Masque of the Red Death: Edgar Allan Poe

Posted May 10, 2012 by 2 Comments

Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems aren’t the only things that kickstart readers’ imaginations–his life and death are great fodder, as well.


Early life: He was the son of two actors in Boston, but after his father abandoned the family, his mother became ill and died. Poe was taken in by the Allans of Richmond, Virginia, who took Poe with them on travels to Europe and sent him to good schools. He went to college, but amassed gambling debts and became estranged from his foster family. He joined the military, but failed at that, as well.

Shortly after his dismissal, he published his first collection of poems, which did terribly. He turned to prose, won  a few awards, and began his relatively successful career as a literary critic for a number of magazines. In fact, he was better known during his lifetime as a critic than as an author.

Scandal: Most people, however, are drawn to the juicier details of his life, including his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. When she became ill with consumption (tuberculosis), Poe turned to drinking. Consequently, his behavior became even more erratic, though he managed to write and sell his most famous poem, “The Raven” in 1845.

After his wife’s death, he courted a few other women, but none of the relationships lasted. He was found on the streets of Baltimore in 1949, and died in a hospital a few days later. The cause of death is unknown, but most speculation points to alcoholism.

Reputation: Shortly after Poe’s death, an editor and critic who disliked Poe wrote an obituary that was more fiction that fact. The same man–Rufus Wilmot Griswold–became Poe’s literary executor, and set about portraying him as degenerate, using forged letters to support his claims. But the damage had been done and Poe became known as an “evil” man.

So of course, people clamored for Poe’s works, as they still do today.


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