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Edgar Allan Poe: America's misunderstood genius

Edgar was educated at various schools in England for five years when the family lived in Europe because of Allan’s business. In 1826 he entered the University of Virginia where he remained for less than one year. During this short span he enrolled in the schools of ancient languages and excelled in French and Latin translations. He was a member of the debating club. In terms of athletic prowess, classmates remembered him as a superior gymnast. Despite good grades he could not continue because of lack of funds, which resulted in part from gambling debts. The student body was of wealthy stock who reveled in this type of rebellious behavior. Poe reached out to Allan, requesting that he assume these debts and allow him to continue with his education. Allan refused and an estrangement between the two ensued.

Poe ran away to Boston in 1827 and enlisted in the Army under an assumed name because he was unable to pay his creditors. He subsequently published his first poems. Two years later on New Year’s Day, he was promoted to sergeant major for artillery, the highest possible rank for noncommissioned officers. The following month, Poe learned of the death of Frances Allan and was deeply affected by it. He received an honorable discharge and had a temporary reconciliation with Allan.

Poe entered West Point in 1830. John Allan remarried the same year. Relations reached a new low point and Allan severed ties permanently. Knowing full well he would never be able to please him with his status at West Point, Poe made the conscious decision in 1831 to be expelled by purposely refusing to follow orders. This served as the real turning point in his life. He could now focus all his creative energy on his true love of poetry and literature. It was Poe’s goal to successfully earn a living solely as a writer, and he was prepared to devote the remainder of his life to this quest. That same year he moved to Baltimore in search of fortune.

In 1834 John Allan died, but not before amassing great wealth through an inheritance. To add final insult to injury, Edgar was not mentioned in his guardian’s will.

Poe became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835. That same year he secretly married his 13-year-old first cousin, Virginia Clemm, a not very uncommon occurrence at the time. He referred to her often as Sissy. They lived together with Virginia’s mother, Maria Clemm. There has been scholarly debate whether the marriage was ever consummated. It has been suggested the union was a ménage a trios of sorts. Poe would serve as the family provider, while his wife and aunt would supply the struggling writer the emotional dependence he desperately needed.

Poe moved to Philadelphia in 1838 and subsequently became the editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. Over the next four years he wrote some of his most famous short stories, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders In the Rue Morgue, "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Tell Tale Heart," and "The Black Cat." It was also during this time that he would become the editor of Graham’s Magazine.

In 1844, Poe moved to New York where he lived for the remainder of his life. The following year, he published "The Raven" which became an overnight sensation. Unfortunately, he would earn very little compensation for his masterpiece. Thereafter, Poe became an editor at The Broadway Journal and subsequently assumed its ownership the next year. As his continual stream of misfortunes would have it, The Broadway Journal would soon fail.poehighbridge102811_opt

Following a long illness, his young wife died in 1847 at the age of 24. Virginia, like his own mother 36 years earlier, became yet another victim to the ravaging tuberculosis. He had now lost three of the most important female figures in his life. Grief stricken over his wife Virginia, he plunged head first into the writing of "Eureka," a long work, which he described as a “prose-poem.” It set out to espouse his theories on the creation of the universe, some of which remain extremely relevant today. It failed, however, to generate a large audience, probably due to the fact that it could not be understood by most people.

During the two remaining years of his life, Poe’s own health visibly deteriorated. It is at this time that he began a courtship with three women simultaneously, possibly out of a need for the feminine understanding that always eluded him. One or more of these relationships may have in fact been simply platonic. Although he never married again, two of these women consented to become engaged to him.

In his last year of life, he attempted to achieve his greatest ambition, to be the sole proprietor of his own magazine. He would call it The Stylus. Once again, however, his dream would end in failure. During the summer of 1849, he visited Richmond, Norfolk and Philadelphia, lecturing and attempting to raise funds for his project. On October 3, while he was en route from Richmond to New York, he was found unconscious on a Baltimore street.



 
Comments (2)
2 Monday, 31 October 2011 05:37
Bob Sheairs
Very well written article. Even Poe the critic would have a problem finding fault.

For more #poelove, check out www.poehead.com

Happy Halloween!
1 Sunday, 30 October 2011 18:44
Dan Currie
Bravo and thank you, Mr. Esposito!

(Please check out the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston
at www.poeboston.org and www.facebook.com/poeboston.)

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