Few authors can be credited with influencing American literature as much as Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is deemed the father of modern detective stories and helped build Gothic horror as a genre. He is also considered one of the first authors to use sci-fi horror in literature. Poe is the author most think about when talking about the Gothic writing style. Poe’s journey started at an early age, and as he grew to be older, he would release countless literary works that will be discussed for centuries to come. He held himself to the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’. Even at an early age in his writing career, Poe paid close attention to the literary devices he wrote to give his short stories and poems an iconic feel. If Poe had never started writing, other works of literature might not exist. His writing style helped influence and inspire others. Many authors use writing to express deeper emotions, and Poe’s life was full of death and sadness.
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th, 1809. Shortly after Edgar’s birth, his father, David Poe, abandoned his wife and three young children. At the age of two, Edgar’s mother died of tuberculosis. After his mother’s death, Poe was taken under the care of Frances and John Allan. John was a well-off merchant in Richmond and sent Edgar to Scotland and the UAE to study between 1815 and 1820. Poe would return to the States and decided to attend the University of Virginia at seventeen. Poe did not attend the University of Virginia for long as debt from tuition and gambling overwhelmed him. Upon returning home, Poe discovered that his fiancée, Elmira Royster, had become engaged to another man. Poe quickly moved to Boston, where he would publish his first poems. After joining the military at eighteen, Poe would be eventually court marshaled for dereliction of duty. Poe would then move from place to place, releasing collections of poetry. He would eventually settle down and begin a job as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, where he made his name as a critical reviewer. Poe’s Aunt and cousin would come to live with him in Richmond, and after a year, he and his cousin, Virginia, would marry. Poe began to become an alcoholic, which would cause him to lose his job and affect his life for years to come. Poe would move back and forth from New York to Philadelphia over the next several years and publish some of his best works of literature. In 1845, Poe released his most famous poem ‘The Raven’, which made Poe known across the nation. Poe became the first American writer to live off the earnings from their writings. Sadly, Poe’s wife Virginia would die in 1847 from tuberculosis. After her death, Poe moved back to Richmond and became engaged to Elmira Royster again in 1849. While traveling to New York, Poe was found delirious in a tavern before being taken to Washington University Hospital. He spent four days in and out of consciousness before dying on October 7th, 1849. To this day, the exact cause of death is still unknown. Even with his short life, Poe released several works of literature that still captivate readers.
Poe is known for his poems and short stories. Each one plays to the emotions of the reader. Most of Poe’s stories have elements of paranoia, delusions, guilt, and obsessions. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, considered one of Poe’s most significant works, touches most of the elements common to his stories. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ has one of his most iconic scenes, where the heart of a murdered man can be heard beating through the floorboards. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is an excellent example of psychological and supernatural horror used in Poe’s stories. Another one of his works, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, touches on suspense to the threat of imminent death. The Spanish Inquisition tortures the narrator, and with each word, the suspense rises. ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ has readers taken to the edge, never knowing if the next moment will be the narrator’s last. Another one of Poe’s works that use the passage of time to help build suspense is ‘The Cask of Amontillado’. In this dark short story, the protagonist, Montressor, lures an acquaintance who wronged him to meet his demise. The acquaintance, Fortunato, is lured into a crypt, where Montressor slowly walls him up, leaving him to die. As readers, we never discover the exact reasoning for wanting the man dead. Poe’s most iconic work of literature is his poem ‘The Raven’, which touches on images of grief and loss. ‘The Raven’ is what made Poe a national icon, and with it, his legacy grew.
Throughout his life, Poe released works of literature that were able to captivate audiences for decades after his death. During life, Poe was seen as a man of duality: he was able to set up scenes in his poems that could horrify or be endearing. Some of Poe’s most well-known works are based in a darker setting, allowing for terror and dread to grow with the audience as they read. His capabilities to play off the primal emotions of dread and fear are what captivated most of his audiences. Even with this capability to use darker emotions, Poe would write of the beauty he saw in the world. ‘Annabel Lee’ and ‘To Helen’ are prime examples of his expression of his view on the beauty and kindness of women. Outside of his work, Poe was considered to be a pleasant man by most. Poe would interact with fans by reading his poems and even once apologized to a fan for not having a pet raven. Countless authors recognized Poe across the globe for his greatness. But even with this praise, some critics would consider his writing vulgar, artistically debased, and juvenile. The most shocking of these criticisms came from a past friend named R.W. Griswold in a libelous obituary notice in the New York Tribune. Even with the negatives that critics published, Poe’s impact on literature cannot be disputed.
Poe pioneered Gothic horror as a genre, paving a path for authors and others to make countless iconic works of art throughout the decades. Without Poe, works of literature such as H.P. Lovecraft’s would not exist. He is also considered the father of modern detective stories. It is said that the narrative ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ was an inspiration for Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’. In the international circle, Poe was considered a genius of literature. In the French literature front, Poe was used as a model of poetry and criticism. Poe’s worldwide renown can be credited to being helped by the persuasions of French poets Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. Poe’s influence was not limited to set genres of Gothic horror, as his writing style can be used for poems and stories across all genres of literature.
Poe was a firm believer in ‘art for art’s sake’. He wanted to share works from his imagination, rather than have them serve some purpose for some gain, such as a political standing. Poe would also stand by this belief while criticizing others’ works. Poe would pay attention to how poems were written. Poe used repetition, internal rhyme, alliteration, and assonance to help give his poems and stories an iconic feel and sound while reading aloud. An excellent example of this style would be ‘The Bells’, where ‘bells’ is used in repetition throughout to give a sense of tone to each bell, allowing the reader to imagine the ringing with each repetition. As a critic, Poe judged harshly on meter, structure, and correctness of language. Poe’s view on literature is a prime example of what authors of fiction should strive for, rather than using their position as public figures to push an agenda.
Even with some of the darker things in Poe’s life, it is impossible not to credit him with what he achieved in his lifetime. He overcame several hardships throughout his life, and with his skills in writing, he was able to become the first American author to live off his earnings from his writing. He helped create several genres that we can enjoy today. Without him, the Gothic horror and the modern mystery genres as we know them today would not exist. As a historical figure, he and his works of literature should be studied for their impact on our society. His impact and influence can be seen even to this day.