Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. He was made an orphan early in life when his mother died of tuberculosis shortly after his father abandoned them. He was then taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia for one semester but left when he found himself in too much debt. Poe then enlisted in the Army, but he purposely got himself court-martialed in order to be discharged. Once Poe was a free man he moved back to Boston and began his writing career. Poe spent several years working for literary journals and periodicals. While he was working in Baltimore he fell in love with and married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. In 1845, ten years after they were married, Poe published one of his most famous poems, The Raven. Then, after two years of moderate success, Poe was planning on producing his own publication. But this would never happen, for his dear Virginia had taken sick with tuberculosis. Edgar, who could be considered an alcoholic already, started drinking more to deal with the stress of his wife's illness. Although Poe was known for his tales of mystery and macabre, his writing seemed to focus solely on death after his wife passed in 1847. Poe died in 1849, as mysteriously as some of his works. He was found dead on a park bench wearing someone else's clothes. The more one knows about Edgar Allan Poe’s life the easier it becomes to see what inspired his writings. The death of Poe’s mother and wife, his problems with alcohol, and interactions with other famous writers all provided inspiration to his many works.
Edgar Allen Poe’s writings were much like his life, filled with death and despair. At the very onset of his life he was forced to confront death and the loss of loved ones. After his father left all he had was his mother, but then she was gone too. She was only twenty-four years old when she died of tuberculosis. You can draw a contrast between the death of his mother with his poem “The Masque of the Red Death”. This story is about a country that is plagued with an illness, the red death, that is killing all the common people. The rich people, as well as the king hold up in a castle and attempt to ignore the terrible disease outside the walls. But, inevitably, the red death makes its way into the castle, killing the king and everyone inside. In the story Poe describes his red death, ” No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal --the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding…” (Poe). These symptoms are all very similar to the symptoms of tuberculosis. Poe must have witnessed his mother's illness, along with it’s disturbing signs. This experience undoubtedly had some inspiration on Edgar Allan Poe’s writings. But, his mother’s death was not the only death that inspired his writing.
Edgar’s beautiful young wife Virginia Clemm also died tragically at the young age of twenty-five. Young women can be found in many of Poe’s works, but the one that seems to most clearly parallel with his own life is the poem “Annabel Lee”. In this poem the narrator is mourning the death of his love AAnnabelLee. He describes how they were young, how the angels were even jealous of their affection for one another. Then comes the tragedy of the poem “That the wind came out of the cloud, chilling And killing my Annabel Lee”. (Poe) Suddenly the woman that the narrator is so deeply in love with takes sick. She dies, but the narrator continues to love her, saying that nothing could ever break their souls apart. Marie Bonaparte, a famous psychoanalyst whose book The Purloined letter was about life and works of Edgar Allan Poe Says in her book “Virginia has been postulated as the most likely candidate”. She was referring to the poem Annabel Lee and reached the same conclusion as many. It almost seems obvious that this poem was inspired by the passing of his beloved wife.
After his wife's death, Poe was said to have spiraled into depression and alcoholism. Jeffrey Meyers, in his book Edgar Allan Poe: his life and legacy, talks about this time in Poe’s life. “In Order to escape from this intolerable agony, Poe began to drink heavily”. Poe had had problems with alcohol in the past, even losing his job over it once. His drinking also affected his writing. The stories he wrote in this period of his life often included alcoholic characters. The story “The Black Cat” is about a man who becomes drunk and attacks his own cat. Another story featuring a drunken character is “The Cask of Amontillado”. Although, this time the drunken character is a victim, being locked in the catacombs to suffer and die. This could be Poe reflecting on his life, because of death he is left alone to die. But, clearly, Poe had an understanding of drunkenness in his own life, and that inspired some of his writings.
It is important to note, however, that not all of Edgar Allen Poe’s inspirations were negative. One of his most popular poems, “The Raven” was in fact inspired by the pet raven of Charles Dickens named Grip. Apparently, Dickens even taught his pet bird a large vocabulary. One of Poe’s many jobs throughout his life was to review others' writing and write reviews on them. One work that he reviewed was Charles Dickens “Barnaby Rudge”. In this story, the main character is always accompanied by a raven, a raven that can talk and is even smarter than its owner. According to Arthur Quinn, who wrote the book Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, “There is no doubt, however, that the bird was suggested by the raven in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge…”. It is important to note that Dickens’ pet raven was not the only inspiration for the poem “The Raven”. Poe writes “Eagerly I wished the morrow; -vainly I had sought to borrow.
Edgar Allan Poe’s life was plagued with tragedy, you can see evidence of this throughout his writings. The death of his young mother at the very start of his life, the death of his beautiful young wife were two very strong influences on his life. He was able to draw inspiration from other sources as well. Such as his colleague's pets and his own struggle with alcohol.
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