Known for his tales of mystery and macabre, Edgar Allan Poe was the first American writer to make a living out of his writing. Unfortunately, this resulted in a poor and difficult life. However, he is now widely regarded as the inventor of the detective fiction genre and potentially having sown the seeds for the development of the science fiction genre.
Poe continues to be referenced heavily today, with an annual Edgar Award for mystery genre writings being awarded by the Mystery Writers of America. He and his work are well known, but did you know the following 10 surprising facts about Edgar Allan Poe?
Edgar Allan Poe Interesting Facts
1. Poe created a new profession in the United States
By using his writing to support himself, Edgar Allan Poe basically created the professional writer job in Americ, an important fact about Edgar Allan Poe. He is considered the country’s first recognized professional writer, and he was also a literary critic and theoretician. This didn’t make for a lavish life, and on the contrary, he lived in poverty and struggled until his death.
2. He was an orphan
Edgar Poe’s parents died before he was 4. A wealthy merchant named John Allan and his wife, Francis, took him in and that is why his surname is “Allan Poe”, the name Allan having been added for his second family.
3. He married his cousin
When he was 27, Edgar Allan Poe married his teen cousin Virginia Clemm, who was only 13, an interesting fact about Edgar Allan Poe. This age gap was not that unusual in 1836, but seems odd today.
Unfortunately, Virginia died of tuberculosis when she was only 24.
4. Lord Byron was his hero and inspiration
Edgar Allan Poe grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where his adopted father was hoping he would join his career and go into business. However, Poe always dreamed of becoming a writer and his childhood hero was Lord Byron, the British poet. As early as 13 years old, Poe had written enough poetry to publish a book, but his father discouraged this and didn’t allow him to publish. It didn’t help that his school headmaster was also against this.
Unfortunately, Poe’s disagreement with his father led to him ending up disinherited at his father’s death, which meant he continued to be poor despite coming from an otherwise prosperous family.
5. He was very athletic
Edgar Allan Poe was very adept at many sports, despite his literary inclinations and his topics suggesting an introvert who would prefer staying indoors. He competed in boxing, running and long jump events. He was also famous locally for swimming six miles up James River in Virginia, at the age of 15.
6. He had a reputation as a “madman” – but it was all fake
Poe had a bitter rival called Rufus Wilmot Griswold, also a writer and literary critic. It is believed he became one of Poe’s enemies through the latter’s own critic work.
Griswold sent in an obituary about Poe under the pseudonym “Ludwig” and this was published in The New York Daily Tribune two days after Poe’s death, claiming that Poe “walked the streets, in madness of melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses.” There were other fake claims and, later on, Griswold also wrote “Memoir of the Author” as a biography of Poe. He used forged letters and other fake stories which permeated the public consciousness, remaining associated with Poe’s persona, a crazy fact about Edgar Allen Poe and his enemy.
7. Poe didn’t take opium
One of the best-known myths associated with Poe, and congruent with the era’s habits, was that he was addicted to opium. Many of his protagonists took this drug. In 1845, a reviewer compared his work with “the strange outpourings of an opium eater” and this stuck, but those who knew him refuted the myth and mentioned that they had never seen him take opium.
8. Poe’s cat could not live without him
After his death, Edgar Allan Poe’s cat was also found dead. His mother-in-law discovered Catterina, a tortoiseshell cat, dead shortly after she heard of the poet’s death.
9. He had a very strange death
Just like his work, Poe’s death was marked by mystery. In 1849, he went missing for 5 days and was eventually found in Baltimore, looking ragged and delirious. He was taken to hospital, where he died. There was no autopsy and he was buried two days later, but many theories have been proposed for his passing, an interesting fact about Edgar Allen Poe. There is an idea according to which he may have been a victim of “cooping”: this involved criminals getting men drunk and forcing them to vote for a candidate multiple times dressed in various disguises. As it was during election time and Poe was found next to a tavern known for these incidents, this may seem as valid a theory as any. Other reasons quoted were a brain tumour, rabies or murder.
10. Poe was re-buried decades after his death
When Poe died, he was buried in an unmarked plot in Baltimore, in Westminster Burying Grounds. However, 26 years later, teachers and students raised money for burial monument, and this was due to be placed next to the gate instead of the original plot. This meant that Poe’s coffin was carried across and broke in the process, so remains of the poet could be seen. There is a rumour that one of his admirers made a cross from pieces of wood from his coffin, which she wore. Pieces of the coffin are collector’s items now.
Edgar Allan Poe’s work was very influential of Gothic, macabre writing long after his lifetime, and fascinated many. His personality may have been largely fabricated by others who wrote about him, but his image has remained as an embodiment of mystery. Even after his death, a medium claimed she’d been dictated poetry by him, and his fiancée after his first wife’s death (Sarah Helen Wightman) claimed that she though his spirit was trying to communicate with her. Some may just be wishful thinking but for now, here you have top 10 fascinating facts about Poe!
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