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Nevermore!- The Edgar Allan Poe Story

Posted by hughrandle@gmail.com on January 18, 2014 at 8:15 PM

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) Growing up interested in books and particularly in the classics, I stumbled upon Edgar Allan Poe at a fairly early age. During high school, "The Raven", "The Bells", and Tell-Tale Heart hooked me with their mystery and passion. The gothic tone of so many of Poe’s short stories spoke to a different time and showed us both horror and pathos. Often bleak and somber, Poe was also witty and clever, the father of the detective story, later advanced by Arthur Conan Doyle and others. His life played out much like his stories and most people who can name several Poe titles, know nothing about his troubled life. Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston. He was born to traveling actors and within three years both his mother and father were dead. He was taken in by a wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan, from whom Edgar adopted his middle name. His relationship with John Allan, although adequate in the beginning, deteriorated as time went on. Allan wanted to set Edgar up in business and the young Poe had little aptitude and less desire to do that. On the back of ledgers that he was supposed to be learning, Edgar began to write poems. By the time he was twelve, he had enough material for a book but was dissuaded from publishing by his teacher and his foster father. The delay was only temporary and by age 18, in 1827, Poe’s first book Tamerlane was published. When Poe’s adoptive mother took ill, she summoned Poe to her bedside, but she died before he arrived. This visit home, in 1829, brought on a temporary reconciliation with his foster father and led to Poe being enlisted in West Point. Poe published a second set of poems, but was kicked out of West Point after only 6 months. His third book was published shortly afterwards and Poe decided to return to Baltimore, Maryland, the home of his late father. He was robbed by a family member, but his aunt Maria Clemm was a mother figure to him. Her daughter, Poe’s first cousin Virginia, became his love interest and eventually his wife before she was 14 years old. After one of Poe’s short stories won a contest, Poe finally begin to crawl out of poverty by becoming editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Within a year, the magazine was the most popular in the south and Poe was appreciated both for his writing and his stinging literary criticisms. Poe moved Maria and Virginia to Richmond. There Poe had the most stable family life he was to know. Poe, a restless spirit moved to New York in 1837 and then to Philadelphia the following year in pursuit of better wages. Poe was growing in reputation, but not in fortune and continued to struggle as a contributor to several magazines during this period. He also published his first book of short stories during this period, but was only financially rewarded by 25 free copies of his book. Still, his home life was good and the young couple and his mother in law filled their evenings with song and merriment. But much like the plot of any good Poe short story, Poe’s bliss was short lived. Tuberculosis was a killer in the 19th century. Edgar had lost his mother, brother and foster mother to the dreaded disease. In 1842, tuberculosis reared its ugly head again when Virginia Poe contracted the disease. With no known cure, Poe watched his wife’s health disintegrate until finally she died in 1847. During the years of her declining health, Edgar Allan Poe became a household name with the January 1845 publication of "The Raven". Virginia Poe’s death affected Edgar in a horrendous way. He was unable to write and many acquaintances and critics felt that Poe would soon follow his wife to the grave. Unfortunately, those prognostications were very accurate with Poe surviving less than three years after his wife’s passing, even though he was still a young man. Poe sought the solace of women in his travels and appears to have reconnected with an earlier love Elmira Royster Shelton, who was widowed, although there is much mystery surrounding the depth of their reconciliation. The legend of the last several days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life has been exaggerated, refuted, confirmed and debated for over 160 years now. What is known is that Poe took a trip from Richmond to Philadelphia and decided to stopover in Baltimore. The most accurate version of the story is that Poe was in Baltimore for about five days and was found in a bar room incoherent. He was sent to the hospital where he drifted in and out of consciousness and appeared delirious. He died on October 7, 1849 at the age of 40. His cause of death to this day is unknown. Edgar Allan Poe wrote brilliant poems. He dabbled and excelled in science fiction writing, describing weather, space, and the sea with incredible detail. His story Murders in the Rue Morgue is considered by many to be the first detective story. He wrote of the grotesque and morbid, and did so with riveting adjectives and haunting depictions. His vivid writing allows the reader to gain a mental picture of the scene spelled out on the pages. It seems somehow necessary that he lead such a tragic and in many ways pathetic existence. He seemed to be able to draw from the most mortibund human experience and lonliness and practically paint a mood. Here, in no particular order, are 10 Poe stories that you should invest the time to read or listen to. Many of them are available on mp3 or CD. Additionally, the actor Vincent Price and the director Roger Corman teamed to bring several of Poe’s stories to the movies such as Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. 