, which included one of his most famous short stories, “The Fall of the House of Usher." In 1841, he released “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first modern detective story, which would later go on to inspire the creator of the most famous detective of all time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Murder, death, madness, grief, and psychological horror were common themes in his work, which fit the dour spirit of the Victorian age. Indeed, this time period saw a rise in Gothic literature and early works of horror . He continued to publish his stories and poems in newspapers and magazines to mixed critical success. 

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Although Poe’s work would eventually gain widespread respect, he never achieved true financial success during his lifetime and constantly struggled to earn a living. While reviews of his work were mixed, his first undeniable success came with the publication of his poem “The Raven,” which was published in  The Evening Mirror  in 1845 and became instantly popular among the literary crowd. The story of a man gone mad with grief over the death of his beloved is undoubtedly one of Poe’s most recognizable works. Considering the tragedy that marred Poe’s personal life up to that point, it is easy to see where he found inspiration. 

In 1836, Poe married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. The marriage lasted eleven years before Virginia’s death in 1847. The couple produced no children. Poe’s most prolific writing period coincided with Virginia’s contraction of tuberculosis in 1841, the disease which ultimately claimed her life. As there was no cure, Poe had to helplessly watch his wife slowly succumb to the illness. This caused him to sink into a deep depression and, eventually, alcoholism. 

In a letter to George W. Eveleth,  Poe wrote: 

“Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever & underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially and I again hoped. At the end of a year the vessel broke again—I went through precisely the same scene . . . Each time I felt all the agonies of her death—and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly & clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive—nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” New-York — Jan. 4, 1848 .

Perhaps befitting of a master of mystery and horror, Poe’s death has been the cause of much speculation. On October 3, 1849, he was found in a state of delirium lying in a gutter in Baltimore, Maryland after last being seen a week earlier in Richmond, Virginia.  No one knew how he had gotten there, and no one can agree on what exactly caused his state of delirium or his death. He remained in a state of semi-consciousness for the four days leading up to his death on Sunday, October 7, 1849. To this day, no one can say what happened during Poe’s last week on Earth. 

Poe’s impact on literature cannot be overstated. He developed and popularized the short story format with works like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Cask of Amantillado.” He created the detective genre with “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” and his poems such as “Annabel Lee” are filled with hauntingly beautiful lyrics that perfectly capture the narrator’s pain and devastation. Named after him, the  Edgar Award , one of the most prestigious awards for works in the mystery genre, is offered by the Mystery Writers of America every year. 

For nearly a century after his death, a lone, anonymous figure dressed in black could be spotted at Poe's gravesite in Baltimore, Maryland every year on the poet's birthday. The “Poe Toaster” as he came to be known would leave three roses and a bottle of cognac on the grave before disappearing. This tradition went on for nearly 75 years, but the Poe Toaster was never identified. 

In this same tradition of honoring an American Master of Literature, we’ve gathered together a list of recommendations for all those interested in walking the line between sanity and madness. 

Collections

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The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and Related Tales 

by Edgar Allan Poe; edited with an introduction and notes by J. Gerald Kennedy Edgar Allan Poe's only novel,  The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket  is a pivotal work in which Poe calls attention to the act of writing and to the problem of representing the truth. It is an archetypal American story of escape from domesticity tracing a young man's rite of passage through a series of terrible brushes with death during a fateful sea voyage. Included are eight related tales which further illuminate Pym by their treatment of persistent themes—fantastic voyages, gigantic whirlpools, and premature burials—as well as their relationship to Poe's art and life.

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The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings: Poems, Tales, Essays, and Reviews

by Edgar Allan Poe; edited with an introduction and notes by David Galloway This selection of Poe's critical writings, short fiction and poetry demonstrates an intense interest in aesthetic issues and the astonishing power and imagination with which he probed the darkest corners of the human mind. "The Fall of the House of Usher" describes the final hours of a family tormented by tragedy and the legacy of the past. In "The Tell-Tale Heart," a murderer's insane delusions threaten to betray him, while stories such as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Cask of Amontillado" explore extreme states of decadence, fear, and hate.

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The Fall of the House of Usher: And Other Tales

by Edgar Allan Poe; with an introduction by Stephen Marlowe and a new afterword by Regina Marler A collection of fourteen of the author's best-known tales of mystery and the macabre includes "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Fall of the House of Usher," in which a visitor to a gloomy mansion finds a childhood friend dying under the spell of a family curse.

