Tuesday, 19 January 2010

On this day...

American author and poet Edgar Allan Poe was born. The second child of actress Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins, Poe was said to have been named after a character in Shakespeare's 'King Lear'; his brother William and sister Rosalie lending weight to such a theory. Orphaned by the age of three, he was taken in by successful Scottish merchant John Allan. The relationship, however, was fractious, and when Poe attended the University of Virginia in 1826, arguments over Poe's gambling debts meant that he soon dropped out. For the next few years, Poe led a nomadic life, picking up small work wherever he could find; yet finding this insufficient, he enlisted in the U.S. army, rising to Sergeant Major for Artillery. During this time Poe had been publishing small books of poetry, notably 'Tamerlane', but he soon turned to short stories and article writing, proving highly successful as a 'most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless' literary critic. The death of his wife, aged 13 at the time of marriage, had a profound impact on Poe, and propelled him further to heavy drinking and more macabre works. Writing in both the detective and gothic genres, Poe's best known works include 'The Raven' and 'The Tell-Tale Heart'. He died in 1849, at the age of 40, in mysterious circumstances, having been found lying incoherent on the streets of Baltimore.


  1. His sister's name was "Rosalie." On the origin of his name, it seems equally likely (take that as you will) that he was named after a "Mr. Edgar," who led the acting troupe that both of his parents were in.

    I disagree that the death of his wife Virginia led to heavy drinking. In fact, it was after her death that he took two separate vows of sobriety and publicly joined a temperance (i.e. anti-alcohol) union.

  2. Yes, the 'Shakespeare' theory is one of many, all of which, as you say, are equally plausible. 'King Lear'is supposedly the play in which his parents were performing at the time, which is how the theory came about, but other ideas are certaintly possible, if not as romantic!

    Perhaps the similarities with his mother's death, both at 24, both of tuberculosis, did lead to increased drinking. Yet whether this actually occurred is, like so much of Poe's life, shrouded in mystery :-)