Edgar Allan Poe


John Allan, originally from Scotland, started a business in Richmond, Virginia, together with his partner Charles Ellis, they called it; The House of Ellis and Allan. They traded with tobacco and other goods and made a great deal of money. John Allan and his wife Frances also known as "Fanny" were frequent theater goers, and Frances joined the charitable women of Richmond who helped Eliza Poe's sickroom.

Eliza's daughter Rosalie was taken in by a Richmond family called MacKenzie. Fanny was interested in the middle son, Edgar. John opposed her, but after he had sent a letter to David Poe Jr's relatives who had taken the oldest son William Henry Leonard and couldn't afford another one, he gave in to Fanny's wishes. They did not formally adopt him though. The Allans lived quite close to the MacKenzies and Edgar probably had the opportunity to meet her once in a while in his early years.

Edgar came from living more or less in a suitcase in poverty into this new family that materially provided very well. John Allan promised David Poe Jr's relatives that he would give Edgar a good education, an education he himself had not had the opportunity to receive. He valued arithmetics, writing and reading highly since it was a must for success in business.

Fanny had herself been orphaned at the age of ten which probably was one of the reasons for taking Edgar to their home, and she was only 26, slightly older than Eliza. She was a good house wife and was very well organized but she had apparently not received a good education considering the frequent spelling mistakes she made in her surviving letters.

Nothing much is known about Edgar's first years with the Allans and hardly anything to indicate his feelings of being put in a new home and being separated from his brother and sister. When he was five years old John Allan sent him to a teacher named Clotilda Fisher and after this to the Richmond schoolmaster William Ewing who said that Edgar was charming and liked the school.

When Edgar was six and a half, the Allans moved to England. The five years stay began with a trip around Scotland before they settled at 47 Southampton Row in Russel Square, London. John Allan set up a London House of Allan and Ellis which soon prospered after a modest start. The London tobacco market was depressed and John learned to deal with large shipments to make some money. By 1817 the firm was good for more than $300,000 and they rented a house at 39 Southampton Row for another five years.

Edgar Allan, as he was known during his stay in England, recieved his first formal education here. He was sent to board with the Misses Dubourg to a school on Sloane Street in Chelsea about three miles from the Allans' flat. John Allan, of course, paid for all the expenses. When Edgar was eight he boarded the school of the reverend John Bransby, at Stoke Newington, four miles from London. Edgar studied, among other subjects; latin and dancing and was quite successful. Allan was very pleased with Edgar while Edgar seems to have remembered his schooldays in London as lonely and unhappy.

John Allan was very busy with his business and the family members felt neglected by him. Edgar was never formally adopted by the Allans and was, outside the family, hardly noticed. In letters received by the Allans regards was sent to the whole family except to Edgar.

Fanny didn't make Edgar's feelings of being neglected much better since she was frequently ill during their stay in England. She was also terribly homesick and after only a year abroad she wanted to return to Richmond. In 1817 she got so bad she had to be sent to the countryside to recover. She was then nursed by her sister Nancy. Her recoveries were few and only momentary though. John Allan had a hard time believing in all this illness and blamed it on Fanny's imagination.

After three and a half years abroad, the London tobacco market collapsed. John Allan tried to sell out his business but failed in finding a buyer. The market was in utter chaos and some merchants even committed suicide. John Allan tried to get some help from his partner Ellis but no money was sent. July 17, 1819, the London House of Allan and Ellis collapsed since they couldn't keep up with their debts.

July 21, 1820, the Allans arrived in New York and had to send for a doctor emmediatley due to Fanny's sickness.

Edgar's teens and the parting with John Allan

When Edgar grew into his teens the Allans moved around a lot. They finally moved to a house they got from William Galt in 1822 or 1823. Edgar continued his education during this time and when he was fourteen he attended the academy of Joseph H. Clarke, and after that he studied with Clarke's successor William Burke.

Edgar's schooling in Richmond encouraged his gift for language and he did very well in Latin and French. When he was about sixteen he wrote one of his earliest surviving poems; "Oh Tempora! Oh Mores!". Edgar wrote enough poems to publish a book but Clarke persuaded John Allan not to publish it.

When Edgar returned from England he had a pale and weak resemblance but in Richmond he turned to athletics. He was a good runner, leaper and boxer and also a superior swimmer. At the age of fifteen or sixteen he swam six miles in the James River under a hot June sun, partly against a strong tide.

Edgar obviously made a good impression on other people. Thomas Ellis, the son of John Allan's business partner once said:

"No boy ever had a greater influence over me than he had."

At the age of fifteen he became a lieutenant in the Junior Morgan Riflemen. As second-in-command he was reviewed by the popular Marquis de Lafayette whom two weeks earlier had praised Edgar's grandfather, General David Poe, for his good work.

Edgar was when he returned to Richmond known as Edgar Poe rather than Edgar Allan, to emphasize that he was not formally adopted by the Allans. Rosalie on the other hand was given the Mackenzies' name and Edgar's uncle, William Galt, adopted his orphaned relative James.

Edgar was in search for a maternal figure in his life. He was very fond of Fanny Allan but her frequent sickness made her less than the ideal mother. At one occasion it is known that he called Rosalie's foster mother "Ma". At the age of fourteen he became infatuated with Mrs. Jane Stanard, the mother of one of his classmates. He came to her when he felt unhappy at home and she somewhat resembled both Fanny Allan and Eliza Poe. Edgar had only known her for about a year when she died at the age of 31, probably insane. Edgar suffered from her death and his behavior changed. This lead to conflicts at home with John Allan who spoke of Edgar as; "Sulky & ill tempered to all the family". John Allan took his bad mood as a sign of thanklessness for all that he had done for Edgar.

On the morning of March 26, 1825, William Galt, the owner of the Allans' house, "Suddenly threw back his head & eyes and seemed oppressed." Uncle Galt straightened himself and died. The Allans' inheritance from Galt was estimated to three fourths of a million dollars, including their house and three land estates.