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The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

by Edgar Allan Poe; edited with an introduction and notes by Benjamin F. Fisher This anthology offers an exceptionally generous selection of Poe’s short stories. It includes his famed masterpieces, such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter," featuring Poe’s great detective, Dupin; his insightful studies of madness "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-Tale Heart"; "The Gold-Bug," his delightful exercise in "code-breaking"; and important but lesser-known tales, such as "Bon-Bon," "The Assignation," and "King Pest." Also included are some of Poe’s most beloved poems, haunting lyrics of love and loss, such as "Annabel Lee," nightmare phantasmagories such as "The Raven," and his grand experiment in translating sound into words, "The Bells."

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The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe 

by Edgar Allan Poe; with an introduction by Jay Parini and a new afterword by April Bernard Although best known for his short stories, Edgar Allan Poe was by nature and choice a poet. From his exquisite lyric “To Helen,” to his immortal masterpieces, “Annabel Lee,” “The Bells,” and “The Raven,” Poe stands beside the celebrated English romantic poets Shelley, Byron, and Keats, and his haunting, sensuous poetic vision profoundly influenced the Victorian giants Swinburne, Tennyson, and Rossetti.

Today his dark side speaks eloquently to contemporary readers in poems such as “The Haunted Palace” and “The Conqueror Worm,” with their powerful images of madness and the macabre. But even at the end of his life, Poe reached out to his art for comfort and courage, giving us in “Eldorado” a talisman to hold during our darkest moments—a timeless gift from a great American writer.

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The Raven and Other Poems

by Edgar Allan Poe; with the classic illustrations by Gustave Doř; introduction by Brook Haley

Lamenting the loss of a gentle but passionate woman, the narrator drinks, yet somberly dwells on her name. A local raven, with the capacity to utter like a parrot a syllable or two, repeats "Lenore," and "Nevermore." The narrator, tired and broken, believes the raven might be sent by God or even by the Devil, and tries talking with it.

Graphic Novel

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The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe; retold by Benjamin Harper; illustrated by Dennis Calero Retold in graphic novel form, the narrator tells the reader about the murder he committed and the terrifying aftermath.

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Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation

by Gareth Hinds A volume of graphic novel renderings of some of Edgar Allan Poe's best-known works includes "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven."

Illustrated

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by Edgar Allan Poe; illustrated by Yanai Pery "Once upon a midnight dreary . . . " This strikingly illustrated version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" will haunt and thrill readers new and old.

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The Annotated Poe

by Edgar Allan Poe; edited by Kevin J. Hayes; with a foreword by William Giraldi With color illustrations and photographs throughout, The Annotated Poe contains in-depth notes placed conveniently alongside the tales and poems to elucidate Poe’s sources, obscure words and passages, and literary, biographical, and historical allusions. Like Poe’s own marginalia, Hayes’s marginal notes accommodate “multitudinous opinion”: he explains his own views and interpretations as well as those of other writers and critics, including Poe himself. In his Foreword, William Giraldi provides a spirited introduction to the writer who produced such indelible masterpieces as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Black Cat.”

The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books

If you're watching the Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix, now is the time to dive into Poe's dark romantic work.

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Every item on this page was chosen by a Town & Country editor. We may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.

Poe only wrote one novel in his lifetime, but numerous poems and short stories. His work falls in what is known as the "Dark Romantic" genre, which emerged from the Transcendental Movement. The New York Public Library explains that Poe's work is known for "his dark tales of horror, psychological terror, and madness . " The library adds, "Murder, death, madness, grief, and psychological horror were common themes in his work, which fit the dour spirit of the Victorian age."

The works of Edgar Allan Poe are in the public domain, so there are many, many different versions of his work out there. If you don't know where to start, here is a guide to the best books to introduce a reader to Poe's work:

The Portable Edgar Allan Poe

The Portable Edgar Allan Poe

This collection is a great start, as it compiles some of Poe's greatest short stories and poems, along with letters, articles, criticism, and other "observations" that Poe authored.

The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales

The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales

If you're looking just to read his short stories, including "The Fall of the House of Usher," this collection has fourteen of his greatest hits. Poe's only novel is also part of this volume.

The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe

Signet Classics also released a complete collection of Poe's poetry, writing, "Explore the transcendent world of unity and ultimate beauty in Edgar Allan Poe’s verse in this complete poetry collection."

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

If you're looking to read Poe's only full length work, check out his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket . It tells the tale of young Arthur, who stows away on a whaling ship.

The Detective Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

The Detective Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

Poe is credited with inventing the detective story with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and this book brings together three stories he wrote that feature his character, Detective C. Auguste Dupin.

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds

Poe: Stories and Poems: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds

Artist Gareth Hinds adapted Poe's work into a graphic novel format, making his work more accessible for those who prefer a more visual style. This features seven narratives, including "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado."

