The Hard Times of Edgar Allan Poe

American author, Edgar Allan Poe led a lonely and destitute life, surrounded by poverty and death. His life proves to be ironic when compared to his published work. Poe was known for his dark style, prose, and language. Author and editor, Kate Riggs described Poe’s writing as, “gothic sensibilities”, “irony”, and “eerie”, (Riggs 2008). A writer who seemed to stay on the sad and dark side, the lore and doom surrounding his writing also illustrated his life experience. This includes hardships of loss and abandonment. Living in melancholy, Poe encompassed this feeling in most of his writings. He lived a life of constant sadness and despair all the while creating remarkable works of literature still fascinating to readers over a century later.

Edgar Poe was born to be an orphan, lonely, and destitute figure. His beginnings were not happy ones. Born in 1809 to his English father, David Poe Jr. and mother Elizabeth Arnold, “his parents were both actors”, (Riggs 2008). When young Edgar Poe was still a baby, he was left in the care of his paternal grandparents for several months. “Edgar was reclaimed by his parents, and apparently stayed with his mother until her death in 1811”, (Ingram 1886). What happened to Poe’s father, David Poe is unknown. It was said that he abandoned the family, before the death of Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. Another writer claims that David Poe Jr. left after the death of his wife. Be it as it may, after the death of Poe’s mother, David Poe Jr. was never heard of or mentioned again. Poe was only two years old at the time of his mother’s death. She also left behind two other children, Poe’s siblings, Henry and Rosalie.

With Poe’s mother deceased and his father’s abandonment, the siblings were separated, orphaned, and adopted by three separate families. Poe went to stay with a family friend, the Allan’s, a name which Edgar Allan Poe adopted, “for several subsequent years, was to be known as Edgar Allen”, (Ingram 1886). Mrs. Allan bore no children and adored Edgar and cherished him. Although, “Mr. Allan became extremely proud of his youthful protégé and treated him in many respects as his own son”, he showed little affection towards Poe and often was critical of him, (Ingram 1886). Ingram goes on to describe this odd relationship and the effects that it had on the young Poe. He states that Poe had “a morbid sensitiveness to affection” and “parental affection—he seems to have been utterly devoid”. Consequently, although Poe grew up in wealthy society and wanted for no material things, he craved for love and care. It is possible he felt the implications of being adopted and missed or yearn for his true parents.

It is this upbringing and childhood that most critics miss when attempting to understand Edgar Allan Poe. Some suggest that his morbid and gothic stories were developed by other deaths that occurred throughout his life. However, it is during this time that Poe began to display bouts of sadness and an overall unhappy appearance. Other factors which occurred in his childhood also gave wave to the gloom and despair iterated throughout his literary works. In 1816, the Allan’s enrolled Poe in a London school called, Stoke Newington Manor House. While there he received an excellent education, learn to recite importance pieces of the time, and there he learned both French and Latin. Also, it was his five years of education at the school that provided the gothic setting and mystery that is seen in his poetry and stories. “Much of the gloom and glamour which pervade Poe’s writings originated in the strangeness and isolation of the lad’s position in that foreign and excessively ancient house of the misty looking village”, (Ingram 1886). Here, Ingram claims that he picked up on the impression that the school gave, and transferred his visual sensory details of the school into literary pieces.

Returning to America in 1822, Poe faced another tragedy. It made a significant impression on the darkness and foreboding images and characters immolated through his writing and gothic style. A teen, Poe became well acquainted with a young girl, whom he liked. He would often go to her about his problems and they became good friends. However, according to Ingram, this young woman, Helen, soon died and succumbed to a mental illness. Consequently, Poe was distraught over the young girl’s death. She was buried at the local cemetery; Poe “would go nightly to visit the tomb of his revered friend and [even] when the nights were very dreary and cold”, (Ingram 1886).  Ingram also suggests that many of his writings were addressed to Helen, including “his exquisitely beautiful stanzas, “To Helen” were inspired by the memory of this lady”. Ingram further suggest that other writing were in remembrance of his first love including, “The Paean”. This is assumed as two female names are continuously present throughout most of his pieces including, “Helen” and “Lenore”.

“Throughout life Poe was hunted by the idea that the dead are not wholly dead to consciousness”, (Ingram 1886). From reading many of his works, Poe thought of and was followed by death. Thus, his writing reflected his ideologies and mysticism surrounding the passing on of life. The plague of death followed him throughout many of his writings including, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Raven”. “The weird thoughts which he experienced when he behold his lady robed in her grave garments were hinted at in Irene”, (Ingram 1886). Someone who has led a lowly life such as the case as Poe, how could he then write about happiness and joy? With various misfortunes that became part of his life, Poe wrote from his personal perspective and life. Thus, because his life was sad his writing displayed his feelings. Many critics called him “morbid” and others didn’t want to publish his work because it was sad and lifeless. Ironically, sadness and trouble would continue to follow him.