John Allan later bought a house called Moldavia which can be seen at the top of this page. It was an impressing place that was more like an estate than a house with its flowergardens, trees and eight outbuildings. Nancy and Edgar got a room on the second floor. He was now sixteen and a half and was preparing for University.

Time at niversity

In February 1826 Edgar enrolled at the university of Virginia. The university had opened the year before after, what was said, forty years of planning, and now had 177 students.

Edgar was proud to attend to the University and he had high ambitions in language. He took ancient languages taught by George Long, and modern languages taught by George Blaettermann. Edgar was an excellent student and his translations were remembered as "precisely correct". He studied French, Italian and probably some Spanish. He also joined the Jefferson Society, a debating club, and grew noted as a debater. He was also remembered as an outstanding athlete, he sketched in charcoal, and continued to develop as a writer.

Edgar was during his university year described as moody and gloomy. This might be due to his first known romantic attachment with a girl named Elmira Royster, which he met in Richmond before he left to the university. Edgar wrote to her frequently but her father opposed to the match due to the age, Edgar was then about sixteen and a half and Elmira was fifteen. He intercepted the letter and hence Edgar did not receive any replies to them.

Edgar was very young to attend the University. The average age for attending the university was about nineteen years back in 1830 while Edgar was only a month past seventeen.

The student life was chaotic and at times even dangerous. During a riot in the school's first year masked students threw bricks and bottles at the professors. During Edgar's year, seven students were expelled or suspended for high-stakes gambling.

The violence and chaos took up much room in the surviving letters Edgar sent to John Allan. In the letters you could read that one time a student was struck on the head with a large stone and he pulled a pistol - which apparently were quite common. The student misfired but would otherwise have killed the attacker. At another occasion a student was bit in his arm "and it is likely that pieces of flesh as large as my hand will be obliged to be cut out."

The quarrels with John Allan grew stronger, mostly because of Edgar's financial problems. During the year he got large gambling and other debts which he claimed was because John Allan did not provide well enough. Thus he had to stick to gambling to cover his expenses.

When Edgar returned to Richmond he had debts that reached to around $2000 - $2500. John Allan refused to pay his debts and did not send him back to the university but forced him to work at Allan's firm. Edgar was also disappointed to discover that Elmira Royster was no longer available. The first evening back in Richmond he went to a party at Elmira's house only to find that it marked her engagement.

In March 1827 the strain between Edgar and John Allan climaxed. This was the result of more than two years of indifferences going back to the death of Jane Stanard, and now the loss of Elmira. Edgar moved out of John Allan's home and where he went is uncertain. Edgar was looking for "some place in this wide world, where I will be treated not as you have treated me." Edgar felt that Allan had misled him, restricted him and rejected him. The letters Edgar sent to John Allan showed without concealment that he did not feel as a part of the family. He also wrote:

"I have heard you say (when you little thought I was listening and therefore must have said it in earnest) that you had no affection for me."

After several hostile letters in their correspondence Edgar was in need for money and his things, and changed the attitude in his letters. He wrote a friendly letter almost begging John Allan for help. The letter was returned and on the back of it Allan had written: "Pretty Letter".

Edgar lead a reckless life roaming the streets and drank a lot. He sometimes took his brother's identity to mislead his creditors and John Allan. He sometimes used the alias Henri Le Rennet, a frenchifying of Henry Leonard. At the time no one knew where Edgar went but some letters were said to be sent from St. Petersburg, Russia. In reality he had followed his mother's advice from the water color painting and gone to Boston.

Army and Death of Fanny Allan

March 1827 - March 1829

Edgar managed to make a living on his own in Boston working with among other things a small newspaper. He had brought some earlier manuscripts with him to Boston and handed these over to a printer by the name Calvin F.S. Thomas. It resulted in a forty page booklet entitled "Tamerlane and other Poems" said to be written by simply "A Bostonian". It consisted of "Tamerlane" and nine other much shorter poems most which were written in 1821 to 1822 when Edgar was only twelve to thirteen years old. His youth could be noticed in the poems, especially since the words "youth" and "young" appeared on a regular notice. The poems were heavily influenced by Byron whom inspired many young American poets at that time. In fact the heroine in "Tamerlane", Ada, was named after Byron's daughter and similarities with Byron's work can for example be seen in:

"I reach'd my home -- my home no more" - From Poe's "Tamerlane"

"He entered in the house - his home no more" - From Byron's "Don Juan"

In Tamerlane there could also be seen some vague reflection of Edgars own experience with his unhappy courtship of Elmira Royster and his thoughts of Ellis and Allan and his recent break with them.

Reconciliation with John Allan

During these two years Edgar had become a friend of Lieutenant Howard which he described as; compassionate, a fatherly man who acted from the "goodness of his heart", and as Edgar also stated: "He has always been kind to me". Edgar even trusted him with his real name and age. Even though he progressed in the army, Edgar felt that he wanted to leave. He had signed for five years but Howard promised to discharge him since he had heard about Edgar's problems with his orphanhood, and the problems at the University and John Allan. Howard would only let him leave if he settled his differences with John Allan though.

Lieutenant Howard wrote a letter to John Allan explaining the situation to which John Allan replied: "he had better remain as he is until the termination of his enlistment". Edgar then wrote to John Allan himself explaining that he made a mistake when he joined the Army but partly blamed Allan for it. He also stated that he had become a better man. Edgar's sense of poetry could be noticed in this letter in the folowing quote:

"I have thrown myself on the world, like a Norman conqueror on the shores of Britain &, by my avowed assurance of victory, have destroyed the fleet which could alone cover my retreat -- I must either conquer or die --- succeed or be disgraced"

John Allan did not reply and three weeks later Edgar wrote him again summarizing what he had said before and pretended like Allan never would have received the letter. Once again Edgar did not get a reply. After another six weeks, now after Edgar's 20th birthday, he wrote again but this time he asked for John Allan's help to enter West Point, stating that he wished to advance his career as a soldier. No one knows if he received a reply to this letter but a reconciliation was in the offing.

