Edgar Allan Poe

By Michael Lin

Early Life

  • He was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19th, 1809.
  • He was the son of the actors Elizabeth and David Poe.
  • His father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died from tuberculosis a year later.
  • Edgar Poe, which was his original name, was then taken to the Allan family who served as his foster family. This is where his middle name comes from.
  • The Allan family consisted of John and Frances Allan.

His Upbringing as an Allan

  • John Allan was a very successful merchant who sold various items such as tobacco, cloth, wheat, tombstones, and slaves. This led to a rather wealthy upbringing of Poe.
  • After some initial moving around, they settled down in Richmond, Virginia.
  • Poe got along well with his mother but his father and him never bonded very well.
  • John would urge Poe to become a businessman but Poe developed a passion for writing early on. Lord Bryon was one of his early inspirations.

Drama as Poe Aged

  • At age 13, Poe had created enough poetry to publish a book but his headmaster told John Allan that it would only boost his already steaming ego and advised against letting Poe publish it.
  • In 1826 Poe would begin his attendance at the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, he developed a gambling problem there which would lead to tension with his father over finances.
  • Poe was forced to leave college as he ran out of money and was severely in debt.
  • When Poe had initially left for college he had a relationship with Sarah Elmira Royster. While he was at college, he sent her many letters. Unfortunately, her father didn't approve of the relationship and intercepted the letters. Sarah believed that Poe had moved on, and so she did too. When he came back, she was married to another man.

Leaving Richmond and his Military Stint

  • Heartbroken and dirt poor, he left Richmond and moved to Boston in April of 1827. There, he worked odd jobs as a clerk and newspaper writer.
  • A mere month later, he was realized he was unable to support himself. Claiming he was 22, he enlisted in the military even though he was 18. (Participial Phrase)
  • This same year, Poe published his first book. It was a 40 page collection of poetry that only had 50 copied published and received little to no recognition.
  • After 2 years, Poe had achieved the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery, which was the highest rank a non commissioned officer could achieve, and wanted to end his 5 year enlistment early.
  • He confessed to his commanding officer, Lieutenant Howard, the circumstances of his enlistment and his real name. If Poe reconciled with his father, Howard would discharge Poe. (Periodic Sentence)

The Death of Frances and Poe's Discharge

  • Initially, Poe sent letters to John Allan trying to reconcile, but John ignored all of them.
  • Frances Allan dies from an unknown illness. Poe obtains leave so he can attend her funeral. While there, he meets up with John Allan who, perhaps softened by his wife's death, agrees with Poe's discharge in order for him to apply to West Point.
  • On April 15th, 1829 Poe was finally relieved of his services.
  • Before entering West Point, Poe stayed with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter, Virginia Eliza Clemm, his brother Henry, and his invalid grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe in Baltimore.
  • During his stay here, he published his second book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems. This book was also not received very well at it's initial release.

The previous two sections were the historical summation for this secondary source : http://mentalfloss.com/article/28854/how-edgar-allan-poe-got-himself-kicked-out-army

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Shortest West Point Term and Disowning

  • On decent terms with his father and enrolled in West Point as of July 1st, 1830, things were looking up for Poe.
  • Unfortunately in October of 1830, John Allan remarried. The lit ablaze the previously simmering flames between John and Poe which eventually led to the disowning of Poe.
  • Poe decided to leave West Point by getting himself kicked out. This was achieved on February 8th, 1831 when he was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobedience.

Poe's Career Begins and Ends

  • After leaving West Point, he published his 3rd book, named Poems, which was another collection of poetry.
  • He returned to Baltimore with his Aunt because his brother had passed away.
  • He began working with publishers and released many different stories during this time such as Politian, MS. Found in a Bottle, and more.
  • He secretly married with his cousin Virginia Clemm. The marriage certificate says she was 21, but she was actually 13. He was 26. A few months later he had a second, public marriage ceremony.
  • At this time, Poe began to travel and publish many stories and books that would make him a household name. A few of these were The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and perhaps most famously, The Raven. These stories were published over a span of 7 years.
  • Poe's wife died in 1847 due to tuberculosis, the same disease that took the life of his mother, foster-mother, and brother.
  • After her death, Poe searched for love again. He fell in love with an already married women, engaged another women for 1 month, and then finally starting courting Sarah Royster who was recently widowed.
  • While on a trip to Philadelphia, he stopped in Baltimore and disappeared for 5 days. He was found in the streets delirious. He was taken to the hospital and died on October 7th, 1849. His cause of death was unknown.

"I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity."

  • This quote is from Poe recounting his experience with his wife's death. The tuberculosis had him constant fear as sometimes she would seem okay, but then she would cough up blood. When she died, he realized what a melancholy world he lived in.
  • This quote is largely a defining part of his life. Every step of the way, he was teased with chances at a better life but at every turn there were complications and he would lose it. You could also see this in his writing as many of his writings live in the world of the insane and melancholy.

Poe in his Time

  • In terms of literature, the time period in which Poe lived in was the Romantic era. Poe's personal belief was one that was key in the Romantic era. He believed that art and literature should be directly related to emotions and that the greatest art should affect emotions.
  • Poe, as a writer, was truly appreciate because of how his stories followed the themes of romanticism.
  • Setting and time is obscure in many of his stories so that the readers wouldn't be diverted by contemporary issues of the time.
  • Many characters in Poe's books aren't named and thus you have to follow the story through their senses and emotions.
  • The subjects he covered in general were of abnormal and mysterious nature. The romantic writer is both praised and condemned for writing about the supernatural and extraordinary.

