Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were David Poe Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe, both traveling actors. Edgar had an older brother named William and a younger sister named Rosalie. His father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died of tuberculosis in 1811 in Richmond, Virginia.
Orphaned at age 2, Edgar was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife Frances Valentine Allan in Richmond. While they never formally adopted Edgar, he took on the name Allan, becoming Edgar Allan Poe.
|Date of Birth
|January 19, 1809
|Place of Birth
|Date of Death
|October 7, 1849 (aged 40)
|Place of Death
|David Poe Jr. (father)
|Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe (mother)
Early Education and First Writings
Edgar first attended school in 1815 in Irvine, Scotland, where the Allan family had relocated for John Allan’s tobacco business. He later studied at private academies in Richmond, Virginia and then attended the University of Virginia in 1826.
It was during these early years that Edgar secretly wrote his first poems. His first official publication was the poem “Tamerlane” in 1827, published anonymously when he was 18. Throughout this time, Edgar had a tense relationship with John Allan. He ran up debts, some from gambling, which John refused to pay. In a dispute with Allan, Edgar left home and ventured out on his own in 1827.
First Poetry Collection
- In 1827 as a teenager, Edgar self-published his first poetry collection entitled “Tamerlane and Other Poems”.
- It attracted little attention at the time but included hints of themes and styles he would later become famous for.
Early Military Career
- In 1827 after leaving the Allan household, Edgar attempted to support himself.
- He took a job as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army under the assumed name “Edgar A. Perry”.
- He was assigned to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina but didn’t adapt well to military life.
Adult Life and Career as Writer and Editor
In 1829, Edgar moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia, and his brother William. In 1835 he married his cousin Virginia, who was 13 at the time. He churned out short stories and poems to try to support himself and started working as a magazine editor and reviewer. Some of his early magazine jobs included assistant editor for the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond and later an editor position at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine.
|Moves to Baltimore, begins shifting career focus to writing
|Wins contest sponsored by Baltimore Saturday Visitor with short story “MS. Found in a Bottle”
|Hired as editor of Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond
|Marries Virginia Clemm, his cousin
Edgar Allan Poe would go on to become one of the most famous American writers. Known for his dark, mysterious style, he pioneered the modern detective story genre, invented the format of the short story as it’s popularly understood, and created enduring poetry like his famous poem “The Raven”.
Major Literary Works and Themes
Poe published some of the most influential literary works in American history. He had a strong preference for mystery, detective fiction, the macabre, and the chilling. Common themes in his works include grief, death, mourning, dark romanticism, and tortured characters grappling with internal moral conflicts.
- Poe’s most famous work is his poem “The Raven”, published in 1845.
- With its musical language and dark, menacing storyline, it quickly became a literary sensation catapulting Poe to fame.
Other Famous Poems
- In addition to “The Raven”, Poe produced profoundly influential poems like “Annabel Lee”, “The Bells”, “Ulalume” and “A Dream Within a Dream”.
- Poe was a pioneer of the short story format and is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre.
- Well-known short stories include “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Black Cat”, “The Cask of Amontillado”, and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.
In addition to poetry and short fiction, Poe also produced literary criticism focused on analysis of poetry, short stories, and defining qualities of worthwhile literature versus “bad writing”. His piece “The Philosophy of Composition” analyzes his writing process for “The Raven” and has become a seminal work of literary criticism still studied today.
Later Hardships and Death
Despite burgeoning fame as a writer and editor in the 1840s, Poe continued to struggle with hardship and setbacks. His young wife Virginia fell ill with tuberculosis in the late 1830s and eventually died from the disease in 1847, devastating Edgar.
This loss, combined with reported difficulties with alcohol abuse, made Poe’s life very difficult towards the end. Despite literary success, he found it hard to make a living wage from writing alone. In 1849, Edgar was discovered delirious on the streets of Baltimore and passed away a few days later under mysterious circumstances. The exact cause of his early death at age 40 is still disputed to this day.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Legacy
Poe died in 1849 but his innovative stories and poems have endured more than 150 years after his passing. He paved the way for future writing genres focusing on mystery, the macabre, horror, and dark romantic themes. He turned the short story format into a respected literary art form. Schools, streets, and awards around the world have been named in his honor.
His face is recognizable around the globe as a rebellious, mysterious figure in literature and his works like “The Raven” remain popular to this day. Many prominent figures including Alfred Hitchcock have cited Poe’s works as profound influences on their own creative output and style.
Frequently Asked Questions About Poe
What were Edgar Allan Poe’s major accomplishments?
Some of Poe’s major lifetime accomplishments included:
- Pioneering the detective fiction genre with works like “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
- Elevating the short story format into a respected literary art form
- Writing profoundly influential poems like “The Raven” which brought him international fame
- Becoming one of the first American writers to earn a living wage solely from writing alone
- Publishing highly regarded works of literary criticism like “The Philosophy of Composition”
Was Edgar Allan Poe married?
Yes, Edgar Allan Poe married his cousin Virginia Eliza Clemm in 1836 when he was 27 and she was 13. The two were married for 11 years until Virginia’s death from tuberculosis in 1847 which had a devastating effect on Poe.
How and when did Edgar Allan Poe die?
The circumstances of Poe’s death at age 40 remain mysterious. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore delirious, “in great distress, and…in need of immediate assistance”, according to a man who found him. He was taken to a hospital where he died four days later on October 7, 1849. The exact cause of his death is disputed, with theories including alcohol poisoning, brain congestion, cholera, rabies, suicide, and murder.