Fanny Allan's Death

In his letters to John Allan, Edgar asked about how Fanny was doing. The fact was that she was seriously ill and no improvement was to be seen. She eventually died February 28, 1829, at the age of 44. On her death bed she wished to see Edgar but he was not able to arrive until the night after her burial in Shockoe Hill Cemetery (where Jane Stanard also was buried). Edgar felt guilty for leaving Fanny in her bad condition and once wrote: "I have had a fearful warning & have hardly ever known before what distress was."

Fanny's Death had softened John Allan and he bought Edgar a suit of black clothes, some hosiery, a knife, a hat and a pair of gloves. He also said that he had not received Edgar's letters and agreed to support him in leaving the Army and enter West Point, but more importantly he promised to forgive Edgar for everything.

As Edgar went back to Old Point Comfort he wrote John Allan that except for Fanny's death he felt "much happier than I have for a long time".

Poems by Edgar A. Poe

(April 1831 - August 1831)

Edgar published his new volume of poems, sponsored by the cadets, in New York around April 1831. It was 124 pages, printed on cheap paper, entitled "Poems by Edgar A. Poe... Second Edition" dedicated to "To the U.S. corps of cadets". In the book there appeared several poems from the 1829 volume, among others, revised versions of "Tamerlane" and "Al Aaraaf". Six poems from the previous volume were dropped and six new added, e.g. "To Helen" and "The Doomed City". The book did not get much attention and the reviews described it as promising but bizarre and obscure. The cadets thought even worse of it, probably expecting the satirical work he had written at West Point. This they apparently found as "ridiculous doggerel" by a "cracked" author.

Edgar's new poems showed on his preference on mixing past and present, dream and reality and myth and science. The conflict between the desire for power and need for nurture in "Tamerlane" recurs in "To Helen" where the poet is an adventurous man who longs to be home. In the preface Edgar tells us about how writers tend to steal from eachother and he emphasizes the importance of originality. Still a lot of his own work are virtually rip offs from other authors. For example the song in his 1827 volume:

I saw thee on the bridal day --

When a burning blush came o'er thee,

Compared to John Lofland's lines:

I saw her on the bridal day

In blushing beauty blest.

American culture at the time fostered a preoccupation with death, and Edgar's poems reflects much of his thoughts of Death and the afterlife. This can be seen in, among other poems, "Al Aaraaf", "Evening Star", "To Helen", "Israfel", "The Valley of Nis", "Irenë", "A Paean" and "The Doomed City". In Edgar's work there's often a fine line between life and death. In "Irenë" for example the speaker is uncertain whether a woman is dead or asleep and in "To Helen" he mixes the living with a lifeless statue.

This "obsession" with death is hard to explain but it is said that when adults loose someone they learn to live with it by gradually withdrawing their involvement with the person while children have difficulties in understanding death and tend to look for a substitute. Edgar did not find this substitute and an underlying denial for death can have influenced his poems.

Edgar was the fourth generation of Poes in Baltimore. His paternal great-grandfather, John Poe, came to America from northern Ireland before the American Revolution. Among the Poes who had lived in Baltimore was Edgar's grandfather General David Poe, who left behind his wife and his daughter Maria, and also his son David Poe the actor who disappeared or died.

Maria Clemm got her name from her husband, William Clemm Jr., whom she married at the age of 27. She gave birth to three of his children. About eight and a half year after the marriage William Clemm died leaving Maria with their children and without property except for a parcel of land.

In Baltimore Edgar got to meet many of his blood relatives such as his first cousins, Virginia Clemm and Elizabeth Herring and his second cousin Neilson (pronounced Nelson) Poe, who had studied law and married one of Maria Clemm's stepdaughters. Edgar also had the opportunity to spend some more time with his brother William Henry Leonard.

Henry who also was born in Boston, though two years earlier than Edgar, had spent most of his childhood with General David Poe's family. He was, like Edgar, heavily affected by Eliza's death. When she died he had retained a lock of her hair which he referred to as "this gift of her I loved so well", and he wrote about her in a poem:

...I have had thy last caress,

And heard thy long, thy last farewell

In his teens Henry had joined the navy, or merchant marine, and visited remote parts of the world such as the West Indies, South America and possibly Russia. Later on he worked in Baltimore law office and during that time he published about twenty stories, poems and sketches under the initials "W.H.P.". Although growing up in different families and different cities Edgar and Henry tried to stay in touch with eachother. Henry had written to Edgar and visited him and Rosalie in Richmond and he had also accompanied Edgar and his friend Ebenezer Burling to see Elmira Royster. Edgar on his side had turned to Henry when in trouble, but he found Henry "entirely given up to drink & unable to help himself, much less me.". After his court-martial Edgar again sought Henry's help but again discovered that "he cannot help me".

Henry and Edgar were psychologically close, like many other orphaned brothers or sisters, this can be seen in for example Edgar's use of Henry's name as Henri Le Rennet and that Henry named one of the heroes in his stories Edgar Leonard. This hero, like both Edgar and Henry, lost his parents at an early age, also he had a romance with "Rosalie" using their sister's name. They also had poems that are virtually identical published, for example:


The happiest day -- the happiest hour,

My sear'd and blighthed heart has known,

The brightest glance of pride and power

I feel has flown--


The happiest day -- the happiest hour

My sear'd and blighthed heart hath known,

The highest hope of pride, and power,

I feel hath flown.

Another poem Henry published was identical through 34 lines with a poem in Edgar's 1827 volume. It is not certain who originally wrote the poems or if they worked together.

Edgar's reunion with Henry lasted for only six months, for Henry died August 1, 1831, and his funeral was held the following day. He was said to have died of "intemperance" and apparently he had not been able to give up his drinking. Henry was 24 when he died, just as Eliza had been when she died, and considering Henry's suicidal slides that may not have been a coincidence. Many of his poems concern women who through death abandon their loved ones, who longs to join them.

