Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe Introduction

Pity the poor biographer of Edgar Allan Poe. That maestro of the macabre rarely met a hoax or a distortion that he didn't like. Poe so thrived in the realm of the fantastic that even the basic facts of his life somehow became subject to the embellishments of his imagination. It didn't help that the first person to have a go at his biography was his literary nemesis. Shortly after Poe's death, this uber-rival published a slanderous account full of lies about the writer, who obviously couldn't do anything to defend himself, being dead and all. But even if Poe had still been around to write his own biography, it might not have been much more accurate. Poe seemed to genuinely enjoy misleading his readers, perhaps as a way of saying "Take that!" to the polite society that had so often rejected him. "The nose of a mob is its imagination," he once wrote. "By this, at any time, it can be quietly led."blank">John Allan whom he never grew to love. He was broke all his life, often begging for money that he soon spent on drink. He died penniless at the age of 40 after being found disheveled and unconscious in a Baltimore gutter. For all of his problems, in the course of his relatively short life Poe revitalized American literature, producing perfectly crafted stories and poems while creating whole new genres (we have Poe to thank for the detective story, for example). The guy who spent his life on the outside is now, a century and a half after his death, considered a member of the inner circle of American literature. It's an ironic twist that Poe himself might have approved.

Edgar Allan Poe Trivia

Because he had such a contentious relationship with his foster father John Allan, Poe hardly ever used his middle name. He always published as "Edgar A. Poe"—unless, of course, he made up a new name altogether.

By 1843, Poe was so broke that he found himself down to his last $4.50 and spent time stopping people on the street to ask for money for food.

In 2000, New York University announced plans to demolish the home where Edgar Allan Poe lived from 1841 to 1844 in order to make room for its law school. Outraged preservationists and Poe fans took to the streets in protest, leading to a compromise in which NYU promised to use the bricks from the original façade in the new building.

Every year since 1949, an anonymous fan known as the "Poe Toaster" has visited Poe's grave on the night of his birthday and has left a partially filled bottle of cognac and three roses.

The Baltimore Ravens football team is named after Poe's poem The Raven, which he wrote in Baltimore.

After losing a Super Bowl bet when the Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Giants in 2001, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton joined Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes for a reading of The Raven.

As a student at West Point, Poe used to tell fellow cadets that his grandfather was the infamous traitor Benedict Arnold. Great story, not true.

Edgar Allan Poe Resources

Books

Edgar Allan Poe and Matthew Pearl, The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales (2006)
Poe invented the detective story with his enterprising sleuth C. Auguste Dupin pre-dating even Sherlock Holmes. He wrote a series of stories starring Dupin, most notably The Murders in the Rue Morgue. This collection—edited by Poe scholar (and The Poe Shadow author) Matthew Pearl—is a great collection of one of Poe's best characters.

Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838)
Poe only completed one novel in his lifetime, and this was it. Poe and his publishers originally tried to convince people that the book was a true-to-life chronicle of the title character, a stowaway on a whaling vessel. Like many things in Poe's life, that was merely a hoax.

Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance (1992)
Poor Edgar Allan Poe. The first person to write a biography of him was his nemesis and literary rival Rufus Wilmot Griswold (even his name sounds mean) who wrote a libelous (and mostly untrue) biography just after Poe's death. Fortunately, other writers have since taken on the story of Poe's fascinating life and mysterious death. Kenneth Silverman, a Poe scholar, has written one of the best.

Daniel Hoffman, Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe (1972)
English professor and poet Daniel Hoffman offers a unique, fresh take on Poe's biography. It was nominated for the National Book Award and is one of the more interesting Poe biographies.

Matthew Pearl, The Poe Shadow (2006)
This novel imagines the days after Edgar Allan Poe's mysterious 1849 death in Baltimore. Author Pearl imagines a fictional Poe fan named Quentin Clark who takes it upon himself to discover the truth behind his idol's demise. It's an entertaining examination of one of literature's great mysteries.

Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Tales and Poems
There are several editions and collections of Poe's many short stories and poems. Find one and curl up on a dark and stormy night. Poe believed that the ideal tale was one that could be read in a single sitting, so that the drama and tension could be sustained. The result was some of the best stories in American fiction.

Music

Bona Fide, The Poe House
This jazz trio is based in Baltimore, one of the many cities that claim Poe as a native son (though the fact that Poe died and is buried there bolsters Baltimore's claim). Their album "The Poe House" is inspired by Edgar A., with tracks like "The Poe House" and "Never More."

Nox Arcana, Shadow of the Raven
Nox Arcana is a Gothic duo who compose soundtracks of the creepy music heard at Halloween haunted houses and low-budget scary movies. Their album "Shadow of the Raven" is a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe.

