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Obstacles and Unfortunate Circumstances in Edgar Allan Poe's Creative Life: Essay

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Edgar Allan Poe was an extraordinary poet who used the obstacles and unfortunate circumstances of his life to write great poetry.

Mr. Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents who were nomadic actors. His parents both died in Poe’s early childhood. One of the most important events of his early life was the death of his mother, when he was not yet three years old, and his poetry bears the imprint of his various attempts to find an ideal woman adequate to her memory.

Taken by the Allan family to England at the age of six, he was placed in a private school. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1820, he continued to study in private schools, and in 1826, attended the University of Virginia for a year, where he seemed to have impressed his teachers and fellow students with his knowledge of languages. In 1827, his foster father was displeased by the young man’s drinking and gambling. Allan refused to pay for his debt, forcing Poe to drop out of school and forced him to work as a clerk. Thus began an estrangement from Allan that lasted until Allan's death six years later. Poe later enlisted in the U.S. Army and served a 2-year term. In 1829, his second volume of verse, ‘Al Aaraaf’, was published, and he affected a reconciliation with Allan, who secured him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1834, Poe's foster father, John Allan, died with no mention of Poe in his will. Despite the lack of funds from his father, Poe managed to provide for himself. In 1836, he married his young cousin Virginia. Through the next decade, much of which was marred by his wife’s long illness, Poe worked as an editor for various periodicals in Philadelphia and New York City. Poe moved with his wife to a cottage in what was then a rural area in Bronx, N.Y.; she died there of tuberculosis in January 1947. He also became ill. Poe earned his living mainly as a writer and as an editor of magazines. For magazines, he wrote reviews, occasional essays, meditations, literary criticism, and a variety of different kinds of journalism, as well as poetry and short fiction.

In the course of his editorial work, Poe functioned largely as a book reviewer, producing also a significant body of criticism; his essays were famous for their sarcasm, wit, and exposure of literary pretension. His evaluations have withstood the test of time and earned him a high place among American literary critics. Poe’s theories on the nature of fiction and, in particular, his writings on the short story have had a lasting influence on American and European writers. In the autumn of 1840, Poe began working with Mr. Graham on Penn Magazine. The magazine's popularity grew rapidly, and Poe had a steady income for the first time. Poe published his first detective story, 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', and became even more famous for his exciting tales and poetry as well as his editing skills. Poe’s third book, ‘Poems’, appeared in 1831, and the following year he moved to Baltimore, where he lived with his aunt and her 11-year-old daughter, Virginia Clemm. In October 1833, Poe entered his piece in a Baltimore newspaper contest and won a $50 prize as well as newfound fame. Poe soon found himself writing reviews and short stories for the Southern Literary Messenger. He took an editorial position for the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. The magazine was quite successful under Poe's guidance, and it soon attracted national attention. The publication of 'The Raven' in 1845 made him famous, enabling him to begin earning good money as a public reciter of poetry. The same year, he moved to the Broadway Journal and quickly became its proprietor until it folded in 1846.

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“He had a craving for fame”, a contemporary recalled. “He wanted desperately to be known”. He achieved celebrity status when the New York Mirror published his poem 'The Raven' in January 1845. It created a sensation and was widely republished, eventually becoming perhaps the best-known poem ever written by an American. It made him famous but did not alleviate his chronic poverty. After Poe was famous, his income, though unstable, was a little more dependable. His life, however, did not go smoothly. He was to some extent lionized in literary circles, but his combination of desperation for financial support with alcoholism and a combative temper kept him from dealing well with being a ‘star’. His financial circumstances were often desperate as he moved from one eastern city to another looking for work as a writer or editor of literary magazines. Poe understood the many possibilities available to a journalist and had hopes of starting his own magazine. He began to drink more often, resorting to alcohol as a means of escape. He was an alcoholic prone to binge drinking. He had an exceptionally low tolerance level and would become drunk after just one or two drinks.

Poe quit his job at the Southern Literary Messenger and moved to New York in February 1837. The financial state was troubled, yet Poe continued his writing. When he was fired, he moved with his wife (by then the marriage was publicly acknowledged) and her mother to New York City, where he lived in poverty, selling his writing for the next two years. Though he published ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’ in 1838, it brought him no income. He moved to Philadelphia that same year and for several months continued to live on only a small income from stories and other magazine pieces. In 1839, he became co-editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. Despite this good fortune, Poe continued to drink, damaging his health as well as his relationships. He severed his ties with Graham in April 1842 and began a career as a freelance writer. He attempted to start his own magazine, ‘The Stylus’, but met with little success.

His living conditions were not improving. His health worsened as he continued to drink heavily. His wife's condition was also looking grim. In 1842, Poe's young wife burst a blood vessel, and her deteriorating health over the next five years added greatly to Poe's financial worries. When Virginia finally died in 1847, Poe himself became desperately ill. Poe drank to excess at times, and he may have taken drugs, but the extent of these habits may have been exaggerated by some of his biographers. He was highly productive as a writer in 1848–1849. Even after recovering, he never regained his old resilience, though in 1848 he managed to publish his famous ‘Eureka: A Prose Poem’. That same year he became engaged to one of the several women he was seeing, Mrs. Sarah Whitman, another poet who attempted with some success to help him overcome his problems with drinking. Whitman's family disapproved of Poe, however, and the engagement was broken off not long after it began. Poe then became engaged to a widowed childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. In what was to be the last year of his life, he achieved a measure of security with Royster, a regular income from lecturing and writing, and some popularity in Richmond society.

On September 27, he took a steamer to Baltimore en route to New York. On several occasions, he collapsed with what was then called 'brain fever', during which he hallucinated and held conversations with 'spirits'. In modern terms, he would be diagnosed as having suffered psychotic episodes. He twice made serious suicide attempts and frequently made suicidal gestures. On October 3, he was found senseless and apparently drunk in a polling place and taken to a hospital, where he died a few days later, on October 7, at the age of forty. His death as a medical result of his supposed alcoholism has never been proven; in fact, it is unlikely for lack of evidence of conditions such as sclerosis of the liver in any of his medical records.

While Edgar Allan Poe never had success with finance in his lifetime, Poe was one of America's most enduring writers. He is remembered as one of the first writers to become a major figure in world literature. Edgar Allan Poe was an extraordinary poet who used the obstacles and unfortunate circumstances of his life to write great poetry.

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Obstacles and Unfortunate Circumstances in Edgar Allan Poe’s Creative Life: Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
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