The Death of John Allan

During these years of Edgar's life he had not much contact with John Allan. In August 1831, John Allan's new wife gave birth to the couples first child whom they named John Allan Jr. Edgar, who hadn't heard from Allan since he left West Point, probably found out about the child in October.

Edgar wrote to John Allan telling how ignorant and thankless he had been for the help he had received from John Allan and he was sure to say that it was not a concealed way of asking for money. But in the end of the letter he says that he was "wretchedly poor" though. And one month later Edgar claimed that he had been arrested for an old debt of $80 - but no evidence of this arrest has been found. Edgar's aunt, Maria Clemm, also wrote to John Allan at least twice trying to help Edgar out. Help was finally received and the debt was paid and after that Edgar had no contact with Allan for about 15 months.

Still in financial trouble, Edgar again went to live with Maria, his cousin Virginia and his grandmother in the spring of 1833. In April he once again wrote to John Allan begging for money to "save me from destruction". Allan who was fed up with Edgar's attidude refused any help.

In the 95 degree heat in the summer of 1833, John Allan became ill. He had now two children with Louisa, the second son named after William Galt. In 1834 the couple had a third child and John Allan health was not improving. A second hand witness states that Edgar came to visit Allan once and had to force himself past Louisa and into John Allan's sickroom. John Allan had raised his cane as to hit Edgar with it and ordered him to leave.

March 27, 1834, John Allan died sitting in his armchair. His will was problematic and not legally valid. John Allan's property was given to Louisa and the couple's common children. Edgar was not even mentioned in the will and although John Allan was good for about three quarters of a million dollar Edgar did receive nothing!

Thomas Willis White & Virginia Clemm

The Messenger and Marriage to Virginia Clemm

November 1834 - January 1837

Thomas Willis White, Richmond printer, began in the printing business at age eleven. In August 1834 he launched a new magazine, the Southern Literary Messenger. The magazine was so to say, politically correct - made to be "a source of innocent amusement". Some would describe the magazine as boring but it was well received and after about ten months White claimed that he had nearly 1000 subscribers.

Despite the success he found himself hard-run for money and needed the help of a trained editor. Early in 1835 White began hearing from Edgar A Poe in Baltimore. Edgar gave White many advice but at the same time he stated that "I have no intention of giving you advice". That was a good move since White was very eager on staying in control. Edgar's advice was welcomed though and after Edgar's advice on changing the font the magazine was praised for its typography.

White began publishing Poe's tales and book reviews and the money Edgar made on this came very much in handy since he had trouble supporting himself. He lived in poverty and starvation but tried to keep his appearances up. Despite his worn-out clothing he always tried to keep a respectable surface. Kennedy advised White to employ Edgar permanently, which was needed more than ever since Poe had fallen in love with his cousin Virginia, "my own darling", as he called her. He wished to marry her despite the fact that she was only two weeks past the age of thirteen. When Edgar's grandmother died they also lost a $240 annual pension that was granted for General David Poe's widow for life. Now Poe had a chance to support Virginia and Muddy, as Maria Clemm was familiarly know. In June White wrote to Edgar offering him a job.

In August Edgar went to Richmond and he was offered a monthly salary of $60. Two weeks after these good news Edgar received a shaking letter from Muddy. She complained about the poverty in which they lived and said that Neilson Poe had offered to take Virginia to live with him, and perhaps Muddy too. Neilson did this probably not only to rescue them from poverty but also to prevent the marriage between Edgar and Virginia.

Edgar was emotionally hurt and afraid to loose his beloved Virginia. His reply to the letter shows of his uproaring emotions and of a probable alcoholic blur. He expressed his strong love for Virginia and "blinded with tears" he said that he would be extremely hurt if they decided to leave him. He even claimed that if they would accept Neilson's offer he would think of killing himself.

Poe was successful in his work with the Messenger and White took fatherly care of Edgar, his own son having died at the age of nineteen, three years earlier. Poe also got acquainted with White's 18-year-old daughter, an intelligent and graceful blonde with blue eyes named Eliza. The possibility of loosing Virginia might have made Edgar romantically involved with her.

Poe was unable to take any pleasure of his success and by early September he turned to drinking. He wrote a desperate letter with a suicidal tone to Kennedy asking for help to convince him of the necessity of living. By the time Kennedy reached Richmond Edgar had already left, whether he quit or was fired is unknown but the editor felt somewhat relieved and said that he wouldn't be surprised "to hear that he had been guilty of suicide."

Poe had returned to Baltimore and on September 22 he and Virginia took out a marriage license and were perhaps privately married. To marry a first cousin was not unusual at the time but to marry at such a young age as Virginia was extremely rare. Edgar's way of calling her "sissy", "sis" or "my darling little wife" and that he had flirted with his fourteen-year-old cousin Elisabeth suggest that Edgar had a preference for child-like woman rather than a mature or simply a young woman.

Whether married or only engaged Poe hoped to return to Richmond and wrote White and asked to get his job back. White desired to have Poe with him but he was afraid that Edgar would turn to drinking again. Edgar was offered the possibility of getting his job back if he would not turn to the bottle again. If he did go back to drinking, their relation would end immediately. On Saturday evening, October 3, Poe returned to Richmond and with him he brought Muddy and Virginia.

At Christmas time Poe looked on the new year optimistically. He felt better that he had for years and he managed to support the three of them, living in a local boarding house for $9 a week. Muddy felt thankful and said "myself & daughter know that we have someone to love & care for us."

Second Marriage to Virginia

Poe spent sixteen months or so in Richmond with Muddy and Virginia. That was his longest stay in the city since he left for the University at the age of 17. Everything in the city was pretty much the same as it was back then, except that the population had grown to about 20,000 citizens.