The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings

The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Writings

This collection of Poe's work includes short stories, poems, and essays. According to Penguin, the selection "demonstrates Poe’s intense interest in aesthetic issues and the astonishing power and imagination with which he probed the darkest corners of the human mind."

Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness

Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery and Madness

For an introduction to Poe's work for young readers, illustrator Grae Grimly adapted four of Poe's tales in abridged versions ("The Black Cat," "The Masque of the Red Death," "Hop-Frog," and "The Fall of the House of Usher").

Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia

Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia

Grimly adapted four more of Poe's stories in this Tales of Death and Dementia , again targeted at young readers. As the publisher writes, "With little trimming and lots of gory visuals, these stories have never looked better or more frightening!"

The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe

The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe

The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe features 16 stories that explore "wide-ranging contemporary themes as galvanism, time travel and resurrection of the dead."

The Fall of the House of Usher (TV Tie-in Edition): And Other Stories That Inspired the Netflix Series

The Fall of the House of Usher (TV Tie-in Edition): And Other Stories That Inspired the Netflix Series

Mike Flanagan, who adapted The Fall of the House of Usher for Netflix, pens the introduction to this TV tie-in, which includes the stories that inspired him to create the spooky miniseries.

Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

This collection, which includes 11 stories and seven poems, was curated by the National Endowment for the Arts for their Big Read program . As NEA writes, "No author stays internationally popular for 150 years by accident. Poe is one of the classic authors of American literature—a master of the short story, a magician of the short poem, and a critic of brilliance and originality. And no small part of his artistic sleight of hand is that he appeals to readers from childhood to old age. Let us underestimate him nevermore!"

The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death

This mini book (it's not the size of a regular book, be warned!) features some of Poe's best horror stories, including the titular "The Masque of the Red Death."

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Emily Burack (she/her) is the news writer for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma , a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram . 

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Edgar Allan Poe: A Biography

Edgar allan poe (1809 –1849).

Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. He is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and suspense. He is generally considered the inventor of detective fiction.

edgar-allan-poe

Adaptations of Poe’s works for film began from the time when films first appeared. And when television emerged that accelerated, so that generations of viewers have watched his stories on screen, and continue to do so. Actors Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff became typecast as a result of their association with Poe adaptations and those actors can’t be thought of in any other context than horror films. The 2004 release of Hellboy on DVD contained a special 10-minute adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart. More recently, The Cask of Amontillado starring David JM Bielewicz and Frank Tirio, Jr. Directed by Thad Ciechanowski, won an Emmy Award in 2013 and The Raven starring David JM Bielewicz, Dave Pettitt and Nicole Beattie won one in 2015. Adaptations of particularly the more macabre stories appear regularly on television.

Music of the 20th century is infused with the works of Poe. In 1913, Sergei Rachmaninoff set his choral symphony The Bells to a Russian translation of Poe’s poem. The Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara based his 1997 choral fantasy On the Last Frontier on the final two paragraphs of Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Other operas based on stories by Poe are Ligeia, a 1994 opera by Augusta Read Thomas, and The Tell-Tale Heart by Bruce Adolphe. Terry Brown produced Hop-Frog, a ballet based on a story by Poe in 2009. The Greek composer Dionysis Boukouvalas has set Poe’s poem To Zante for soprano and piano. The Swedish composer Fredrik Klingwall released nine piano pieces in 2009, each one inspired by one of Poe’s poems in a collection called Works of Woe. There are many more.

Pop music, too, has drawn inspiration from the writings of Poe. Some notable examples are Frankie Laine’s version of Annabel Lee in 1957; Jim Reeves’s recording of  Annabel Lee in 1963 for an album of poems called Talkin’ To Your Heart; Bob Dylan’s 1965 song Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues makes reference to Rue Morgue Avenue. When the Beatles compiled images of their heroes for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, one of the most recognizable faces was that of Poe, in the center of the top row. In 1974 English rock band Queen recorded the song Nevermore, based on The Raven for their second album Queen 2. The tribute album Closed on Account of Rabies was released in 1997, with musicians and actors such as Jeff Buckley and Christopher Walken reading Poe’s works with background music. Britney Spears named her 2001-2002 concert tour Dream Within a Dream, incorporating lines from that poem, and other Poe works, into her show.

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Interested in Edgar Allan Poe? If so you can get some additional free information by visiting our friends over at PoemAnalysis to read their analysis of Poe’s poetic works .

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The truth was stranger than his fiction

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rating poe biography: the good, the bad, and the simply insane (part one).

