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Edgar Allan Poe

Biography:
.Born in Boston in 1811. Mother died when he was three; his father disappeared; adopted by
Frances and John Allan and renamed Edgar Allan Poe.
.In 1815, taken to England; returned to Richmond, VA. in 1820.
.In 1826, attended University of Virginia from Feb. to Dec.; dismissed due to drinking and
gambling; debt of $ 3,000.
.In 1827 enlisted in US Army. In 1829 honorably discharged from Army with rank of regimental
sergeant major. In 1839 entered West Point. Expelled in 1831, court-martialed.
.In 1835 became editor of Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond; editor of other magazines
in New York and Philadelphia.
.In 1836 married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, only aged 13. She died of tuberculosis in 1847.
.In 1849 found unconscious in Baltimore street; died at Washington College Hospital in
Baltimore.
Commonly represented as melancholy, drunken, mad, cursed and tormented, because of Rufus
Griswolds obituary:
He walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct
curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers (never for himself, for he felt, or
professed to feel, that he was already damned), but for their happiness who at that
moment were objects of his idolatry; or with his glance introverted to a heart gnawed
with anguish, and with a face shrouded in gloom, he would brave the wildest storms;
and all night, with drenched garments and arms wildly beating the wind and rain,
he would speak as if to spirits.
Poe as writer and theorist:
Poes controversial much debated status within the American literary canon. Yet never
contested abroad: higher literary reputation in Europe than in the United States. Often regarded,
unlike Hawthorne or Melville as un-American, since he fails to develop American issues,
Americanness. Harold Bloom on Poe: My Introduction concedes that Edgar Allan Poe is
inescapable, if only because he dreamed universal nightmares. Still, I argue, he wrote bad prose
and worse poetry, best read in translation, preferably French If you dislike Emerson, you
probably will like Poe. Emerson fathered pragmatism; Poe fathered precisely nothing, which is
the way he would have wanted it Emerson, for better and for worse, was and is the mind of
America, but Poe was and is our hysteria, our uncanny unanimity in our repressions.
.Best remembered for his horror and detective stories: The Fall of the House of Usher (1839),
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), considered to be the first detective story, The Gold
Bug, The Tell-Tale Heart (1843), The Cask of Amontillado (1846).
.One of the masters of American Gothic fiction, along with Charles Brockden Brown and
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Adapted and transformed European Gothic writing: horror depends more
on human psychology than on supernatural events or forces; they draw on pathological
motivations, on disturbed psyches or deluded minds rather than on the stock conventions of
earlier Gothic supernaturalism to evoke terror. Poe: ..; I maintain that terror is not of Germany,
but of the soul,
Fred Botting on Poes contribution to Gothic writing: The various devices, styles and subjects
that Poe uses and transforms influence all of subsequent Gothic writing: the doubles,
mirrors and the concern with modes of representation; the scientific transgressions of
accepted limits; the play of uncertain psychological states and uncanny events; and the
location of mysteries in a criminal world to be penetrated by the incisive reason of a new
hero, the detective, have become staples of the Gothic.
.The father of detective fiction; the tales of rationalization in which the focus is, as A. E.
Murch contends in The Development of the Detective Novel, on the methodical discovery, by
rational means, of the exact circumstances of a mysterious event or series of events.
.Poems (1831)

.The Raven and Other Poems (1845); Ulalume (1947); Annabel Lee (1849).
.Critical essays and lectures: The Philosophy of Composition (1846), The Poetic Principle
(1948).
Views on poetry:
.Hard to know whether we should take his views seriously.
.Beauty/pleasure, rather than truth/morality, as the object of poetry. Reacted against what he
called the heresy of The Didactic; a poem is written solely for the poems sake; beauty and
truth are incompatible; intended to do away with the union of the aesthetic and the moral.
Regarded as one of the main theorists of aesthetics; helped to bring about the doctrine of Art
for Arts sake: art as disinterested; the artist as ignoring practical morality.
.Music is an essential element in poetry. The musicality is related to Poes rejection of the
didactic; since beauty is an indefinite or non-didactic pleasure, it must be achieved, grasped,
through indefinite sensations, that is, music.
.True poem must be brief; a long poem cannot exist. Related to the intensity of effect, a
keyword in his critical writings; affective poetry as the aim is to produce a strong emotional
effect.
.Tone of the poem must be melancholy. The end of poetry is the contemplation of the beautiful;
the highest manifestation of beauty is associated with sadness, pain, death. For the Romantics
beauty was enhanced by exactly those qualities which seem to deny it, by those objects which
produce horror; the sadder, the more painful it was, the more intensely they relished it. (Mario
Praz, The Romantic Agony)
.Unlike Wordsworth, he does not believe that poetry depends on spontaneous unconscious
creation, on inspiration, but on technique, on rational calculation and conscious design.
Poetic composition, he claimed, should begin by determining the desired effect and tone: It is
my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referrible either to
accident or intuitionthat the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precise
and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.
A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having for its immediate object,
pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite
pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting perceptible
images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is essential, since the
comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. (Poe, Letter to Mr. .)
I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, a long poem, is simply a
flat contradiction in terms That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so
called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. (Poe, The
Poetic Principle 1850)

Bibliography
Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Volume 2 1820-1865.
New York, Cambridge UP, 1995.
Bloom, Harold ed. Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Chelsea House, 2006.
Botting, Fred, Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996.
Gray, Richard. A History of American Literature. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.
Hayes, Kevin J. ed. The Cambridge Companion to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 2004