On Monday, May 16, 1836, Poe got officially married (possibly for a second time) to Virginia, witnessed by Muddy and T.W. White and his daughter. The fact that Sissy was as young as 14 was denied by Poe many times, he stated her age as 15 and said that she seemed like 21. It's been said that they did not same room the first two years, whether they had any sexual contact is not known but Poe claimed that his attachments to women were ideal and spiritual.

Poe was supporting Muddy and Sissy, which still was not an easy task even though he earned more money working for White than he had ever earned before. Poe's debts grew larger and White offered him to rent a house that he had just purchased. Poe accepted without seeing the place and bought furniture on credit. The place later turned out to be too small to fit a whole family, let alone two, considering that White's family was supposed to live there too. So the purchase of furniture just put Poe larger into debt and he tried in several unrealistic ways to raise that money without success.

Poe felt uncomfortable in Richmond since it reminded him of John Allan. Louisa Allan still lived at Moldavia with her and John's children and the Messenger's offices were located close to what once was the House of Ellis and Allan. Many things implies that Allan's death gnawed at Poe; his illness in Baltimore, his many tales of corpses, his "addiction" to Muddy and Virginia, his threats of suicide and his return to Richmond. Despite Allan's injustice towards Edgar he described Allan as a friendly, good man, as if he wished to spare Allan's reputation and maybe because of denial of the truth and that he wished that Allan was truly his father. Around this time, Edgar for the first time signed two of his letters "Edgar Allan Poe" instead of his normal "Edgar A. Poe" or "E. A. Poe". Those were two of three letters Edgar signed with the name Allan during his lifetime.

Arthur Gordon Pym & Ligeia

Two weeks after begging for a non literary work, Harper and Brothers in New York published Poe's first book of fiction. A 200 page volume entitled "The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket". The publishing had been delayed for about a year, to July 1838, because of the economic depression, and a pirated version appeared in London a few months later.

Pym was a classic adventure story, bringing the hero into trouble frequently and leading the reader into a world of illusions where nothing is what it seems. Friends turn out to be enemies, enemies to be friends, people in motion seen from afar turn out to be rotting corpses when seen from a shorter distance. Apart from the illusions an important ingredient is disorder, concerning everything from material disorder to social disorder.

The fictional figure, Arthur Gordon Pym, seems to have a lot in common with Edgar Allan Poe. They have similar names, both are born in New England, Pym arrives in Tsalal in January 19, Poe's own birthday. Pym is a son of a "respectable trader in sea- stores" and get an academic upbringing expecting to inherit his grandfather. Many characters in Pym resembles people in Poe's surroundings, and the names are anagrams of real names, or at least resemble them.

Pym attracted about two dozen reviews in New York, Philadelphia and London. Many was positive and praised Poe for creating entertaining adventures. Unfortunately Poe did not get much credit for writing Pym since his name was not presented at the title page but was only mentioned in the preface. How much money Poe made on Pym is uncertain but it cannot have been much since he continued to beg and take loans. The English pirated version did, of course, not pay at all.

In early 1839 two short works by Poe appeared in a Baltimore magazine, the American museum of science, Literature and the Arts. "The Haunted Palace" which was a return to verse, handled the theme of rebellion, also discussed in Pym. In "Ligeia" Poe perfected the tale of the revenant, the person returned from the Other World. The narrator's one and only love dies and leaves him helpless as a child, which immediately makes him search for a new caretaker, Rowena. But he cannot love Rowena as he had loved Ligeia, and his efforts to forget Ligeia conceals a stronger need to remember. Ligeia's rebirth tells of how the beloved lives within yourself, never die and are always ready to return. This shows of Poe's tendency to dwell over the past, and the failure of letting it go.

Usher and Rue Morgue

The Fall of the House of Usher

Poe's time with Burton's was one of the busiest periods of his life. He wrote, among other things, 89 book reviews but also a huge amount of articles on various topics. One of his most famous contributions was however, "The Fall of the House of Usher". "Usher" was a classic horror story with conventional Gothic features such as stealthy servants, sounds of heavy iron doors and collapsing buildings. The greatness in the tale is not in its novelty on the subject but how Edgar treated it. The language he uses is technically advanced and sets the mood in a very efficient way. The Ushers are named after Noble Luke Usher and Harriet L'Estrange Usher, who had performed with Eliza and David Poe.

While "Usher" uses older Gothic conventions, "William Wilson" shows of more social realism, the two tales has a lot in common though. Wilson treats a man that kills himself and yet lives, which shows of Poe's denial of death. In both "Usher" and "Wilson" we can see this tendency that nothing stays buried, and in both stories it is the lead character clinging on to his past. Roderick Usher keeps Madeleine's body in the house, and William Wilson cannot hate his rival, the other Wilson. Wilson realizes that when he kills the other Wilson he has in fact killed himself. So Wilson can't escape his image and Roderick can't escape his twin, because in both cases their "doubles" are parts of themselves.

This "doubling" is common in Poe's work and in Gothic literature in general. The doubling can be connected, not only between the characters in his stories, but to his own past. Wilson's birthday is for example on the 19th of January, like Edgar's own, and in some versions of the story the year of birth (1809) is also correct. Wilson also went to the school of "Doctor Bransby" which was the name of Edgar's schoolmaster in England.

Even though Poe produced work of high quality during his time at "Burton's" the pay was not very good and Poe was forced to loan money and freelance. In Alexander's Weekly Messenger he invited people to submit their own ciphers. The ciphers were all of the same kind where the alphabet had simply been substituted, and they were relatively simple to decipher. the naive readers of Alexander's failed to realize this though and he gained a reputation of being an ingenious analyst.

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque

Poe had for years tried to publish a book as "Tales of the Folio Club" but abandoned that idea and published a collection entitled "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" in December 1839. It was published in two volumes making a total of about 500 pages and 25 tales.