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  • My Poetic Side: a site dedicated to Poe and his works
  • Nevermore: The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane
  • Poe Decoder
  • Poe Forward
  • Poe Museum of Richmond
  • Poe National Historic Site of Philadelphia
  • Poe Studies: Dark Romanticism
  • Poehead.com
  • Poestories.com
  • Quoth the Reverend. Well, why not?
  • Raven Beer!
  • Richmond Then and Now
  • The Beale Ciphers--pure weapons-grade Poe-related weirdness
  • The Bibliothecary
  • The Edgar Allan Poe Bicentennial
  • The Eureka Project
  • The Fordham Poe Cottage
  • The Harry Ransom Center's Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection
  • The International Edgar A. Poe Society
  • The Poe Studies Association
  • The Poe Studies Association Blog
  • Website for Kristen Lawrence's musical adaptation of "The Raven."

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best biography of poe

Poe and the Biographers

By james southall wilson.

Israfel: the Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. By Hervey, Allen. New York: Doran and Company. 2 vols. $10.00.

Count no man happy till you know the manner of his death.” The Greeks believed in that epigram. Today we might paraphrase it: Connt no man happy till you know the manner of his biographer. In Hervey Alien, Edgar Allan Poe has for the first time fallen into the hands of a biographer reasonably sympathetic, reasonably industrious, and able to write both inteUigently and agreeably. Mr. Allen is a poet; he is of the North with the outlook of a Northern man but he has lived and learned sympathetically in the South; and in addition he is educated without being a devotee of erudition. Such a biographer and such an opportunity rarely meet. The result is a triumph for Mr. Allen. It is a nine-days wonder that the first edition of a two-volume, ten dollar life of an American poet should be exhausted in a few months. But the triumph of success is heightened by the recollection that already six or more ambitious lives of Poe were on the shelves of every self-respecting public library. Hervey Allen deserves his success. “Israfel” is the best life of Poe for the general reader yet written. It comes nearer than any other biography to telling accurately the whole story of Poe’s life; and it is entrancingly interesting to read. Such a book is entitled to an evaluation more rigid than would be the case of a mere biography of the year. And such a consideration reqnires at least a brief survey of earlier Poe biographies.

Poe has been the victim of many biographers. Of those who have written his life few have been either trained or gifted in methods of investigation or pleasing literary expression. And the writing of nearly all has been qualified either by an outspoken distaste for their subject or by a conscious determination to select or suppress material unfavorable to Poe or to some of those who came into contact with him. The first real biographer of Poe was the Englishman, John H. Ingram—for Rufus Griswold though he did a notable service to American literature in editing the first collected edition of Poe’s writings, spared himself all real investigation for his memoir and vitiated such facts as he did present by his mendacious malignancy. It is easy today to discount Ingram’s work, but he was the pioneer and uncovered the chief sources from which later biographers were to draw. He was a partisan and he tempered his evidence to what he believed were the ends of both justice and mercy. He had to depend upon the men and women who knew Poe and many of his conclusions later investigation has proved wrong, but much of what he gathered —-the “Annie” letters, for example, and the valuable Eveleth correspondence—has remained available to biographers only in the copies which were made for him. Gill’s biography succeeded Ingram’s memoir but was published before Ingram’s two volume biography. The story of Poe biography like the man’s own life is a tangled skein of controversy. Gill and Ingram made charge and countercharge but the Englishman’s priority on most counts could be proved. Nevertheless Gill made his own contributions to the fuller knowledge and juster understanding of Poe. Each lessened his own trustworthiness by dipping his hands with his brush into the whitewash. George Edward Wood-berry, a poet and a thoroughly trained and truthful investigator, was later reluctantly set to write Poe’s life for the American Men of Letters series. The one-volume life which he first wrote was years later expanded, after he had unearthed much new material, into the “standard” two-volume life. No other biography of Poe except Ingram’s has had so much fresh material, and none has had such careful sifting of material or given evidence of a method or a conscience so informed with scholarly reverence for accuracy. Its qualification was that its author had an instinctive distaste for the personality of his subject. He disliked him so that try as he might—and the evidences of his effort are everywhere apparent—to be fair, he instinctively believed the worst of a very complex character that had very much that was nnlovely in it. The delicate, beautiful, poetic nature of Woodberry could not nnderstand, could not even present without an involuntary shrinking, the un-beautiful side of the delicate, poetic Poe. None the less, Woodberry’s later edition has not been wholly superseded and is still the safest single authority for the student of Poe to depend upon. Professor James A. Harrison—who edited the best edition of Poe ever printed—published his life of Poe in the interval between the two Woodberry biographies. He had gathered many reminiscences about Poe but he was neither as successful in his investigations nor as critically sound in his judgment as Woodberry. His book was poorly, organized and written in a rhetorically ornate style. As a special pleader he exceeded Ingram: white-wash is not the figure; he wrote the book in white ink.

