Reader's Encyclopedia

Poe, Edgar Allan (1809 - 1849)

American poet, critic, and short - story writer. Poe's stormy personal life, further confused by an unscrupulous literary executor, postponed honest evaluation of his place in American literature.

The child of theatrical parents, Poe was orphaned early in life. He was taken into the home of John Allan, who did not adopt him, but became his godfather. From 1815 to 1820 the Allans lived in England, where Poe studied at a classical academy. During the next decade Poe and John Allan quarreled more and more frequently. When Mrs. Allan died, and her widower remarried, the two severed relations. Up to 1831, when he went to New York for a brief period, Poe had entered and left several schools, including West Point, and had enlisted in the Army. He had already published Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) and Al Aaraaf (1829).

In 1831 he published his Poems; content and preface show the influence of the English romantic poets. He won a story contest with "MS. Found in a Bottle," and began to write the poetic drama Politian (1835 - 36). His newly established reputation gained him the position of editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He contributed such stories as Berenice and "Hans Pfaal," raising the circulation of the magazine from five hundred to thirty - five hundred, and began the serialization of The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym in 1837. Leaving the Messenger, he went to Philadelphia to work on Burton's Gentleman's Magazine.

In 1836 Poe married his thirteen - year - old cousin, Virginia Clemm. She died eleven years later, and he addressed the famous Annabel Lee to her. Issuing Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, he then began writing his tales of ratiocination.

Poe went again to New York in 1845 and worked on the Evening Mirror, in which his poem The Raven was published. The poem established Poe's national reputation. He became coeditor, and then proprietor, of his own paper, The Broadway Journal, which collapsed in 1846.

Virginia Clemm died of tuberculosis in 1847. Poe, cared for by Mrs. Clemm and his female admirers, continued to write several important pieces, among them "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846), "Ulalume" (1847), and Eureka. A series of drinking bouts left him exhausted. In October of 1849 he was found seriously ill by a friend, and he died several days later, at the age of forty.

Although Poe felt that he was primarily a poet, his tales of horror and ratiocination have become increasingly popular. He is respected for his books of criticism, as well as for the day - to - day newspaper reviews he turned out.

Poe exercised the greatest influence on the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who wrote several articles about him, and translated his work. Through Baudelaire, his influence extended to Mallarme, Valery, Rimbaud, and others of the symbolist school. See City in the Sea, The; Gold Bug, The; Murders in the Rue Morgue, The; Pit and the Pendulum, The; Purloined Letter, The; Tell - Tale Heart, The.