Edgar Allan Poe
The death of a beautiful woman was the most poetic thing he could imagine. He indeed wrote a couple of narratives on this subject. The horror stories for which he is most known today represent only a relatively small part of his work. Most of his works are satiric grotesques, in which he ridicules people (and he didn't hold back to mock his colleagues or competitors) or society in general.
Edgar Allan Poe is not exactly the friendliest author in the history of literature. He had a high opinion of himself and his work, and could hardly cope with critics. He himself, however, was merciless against other authors and their publications, and very early in his career he had grown to an infamous literary critic who was known for not mincing matters.
He seemed not to identify himself with the country in which he was born: he scorned democracy, which he criticizes and even ridicules in several of his narratives, and his religious thoughts didn't fit within the general image of God that Americans had. The Gold-Bug is one of the few stories that take place in the USA, but most stories are set in Europe, if a geographical location is named at all. He carried the rumour into the world that he had travelled through Europe, and did not hesititate to call his brother's experiences - who had been in Europe for real - his own. Repeatedly he has enhanced his biography with such lies, probably to make his life seem more interesting as it actually was. He woud be delighted to know that the circumstances of his death remain unclear, and that uncountable myths on the subject are still making the rounds.
But who was he really? Edgar Poe was born in Boston, MA, on January 19, 1809. By the age of three he became an orphan and was raised in a foster family. Although his foster mother showed him motherly affection, Mr. Allan, his foster father, never acknowledged Edgar as his rightful adopted son. Later in his life, Edgar would complain about and suffer from the lack of a familiarly environment. Mr. Allan encouraged and supported Edgar's education generously in his youth, but that changed dramatically when Edgar wanted to study at the university. With way too little pocket money and no income, Edgar could hardly do else but loan money and create debts. His precarious financial situation and his loneliness made him fall into alcoholism - which in turn offended his foster father even more, whom he had to beg for money over and over. Although Allan had become one of the richest men in Virginia after he had inherited an enormous amount of money, he was overly frugal in his contributions to Edgar, probably because he frequently just used the money for gambling and alcohol consumption. In addition, Allan could not accept Edgar's plan to earn his daily bread by writing poems instead of practicing a 'real' profession. Finally, Mr. Allan's patience came to an end. From then on, Edgar would have to make it on his own, without any support from his foster father.
Poe primarily had to suffer from his own character. He found himself superior to everyone around him, but could not deny that he was dependent of financial support of his friends and family, for he never had more than a penny in his pocket. Poe knew his literary invention, the 'imp of the perverse', which repeatedly occurs in his stories (this inner 'imp' seduces protagonists to do things that lead to their destruction), himself all too well. Again and again in his life he would surrender to the temptations of this goblin and end up in an abyss. He was sucked into the all-destroying 'Maelstrom', a dangerous whirlpool that also appears in many of his stories. Several times he has risked his job, more than once he actually lost it, either because of personal feuds with his employer, or because he could not resist the alcohol. One wonders why someone with such little financial security as Poe could be so careless with his job. But he was confident, arrogant, and convinced that his stories and poems would eventually enjoy the fame they deserved. In retrospect, he was right, but unfortunately he has never really witnessed the real impact that his stories have made in the world.
Ironically, the poet that had glorified the death of a beautiful woman lost his own wife at very young age. He had married his cousin Virginia Clemm when she was 13 years old (Poe was 27 at that time). With her big, dark eyes and her fair complexion, she embodied Poe's ideal of beauty. It was, however, her youthly innocence that Poe loved the most. An accusation of pedophilia lies at hand, but there is evidence that Poe and Virginia actually never consummated their marriage, which indeed remained childless. But their happiness was not destined to last: Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847 at the age of 24.
After her death, Poe published his prose poem 'Eureka' in which he combined philosophy and aesthetics in a kind of big bang theory. He also went on promotional tour for his long-time project 'The Stylus'; his own literary magazine. The future smiled at him: thanks to a couple of lectures he had held, he finally had some money in his pocket and the love of his youth, Elmira Royster, had accepted his marriage proposal. But it should not come all this way. In October 1849, he was only forty years old, he was found lying in a gutter in Baltimore, more dead than alive. He was taken to the hospital, where he fell into a delirium and died a little later. It was clear that he had collapsed under the influence of alcohol. The imp of the perverse had destroyed its creator with a last and final blow.
Excerpt of his works:
- A decided loss (1832; one of his numerous grotesques)
- Ligeia (1838; about the death of a beautiful woman)
- The Fall of the House of Usher (1839; a gothic novella)
- The Raven (1845; his most famous poem)
- The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841; the first story with detective Auguste Dupin)
- The Pit and the Pendulum (1842; probably his most terrifying horror story)
- The Gold-Bug (1843)
- The Black Cat (1843; one of the stories, in which the protagonist is tempted by the 'the imp of the perverse')
- The Tell-Tale Heart (1843; idem)
- Hopp-Frog (1849; a satire, in which he makes fun of his competitor authors)