Other studies of Poe have been made: John Macy’s brief biography, Killis Campbell’s and J. H. Whitty’s prefaced memoirs to their excellent editions of the poems; more recently Joseph Wood Krutch’s brilliantly written but inaccurate and misleading adventure into psycho-analysis. Last year the long projected two volumes by Miss Mary E. Phillips (John H. Winston. $10.00) were published. They contain a collection of pictures, assembled carefully over many years, that are worth to Poe investigators more than the price of the book. This biography too is a monument of years of painstaking collecting of everything obtainable to the author relative to Poe. Jt is a book that Poe collections must contain to be complete but it is not for the general reader. Its author does not possess the qualities of style or of critical acumen necessary for the writing of biography.

The time was ripe then for a new and a full biography of Poe. Since Woodberry’s edition of 1909 there had really, been no competent effort to reinterpret the strange life and character of America’s most famous literary figure in the light of a careful and impartial study of all the new or corrected material that had been assembled by a number of carefni investigators. That the demand was equal to the need was shown when Hervey Allen undertook in “Israfel” to tell entertainingly in two costly volumes the whole detailed story of Poe’s life—and triuniphed.

It was Poe’s own practice with a work that he generally admired to point out first his objections. To apply the method to Hervey Allen’s “Israfel” requires the admission at the beginning that its faults are in large measure the result of the method chosen. And to object to a method is almost to commit the unpardonable sin of criticism: to blame a writer for not doing what he did not set out to do. The author of “Israfel” might have made a more consistent book if he had written a one-volume interpretative life of Poe for the general reader; or if he had undertaken with critical restraint to retell the whole story, of Poe in two authoritative volumes. The one might have been an “Ariel” or at least something as interesting and far finer than Rupert Hughes’ “George Washington.” The other might have been as notable and as entertaining a book as Cross’s “Laurence Sterne” or Cushing’s “William Osier.” But “Israfel” attempts the complete biography for the general reader. The result is an unqualified success from the point of view of the general reader, but a slightly qualified one for the Poe student. Mr. Allen has read with painstaking care almost all of the vast library that has grown up around Poe’s life. He has visited and reconstructed with a vital imagination the scenes of Poe’s struggles. He has eliminated much of the gossip with its sickly sentimentality or its prejudiced rancor. Where he has depended upon untrustworthy sources like Mrs. Weiss’ “Home Life of Poe,” he cautions his readers and tries to discriminate between imagination and memory. The very aim of his book, however, to be vivacious and detailed; to put the whole daily life before us of a man whose home was withdrawn and little reflected in his own writings, has led to a readiness to accept as material for the vivid creation of the entire setting much that is at best of doubtful authenticity. The same willingness to draw from a fact all the probable circum stances of the fact, until we see just where Poe’s cat, Catarina, was lying or see her with tail erect crossing the room, may, lead a fertile imagination into traps of credulity until a whole picture is created which may be wholly deceptive, any detail of which is a probability. Mr. Allen is careful to keep on the windy side of caution, but the critical scholar must be more cautious yet. There are so few slips in accuracy of actually positive statement in “Israfel” that it would be ungracious and of little service to point them out. They are as slight as an obvious mistake in the conjecture of a later composition date for “Silence,” which Poe mentions in an 1835 letter, or a slip in a reference to Longfellow’s “Hyperion”: of little more importance than typographical errors. Mr. Allen, I felt, has an almost uncanny sureness in his judgment of men. R. H. Stoddard, Thomas Dunn English, and a host of other small birds of prey, he properly estimates; and yet a large part of the mass of details from which he builds his interpretation of Poe is based upon their evidence. He is on his guard because he knows his men; but he does not always tell us when they are in the witness chair. Through the vista of ten years I fear, too, that readers will find something tinsel in chapter-headings like “The Raven and His Shadow,” “Elmira and the Enchanted Garden,” “Israfel ;Salutes the Marqnis,” ‘The Literati and the Fordham Pastoral.” Few readers can enjoy Harrison’s flowery language of a quarter-century, ago; is there something that may prove as distasteful and sentimental in the method these chapter-headings suggest and in the recurrent use of “Israfel” and “the Raven” as names for Poe, as there was in the pastorally florid diction now so happily deceased in poverty? And have not these things influenced and weakened the presentation of the facts and the conclusions the author draws from them? Mr. Allen fortunately doesn’t try to make Poe’s life simple by the use of a Freudian complex, but he is influenced by such interpretations to a slight extent that may, “date” too definitely his work when the psycho-analytical method has become as outmoded as the spirit of moral partisanship has become today.

