Edgar Allan Poe – Writer, Reviewer, and Relative
Posted on October 6, 2012
Edgar Allan Poe stands as an iconic American writing figure. We all have preconceptions of who he was and have our favorite story of his. It’s October, and many people break out his stories to delve into the psychological, gory playground he provided. However, my love for Poe expanded after I took a seminar about him that showed that the man was much more than his fun stories.
If you want a great biography that makes for an interesting read as well as offers a wealth of background information, I highly suggest Kenneth Silverman‘s Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Poe’s own life has been turned mythic in disproportionately to the truth. Was he poor? Oh yes, he experienced severe bouts of poverty. Was he an alcoholic? Yes, he imbibed, and the effects may have contributed to his decisions. Was he tortured? Well, it depends on how you look at his life. He definitely tortured himself in the pursuit of establishing true American writing in the 19th Century in his own writing and especially in the works of others.
If I asked you right now to name your favorite Poe story, you probably have one locked and loaded (mine remains The Fall of the House of Usher). Poe wrote stories that featured psychological terror on American soil. While European writing held the title of the best writing in America in the early 19th Century, Poe and his contemporaries proved that American writers deserved their own accolades. As the one credited with writing the very first detective story with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” no one can deny that Poe’s distinctive style influenced what we think of as true American writing.
His poetry also gets thrown around as examples of the macabre with “The Bells” and especially with “The Raven.” I think that one of my favorite parodies was done by The Simpsons in one of their first “Treehouse of Terrors” episodes. Nobody doubts Poe’s ability to write.
But the majority of the writing Poe did actually was in literature reviews of the writing of others in magazines. He jumped from literature magazine to magazine as a reviewer of the latest writing. He skewered many of his contemporaries for their style and subjects. Interestingly, he wanted to set the tone of American writing as separate and superior to that of their European cousins. You could read into his reviews that he wanted to set his own writing up as the pinnacle – no one said his ego wasn’t healthy. Of course, being a reviewer (and one that regularly pissed off the owner of the magazine) didn’t pay well. He did die poor, and never really saw his work get the success or accolades as it did and still does.
And I did indicate that he’s a relative of mine. Well, we’ve got a Poe in our family tree that for years we’ve claimed was a relative of his. Sadly, many others on ancestry.com with the same claim have the same hope. I imagine he isn’t really a great-uncle however many times great and removed (on the other side of the family, we’ve got Herman Melville as a possible relative, too). As a kid, I used to think it was my destiny to be a writer. Now, I just appreciate Poe’s canon both in his own writing and in his attempts as a reviewer. I’d like to think that I will represent well as an American writer thus upholding Uncle Edgar’s wishes.
So in this fall month, I return to one of my favorite writers with affection. He was the first writer whom I emulated. My very first short story that I entered into a contest was “The Clock Maker’s Heart” that had a very Poe-esque sense of style and ending (sadly, lost due to the pre-computer era). I feel like October is a great month to break out some of the great old Vincent Price movie adaptations of his short stories. And if some of his creepiness, darkness, and psychologically scariness leaks into my own writing, I won’t complain.