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Featured Books

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Modern Library Classics)Summary and Reviews of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Modern Library Classics)
Complete Poems (Paperback)Summary and Reviews of Complete Poems (Paperback)
The Complete Stories (Everyman's Library) (Hardcover)Summary and Reviews of The Complete Stories (Everyman's Library) (Hardcover)
EurekaSummary and Reviews of Eureka
Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews: Theory of Poetry/Reviews of British and Continental Authors/RevSummary and Reviews of Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews: Theory of Poetry/Reviews of British and Continental Authors/Reviews of American Authors and American Literature/Magazines and Criticism/The Literary & Social Scene/Articles and Marginalia (Library of America)
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Edgar Allan Poe

Click the banner or the individual items listed to buy and read Poe's work.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) most likely used drugs and definitely abused alcohol during part of his life, but these did not produce the masterful gothic tales for which Poe is famous.  Poe's imagination was only part of the equation, and it hardly needed help from alcohol to be fertile.  Poe produced his mystical, macabre stories, not to mention his haunting poems, using a combination of personal experience, imagination, and influence from other writers and popular culture.

Poe was born in Boston to actor parents.  His father left the family when Edgar was two, though, and his mother left him orphaned by two and a half.  John Allan and his family took Edgar in, though never adopting him formally, and, thus, Edgar Poe became Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe spent one year at the University of Virginia, but John Allan refused to fund any more time at the University because he thought Poe was wasting his time pursuing writing.  Poe, in turn, thought Allan was cheap and cruel, and Allan died when Poe was in his twenties without mentioning him in his will.  The feud between them involved complicated issues, and it is hard to know who was more justified in his dislike for the other.  We can speculate that the feud affected Poe's psychological state during his adult life.

Poe spent the rest of his life in Boston and four other eastern cities, Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York, in which he worked and wrote.  He held editorial positions at several magazines, more or less successfully, during his lifetime, realizing a dream of being sole editor of a literary magazine when for a short time he edited The Broadway Journal before it folded.  Alcohol abuse cost Poe his job more than once, but he continued to write work of genius in the form of short stories and poems almost without interruption.

Poe published his first volume of poetry before he was twenty-years-old and soon after gained success with a series of Gothic stories that were a mix of serious narrative and parody on German and British Gothic stories.  After he left his editorial job at the Southern Literary Journal by mutual agreement, in 1837, he wrote his only full-length fiction, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.  In 1839, he wrote two of his famous stories, "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," and some other now famous stories.  From 1839 to 1844, while working for Graham's Magazine, he wrote many more of his famous tales, including "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Masque of the Red Death," and "The Gold Bug."  During this time, Poe was in top form.

In 1844, he left Philadelphia where he had spent this five-year period of peak performance and moved to New York.  In New York, Poe turned to literary criticism part-time and produced his philosophical treatise, Eureka.  His highest accomplishment in this time, though, was a poem that is now a part of our American literary inheritance:  "The Raven."  Unfortunately, also while he was in New York and soon after his magazine collapsed, his wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis.  Poe blamed Virginia's long fight with the disease for his drinking.

Poe recovered from his mourning by wooing several women from literary circles, and he spent the next two years in relative happiness.  He moved to Richmond and became a little like a hero there.  Poe, in earlier portraits, appeared sick and tired, while he appeared healthy and rested in portraits taken during this period.  It all ended, though, when he was returning to retrieve his aunt with whom he had lived in New York and never got there.  He was found dying in a gutter in Baltimore during a local election, which may be a part of the story of his demise-Baltimore elections were famous for drunken brawls and political trickery.  The next day he died of, probably, pneumonia.  Poe has at times been relegated to niche status as a drunken, drug-addicted writer of adolescent and far-fetched tales, but in hindsight, he is seen as a leading light to a diverse group of artists from Surrealist painters to Dostoyevsky to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and, finally, Robert Louis Stevenson.

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