During his early years, Poe also wrote the short story, “The Black Cat”. It is suggested that during his youth Poe developed strong relationships with animals because of his father’s inability to show him pride and affection. Ingram calls “the Black Cat”, Poe’s “autobiographical fidelity”. The hardships that Poe faced in his youth may have been the source of his literary style and the ever present sadness and mystery. Before Poe reached his manhood, two important women in his life died, his mother and his first love. In addition to this tragedy, he never received the love, kindness, and affection that he was searching for from his adoptive father. Although Poe lived a rich and wealthy childhood with is travels and education abroad, he still lacked the fundamental love and nourishment children need during the critical years of development. It was this dark and dreary childhood that became the foundation of the literary works seen in Poe’s writing.

Entering adulthood, Poe continued to face challenges and death of the most important people around him. Poe attended the University of Virginia in 1826, however this didn’t last long. Possibly because of his unhappy childhood, the loss of his first love, and his mother, or maybe even his poor relationship with his adopted father, Poe was forced to drop out. Poe spent a lot of time, energy, and attention to alcohol and gambling. He acquired an addiction and a large debt that his wealthy father refused to bail him out of. Poe hadn’t yet completed a whole year at the University. He was only 18 years old. After this incident, Poe continued to struggle with money and poverty. He never received help from his estranged adoptive father and he only made money from his poems and stories sporadically.

At the age of 25, Poe married his young cousin, a girl only 13 years old. He still continued to struggle financially due to his inability to secure and maintain employment. Not only did he have to support his wife, but also his aunt –or mother-in-law- as well. Although he was able to obtain brief jobs as a magazine editor, he often got beside himself and quit. Despite his difficulties with employment, his time spent at various journals and editorials gave Poe a platform for his short stories and poems. This includes, “Arthur Gordon Pym”, “Ligeia”, and “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”. While editor at Gentleman’s Message, Poe published, “The Fall of the House of Usher” in 1839. According to Ingram, this was the most difficult time of his life financially.

As an adult, Poe not only struggled financially, but he also experienced more death and tragedy. His wife became ill with tuberculosis and never fully recovered. While in between jobs, the small family faced a devastating poverty, they were forced to beg for food and money and had difficulty staying warm during the winter. In the winter of 1847 his wife, Virginia, died. However, devastation followed her death as “Virginia was found dead apparently smothered to death in her efforts to get warm”, (Starret and Sharp 1941). Poe was devastated. He resumed his drinking habits and went through a psychological break down that lasted nearly a year. Not long after, just two years later. Poe himself died. His death, like his life, was not only sad but shrouded in mystery. He was found dead in a men’s house and no one was able to conclude the cause of his sudden death.

Edgar Allan Poe was a great American writer who pioneered through various obstacles and hardship. Despite this, he was able to become a well-known published author of many great works that continued to be read, recited, and analyzed today. Starret and Sharp proclaim, “Poe is the most solitary figure in our literature, outstanding among the fantastic figures of genius” (1941). Riggs also salutes the author when she states, “Poe takes a simple tale of murderous revenge and makes it into something more menacing and intricate”. Ultimately, Poe’s experience became his storyline. It shaped his point of view, giving him the ability to use creativity to express his loss and sadness.

References

Ingram, J. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters, and Opinions. 1. London: Waterloo Place, http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=cknQAAAAMAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR3&dq=life+of+edgar+allen+poe&ots=qdEzTaVvum&sig=z5fxnKOVY76ThnT0_12YWje1_SE#v=onepage&q=life%20of%20edgar%20allen%20poe&f=false

Riggs, K. The Cask of Amontillado. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2008. eBook. <http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=4b6PnHfQ1y8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA22&dq=edgar allan poe his life and stories&ots=si-9gvdckR&sig=o0dSfLIBiGeBOdiiF-0j9vuWZaY

Starrett, V, and W Sharp. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Baltimore, ML: G Press, eBook. <http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=7VUBA_BnsPgC&oi=fnd&pg=PT38&dq=edgar allan poe his life and stories&ots=oNDDgdNDJn&sig=2kWVaIoO_7Nr7PIRr2qhdC02AEE

About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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