1. The Cask of Amontillado: Published in 1847, this is the story of raw revenge. This story pulls out all of the typical Poe stops: amazing detail, an unsuspecting victim and a deranged antagonist. When describing the catacombs that make up the wine cellars, close your eyes and I swear you can almost feel the dampness, smell and taste the fear and apprehension. 2. The Tell-Tale Heart: Published in 1843, this is a classic in psychology. Whether by conscience, guilt or insanity, the perfect crime is foiled. The number of paragraphs Poe uses to perpetuate the crime in the story speak to his passion for detail, minutia that other authors don’t have the ability to illustrate. 3. The Black Cat: Similar to Tell-Tale Heart and also published in 1843, The Black Cat also has an assailant who thinks he is untouchable, until his psyche breaks down into confession. Considered Poe’s darkest horror story, he also includes a strong condemnation of the power of alcohol. 4. The Masque of the Red Death: Published in 1842, this story concerns itself with the opulence of a party, but one who has a very uninvited guest. Poe is at his descriptive best, both in the layout of the abbey where Prince Prospero has hidden out with a thousand of his kingdom to escape the plague, but also of the disease itself. Considered by some to be allegorical regarding the inevitability of death regardless of how we try to avoid it, by others it is considered more literally. 5. Descent into the Maelstrom: This 1841 Poe classic falls under the science fiction realm and makes use of Poe’s talents to relate the fisherman’s singular trip into the raging whirlpool and the subsequent effect it had on him. 6. The Fall of the House of Usher : Long before psychological science was known, Poe’s character Roderick Usher suffers from hypochondria, hyper-sensitivity and his sister from catatonic trances. Poe uses the house itself as a character in the book, almost as living and breathing as the Usher family themselves. Published in 1839. 7. The Facts in the Case of M.Valdemar: When this story was first circulated in 1845, there were many who thought that this was an actual medical case history being presented. Poe toyed with the idea of perpetuating the hoax, but revealed its fictional source in his introduction. Exploring the idea of placing a patient in a hypnotic trance exactly at the time of death and then keeping them in a netherworld between life and death, it again uses Poe’s unequaled sense of doom and descriptive intellect. 8. The Pit and the Pendulum: Introduced on New Years 1843, this story of the narrators torture during the Spanish Inquisition relies heavily on the senses particularly as the monotony is detailed with such reality that the reader can place themselves on the rack with the pendulum swinging back and forth, closer and closer each time to the fatal blow. 9. Eleonora: Published around the time of Virginia Poe’s diagnosis of tuberculosis, this short story is among Poe’s most autobiographical as it involves three happy souls, a man, his aunt and her daughter, just as Poe’s real domestic life played out. It is considered a romance rather than a horror story because although there is a visitation from beyond the grave, Poe in this story more than in any other portrays a idyllic surrounding and happiness which sets this apart from his much darker works. 10. The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall : Among Poe’s earliest writings (1835), this is purely an adventure story, but with the dark twist that the main character has committed murder and is escaping on a 19 day journey presumably to the surface of the moon. Poe’s ability to speak of atmospheric conditions and an apparatus for making air in the vacuum of space sets him with Jules Verne and HG Wells for their ability to understand the inventive mind of man. This is also a very entertaining story, written in a somewhat non-chalant aire. Edgar Allan Poe, to me, was a genius. That he was troubled with demons beyond is control is almost unarguable. To call his life tragic is perhaps accurate, but truly, he crammed an immense amount of brilliant writing into 22 years. In a ten year period from 1839 to 1849, he left a legacy of the supernatural, the demented and the despairing. I have not even included a poem in the ten recommendations above. Certainly, “The Bells”, “The Raven”, “Annabelle Lee”,“To Helen” and “Eulalie” are among the many that will mesmerize you. One person who was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe was Alfred Hitchcock, who said “It’s because I liked Edgar Allan Poe’s stories so much that I began to make suspense films”. Happy 205th Birthday Edgar Allan Poe, wherever you are!!

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