Having thrown so much away as a libation to the gods of criticism (I paraphrase from a half-remembered sentence of Poe’s used in a like case), and stipulating that no Poe student will agree entirely with all the conclusions of any other Poe student, I repeat myself in saying that I admire the hook in almost all other respects. The story of Poe’s life is told in “Israfel” with completeness, and with a human interest that holds the attention to the end. Mr. Allen has availed himself of the recently published letters between Poe and John Allan and has by, printing Allan’s will uncovered more fully the sordid complications of Poe’s relations with his foster-father. He has for the first time made a satisfying synthesis of Poe’s life as it was affected by the circumstances among which it was lived. He is neither an advocate excusing nor a moralist denouncing the man. He attempts rationally to present and to explain Poe as he finds him. He shows that he was born with a peculiar nature and that the hard conditions of his life made him more peculiar. He describes with dramatic climax Poe’s career in which his own failings at each crisis wrecked his opportunity. The Poe that emerges from these pages is a changing figure, battling with life conditions which tortured his sensitive and erratic nature into strange shapes and threw him at last a battered derelict into a hospital to die. The Poe of these pages is not a lovable nor even a romantically attractive person but neither is he repulsive or blameworthy. His life has the compelling pity, of the inevitably tragic. His native character was his fate; but not only, so, the conditions of his life exposed him to “unmerciful disaster that followed fast and followed faster.” And Mr. Allen has so built up his cumulative study out of carefully amassed details, arranged with such a mastery of artistic unity, that his figure of Poe is convincing. Whether the Edgar Poe of these pages is the real man who was born in 1809 and died in 1849 or not, the man of these pages becomes real to a reader’s imagination; a being is created consistent within its own inconsistencies. More real still is the personality of Mrs. Clemm. With dispassionate analysis, Mr. Allen shows that while Poe might not have survived at all without her, yet she is the explanation of much that appears unexplainable and inconsistent in Poe’s behaviour. Though she might promise in advance his favorable criticism for a sum too small to buy more than a bone to qniet the wolf at the door, Mrs. Clemm is the heroine of Allen’s “Israfel.” Without understanding her, it is impossible to understand Poe. “She washed for him, begged for bim, nursed him and comforted him. Before her simple ‘Eddie, Oh God, my dear Eddie’—all the mud of Mrs. Ellet, the vitriol of Griswold, and the sugar of Helen Whitman is dried up and blown away while Mrs. Clemm’s cry, remains to keen in our ears.”

It is Mr. Allen’s triumph that he has recreated the Ajnerica of a hundred years ago and in its center shown the contortions of a Titan, manacled by poverty and mental disease, his vitals torn out by vultures of his own rearing, but yet a Titan—who brought the fire of the gods to men. It is an unusual book, a moving book—a book delightful to read.

James Southall Wilson

James Southall Wilson (1880–1963) was a nationally renowned scholar, the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and founding editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review from 1925 to 1931.

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Biografía y mejores libros de Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

When we sail in horror or science fiction books Few remember the fact that there was once an author who dared to cross certain borders and bet on a unique genre in a time of great literary transformation. Despite an infamous life, American Edgar Allan Poe continues to be a reference of sinister letters and the short story as well as a model of all those writers who once dared to live exclusively from fiction. Let's navigate the Edgar Allan Poe biography and best books in order to know the secrets of this dark wizard.

Table of Contents

  • 1 Edgar Allan Poe Biography
  • 2.1 The Arthur Gordon Pym Narrative
  • 2.2 The black cat
  • 2.3 The Gold Bug
  • 2.4 The Crow
  • 2.5 Complete stories

Edgar Allan Poe Biography

Biografía y mejores libros de Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe engraving. By Edouard Manet.

Born in Boston on January 19, 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was baptized after a character who appears in William Shakespeare's King Lear . After the flight from his father's family home when Poe was only one year old and the death of his mother from tuberculosis a year later, Edgar walked the world carrying a photo of his parents as the only tangible memory of his origin. While his sister Rosalie was taken in by her grandparents, Poe was adopted by the marriage of Frances and John Allan , from whom he received education in the United Kingdom before returning to Richmond (Virginia) in 1820.

Already in his teens, Poe demonstrated his literary skills writing a poem to the mother of a classmate named "To Helen" , considered his first great love. During this stage, that dark child was developing an insecure and hermetic personality who found in literature or his journalistic ambitions the way to obtain power over the rest of the people from whom he was distancing himself. Already in his university days, that character ended up defining a man who believed himself to have superior knowledge despite something more basic. An ambition that would be diminished when his adoptive father could not pay the debts of the young Poe and he ended up abandoning his studies to enlist as a soldier in Boston. During his military service, he wrote two books of poems, followed by a third, paid for by his colleagues, which was published in New York, where Poe fled his military post to build a career as a writer.

