Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous and influential American writers of the 19th century. He is famous for his poems, short stories, and literary criticism. His innovative stories of mystery and macabre have left a ceaseless imprint on literature. His tales of horror comprise his best known works. He is the one who raised Gothic literature to the peaks of fame and initiated the genre of detective fiction. He is also considered a pioneer in the genre of science fiction.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Childhood and Career
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19,1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father and mother, David and Elizabeth Poe, were professional actors. They died when he was merely three years old. Then Poe was raised by a childless couple, John and Frances Allan. His foster parents enrolled him in the best boarding schools where he excelled academically.
His relationship with his foster parents deteriorated when John Allan refused to pay his gambling debts. Leaving his parents, he moved to the United States and enrolled in the Army here. Soon he left the Military training due to lack of financial support.
He then started writing and selling short stories. He succeeded as a writer and became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. In 1836, he married his cousin Virginia. Over the years he established himself as a short story writer, poet, and an editor. His poems, short stories, and literary criticisms have a profound impact on American as well as international literature.
His Contribution to Gothic Literature
Though Gothicism was the most admired genre in the 19th century and there were many writers producing horror stories, no one as enriched Gothic literature as Poe did with his skillful narration of psychological insights and macabre. We also find the abundance of symbolism and allegory in his Gothic novels.
While writing his Gothic stories, Poe probes into the character’s psyche and explores the secrets of the hidden realm. We see his talent at its peak in masterpieces such as ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. All these works tell the tales of horror, death, mystery, and suspense — all are the key elements of Gothic literature.
His Focus on Form and Style
As a critic, Edgar Allan Poe focused on the correctness of form and style. Many critics consider him the ‘architect’ of modern short stories. According to him, a short story must be written keeping in view the following points:
- It must be short enough that a reader can read it at one sitting.
- Every word of the story must contribute to its purpose
These rules, in his view, contribute to the success or failure of the story. His stories strictly confine to these rules of formation which render them the unity of effect. Poe’s works show his supreme command over language, writing techniques, and imagination. His style of writing has always appealed to the reader. He is also the chief predecessor of the 19th-century movement ‘art for art’s sake’ in European literature.
His Mastery Over Mystery and Macabre
Poe’s style of writing is unique and dark. His well-recognized works of fiction are Gothic in nature. His stories deal with the recurrent themes of death and loneliness. He is brilliant in narrating the mysterious gothic tales. Most of his stories are murder mysteries. His mysterious and horror stories include ‘Berenice’, ‘The Black Cat’, ‘Ligeia’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ and others.
Sometimes Poe overlaps his gothic tales with the romantic variation by changing the focus from plot construction and suspense to the allegory and symbolism in language. With his intricate style and subtle tone, Poe successfully commands the reader’s attention and rewards them with cohesive essence.
The Founder of Detective Fiction
Edgar Allan Poe is credited as being the founder of detective fiction. ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ was his first detective story. His other detective stories include ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget’, ‘The Purloined Letter’, ‘The Gold Bug’, and ‘The Man of the Crowd’. He also wrote a satirical detective story ‘Thou Art the Man’.
Edgar Allan Poe’s detective tales consist of a series of mysterious events of crime, usually murder, initially concealing the solution from the readers but eventually exposing it through a victorious investigation. He structures his tales in such a way that perplexes the reader and hones his desire for clarification.
Poe’s detective stories had inspired many mystery writers who came after him, particularly Arthur Conan Doyle; the writer of a most famous series of a tale featuring Sherlock Holmes.
The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Though internationally recognized for his short stories, Poe began his writing career as a poet. He wrote his first poems when he was a teenager. His early poetic works reflect the influence of Romantic poets such as John Keats, P.B. Shelley and Lord Byron. While his later poems are subjective, mystic, and surreal in nature.
Poe’s famous poems include ‘Al Aaraaf’, ‘Tamerlane’, ‘To Helen’, ‘Lenore’, and ‘The Raven’. He also wrote some poems with the intention of reading aloud. His poems reveal a unique combination of sound and rhythm; a characteristic that makes them unique in American poetry.
Death of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849 in Baltimore, Maryland. It is said that he died under mysterious circumstances. He spent the last days of his life in distress. The cause of his distress is still unknown. The last words that he uttered before his death were, ‘Lord, help my poor soul’.
It is still uncertain whether Poe died from drinking, heart attack, endless speculation or other causes. The doctor who was attending him the night before his death revealed that he was calling for a person named ‘Raynolds’. This figure is still a mystery for everyone. Poe was buried in Westminster Presbyterian churchyard in Baltimore.
Sources: Elif Notes | Smithsonian Magazine | Poetry Foundation
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