Even though neither these volumes nor his work for Burton's paid much money it enriched Poe's reputation. he got praised for his magazine writings in dozens of periodicals, mostly in New York and Philadelphia but also in Richmond, Baltimore, Boston and some other cities. "The Tales" received about 20 reviews ranging from "gloomy German mysticism" to "he has placed himself in the foremost rank of American writers."

Poe had a great desire to get this admiration and even praised himself for his work. He often wrote flattering about "Mr. Poe" by publishing anonymously in other magazines.

After a year with Burton's he left the magazine in June 1840. Despite his success he found the job non-profitable and uncomfortable. Together with a hard time trying to make ends meet Poe did not respect the magazine he worked for and when Burton announced a contest with high amounts of money involved - which he never intended to pay it gave Poe a reason to quit.

Trying to paint a good picture of himself he told this to J.E. Snodgrass, a Baltimore editor an physician, as the reason why he quit. But he never mentioned a letter from Burton that he received in May, where he might even have been fired. Poe's and Burton's partnership ended with hard feelings on both sides and Burton accused Poe for neglecting his duties because of alcohol abuse. Poe denied this and said that he hadn't touched a drop. Whether he was drinking or not is uncertain but even if it did it doesn't seem to have had any devastating effect on his duties.

As soon as Poe parted with Burton plans of making his own magazine came up. He wanted the independence a magazine of his own would provide and planned to publish around New Year, giving him six months to collect the necessary capital. The Penn Magazine as he would call it did not come out when Poe had promised to though since Poe found the work more difficult than he had imagined and also because he got sick in December and had to spend the whole month in bed.


George Rex Graham (see image on top of page), owner of the magazine Casket, bought Burton's magazine for $3500 per subscriber and started the publishing of Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine (the Casket and Gentleman's United) in 1841. In one year circulation went from 5000 issues to about 25000.

Poe did not like what Graham published even though it was a huge success. But after eight months without work Poe accepted Graham's offer of $800 a year. Poe liked Graham personally and Graham also praised Poe's work, and had tried to help pushing for the Penn.

Poe was hired as editor but did not perform much editorial work, but left this to Graham himself. Edgar mostly read proof and wrote reviews, and for additional $4 a page he also supplied tales. He was better known as critic than as a poet but he did publish revisions of "The Coliseum" and "To Helen" as well as a reworked version of "Israfel". Poe's fiction became more recognized than his poems though. He published, sometimes, nearly one tale a month. Among others, "Never bet your head", "The Island of the Fay" where Poe once again deals with life after death, and "A Descent into the Maelström".

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

In the April 1841 issue of Graham's Poe published "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", it is said to be the first modern detective story since nothing like it had ever been published before. The nearest to a detective story to be found would be Voltaire's 1748 "Zadig". Poe referred to this new literary style as "tales of ratiocination", the word detective didn't even exist at the time.

Problems with crime was spreading out in the US and the police forces were increased in American cities. The periodicals at the time reported of bloody murders and suicides which influenced Poe, and the especially articles he found about razor wielding apes.

Even if the detective story was a new concept it was a natural continuation of Poe's writings. Especially its Gothic element, with the gloomy mansion Dupin is kind of a Parisian Roderick Usher. The logic deductions and the detective work of Dupin is in no way coincidental, but the whole story is written backwards. Everything in the narrative is adapted to the given outcome. This "backward writing" creates a brilliant effect and as Poe himself said: "where is the ingenuity of unravelling a web which you yourself... have woven for the sole purpose of unravelling?"

Poe was praised for the novelty of the story and has influenced stories and movies ever since. Many features has been used such as the use of a detective that is not connected to the police, a narrator who is not the detective (like Dr. Watson) and that the murders take place in a locked room, which was a concept never introduced before "The Murders in the Rue Morgue".

Virginia's Health and Tales of Ratiocination

(Fall 1841 - April 1844)

Graham's prospered with Poe and the number of copies in circulation went from 5500 up to 40,000, and it was planned to increase to 50,000. Poe gained a good reputation from his cryptography series, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", and his criticism, as a master of German (Gothic) horror and as a literary wizard. Even though he was such a success Poe felt that he could not express his creativity with Graham's and he still had plans of publishing his own periodical; The Penn.

A friend of Poe's, Frederick W. Thomas, offered Edgar a job as a politician, and Poe was very interested. Together they tried to get Poe a government clerkship, but their efforts and contacts did not help very much. The reason he finally quit his job at Graham's was that he was simply fed up with it and wanted to try something else. He said he might contribute to the magazine and Poe and Graham parted as friends. The "friendship" did not last long though, because Graham did not announce publicly that Poe had quit and let the readers believe that Poe was still writing. Poe was angry with this and denied that he was writing in anonymous articles in other magazines. In July 1842 Poe's resignation from Graham's was finally made public.

Virginia's Health

During this time Virginia began to feel ill. Edgar had encouraged her singing and according to Muddy she had become a "perfect musician." But in January 1842 Virginia was bleeding from her mouth when she sang. She was in the early stages of tuberculosis.

Virginia's illness took Poe very hard and he made everything he could to help her. Every cough from her made him shudder. His marriage to Virginia had meant a lot to Poe. It managed to keep him calm and kept him from drinking, and living isolated with his close relatives, like Dupin and the Ushers, made it possible for him to be in the center of attention.

While watching over Sissy Poe wrote two Gothic tales that were published in Graham's. "Life in Death" is about a painter and his sick wife, whom strongly resembles Virginia. The painter refuses to see that his bride is dying as he paints her portrait. "The Mask of the Red Death" is about Prince Prosperto who tries to save his diseased country from this figure called "The Red Death". In Red Death Poe wrote that "the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all" which shows of an attitude that is very rare in Poe's work, because death is not normally a terminal thing for him. Both stories shows of a denial and a struggle to fight death, just as Poe refused to realize how serious Virginia's condition was.