In fact, Poe became the first writer who set out to live exclusively from fiction , a complicated objective in a decade of 1830 plagued by an economic crisis that affected the literary sector. After win an award for his short story Manuscript written in a bottle Poe moved to Baltimore, where he married his cousin Virginia Clemm, who was only thirteen years old. Disinherited from the fortune of an adoptive father whose relationship would mark the inferiority complex that Poe tried to compensate with his literary aspirations, he began to write in a Richmond newspaper whose circulation increased due to the author's fame, his reviews and his Gothic stories, genre then unknown in the West. However, already at that time his problems with alcohol were notorious.

During the following years, Edgar Allan Poe linked periods of greater and lesser acceptance: from the rejection of a New York publisher to his short story anthology Tales of the Folio Club considering it a non-commercial format at that time, up to months going hungry in a pension in Pennsylvania or the development of the police narrative in Graham's Magazine, which allowed the family to live one of its best economic times.

However, Virginia's death from tuberculosis in 1847 plunged Poe into a depression drowned in alcohol and laudanum that would end his life on October 3, 1849, the date on which the author He was found in a state of delirium on the streets of Baltimore few hours before his death.

Best Edgar Allan Poe Books

Before continuing, it should be remembered that almost all of Poe's work is based on stories, stories that were novel at that time and included in different anthologies during the following years. In this way, we review the best works of the author through his stories and his only novel as such.

The Arthur Gordon Pym Narrative

La narración de Arthur Gordon Pym

Edgar Allan Poe's only novel It was published in installments in 1938, resulting in one of the author's most enigmatic works. A plot that takes us to all the oceans in which Arthur Gordon Pym plunges through the whaler Grampus. A succession of mutinies and shipwrecks that finally lead the protagonist to search for answers, tired of his existence, in the remote and lonely lands of Antarctica. Pure inspiration for disciples of the author like Lovecraft , the novel continues to be one of Poe's most characteristic narratives.

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The black cat

El gato negro de Edgar Allan Poe

Published in 1843 in an issue of the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post, The black cat is possibly Poe's most famous tale and faithful catalyst of that sinister and dark universe. The story takes us to the home of a young couple who adopt a cat, an animal that the husband kills during a state of intoxication. The appearance of a second cat will diminish the family harmony, leading the narrative towards an outcome that marks the personality of this story that reflects part of the situation in which Poe lived and feelings such as anger, evil or anger.

The Gold Bug

El escarabajo de oro de Edgar Allan Poe

Published in 1843 in the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper,  The Gold Bug tells the meeting of a friend of the lonely William Legrand with his servant Jupiter on an island near Charleston where they unearth an encrypted scroll that reveals the location of a pirate's treasure.

El cuervo de Edgar Allan Poe

Become an icon of the Poe universe and main work that earned him international recognition , No products found. is a poem published in 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror. Endowed with a sinister atmosphere and a stylized language, the work narrates the visit of a crow to the window of a grieving lover, a sign of the protagonist's descent into hell itself.

Complete stories

Cuentos completos Edgar Allan Poe

If you are looking for an anthology that brings together part of Poe's work, the edition of his Complete stories published by Penguin gathers up 72 works of the author , including the prefaces to his Tales of the Folio Club and Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque collections, as well as seven unpublished stories in Spanish.

What are your favorite works of Poe?

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COMMENTS

  1. The 5 Best Books on Edgar Allan Poe

    This biography of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), a giant of American literature who invented both the horror and detective genres, is a portrait of extremes: a disinherited heir, a brilliant but exploited author and editor, a man who veered radically from temperance to rampant debauchery, and an agnostic who sought a return to religion at the end ...

  2. The Best Edgar Allan Poe Books

    Poe's most famous poem is "The Raven," which became such an enormous hit that he toured the US reading it at theaters. "The Raven" is about this bird that appears one stormy night in the room of a man who just lost his love. The raven comes in and says one word: "nevermore.".

  3. Edgar Allan Poe: Biography, Writer, Poet

    1809-1849 Who Was Edgar Allan Poe? Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, poet, critic, and editor in the 19thcentury best known for his evocative short stories and poems that captured the...

  4. Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe See all media Category: Arts & Culture Born: January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. Died: October 7, 1849, Baltimore, Maryland (aged 40) Awards And Honors: Hall of Fame (1910) Notable Works: "Annabel Lee" "Eleonora" "Eureka"

  5. Is Poe the most influential American writer? A new book offers evidence

    There are many, many biographies of Edgar Allan Poe, the most exhaustive being Arthur Hobson Quinn's, first published in 1941, the most concise Peter Ackroyd's 2009 " Poe: A Life Cut Short ."...

