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Biographical Background
Born in Boston to parents who were actors
His father abandoned the family when Edgar was
only one and his mother died about a year later
Poe’s uncle, John Allan, took Poe in but never
really approved of him
Poe quit the University of Virginia after only one
semester and traveled to Boston at 18 to attempt
to earn a living; instead, he enlisted in the Army
Biographical Background
While in the service, he published his first book which was
a collection of poetry
After being discharged, he published a second book of
poetry and then attended West Point in 1830, but soon
wanted to leave, so he got himself court-martialed
Poe traveled to New York City in 1831 and released a third
book of poems
He then moved to Baltimore where his first cousin Virginia
Clemm (and other family) lived and attempted to make a
living writing (publishing in newspapers, etc.)
Biographical Background
Poe married his cousin when she was 13 and he was 26
 Poe’s drinking and erratic behavior made it difficult for him
to maintain jobs publishing
 His wife’s death in 1847 caused him to
drink even more
 Poe died in Baltimore in 1849 under
mysterious circumstances – he was found
delirious on the streets of Baltimore and
died in the early morning at a local hospital Poe’s grave in Baltimore
Poe’s Writing
Considered by some to be America’s greatest writer,
he built his reputation through the following:
 Poems
 Short Stories – Horror and Mystery
 Literary Criticisms
In his writing, he was especially known for his use of
surrealism and a concentration on the duality of man.
Poe is considered an American Romantic and a
Surrealist in terms of his writing
Romanticism & The Nature of His Works
First, Poe was a “romantic” which means that he was
more interested in communicating an idea as opposed
to writing a realistic story
Like Hawthorne (another Romantic), he looked at the
darker side of humankind
• However, he went beyond: he saw humankind as
truly monstrous
• Poe’s duality reflects his philosophy that all of us are
two people – a social being and a monster/beast
Again, he is considered the first surrealist writer
Surrealism: literary and artistic technique that
attempts to express the workings of the
subconscious through fantastic imagery and often
illogical and juxtaposed subject matter
Poe’s Philosophy and Style
His poetry and works of fiction reflect this duality and
surrealism: Romantic poems about beautiful women in
idyllic situations and short stories that explore men’s
minds and examines the “beast”
Poe believed that the “social self” attempts to contain the
beast, but the beast inevitably gets out
Additionally, the beast does not like being “seen”
Finally, we are plagued with guilt and conscience which
always seeks to confess the beast’s actions
In short, we are evil creatures “plagued” with a conscience
His Style and Impact
All stories of the occult and terror come from
Poe (Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock)
He also originated the “detective mystery”
His Style and Impact
Wrote essays about how to write; these influenced
many writers who came after
Said that one should write to achieve a single effect,
and with the fewest words needed
This has greatly influenced the economical nature of
the short story and compression in writing