Edgar Allen Poe

Historical Figure Project by Jacob Hochfelder

"Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality."

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Life Influences

The Parents

  • born January 19, 1809
  • parents Elizabeth Hopkins and David Poe Jr.
  • both parents were traveling stage actor
  • David abandoned the family, and both parents were dead by the time Poe was 2

The Allan Family

  • John and Frances Allan, a wealthy family from RIchmond
  • never fully adopted Poe, but were his family
  • changed Poe's name to Edgar Allan Poe
  • John and Edgar had a difficult relationship, and fought frequently
  • The Allan's paid for Poe to go to West Point, but Poe was discharged on purpose
  • Edgar inherited none of the Allan's huge estate when they died

Virginia Poe

  • Poe married his cousin, Virginia, in 1836, when she was 14
  • he couldn't support her very well with his minimal income
  • In 1842, Virginia started to show signs of tuberculosis
  • in 1847, Virginia died of tuberculosis

Historiography

The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

In "The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe", Natasha Geiling first presents the facts of the last few days of Poe's life with an adventurous and suspenseful tone. She then shifts into explaining each of the nine theories surrounding Poe's death with a more evaluating and skeptic tone. First, Geiling lays out the known information. On October 3, 1849, four days before Poe's death, Joseph Walker of the Baltimore Sun found Poe delirious and lying in the streets. In the last days of Poe's life, he was never able to regain enough consciousness to explain why he was in Baltimore to begin with, or why he was wearing clothes that didn't belong to him. Just before his death, Poe repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds," whose identity is still unknown. Ceiling then shifts to explain each of the nine theories that have stemmed from these facts. One theory, backed by witnesses, says the Poe was beaten. Another states that he fell into cooping, which was a type of voter fraud where people were kidnapped and forced to vote for the same candidate multiple times using disguises. This would explain why Poe was wearing clothes that weren't his. Poe also struggled with alcohol for most of his life, so drunkenness is a prominent theory. In 1999, a public health researcher tested clips of Poe's hair for heavy metals. From these results, some concluded Poe died from carbon monoxide poising, and some said mercury poisoning was to blame. In 1996, in an anonymous pathologic symptom study, doctors concluded rabies to be the cause of death, and others claimed the flu. A more recent theory suggests Poe suffered from a brain tumor, though more evidence is still being examined. Lastly, some still say Poe was murdered by his fiancée's family. In each case, Geiling presents the theory, and weighs the merits and problems of it. Overall, Geiling has an academic tone, and seems to be very knowledgable on the subject, through direct quotes and instances in which Poe's death has been reexamined.

Book Trailer

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

The Raven

Poe's most famous work, "The Raven", is a gripping poem about a raven who is driving the narrator to the brink of sanity. "The Raven" was written in the context of the Romantic movement, particularly to dark Romanticism, which Poe definitely belongs to. Poe, however, didn't belong to the antebellum period he wrote in, which is why the popular authors of the day, the transcendentalists, hated Poe and denounced him frequently. The poem starts out with the narrator coming to terms with the loss of his wife, Lenore. Lenore is said to represent heaven, angels, or perhaps Poe's wife, Virginia, who was sick with tuberculosis at the time. There is much disagreement about what the raven itself symbolizes. The most common interpretation is a phrase used by Poe himself to describe the raven in the poem: "pure satanic evil". Poe uses wild imagery and repetition building to a climax to create a feeling of madness and insanity. It has a very specific rhyming pattern (rhyming trochaic octameter) which gives it the effect of seeming like a music or an incantation. Thematically, the poem is centered around madness, especially as a result from loss and grief. Poe's writing style is comparable to contemporary horror novelist, Stephen King. Both authors use ambiguous details to convey a suspenseful mood. Also, both write about subjects that can be seen as everyday and regular, but make them dark and twisted, like a raven that is also a demon.
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Political Cartoon

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While Poe was largely an outsider during his lifetime, he refused to conform to what was 'normal', which was a prominent ideology in antebellum America. This time period was an age of reform in many areas including prison, women's rights, and education. People in this time period, similar to Poe, were rejecting some traditional values for changes in their daily lives. For Poe, resistance to conformity meant writing in his own style, and refusing to recreate the popular style of the time, transcendentalism. The quote "nevermore" in the ink spill is a key work from one of Poe's most famous works, "The Raven". In this cartoon, it is a vow to never strive to be 'acceptable' in society.

A Different Time Period

Edgar Allan Poe in the 1960's

Had Poe been alive more than one hundred years after his life, he would have been much more successful. The American public had a much greater appreciation for the horror genre in the 1960's. Even though Edgar created horror, and most themes within it can be traced back to him, Poe didn't live to see his very different ideas become popular and mainstream. The classic scary movies, like Psycho (1960) or Rosemary's Baby (1968), have very similar themes, techniques, and styles that Poe employed in his writing. Both Poe's writing and classic horror movies take advantage of repetition as a means of building up suspense. Also, both refrain from giving the audience all of the details at once. The slow revelation of details is a typical technique that scary movies use to become scary, and Poe mastered this technique. Had Poe been alive to communicate with the growing film industry, he would have been able to share his terrifying ideas with more gruesome imagery than before. In fact, in the 60's alone, 12 movies premiered that were adaptions of Poe's poems and short stories, most notably House of Usher (1960) and Tales of Terror (1962). In short, the American public of the 1960's had a much greater appreciation for Poe than the American public of antebellum America.

Poe's American Experience

Edgar Allan Poe's personal American experience wasn't particularly uplifting or joyous. From his parents' deaths, to his rocky relationship with his new father, to his inability to make a substantial income to support him and his wife, Poe didn't gain any of the benefits of writing all of those gruesome tales. Despite this, Poe teaches us an important lesson, especially in young people, who tend to feel a great need to belong somewhere. Edgar Allan Poe didn't spend his time writing and rewriting volumes of stories for the fame, glory, or money. Poe wrote because writing was fulfilling to him. He could have stayed at West Point, where he was a excellent student, and been much more successful (at least in John Allan's eyes). Instead, he continued to do what he was truly passionate about. Edgar Allan Poe didn't have an easy American experience, but he certainly had his own.

Works Cited

Antarctica. Digital image. Top Tours and Cruises. Adventure Life, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

Childers, Matthew. "Edgar Allan Poe Archives." The Raven Black Cat. N.p., 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

"Edgar Allan Poe Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Francisco, Devin Lee. Skull Painting. Digital image. Skull Painting Archives. Skull Appreciation Society, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

Geiling, Natasha. "The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe." Smithsonian. Smithsonian Instituten, 7 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

McCormick, A. D. Pym-penguin. Digital image. N.p., 1898. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

McCormick, A. D. A Shrouded Human Figure. Digital image. N.p., 1898. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

Poe, Edgar Allan, and Benjamin Franklin. Fisher. The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004. Print.

Sargent, Yan. Poe Et Ses Oeuvres. Digital image. N.p., 1864. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

Sterner, Albert Edward. The Death of Augustus. Digital image. N.p., 1895. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

Wilson, Karina. "Horror Movies in the 1960s: Bad Girls and Blood Freaks." Horror Film History — Horror Films in the 1960s. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.