Poe in a Different Time

  • I believe Poe would have had success in the modern era, but there would be a lot of criticisms towards him.
  • Many of his stories were him expressing his pain in real life. Unfortunately, a lot of the scenarios that he went through would have been strange, to say the least, in the modern era. Along with this, he had a sort of alcohol problem and before that, he had a gambling problem.
  • The critics may be outweighed by the sympathizes though, as he did lose his family multiple times.

With Poe's Talents

  • Poe didn't really write for a specific cause, instead he wrote to express his pain and sorrow. His entire life was plagued by misfortune and he used his writings as an outlet.
  • My personal belief is that Poe's talent for writing was purely emotional and he couldn't write for a cause unless it truly affected him at heart.
  • If I had Poe's talent, I don't think I would be able to utilize it as well. His greatest poems and stories were written when he experienced great suffering and trauma.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

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  • Racial stereotypes is can be interpreted because of the time period in which the book was written. In the book there was a mutiny on a ship where a black, extremely bloodthirsty cook(he kills 22 people after they take over the ship) leads the charge. Then the native american on the ship, who befriends our protagonist, is describe is a disgustingly brutish way.
  • Should be noted that during this time we're in the Great Depression era. It's also a time of pretty prevalent political tension because of what's happening in Europe(on the brink of WWII)

"Peter himself was one of the most ferocious-looking men I ever beheld. He was short in stature, not more than four feet eight inches high, but his limbs were of Herculean mould. His hands, especially, were so enormously thick and broad as hardly to retain a human shape. His arms, as well as legs, were bowed in the most singular manner, and appeared to possess no flexibility whatever. His head was equally deformed, being of immense size, with an indentation on the crown (like that on the head of most negroes), and entirely bald."

  • The book was seen as a oddity for the time period. In fact, it was highly criticized because of how gruesome and bloody the book was.
  • In a different time period, the book would probably just be seen as pure fiction. If the book was release in modern day, I'm confident that the book would've been just seen as some extremely gruesome fictional story that probably would've made a pretty good movie.
  • Insanity and civilized vs savage seems to be two prominent themes throughout this book. Insanity seems to happen to almost everyone at some point during the book, even only a few chapters in the main protagonist seems to be going insane. As for civilized vs savage, the civilized members of the book seem to go insane faster than the savage. An appropriate example would be a comparison between the main protagonist, Arthur Gordon Pym, and Dirk Peters, a soon-to-be ally of Arthur and his friend. Arthur seems to go borderline mad constantly throughout the book while Peter always retains this sense of calm.
  • Something that is important to note is that the inconsistency of the book. There are things said that are often contradicted(e.g Arthur's friend tells him something many years later but dies a few chapters after?)
  • The book is written in a form that Arthur Gordon Pym is the arthur and Poe is the editor but, of course, Arthur is a fictional character.
  • This book is written in a way different than anything I've ever read. The way it was set up, I even initially believed that Arthur was a real person. The writing style of the story was seemingly bizarre as the main protagonist seemed to ramble quite a bit. Arthur also dies mysteriously while recounting this tale, so it's said at the end that 2-3 chapters were left out. There's no real conclusion.

July 3. Augustus furnished me with three blankets, with which I contrived a comfortable bed in my hiding-place. No one came below, except my companion, during the day.

  • This section reveals a lot about the book itself. First off, this is the first line of a paragraph. At points through the book, short paragraphs follow each other and these are actually day-by-day accounts as you can see by the date. The wording of the book is also just very particular.

He brought the schooner to the wind under a double-reefed foresail alone, when she rode as well as any vessel could be expected to do, and shipped not a drop of water. Toward night the gale somewhat abated, and she rolled with more unsteadiness than before, but still did very well, until a heavy lurch threw her upon her beam-ends to starboard. The corn was then heard to shift bodily, the force of the movement bursting open the main hatchway. The vessel went down like a shot. This happened within hail of a small sloop from Madeira, which picked up one of the crew (the only person saved), and which rode out the gale in perfect security, as indeed a jolly boat might have done under proper management.

  • Perhaps in that time period the general public knew all the technical terms for ships, but for a some portions of the book I was clueless. Previously in this chapter, the narrator went into depth of how you're suppose to properly stow your cargo. I have no idea what it was saying, but I got the gist that if you didn't prepare your cargo properly, it would cause issues and that many ships during this time didn't prepare it properly.
  • The book is actually relatively easy to understand though, and although you won't be able to picture the exact scenarios because some of the terminology is beyond you, the gist of what's happening will always be there.
  • I like to compare Hawthorne and Poe because Poe was actually a huge fan of Hawthornes. Both of them used symbolism to great effect and they also portrayed the "darkness" in people in different ways. Insanity seemed to resolve as a common theme between the two.

Political Cartoon

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Works Cited

Lyber, J. M., and James L. Roberts. CliffsNotes on Poe's Short Stories. 16 Mar 2015

"Edgar Allan Poe Biography." Poemhunter.com. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <http://www.poemhunter.com/edgar-allan-poe/biography/>.

"Poe's Life." Poe's Life. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <https://www.poemuseum.org/life.php>.