Edgar Allan Poe by Felix Vallotton courtesy of Wikimedia
CAIRO – 7 October 2017: On October 7, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died in Washington College Hospital at the young age of 40, having been found on the streets confused and fearful, unable to explain what happened. It was a mysterious end befitting one of the world’s most famous horror writers and poets, a man famous for having written “The Raven” and chilling tales such as “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
Photograph of Poe via Wikimedia
Poe’s dreary life began on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. By the time he was three years old, Poe had lost both of his parents and was adopted by a wealthy tobacco businessman, John Allan, and his wife Frances. John and Poe did not get along too well, with John adamant that the boy follow his footsteps in the business, while even at the age of 13, Poe was already heavily interested in poetry, even writing on the back of his adopted father’s business papers.
By 1825, Poe began studying at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; however, while he excelled academically, his stay there was short, as mounting debts and lack of support from his adopted father forced him to leave. His fiancée had even begun seeing someone else, breaking Poe’s heart. Seeing little choice, Poe then enlisted in the U.S. army, shortly after he published his book “Tamerlane and Other Poems”.
The collection was not a commercial success, and critics turned their nose at it. His second collection, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems”, published in 1829, was also ignored. Poe was honorably discharged from military service and then went to study at the United States Military Academy at West Point, though he was dismissed after a year for failing to handle his duties. It has been speculated that Poe got himself expelled on purpose to spite his father.
Afterwards, Poe moved to New York City and published his third collection of poems, simply titled “Poems”, in 1831. It still wasn’t much of a success, and Poe was left in poverty, especially after John Allan passed away, leaving him out of the will. Things would finally begin to turn around for the luckless poet by 1835 when he got employed at the Southern Literary Messenger, where he worked as a vicious critic and reviewer, targeting the most popular writers of the time. No one was safe, and his writing was so abrasive that, coupled with his alcoholism, he eventually had to be let go. He continued to work at various magazines and journals until moving to New York in 1844, and it was in this time that he published what would become his most famous stories – “The Raven”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
It was “The Raven” that propelled Poe into the public consciousness, turning him into a household name. However, Poe’s criticisms of his contemporary peers ensured that they would do everything in their power to ruin his reputation, even after his death, leading to misconceptions that he was a brutish drunk and mentally unstable.
Poe’s writing was unique for its narrative styles that focused on the psychology of its central character, which enhanced the horror of his works by delving deep into the depths of human darkness. He can rightly be considered one of the founding fathers of modern horror fiction.