Edgar Allan Poe

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Poe, Edgar Allan

Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809–49, American poet, short-story writer, and critic, b. Boston. He is acknowledged today as one of the most brilliant and original writers in American literature. His skillfully wrought tales and poems convey with passionate intensity the mysterious, dreamlike, and often macabre forces that pervaded his sensibility. He is also considered the father of the modern detective story.

Early Life and Works

After the death of his parents, both of whom were actors, by the time he was three years old, Poe was taken into the home of his godfather, John Allan, a wealthy Richmond merchant. The Allans took him to Europe, where he began his education in schools in England and Scotland. Returning to the United States in 1820, he continued his schooling in Richmond and in 1826 entered the Univ. of Virginia. He showed remarkable scholastic ability in classical and romance languages but was forced to leave the university after only eight months because of quarrels with Allan over his gambling debts. Poverty soon forced him to enlist in the army.

Because of the deathbed plea of his foster mother, he achieved an unenthusiastic reconciliation with Allan, which resulted in an honorable discharge from the army and an appointment to West Point in 1830. However, when Allan remarried the following year Poe lost all hope of further assistance from him and was expelled from the Academy for infraction of numerous minor rules. Living in a time of frequent economic crisis and depressions, he was to be plagued by poverty throughout his life, a condition that was exacerbated by his chronic alcoholism. His first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, was published in 1827. It was followed by two more volumes of verse in 1829 and 1831. None of these early collections attracted critical or popular recognition. Poe went to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia. In 1835, J. P. Kennedy helped him become an editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He contributed stories, poems, and astute literary criticism, but his drinking cost him the editorship.

Later Life and Mature Works

In 1836 Poe married Virginia Clemm, then only 13, and in 1837 they went to New York City, where he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), his only novel. From 1838 to 1844, Poe lived in Philadelphia, where he edited Burton's Gentleman's Magazine (1839–40) and Graham's Magazine (1841–42). His criticism, which appeared in these magazines and in the Messenger, was keen, direct, incisive, and sometimes savage, and it made him a respected and feared critic. Some of his magazine stories were collected as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840). At that time he also began writing the mystery tales that earned him the title “father of the modern detective story.” In 1844, Poe moved back to New York, where he worked on the Evening Mirror and later edited and owned the Broadway Journal.

The Raven and Other Poems (1845) won him fame as a poet both at home and abroad. In 1846 he moved to the Fordham cottage (now a museum) and there wrote “The Literati of New York City” for Godey's Lady's Book. His wife died in 1847, and by the following year Poe was courting the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. However, in 1849 he returned to Richmond and became engaged to Elmira Royster, a childhood sweetheart who was by then the widowed Mrs. Shelton. On his way north to bring Mrs. Clemm to the wedding, he became involved in a drinking debauch in Baltimore. This indulgence proved fatal, for he died a few days later.


Poe's literary executor, R. W. Griswold, overemphasized Poe's personal faults and distorted his letters. Poe was a complex person, tormented and alcoholic yet also considerate and humorous, a good friend, and an affectionate husband. Indeed, his painful life, his neurotic attraction to intense beauty, violent horror, and death, and his sense of the world of dreams contributed to his greatness as a writer. Such compelling stories as “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” involve the reader in a universe that is at once beautiful and grotesque, real and fantastic.

His poems (including “To Helen,” “The Raven,” “The City in the Sea,” “The Bells,” and “Annabel Lee”) are rich with musical phrases and sensuous, at times frightening, images. Poe was also an intelligent and witty critic who often theorized about the art of writing. The analytical mind he brought to criticism is evident also in his famous stories of ratiocination, notably “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter.” Poe influenced such diverse authors as Swinburne, Tennyson, Dostoyevsky, Conan Doyle, and the French symbolists.


See his collected poems and stories (3 vol., 1969–78); his letters, ed. by J. W. Ostrom (2 vol., 1948, repr. 1966); biographies by J. Symons (1981), D. Thomas and D. K. Jackson (1987), K. Silverman (1991), and J. Meyers (1992); studies by D. Hoffman (1972), B. L. Knapp (1984), J. G. Kennedy (1989), and D. Stashower (2006).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Poe, Edgar Allan (1809–1849)

(pop culture)

American writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of David Poe, Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins. His parents, both actors, died of tuberculosis in 1811. Young Edgar then lived with John Allan, a merchant, and incorporated his benefactor’s name into his own. He entered the University of Virginia in 1826, but after a falling out with John Allan he dropped out and joined the army. His first book, a collection of his poems, was published in 1827 shortly after his tenure in the army began. In 1830, after a brief reconciliation with John Allan, Poe was sent to West Point, but was expelled for disobedient behavior. In 1831 he moved to take a newspaper job in Baltimore, and while there met an aunt who had been previously unknown to him. In 1835, he married her daughter Virginia Clemm and remained married to her for twelve years, until her death in 1847. During those years, he moved from one job to another, drinking heavily, and always in debt. He himself died while on a drinking binge, and his body was found in a gutter. His literary executor wrote a scurrilous biography that turned many people against Poe through the rest of the nineteenth century, though it did not stop his rising fame, which grew both in North America and Europe. He was well-known in France and Germany in the late nineteenth century.

Rediscovered in this century, Poe found an extensive and appreciative new readership for both his poetry and short stories, many of which have been turned into movies. While Poe explored many areas of the gothic world, he never specifically wrote a vampire story. Contemporary critics, however, have found widespread use of a vampire or lamiai-like character in his various writings. Amid the actual vampirism encountered in the literature of the early nineteenth century, historians studying the period have noted that many writers considered a more metaphorical or psychic vampirism in which the vampire-like character sucks the life force or psychic energy from another, usually a person close to them. As early as the 1930s, D. H. Lawrence recognized such a theme in Poe’s work.

More recently James B. Twitchell carried Lawrence’s position even farther and argued that “the development of the vampire analogy was one of Poe’s central artistic concerns.” Twitchell saw the vampire (or lamiai, since his vampires were usually female) theme in a number of Poe’s stories, particularly “Bernice,” “Morella,” “Ligeia,” “The Oval Portrait,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In “Bernice,” Poe told the story of a man originally in a weakened condition who seemed to grow more robust as his cousin Bernice declined and finally died. In the end, however, it was Bernice who became the vampire, a fact signaled by her paleness, lifeless eyes, and prominent teeth.

The narrator of the story became increasingly afraid and after Bernice died, he went to the grave to slay the vampire by pulling her teeth.

Bernice was but the first of the supposed female vampires created by Poe.

Morella, in a story written shortly after “Bernice,” bled the narrator of her story of his willpower. She also possessed the vampire’s identifying marks: cold hands, hypnotic eyes, and a bloodless face. In like measure, the title character in “Ligeia” (1938) possessed a lamiai‘s likeness with her cold hands, pale appearance, prominent teeth, and hypnotic eyes. In these first three stories, suggested Twitchell, Poe used the vampiric theme to highlight a form of relationship between lovers. He returned to the theme in “The Fall of the House of Usher” in which the vampiric exchange of energy occurred between siblings. Finally, in “The Oval Portrait,” Poe wove a fascinating story of an artist who destroyed those around him by his all-consuming passion with his work. The story concerned an artist who was painting the portrait of his beautiful wife, not noticing that as he painted she grew weaker and weaker. He concluded his work by declaring it the essence of life itself. He eventually found his wife dead, completely drained of life.

Twitchell’s interpretations highlighted, if not a central theme, certainly an important and somewhat neglected secondary motif in Poe, a motif all the more significant due to its widespread use in the writings of so many of Poe’s prominent contemporaries.


Bailey, J. O. “What Happens in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’?” American Literature 35 (1964): 445–466.
Barnes, Nigel. A Dream within a Dream: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe. London: Peter Owen, 2009. 272 pp.
Blythe, Hal, and Charlie Sweet. “Poe’s Satiric Use of Vampirism in ‘Bernice.’” Poe Studies 14, 1 (June 1981): 23–24.
Kendall, Lyle H., Jr. “The Vampire Motif in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’” College English 24 (1963) 450–453.
Kiessling, Nicolas. “Variations of Vampirism.” Poe Studies 14, 1 (June 1981): 14.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Works. Ed. by James A Harrison. New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1902. The stories considered above have been frequently reprinted in various collections.
Richmond, Lee. “Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Morella’: Vampire of Volition.” Studies in Short Fiction 9 (1972): 93–94.
Twitchell, James. The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1981. 219 pp.
———. “Poe’s ‘The Oval Portrait’ and the Vampire Motif.” Studies in Short Fiction 14, 4 (Fall 1977): 387–393.
Zumbach, Frank T. E. A. Poe. Eine Biographie. Düsseldorf, Zürich: Rev. ed. Artemis & Winkler, 1999.
The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Poe, Edgar Allan


Born Jan. 19, 1809, in Boston; died Oct. 7, 1849, in Baltimore. American writer and critic.

