Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of terror still haunt many readers today. Poe was not only a writer of short stories, but also a poet, novelist, and scientific theorist. Pure rumor has led many to believe Poe was as morbid and mysterious as his stories. His biography tells another story.
Poe was born January 19, 1809 and was raised in Virginia by wealthy tobacco merchant, John Allan, after both of his parents had died by the time he was three. By 13, Poe had written enough poetry to publish a book, but Allan did not allow it. When Poe went to attend the University of Virginia, Allan only gave him a fraction of the costs of his expenses. He started gambling to earn extra money, but he became so poor that he had to burn his furniture to stay warm. He furiously blamed Allan for it.
When Poe returned to Virginia, he discovered his fiancée was engaged to someone else. Distraught over recent events, he left to write and join the army. He published the poem, “Tamerlane,” at just 18 years old, and was accepted at West Point two years later. After just eight months, he had himself thrown out when he heard Allan had remarried quickly after the death of his wife, Frances, who Poe had seen as a mother. He found another mother in his aunt, Maria Clemm, who took him in when he was broke. While he was in Richmond, he earned an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger, and became a derisive book critic for the magazine.
Poe eventually left the magazine to pursue a career in New York, and published his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. A year later, he moved to Philadelphia and struggled to find work. Even though his writing was becoming well-known, he faced poverty. Still, he found happiness with his cousin, Virginia, who he married when he was 27, and she was just 13. The two was happy their entire marriage. In January 1845, Poe published the famous, “The Raven”, and he gained better pay for his work. Poe was devastated in 1847 when his wife succumbed to tuberculosis. He would only live for two more years, and he died on October 7, 1849, at 40 years old. To this day, his cause of death is unknown.
When Poe died, Rufus Griswold, who had received an unfavorable review from Poe, sought revenge by writing a memoir. The memoir paints Poe as a crazy, alcoholic womanizer. He wanted to shame the author they way Poe had shamed him. One can imagine his dismay when Poe’s book sales escalated. Thanks to Griswold’s biography, Poe became the morbid legend everyone knows.
Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of his most recognizable works and is read by high school English classes around the country. Published in 1843, the narrator is defending his sanity after murdering an old man because he did not like the way the man’s “vulture” eye looked at him. He claims he cannot be mad because a madman could never have planned the murder so well. He saw the murder out seamlessly, dismembering the corpse, and hiding it under the planks of the floorboard. He does this all cheerfully, and even leads suspecting police officers through the house to search. When he sat to chat with the policemen, he started to notice a noise from the floorboards. Readers can see his sanity slipping as his guilt catches up to him, and he even starts to believe the policemen are mocking him by pretending they hear nothing. He admits the murder, and screams at them to lift the planks, where they will find the beating heart. Poe portrays the narrator’s madness here so vividly that it does not take much of a leap for readers to believe it had to be written from the madman Griswold wrote about.
In his short years, Poe contributed much to the art of writing. He was a leader of the science fiction genre and the founder of the modern detective story. The man became famous with his morbid reputation, and his terror-filled stories will continue to grace bookshelves for many years to come.