Virginia's condition went up and down, and with it Poe's spirits. He tried to help her the best he could, and in search for a healthy environment they moved a couple of times in the spring of 1842. Poe suffered badly from seeing Virginia so weak and he turned to drinking again. Some people said he drank huge amounts while others, including Poe himself, said that he was intolerant to alcohol and a single drink intoxicated him. The truth is probably a combination of both, he got drunk after just one glass and simply couldn't stop drinking. Regardless of the amount it is no doubt that it was more than he could take, and it cost him a lot of money. Money he didn't have.

Thomas once again offered his help to get Poe a job, now in the Custom House in Philadelphia. Poe missed a couple of appointments with Thomas because he was too drunk, and several misunderstandings and broken promises from politicians made everything lead to nothing. So Poe went to Washington, both to speak with the president's son and to get subscribers for The Penn which he now called The Stylus. His abuse of alcohol, probably caused by "a great deal of heartache" made him make a fool of himself, hence he had no success in either getting the job nor getting the Stylus published.

Crime and Detection

Poe published several revisions of old poems and also a few new ones. One of them, which seemed influenced by Virginia's illness, was "Lenore", which handles the subject of as how you should act when a young woman dies. In "The Conqueror Worm" like in "The Mask of the Red Death" dead means really dead, and it shows of Poe's spirits during Virginia's illness.

During the last year in Philadelphia Poe published "The Pit and the Pendulum" which is an intense tale of sensation. It's about a man who is tortured by the Spanish inquisition, among other things he is close to being sliced by a razor-sharp pendulum.

Poe also continued his work with crime and detection in tales like "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The Black Cat", and "The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt". "The Tell-Tale Heart" is about a murder of an old man whose heart keeps beating and finally drive the narrator to confess his crime to the police. The alcoholic narrator in "The Black Cat" kills the cat several times but it keeps coming back. At one time he accidentally cleaves through his wife's head and bricks her corpse up in a wall, but the cat's howling reveals the hiding-place to the police.

"The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt" is the second story about Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, who is now trying to solve the murder of a young woman. The story is based on an actual slaying that took place in 1841 of a New York "cigar girl" named Mary Rogers whose body was found in the Hudson River.

"The Gold-Bug" is another tale of ratiocination that also includes cryptography and an attempt on comedy. Poe won $100 for the story in the Dollar Newspaper. In the story Legrand decodes a cipher and with his black servant and a heavy scarab they search for a hidden treasure.

The language used in these stories is simpler and more straight-forward than the language Poe usually used, and reminds a bit of today's movies of violence. They are all innovative and adventurous and despite their simplicity Poe retained his poetic characteristics in his language.

In "The Gold-Bug" Poe uses a black servant that is superstitious and stupid and a black character in "The Journal of Julius Rodman" is described repellantly. Poe sympathized with the slavery in the South, but it has nothing to do with racial hatred. Poe considered, as many other Americans in the 1840s, that the black were less then human.

The tales might not have been a great financial success but they became very popular. Especially the prize-wining "Gold- Bug". Poe estimated that 300,000 copies of it was spread, many of them pirated. While living in Philadelphia Poe published 31 tales and stories, among them: "Ligeia", "The Fall of The House of Usher", "William Wilson", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Pit and the Pendulum", "The Black Cat" and "The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt." It is admirable that he managed to publish so many popular tales while running from job to job, taking care of Virginia, insulting people, abusing alcohol, and so on.

Summary of Edgar Allan Poe's Life

Edgar Allan Poe, son of Actress Eliza Poe and Actor David Poe Jr., born 19th of January 1809, was mostly known for his poems and short tales and his literary criticism. He has been given credit for inventing the detective story and his pshycological thrillers have been infuences for many writers worldwide.

Edgar and his brother and sister were orphaned before Edgar's third birthday and Edgar was taken in to the home of John and Fanny Allan in Richmond, Va. The Allans lived in England for five years (1815-1820) where Edgar also attended school. In 1826 he entered the University of Virginia. Although a good student he was forced to gambling since John Allan did not provide well enough. Allan refused to pay Edgar's debts and Edgar had to leave the University after only one year.

In 1827 Edgar published his first book, "Tamerlane and other poems" anonymously under the signature "A Bostonian". The poems were heavily influenced from Byron and showed of a youthful attitude.

Later in 1827 Edgar enlisted in the Army under the name Edgar A Perry where his quarrels with John Allan continued. Edgar did well in the army but in 1829 he left and decided to apply for a cadetship at West Point.

Before he was able to enter West Point Edgar published a book entitled "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and minor poems", this time the book was published, not anonymously, but under the name Edgar A. Poe, where the middle initial acknowledged John Allan's name. Before Edgar left West Point he received financial aid from his fellow cadets to publish a third edition of the book. Edgar called it a second edition though and it was entitled "Poems by Edgar A. Poe" in which his famous poems "To Helen" (another version was published in 1848) and "Israfel" appeared. These show of the musical effect that has come to characterize Edgar's poems.

Later Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and his first cousin Virginia. In 1832 he won a $50 prize for his story "MS. Found in a Bottle" in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. In 1835 Poe brought his aunt and cousin to Richmond where he worked with Thomas Willis White at the Southern Litterary Messenger. He also married his cousin Virginia, only thirteen years old.

Most of Edgar's work with the Messenger were of a critical nature but he also published some literary work such as "Berenice". His work with the writing and the editorial departments of the Messenger increased the circulation of the magazine. But his drinking habits forced White to eventually let him go.

Edgar moved around to New York and Philadelphia, trying to establish a name in literary journalism but without any major success. His theories on musical poems and short prose narratives which were to aim at "a certain unique or single effect" can be for example be seen in "Ligeia"(1838) and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1839) which would eventually become one of his most famous stories.

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) is sometimes considered the first detective story. Examples of his use of a rythmic and flowing language are the poems "The Raven" (1845) and "The Bells" (1849). The Raven was a symbol of "Mournful and never ending remembrance" which is not only a good description for "The Raven" but could be applied to almost all of his work.