Born into a family of actors, Poe was orphaned at an early age and raised by a Richmond merchant, J. Allan. From 1815 to 1820 he lived in Great Britain. In 1826 he entered the University of Virginia. He served in the army from 1827 to 1829, and from 1830 to 1831 he studied at the military academy at West Point, from which he was expelled for infractions of the disciplinary code.

Poe’s early romantic verses appeared in the collections Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827, published anonymously), Al Aa-raaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829), and Poems (1831). He published his first stories in 1832. After 1836, he devoted himself entirely to journalistic work, publishing critical articles and short stories. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the theme of which is a journey to the South Pole, came out in 1838. The two-volume collection of stories Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840) is distinguished by deep poetic feeling, lyricism, and tragic anxiety.

Loneliness is an important motif in romantic short stories by Poe, whose life, as Gorky pointed out, was tragic in the deepest sense of the word.

Poe was the originator of detective literature (for example, the stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Gold Bug”).

In Eureka (1848), a philosophical prose poem, Poe anticipated the genre of fictional science prose. He also wrote a number of science fiction stories. The collection The Raven and Other Poems (1845) won him wide renown. Certain features of his work, including irrationality, mysticism, and a penchant for depicting pathological states, anticipated decadent literature.

One of the first professional American literary critics, Poe influenced the development of American aesthetics with his theory that a literary work should produce a unity of effect and impression (“Philosophy of Composition,” 1846, and “The Poetic Principle,” 1850). Poe’s short stories had an influence on A. C. Doyle, R. L. Stevenson, A. Bierce, and G. K. Chesterton. The French and Russian symbolist poets regarded Poe as their teacher, and the composers C. Debussy and S. V. Rachmaninoff turned to his works for inspiration.


The Complete Works, vols. 1–17. Edited by J. A. Harrison. New York, 1965.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. poem i stikhotvorenii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1924.
Poln. sobr. rasskazov. Moscow, 1970.
Izbr. proizvedeniia, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1972.


Istoriia amerikanskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Bobrova, M. N. Romantizm ν amerikanskoi literature XIX v. Moscow, 1972.
Davidson, E. H. Poe: A Critical Study. Cambridge, Mass., 1964.
Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays. Edited by R. Regan. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. [1967].
Quinn, A. H. E. A. Poe: A Critical Biography. New York, 1969.
Moss, S. P. Poe’s Literary Battles. Durham, N.C., 1963.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Poe, Edgar Allan

(1809–49) poet, writer; born in Boston, Mass. He was abandoned by his father when a baby and his mother died before he was three, so he was taken as a foster child into the home of John Allan, a Richmond (Va.) tobacco merchant whose business took him to Great Britain, where Poe was educated (1815–20). Returning to Virginia, he continued his education (1823–25) and attended the University of Virginia (1826); having quarrelled with his foster father (although he chose "Allan" as his middle name) over his gambling debts and refusal to study law, he then went to Boston, where, anonymously and at his own expense, he published Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827). He served in the U.S. Army under a false name (Edgar A. Perry) and incorrect age (1827–29) and then attended West Point (1830–31), but got himself dismissed when he realized he would never be reconciled with his foster father. He then went to Baltimore to live with his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm; he would marry her daughter and his own cousin, 13-year-old Virginia Clemm, in 1836. His third volume of poetry (1831) brought neither fame nor profit, but a prize-winning short story, "A MS Found in a Bottle" (1833), gained him the editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger (1835–36). During the next several years he was a journalist and editor for a variety of periodicals in New York City, Philadelphia, and then back in New York City, where he settled in 1844 and continued working as an editor while nursing schemes of starting his own magazine. All this while he was gaining some reputation for his short stories, poems, reviews, and essays; such stories as "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), and "The Goldbug" (1843), would later be regarded as classics of their genre. He gained some fame from the publication in 1845 of a dozen stories as well as of The Raven and Other Poems, and he enjoyed a few months of calm as a respected critic and writer. After his wife died in 1847, however, his life began to unravel even faster as he moved about from city to city, lecturing and writing, drinking heavily, and courting several older women. Just before marrying one, he died in Baltimore after being found semiconscious in a tavern—possibly from too much alcohol, although it is a myth that he was a habitual drunkard and drug addict. Admittedly a failure in most areas of his personal life, he was recognized as an unusually gifted writer and was admired by Dostoevsky and Baudelaire, even if not always appreciated by many of his other contemporaries. Master of symbolism and the macabre, he is considered to be the father of the detective story and a stepfather of science fiction, and he remains one of the most timeless and extraordinary of all American creative artists.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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