  6. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography

    Now in paperback―the classic, monumental biography of Poe by Arthur Hobson Quinn. Renowned as the creator of the detective story and a master of horror, the author of "The Red Mask of Death," "The Black Cat," and "The Murders of the Rue Morgue," Edgar Allan Poe seems to have derived his success from suffering and to have suffered from his success.

  7. About Edgar Allan Poe

    1809 - 1849 Read poems by this poet Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. Poe's father and mother, both professional actors, died before the poet was three years old, and John and Frances Allan raised him as a foster child in Richmond, Virginia.

  8. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn

    Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography by Arthur Hobson Quinn Books › Literature & Fiction › History & Criticism Enjoy fast, free delivery, exclusive deals, and award-winning movies & TV shows with Prime Try Prime and start saving today with fast, free delivery $29.49 Hardcover Paperback $35.63 from Buy new: $35.63 List Price: $40.00 Details

  9. Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe ( né Edgar Poe; January 19, 1809 - October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, author, editor, and literary critic who is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre.

  10. Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe's stature as a major figure in world literature is primarily based on his ingenious and profound short stories, poems, and critical theories, which established a highly influential rationale for the short form in both poetry and fiction.

  11. Edgar Allan Poe Biography

    Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809, and died October 7, 1849; he lived only forty years, but during his brief lifetime, he made a permanent place for himself in American literature and also in world literature. A few facts about Poe's life are indisputable, but, unfortunately, almost everything else about Poe's life has been falsified ...

  12. Edgar Allan Poe biography

    Almost one hundred and fifty years after his death, Edgar Allan Poe 's prose and poetry continue to frighten, influence and inspire writers, composers, artists, poets, and readers all over the...

  13. Where to Start with Edgar Allan Poe

    The Master of Macabre, the Father of American Gothic, Detective Fiction, and the Short Story, Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. Best known for his dark tales of horror, psychological terror, and madness, Poe's own life was marked by both internal and external tragedies that undoubtedly shaped his work ...

  14. 10 of the Best Edgar Allan Poe Stories Everyone Should Read

    9. ' The Premature Burial '. The name for a fear of being buried alive is taphephobia, and Poe wrote perhaps the definitive story about this fear, a fear which also turns up in 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. The story taps into a nineteenth-century fear which was widespread, and prefigures the work of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud ...

  15. Edgar Allan Poe Biographical Timeline

    Early Life 1809 - On January 19, Edgar Poe is born in Boston, Massachusetts, to actors Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe, Jr. 1811 - Poe's father, David

  16. Edgar Allan Poe: Prose and Poetry

    "In biography the truth is everything." — Edgar Allan Poe Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, January 19, 1809, the son of two actors.. By the time he was three years old, his father had ...

  17. The 13 Best Edgar Allan Poe Books

    Poe, known for his macabre short stories and poems, is in the spotlight with the new Netflix adaptation The Fall of the House of Usher. Based on Poe's story, which he first wrote in 1839, the...

  18. Edgar Allan Poe Overview: A Biography Of Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. He is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and suspense. He is generally considered the inventor of detective fiction. Poe's work as an editor, a poet, and a critic had a profound impact on American and international literature.

  19. The World of Edgar Allan Poe: Rating Poe Biography: The Good, the Bad

    The Good: *Arthur Quinn, "Edgar Allan Poe." Overly pedantic at times (do we really need to know the precise location of the building where Eliza Poe died?) and slightly dated, but still the best complete biography. Quinn is, on the whole, admirably clear-headed and much more judicious than most Poe specialists.

  20. Poe and the Biographers

    "Israfel" is the best life of Poe for the general reader yet written. It comes nearer than any other biography to telling accurately the whole story of Poe's life; and it is entrancingly interesting to read. Such a book is entitled to an evaluation more rigid than would be the case of a mere biography of the year.

  21. Any good Poe biographies? : r/EdgarAllanPoe

    I'm wondering what the best biography of Poe is. I'm looking for something well written and thoroughly researched, something that doesn't make unsubstantiated, extraordinary claims. Try "Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography" by Arthur Hobson Quinn. I liked Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance by Kenneth Silverman.

  22. The Best Edgar Allan Poe Poems Everyone Should Read

    Poe addresses Helen of Troy, reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the classical world. But as well as such universal resonances, 'To Helen' also has more personal links to Edgar Allan Poe's own life, and indeed the poem has been analysed in terms of its biographical associations.

  23. Edgar Allan Poe Biography and Best Books

    Edgar Allan Poe's only novel It was published in installments in 1938, resulting in one of the author's most enigmatic works. A plot that takes us to all the oceans in which Arthur Gordon Pym plunges through the whaler Grampus. A succession of mutinies and shipwrecks that finally lead the protagonist to search for answers, tired of his existence, in the remote and lonely lands of Antarctica.