In every story conceived from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, a scent of his essence had been molded into each to leave the reader with a better understanding of Poe’s life. Poe displayed his greatest life’s achievements and his worst disappointments in a series of stories created throughout his whole life. It is the goal of this research paper to reveal symbolic facts about his life and define these hidden maxims in a way that is easy to understand and beneficial to the reader.
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). Poe’s parents were David Poe, an actor based in Baltimore and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, an actress born in England, also based in Baltimore (540). Upon birth, Poe had been cursed. Shortly after his birth, Poe’s father abandoned the family and left Poe and his mother to fend for themselves. Not long after that, the cruel hands of fate had worked their horrid magic once again by claiming his mother. In 1811, when Poe was two, his mother passed away, leaving him with his second depressing loss (540).
After his father’s cowardly retreat and mother’s sudden death, Poe was left in the capable hand of his godfather, John Allan. John Allan was a wealthy merchant based in Richmond, Virginia with the means, knowledge and affluence to provide a good life for Poe (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540).
In 1815, Poe and his new family moved to England to provide Poe a classical education (which was finished out in Richmond. Upon returning from England in 1826, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). This was a magnificent feat for him, because Poe was only seventeen at the time while the normal age for attendance was nineteen (Quinn 130). For the first time, life had hit a high note and provided for him what seemed to be a path paved with gold.
Upon entering college, Poe realized his path of gold was really a mountain of grief and disappointment. In no more time than it took Poe to unpack his bags, he was already involved in immoral acts of gambling and drinking. He developed gambling debts from 2,000 to 2,500 dollars, which caused some fraction between his godfather and himself (Quinn 130). After eleven months at the university, Poe dropped out due to his debts, but mostly for John Allan’s refusal to pay for them (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). No sooner then Poe was home, then he been invited to a party of Sarah Elmira Royster’s, his sweetheart before college. When he arrived at the party, he learned that it was Elmira’s engagement party, striking a dramatic blow to Poe’s heart (540).
After John Allan and Poe had their quarrels over Poe’s gambling addiction, he joined the army under the alias of “Edgar Allan Perry” (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). In 1829, Poe was honorably discharged, but not before attaining the rank of Sergeant Major (540). A year later, John Allan scheduled an appointment for Poe with the West Point U.S. Military Academy (540). Poe had not been in the academy for a year when he was dismissed from West Point.
It was after his military career when Poe starting to become a successful writer of poetry and short stories. In 1831, Poems included three of his greatest works: “To Helen,” “The City in the Sea,” and “Israfel” (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). When his poems failed to reach recognition, Poe began to write short stories such as “MS. Found in a Bottle” in 1833 (591). It was around this time when he married his fourteen-year old cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was a very influential character in Poe’s later works (591).
In 1840, Poe published a collection of his first twenty-five stories called Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). Even when this collection failed to sale or gain recognition, Poe still kept a daily routine of working on literature. In 1843 he sold 300,000 copies of “The Gold Bug” (592). Also in 1843 Poe published one his greatest works, “The Tell-Tale Heart” (“Poe Edgar Allan,” Encarta Encyclopedia n. pag). Then again in 1845, Poe struck gold with his twelve stories in Tales and 30 poems in The Raven and Other Poems (592). In 1848, Poe explained his theories on the universe in his well-known piece, “Eureka” (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 592). In 1843, Poe wrote the timeless classic of “The Tell-Tale Heart” (Encarta N. pag). It was the poem, “Raven” that brought Poe the most recognition and finally provided a spot for him among America’s greatest writers.
Writers and critics were bestowing great praises to him during this time. It was with his stories of mystery and murder featuring C. Auguste Dupin that inspired one critic to write, “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” (Quinn 139). “It is not enough—certainly for literary criticism it is not enough to call his stories, strange, extraordinary, fantastic” (“Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the Short Story” n. pag) is a perfect quote to summarize Poe’s works and their effect on critics and people.
This period of tranquility and good tidings would turn out to be Poe’s last. In 1847, Virginia Clemm died of tuberculosis and in doing so added one more name to Poe’s list of lost loves (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). Her death had affected Poe more greatly than any other of his former loses. Poe was once quoted saying:
Each time I felt all the agonies of her death—and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive—nervous in a very unusual degree. During these fits of absolute unconsciously I drank, God only knows how often or how much. (Buranelli 38)
Despite the tremendous agony Poe felt over Virginia Clemm’s death, he still passed a sigh of relief over her passing. In Poe’s belief, death should not be feared, but instead it should be sought (Quinn 137). As Poe had said in “For Annie,” “The fever called ‘Living’ is conquered at last” (Buranelli 38). For Poe, when Virginia died she escaped the curse of life.
In 1849, Poe met up with his former sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster and became engaged shortly after (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). As fate would have it, just days before his wedding, Poe stopped in Baltimore and disappeared. On October 3rd, 1849, Poe was found lying in a side street anesthetized (591). He was taken to a hospital where he lay unconscious on his bed. After four days of complete unconsciousness, Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7th, 1849 (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica 540). The cause of his death had remained a mystery since then. Several theories have been presented before the public, but only one has the evidence to back up its claim—rabies.
All of Poe’s works of literature possess a link to his own life’s stories and events. His characters’ profiles possess biographical insights into his loved ones’ lives. Poe learned sometime in his life that a good story possesses real life events and those events are what gives his stories a scent of truth.
