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Photo credit: http://www.fineartamerica.com Artist: Paul Green

I’ve been on an Edgar Allan Poe kick this past week. It was my love for The Raven that spurred me into wanting to read some of his other work. I know the names of some of his most famous writings: The Pit And The Pendulum, The Mask Of The Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart for example, but I’ve never read them. The Tell-Tale Heart seems so ubiquitous and well-known that sometimes I feel as though I’ve read it already. It’s reached such a level as to be “general knowledge.”  And when something has been parodied by The Simpsons, one knows it’s reached mainstream popular culture. Another example: I’ve never seen The Godfather (I know, I know), but it’s been referenced through the media and my own friends so many times that I feel as though I could retell the story unerringly.

One of the great things about reading Poe is that most of his stories are quite short–perfect for someone with a brief attention span like myself. Full disclosure: I’m not actually reading the Poe stories–they’re audio books I’m listening to on the iPod.

I’m enjoying the stories very much, which caused me to do some research on the man behind the words. Rather than lengthening this post too much, I’m just going to bullet point some interesting facts of Edgar Allan Poe’s life:

  • Born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, MA
  • Father had abandoned the family early on, and at the age of three, Poe’s mother dies
  • Poe becomes the foster child of John and Frances Allan, a successful tobacco merchant
  • He is accepted into West Point and excels at his studies but is discharged due to his poor handling of his duties. It is during his time at West Point when he fought with his foster father and John Allan decided to sever all ties to Poe
  • While staying with his aunt in Baltimore, Virginia Clemm, his young cousin became his literary muse and love interest, eventually secretly marrying her when she was only 13 years old. She died 11 years later of tuberculosis
  • Poe was primarily a literary critic for which he earned a reputation for being vicious. This reputation–and by some reports, his alcoholism–caused his dismissal by various employers
  • The publication and success of The Murders in the Rue Morgue gave rise to Poe being considered the father of detective fiction
  • The Raven, published in 1845, was an enormous success and, to this day, is considered a masterpiece of literature
  • Many of his macabre tales were written in first person, leading many readers to believe that Poe was himself a strange fellow
  • Bizarre Death: While traveling to Philadelphia, Poe stopped in Baltimore and disappeared. He was found five days later, incoherent in a bar. The clothes he was wearing were not his own. He died on October 7, 1849 at the age of 40. His last words were “Lord, help my poor soul.” The actual cause of Poe’s death still remains a mystery.

It seems his real life was as incredulous as his stories.

Sources: Wikipedia; http://www.poemuseum.org; http://www.biography.com

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