The Tell-Tale Man

Photo credit: LA Pop ArtOne hundred sixty-eight years ago yesterday, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” was published in New York’s “Evening Mirror” newspaper.  Four years later, Poe died at the age of 40.  Poe’s works influenced writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and the award given out by the Mystery Writers of America is known as “The Edgar” in his honor.  This influential author (whose birth anniversary was ten days ago), was not only a brilliant man, but also led an interesting life, and his death is as shrouded in mystery as the stories he wrote.

Here are a few facts about this influential author.

  •  As a recognized literary critic, he was called the “Tomahawk Man,” and frequently targeted Bostonian poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Lowell.  He even sued Longfellow for plagiarism and gave lectures to Bostonian audiences, claiming they were too stupid to understand his genius (even though Poe was born in Boston and his first published collection of poems was credited to “a Bostonian.”) The book was a flop.
  • For most of Poe’s life, he was clean-shaven, and only grew his iconic mustache during the final years of his life.
  • Poe never signed his name Edgar Allan Poe, only Edgar A. Poe or E. A. Poe. Allan was the last name of his foster parents.  Poe fell out of favor with his foster father, after Poe gambled away his tuition money.  Of course, it probably didn’t help that Poe also confronted his foster father about his numerous affairs.
  • When Poe decided to leave West Point Military Academy, he purposefully got himself court-martialed for gross negligence of duty and disobedience of orders.  He pled not guilty, knowing he would not win.
  • He was the first well-known American writer who tried to live by writing alone, but the lack of an international copyright law kept him in the poor house most of his career.
  • Poe married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, when she was 13 years old. Fewer than 10 years later, Virginia died of consumption.  The first signs that she had the disease came while she was singing and playing the piano one evening, and she began to bleed from her mouth.
  • Though “The Raven” brought Poe fame, he was only paid $9 for the piece.
  • Poe was nicknamed “The Raven,” and children would follow behind him as he walked down the street, flapping their arms and cawing. Eventually, Poe would turn around and playfully say, “Nevermore,” causing the children to run away in delight.
  • Though Poe seemed to have a problem with alcohol when he was younger (reportedly showing up drunk to his classes at the University of Virginia), toward the end of his life he joined the Sons of Temperance, the 19th century version of Alcoholics Anonymous.  However, he died one month after he joined.
  • Poe’s death is one of the most mysterious deaths in literary history. There are more than 26 theories on how Edgar Allan Poe died.  Two of the most common are rabies and cooping, which was the practice of plying people with liquor and forcing them to vote multiple times for a certain candidate during elections.  Poe was found delirious in a Baltimore tavern, which doubled as a polling site, wearing clothes that were not his—which would support the cooping theory. However, according to his doctor there was no evidence of alcohol use when he was admitted and his medical records indicate that Poe had abstained from alcohol for six months before his death.  Poe also had trouble drinking water while at the hospital.  He was confused, and slipped in and out of a coma—which would support the rabies theory.  Even doctors say that the definitive cause of Poe’s death will likely remain a mystery.

Poe once wrote, “It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”  Poe lived these words out in his life and even in his death, giving fodder to our imaginations and allowing us to dream. So, we celebrate Edgar Allan Poe and the publication of his masterpiece “The Raven.”

What is your favorite Poe story? — Julie

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.