In January 1847 Virginia Died and Edgar took this very hard but he kept on writing until the day he died in Baltimore October 7, 1849.

Poe's life and works in context

Poe's life is often described in his short stories and letters, especially the long beginnings of his stories are typical for the author. It sometimes seems like that Poe's biography is a story written by himself. During his childhood many members of the family have died, these circumstances strongly influenced him and his style of writing.

His father was known as a drinker, also Poe suffered a little from alcohol. His mother and brother always stayed ill, both died of tuberculosis and his sister was mentally handicapped. But it would be wrong to say that Edgar was also mentally handicapped due to his genetic heritage. Poe was often considered to be crazy but this can be denied.

True is that he often suffered from sudden unconsciousness but the name of his illness today is unknown.

Here are more facts which influenced his style:

As the son of an actor he was defied, this status was considered as iferior, he lived in poor conditions. The rapid changes of his social staus during his life also have influenced his style. But it shouldn't be forgotten that Poe

has had a very good school education while he was under the authority of the Allans. He spoke latin and french and was good in history and literature. Certainly, Poe's abilities didn't only come from his circumstances he had also much talent. It's the mixture of a hard childhood, intelligence and talent which make Poe so interesting to read.

William Wilson (1840)


WW is one of the most impressing stories of Edgar Allan Poe. It was published in 1840 in the book "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque". This "double-story" is masterly composed but contains many problems. It seems that it is no story that has been written very fast but very well compsed and reconsidered. It contains many biographic elements. It is interesting that Poe worked out many elements of parapsychology which in his times were completely unknown. Today, psychology has experienced the role a "double" plays but it is astonishing that Poe got nearly the same result although he had no medical or psychological education.

"William Wilson" was often considered as an "autobiographical-story" and it's true that the author has included many experiences of his youth times. His lucky student-years in Englandv have impressed him very much but we also can see that has newer outgrown his disinheritance by John Allen.


At the beginning of the story the narrator who is called William Wilson admits that he has comitted a lot of terrible crimes during the last few years. He wants to write them down because he feels that he will have to die. He confesses that he became a victim of temptation. His earliest memories are about his schoollife in a secluded village in England.

At the boarding school he attended he met a schoolmate, who had the same name, was born the same day, who had the same looks and similar habits, but wasn't related to him. The narrator was held in high regard by everybody except his double. He opposed him and didn't believe in his heroic adventures. All the other pupils didn't notice the strange relationship between the two Wilsons, but slowly the narrator began to be afraid of his "enemy". That's why the intensive bond soon turned into hatred. The double started to imitate the narrator, he copied his behaviour and his clothing, even his voice was similar. The narrator realized that he had met the wrong Wilson before but he couldn't remember at which occasion. At the end of the fifth year at boarding schoolhe wanted to play a malicious trick on his double and sneaked into his room but a few minutes later he left again because the sleeping Wilson's face looked excactly the same like his own one, so that he believed to see himself lying on the bed. After this horrible experience he left the boarding school with panic, to forget the awful and confusing happenings.

He changed to the university of Eton, where he soon became addicted to alcohol and gambling. One evening, when he was already drunk the door of his room was opened and William Wilson entered the room, wearing the same suit like the narrator. Before he even realized what was happening his double vanished again after having whispered the words "William Wilson". From now on his double appeared whenever the "real " Wilson found himself in difficult situations, whenever he was about to make a mistake. But his double always disappeared quickly so that he wasn't able to get any detailed information about him. Afterwards the narrator spent two years at Oxford university. One evening he tried to deceive a young and rich student. When the freshman had lost all his money and the narrator was at the top of his glory the wrong Wilson came into the room and accused the gambler of fraud. Banished from the university, mortified by the students the narrator left England - but in vain! Years passed by, Wilson followed him everywhere and prevented him from his criminal plans. In Rome at the time of the "Carneval" he tried to win the duchess' heart but within the crowd he saw a costume that could've been his own. Full of anger he grabbed his double, towed him to another room and demanded a duel. The fight was short, with rage he stabbed Wilson down with his sword. Suddenly someone asked for entry. To avoid interference the winner turned around to lock the door. When he looked at his opponent again he caught sight of his own pale and bloody face. It was his double, trying to defeat death, his body and his features were exactly the same. The man in agony no longer whispered but spoke in the voice of a winner:

"You have conquered, and I yield. Yet, henceforward art thou also dead - dead to the World, to Heaven, and to Hope! In me didst thou exist - and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou hast murdered thyself."


This short story is based on a battle between the main character and his double. It's true that Poe has contained many personal experiences from the years 1815-1820 and therefore especially the first pages aren't fiction. Such biographical elements are typical for the romantics.

The narrator mentions that he has the ability to remember nearly everything, so we can say that also Poe himself did. But Poe also deliberately changed some facts. In William Wilson the starting-point is the battle between good and evil. At the end in is predicted to the hero that he will die soon and that's why he decides to write all that down. Because of the many crimes, but mainly because of murder, he feels banished from society, for him life has become a dream. With the murder of his own conscience the hero disappears from society. The argument with his double is a quarrel with the conscience but simultaneously a battle between two totally different worlds.

Wilson tries to kill his own conscience and therefore hopes that he can commit his crimes undisturbed. This is a false conclusion: He begins to feel aversion against his actions.

It is hard for him to get rid of the immagination. It is true that the visions are terrible for him, but he senses that he wouldn't even understand the reality.

William Wilson is totally helpless, his cruel fate has forced him into a cruel situation. If the opponent is seen as a symbol for reality, the conclusion is clear: The hero wants to escape and kills his double and theredore a reason for his own death is given, he is powerless against the fate.

In this short story every of Poe's talents is included: the fantastic motif of the double, the precise descriptions, the deep feelings and a strict logic.

Wilson is Poe's autobiographic short story because he has described many memories of his youth and also because we have got a little view into Poe's soul. We have seen that Poe's inner battle is also the battle of the two Wilsons.

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