Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Poe


What would Edgar Allan Poe have thought about the observations this year of the 200th anniversary of his birth? I can’t help but think he would be stunned.

This is a man who was found delirious, wandering the streets of Baltimore in clothing that wasn’t his own. He called out repeatedly for “Reynolds” in the hospital, though no one knew to whom he was referring. He died in the hospital days later. It was a mysterious end for a man recognized for spawning detective stories.

He had an unusual and unhappy life. He married his thirteen year old cousin who died of tuberculosis only two years after they wed. He never made much money on his stories, or drank away much of the money he did make. He was the first well-known American author not to pursue a day-job, but to attempt to make a living from his writing alone. A letter Poe wrote to his publishers, apologizing for his drinking and asking for more money, was purchased by the University of Virginia for an exhibit marking his 200th birthday. In the letter, Poe asks his New York publishers, J. and Henry G. Langley:

"Will you be so kind enough to put the best possible interpretation upon my behaviour while in N-York? You must have conceived a queer idea of me — but the simple truth is that Wallace would insist upon the juleps, and I knew not what I was either doing or saying."

Wallace was his friend and poet William Ross Wallace.

Despite his struggle with alcoholism and personal tragedies, Poe was extremely productive as a writer and poet. He’s not only credited with introducing the detective story genre with his detective, C. Auguste Dupin, in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841); but also with increasing the popularity of the gothic and horror fiction genres.

Poe’s detective used logic and keen observation to solve the case. But he also had rudimentary forensic analysis in The Mystery of Marie Roget.

I wonder how Poe would have handled his success and recognition in the year 2009. Would it have inspired him to get some help? Or would he have followed the same path? Was his troubled life the source of all his inspiration and would success have given him writers block? He died at the age of 40….I can’t help but wonder what other literary gems he could have created if his life hadn’t been cut so short.