In one particular case, Poe wrote a passage in his story of “Marginalia” that could only apply to a person such as himself:
I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of any individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course, he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. This he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankind—that he would be considered a madman, is evident. How horribly painful such a condition! Hell could invent no greater torture than that of being charged with abnormal weakness on account of being abnormally strong.” (Buranelli 23)
Poe was a genius in the literary field and that gave him the grounds to say so. As he explains in this passage, his far superior ability to write pieces of literature caused a lot of friction between the modern day critics and writers and himself. This passage was an autobiographical account of his writing style and its effect on the society of the time.
Along with writing about his style of writing, Poe also included autobiographical elements in his stories. These stories explained to the reader how Poe lived his life.
The somber figure of Edgar Allan Poe stalks forever through the pages of his stories and poems. He is declared to have only one endlessly repeated male character—himself. He is pictured as appearing and reappearing under the guises of his melancholic, neurasthenic, hallucinated, mad and half-mad protagonists: Roderick Usher, Egaeus, William Wilson, Cornelius Wyatt, Montresor, Hop-Frog, Metzengerstein.” (Buranelli 19-20)
Among these protagonists, the one Poe seems to represent more is the half-mad, Roderick Usher.
In the story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe presents himself through the morbidly uncanny Roderick Usher. “All in all, he is an unbalanced man trying to maintain an equilibrium in his life” (Partridge N. pag).
Usher was also a man who realizes his insanity but struggles to grasp his lost sanity. In this passage Poe writes about the narrator’s description of Roderick Usher, but in doing so describes himself to his readers:
A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely molded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than weblike softness and tenuity—these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.” (Poe 198)
Poe also manages to describe his more unpopular personality traits when he refers to himself as “a lost drunkard or the irreclaimable eater of opium” (198).
Poe also used his memory of past events and places to set the backdrop for his pieces of literature. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe uses his Gothic home as the backdrop and his family as its characters. “Poe often drew upon his memory for his settings, as in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ which concerns the fate of a decayed aristocratic family and it moldering Gothic mansion” (Buranelli 28). Poe knew the feelings that came to a person when confronted with a relic from their unpleasant past and with that knowledge he could write a story appealing to readers.
Poe also used “The Fall of the House of Usher” to portray loved ones, such as his mother, to the reader. He could never bear to take about his mom frequently, because of the pain it put on his heart. To compensate for this he portrayed her through the guise of Lady Madeline (Buranelli 35). Lady Madeline was Usher’s mysterious sister who in the end died without warning or reason. Poe also wrote a sonnet called “To My Mother” that appeared to be for his mother, but was indeed for his mother-in-law.
Along with putting his mother in his tales, Poe also portrayed his life’s greatest love, Virginia Clemm. Virginia inspired such pieces as “Eleanora” and Annabel Lee” (Buranelli 38).
I was a child and she was a child, in this kingdom by the sea; but we loved with a love that was more than love—I and my Annabel Lee; with a love that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted her and me. And this was the reason that, long ago, in this kingdom by the sea, a wind blew out of a cloud, chilling my beautiful Annabel Lee; so that her highborn kinsman came and bore her away from me, to shut her up in a sepulchre in this kingdom by the sea…for the moon never beams without bringing me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee; and the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
and so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride, in the sepulchre there by the sea, in her tomb by the sounding sea.” (Bloom 145)
In this excerpt, Poe portrays to the reader his love for his wife. “Annabelle Lee” was written in 1849, just two years after Virginia Clemm’s death (“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia 591). Poe was trying to explain her death and its importance to him. He never neglected to portray an aspect of his life before the readers, even when he was facing a loss.
Poe is a man writhing in the mystery of his own undoing. He is a great dead soil progressing terribly down the long process of post-mortem activity in disintegration…yet Poe is hardly an artist. He is rather a supreme scientist.” (“Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the short story n. pag)
In every story conceived from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, a scent of his essence had been molded into each to leave the reader with a better understanding of Poe’s life. Poe has used his greatest achievements, such as marriage and his worst times, such as his wife’s death to help the reader better understand what his life has been like. Poe is a genius in the fact that he can captivate a reader with his true-to-life stories and then explains himself through allusions and hidden maxims. When a person reads works of Edgar Allan Poe, he is actually reading his autobiography.
Bloom, Harold. The Tales of Poe. New York, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987: 121-145.
Buranelli, Vincent. Edgar Allan Poe. Boston: Twayne, 1977: 12-53.
“Edgar Allan Poe, The Dark Genius of the Short Story.” Online Available Http://www.cais.com/webweave/poe/poebio.htm.
Partridge, Toby. “Poetry by Edgar Allan Poe.” Online Available Http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Congress/ 8953/poe.html.
“Poe, Edgar Allan.” Encarta Encyclopedia. 2000 ed.
“Poe,Edgar Allan,” Encyclopedia Britannica. 1995 ed., Vol. 9: 540-542.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Fall of the House of Usher.” Literature: The American Experience. Needham: Prentice Hall, 1996. 194-206.
“Poe, Edgar Allan,” World Book Encyclopedia. 1991 ed., Vol. 15: 591-592.
Quinn, Patrick F. “Four Views of Edgar Poe.” Jahrbuch Fur Amerikastudien. 1960 ed., Vol. 5: 128-146.