Edgar Allan Poe, son of the actress Eliza Poe and actor David Poe Jr., was born January 19,1809. After his mother died, his father deserted the family and Edgar at the age of three was left homeless. He and his sister were taken in by John and Fanny Allan who lived in Richmond,VA.
John Allan was a successful tobacco exporter and Edgar was able to attend a fine private school in England. Even though he was athletic and smart, he did not feel good about himself and felt very lowly in comparison to the other boys. As a teenager, he fell in love with Jane Stanard. Her parents disapproved of the relationship, and broke it off.
After this incident, his foster father did not want him to continue with his schooling and expected him to go into the business. Somehow, Edgar managed to persuade Allan to let him go to the University of Virginia in 1826. There, he studied French, Spanish, Italian and Latin and could read Byron and Cambell.
Even though he did well in school, he was in financial trouble from the day he started as Mr. Allan had not given him enough money to pay for his expenses. He took to gambling and drinking and reached a point where his debt was up to $2,000. His "father" refused to pay these debts so his education ended. After a bitter quarrel, Poe left home for Boston in March 1827. There, he enlisted as a common soldier under the name of Edgar A. Perry. He was stationed at Charleston for over a year and adapted well to the military discipline. He moved through the ranks quickly, but soon became bored of military life and decided to leave. He was honorably discharged in 1829 and moved to Baltimore to live with his aunt. In 1830, Poe entered the U.S. Military Aacademy in a final effort to gain Allan's good will. After Frances Allan died, and after a brief period of mourning, Allan decided to remarry. Poe concluded that he would never be reconciled with Allan or receive an inheritance, so he deliberately broke regulations to force his dismissal from West Point.
In 1831, more desperate than ever, he published a new set of poems entitled Second Edition. He had settled in NY, but he couldn't find a job. He asked Allan for help, but got no answer. In desperation, he went back to his aunt, Mrs. Clem in Baltimore. He had failed as a poet but he was determined to succeed as a writer and turned to story writing .
In 1833 The Saturday Visitor of Baltimore announced a literary contest with prizes of fifty dollars for best short story. Poe sent in many stories and "MS. Found in a Bottle" won the prize. It was not much money but a novelist took an interest in Poe and helped him get a job at a magazine, The Southern Literary Messenger. Once his job was set, he invited his aunt and her daughter to come to live with him. Later he married his cousin, Virginia, who was much younger than he.
He was good at his job and made a name for himself and the magazine. Despite his success, Poe was so underpaid that he and his family often went without enough food. They then moved to NY where Mrs. Clemm opened up a boarding house to support them. Poe couldn't find a job but he published a story called "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym". This story was so convincing that critics thought that it was a record of a real voyage.
When he still could not find a job, they moved again to Philadelphia where he started editing Burton's Gentlemen's magazine. A contract said that he had to write one story of suspense or horror per month. These stories were collected and published under the title "Tales of The Grotesque and Arabesque" in 1840. When Burton's was sold, Poe became the editor of the new one called Graham's magazine. His first detective story, The Murders in Rue Morguewas printed in it. This story attracted attention for his detective Dupin and his method of "logical deduction". In 1843 The Golden Bug won $100 prize from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper.
Feeling a bit successful, he once again left his job and moved to New York. At about this time he wrote the poem "The Raven" which is one of his best. With this poem, Poe reached the height of his fame, but his reputation brought him little money. He got another editorial job and wrote sketches for Godey's Lady's Book. Alcoholism and a mental disorder led to Poe being quarrelsome and unreasonable and he again lost his job.
The last years of Poe's life were marked by tragedy. His wife died of tuberculosis in 1847 after five years of illness. In 1849, Poe became engaged to marry the widowed Mrs. Sarah Royster Shelton, his boyhood sweetheart. On his way to bring Mts. Clemm to the wedding Poe stopped in Baltimore. There are various theories about the events of the next few days. All that is known is that Poe was found lying outside a voting place on October 3. He died in a hospital four days later, without regaining consciousness. The cause of his death remains unknown.
Poe perfected the art of short stories and many famous authors were influenced by him. He has remained the best in creating a dreary atmosphere of horror and suspense. This comes out most in "The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart". This poetry has not yet been matched.
Poe was a disturbed man with spurts of genius. Poe's life is best described by the quotation from Francis Bacon, "There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in proportions".