On the Edge of Madness - Edgar Allen Poe

I love reading about literary figures. There is something intriguing about the starving artist. The writer fighting a battle with his or her inner demons. The poet who can weave magic with his words yet is socially defunct. The drug addled, alcoholic who couldn't pen pen to paper when sober.

These are the sorts of people who we would normally say are the dregs of society. The people who, if you met now, you probably wouldn't invite over for dinner or a cup of tea. 

Yet crazed, drug fueled madness, melancholy and mental illness seem to be the breeding ground for creativity, for passion and for pure brilliance.

In an effort to pay homage to these people who have given us some great gifts, I am going to write a series of posts about those authors who I love, yet who spent their lives struggling with themselves and society. Those who sometimes sacrificed their sanity, their loved ones and their lives all in the name of their art. 

I think it's only right to start with a literary genius and master of the macabre. Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, literary critic and editor. Poe is best known for his tales of mystery. Who doesn't know his famous works, 'The Raven', 'The Fall of the House of Usher' and 'The Tell-Tale Heart'.

Poe has been hailed one of the greatest American poets. Yet he was also one of the unhappiest. 

Poe's parents died when he was young and he was taken into care by a merchant named John Allan. Although never formally adopting Poe, the young boy took Allan as his middle name.

Since childhood, Poe showed an affinity for poetry and writing. When he was young he could recite whole verse of English poems and wrote his own. You could say that Poe was born a poet. 

It was only right that with his intellect and talent he attend university, but he was expelled for not paying his gambling debts. This also caused a fight between him and John Allan, which resulted in Allan disowning him. 

Poe then joined the army, under the name of Edgar A. Perry, but was later dishonorably discharged for neglect of duty.

Moving on, Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his Aunt. Here he continued to write and he worked for various magazines but these jobs did not last due to his alcoholism.

Poe gained much attention during this time, for his literary criticism where he often launched personal attacks on writers and gave harsh, almost mean, reviews of their works.

In 1836, Poe (aged 27) married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. They moved to New York and Poe ran his own newspaper which later collapsed. During this time Virginia burst a blood-vessel and remained sick until she died from tuberculosis in 1847. 

Poe suffered from depression and madness. He attempted suicide in 1848. His wife's death pushed Poe into drug and alcohol abuse. Despite this, he had several romances and in 1849 he got engaged again, this time to a married woman. 

In September of 1849, Poe was traveling from Richmond, Virginia (the home of his new fiancee) back to New York. He went missing. He was not seen for 3 days. He was eventually found delirious in Baltimore wearing clothes that did not belong to him. He was taken to hospital but was unable to explain what had happened to him. He died on October, 7th. The cause of his death remains a mystery.

As you can see Poe had quite an interesting, yet difficult, life. There are questions over how much of his drunkenness and madness is exaggerated as when he died, one of his enemies (Rufus Griswold) wrote a scathing attack on his character. This biography was accepted as fact by many, but denounced by those who knew Poe well.

Poe's great works deal with the themes of paranoia, obsessions, death and damnation, horror and psychological debilitation. All themes close to his heart. Some of these, things he himself struggled with during his life. 

Poe continues to be recognised as one of American's most famous literary figures.  His works are taught in high schools and universities. I for one, love teaching gothic fiction and Poe is one of my favourites! Regardless of his problems and his downfall, Poe really was a great writer and poet! His works are timeless. 

What do you think of Poe? Love him or hate him? Have I got my facts right, or did I miss something? What do you know about Edgar Allan Poe?
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