Monday, April 8, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was known as master of the macabre. His gothic stories dealt with death, decomposition, reanimation and premature burial. He was the inventor of the detective fiction genre, an early contributor to the science fiction genre and one of the first know American authors to make a living strictly from writing.

Poe was born in 1809 in Boston. His mom died shortly after his birth and his father abandoned the family. He was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant from Virginia though he was never formally adopted. He was raised to be a businessman.  Instead, Poe dreamed of being a writer like his hero the British poet Lord Byron.

Poe attended the University of Virginia but was given little money by his foster father to pay his bills. He turned to gambling to survive and he quickly accrued large debts. He was so poor he burned his furniture to keep warm. Poe dropped out of college after one semester. He returned to Richmond to find his fiance engaged to another man. Heartbroken, he joined the army.

In 1827 Poe published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems, attributed with the byline "By a Bostonian." Only 50 copies were printed and the book garnered no attention. Poe traveled to Baltimore and moved in with his Aunt Maria Clemm and his young cousin Virginia.

By the early 1830's, Poe began publishing short stories. His work slowly gained acclaim but he remained in poverty. Poe turned his attention to prose and literary criticism. His literary criticism was so scathing he gained the nickname "Tomahawk Man" and he was said to write with "prussic acid instead of ink."

In 1835, Poe married his cousin Virginia. (He was 26, she was 13.) Poe became editor of several journals and his literary output increased. In 1845, Poe wrote his most famous poem The Raven. He became an overnight success though he was only paid $9 dollars for the poem's publication.

In 1847, Poe's wife Virginia died of tuberculosis. (Tuberculosis claimed his wife, his birth mother, his older brother and his foster mother.) Despondent, Poe was unable to write for months and he turned to drinking. He moved to a cottage in the bronx and continued to struggle financially. His stories were more popular in Europe than America and they were translated into French by Charles Baudelaire.

By 1849, Poe was drinking heavily and wandering the streets delirious. Though the story of Poe's final days is complicated, he disappeared for five days before he was found in the bar room of a public house wearing clothes that were not his own. He died at Washington College Hospital surrounded by strangers. The exact cause of his death is unknown. (His death has been attributed to alcohol, cholera, heart disease, rabies, tuberculosis and suicide.)

The Mystery Writers of American present an annual prize called the Edgar Award named after Poe for best writing in the mystery genre. (6" x 7", black ink print)


  1. Very nice woodcut Loren - Glad to see that the tradition of woodcut illustrations is alive and well!.

    Best regards
    Edgar Allan Poe Society of Prague

  2. Nice woodcut and interesting post. The Edgar Awards are among the most coveted among mystery writers and the annual awards banquet is usually attended by most of the top American authors in the field.

  3. Very nice. Edgar Allan Poe gave a lot to the world, and to writers of suspense and horror especially. Thanks for sharing.