Alan Parsons Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination
This album inspired by Poe's tales was the first album recorded by the influential British rock band, the Alan Parsons Project. Their next album was inspired by the Isaac Asimov story I, Robot.

Claude Debussy
This French composer listed Poe as one of the major influences on his work. He started writing operas based on The Fall of the House of Usher and The Devil in the Belfry, though neither was finished in Debussy's lifetime.

James Holbrooke
Holbrooke, an English composer, was also inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. He set Poe's poems The Raven, Ulalume and The Bells to choral music. He also wrote a ballet based on Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death."

Various Artists, Closed on Account of Rabies
This tribute album features actors and musicians like Gabriel Byrne, Jeff Buckley, and Marianne Faithfull reading Poe stories, set to music. The performances are good, though it's hard not to be overshadowed by Christopher Walken's reading of The Raven.

Images

Poe at Work
An engraving of Poe at his desk.

Virginia Clemm Poe
A portrait of Poe's wife.

The Raven
Illustration by artist Gustave Dore for The Raven.

The Raven
An early edition of The Raven.

Birthplace Marker
A plaque in Boston noting the site of Poe's birth.

Poe Cottage
The home where Poe lived with his wife and mother-in-law in the Bronx.

Poe's Grave
A headstone marking the original site of Poe's burial.

Edgar Allan Poe
The 1848 daguerreotype of Poe.

Movies & TV

Usher (2004)
This is a short film based on Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher. Interestingly, the film is a remake of sorts for director Curtis Harrington. The first film he ever made as a teenager in the 1940s was a short film based on the same Poe story.

The Last Days of the Raven (2008)
"His death was his greatest mystery!!" That's the tagline for this film about the suspicious death of Edgar Allan Poe. Rumors of Poe's mysterious death have circulated since he was found in a Baltimore gutter in 1849. Theories have ranged from murder to epilepsy to any number of problems related to his excessive drinking.

The Tell-Tale Heart (2009)
This animated version of Poe's famous story is scheduled for release in late 2009. From the website, it looks like a cool, creepy, Tim-Burton-esque version of the haunting story.

The Raven (1963)
No one does horror like Vincent Price does horror. The baritone-voiced actor stars in this adaptation of Poe's poem, in which a magician is turned into a raven. We prefer Price's straight-up reading of Poe's poem in An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe.

An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972)
Actor Vincent Price sits in a chair and reads Edgar Allan Poe stories. That's it. But Price's voice is so deliciously spooky and his delivery so dramatic that it makes the film totally worth watching. (Hint: You can find most of the movie on YouTube.)

Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul (1995)
The great American Masters documentary series by PBS looks at the life of Edgar Allan Poe. The filmmakers interviewed Poe scholars and re-enacted key sequences of his works. The movie's companion website is also helpful.

Websites

Poe Stories
Though you can find Poe's short stories at other places on the Web, this site wins points for its nifty presentation and fun extras like a gallery of Poe images and a glossary of terms that appear in Poe's stories.

Poe Museum
This Richmond, Virginia museum is located next to the places where Poe lived and worked. The site has lots of information about Poe's life in the city and beyond. Though most biographies note both the positive and negative aspects of Poe's character, these people love their Edgar and will not tolerate any trash-talking of him.

The House of Usher
This site bills itself as the "world's 'premiere' Edgar Allan Poe fan site." It's an eclectic mix of Poe factoids and primary documents, though most of the links lead to other sites rather than original information. It's also probably the only site with a page devoted to Edgar Allan Poe and cats.

Knowing Poe
If you're more of a video person, this site - created by Maryland Public Television - is the Poe site for you. It focuses on Poe's life in Baltimore and also contains fascinating information on his life and career.

Precisely Poe
This cool site is by Poe aficionado and high school teacher Martha Womack, who was inspired to create it when confronted with conflicting information on Poe while preparing lesson plans. She also links to the Poe Decoder, a project created by amateur Poe scholars that is like a Poe-specific Shmoop.

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
These people know everything. Though the site is written in a somewhat stuffy, just-for-grownups style, it contains a ton of useful primary documents. You can find all of Poe's letters here, as well as his literary criticism—much of it delightfully b****y.

Video & Audio

The Raven, Take 2
Actor Basil Rathbone takes on the poem.

The Raven, Take 3
Darth Vader (or James Earl Jones, if you prefer) reads The Raven.

Quoth the Raven: Eat my shorts
This is actually a fantastic reading of the poem by the Simpsons.

The Tell-Tale Heart
Macabre master Vincent Price reads The Tell-Tale Heart.

The Cask of Amontillado
Price reads Poe's chilling story of revenge.

Peanuts
The Peanuts gang stresses about their Poe homework.

The Raven, Take 1
Choose your favorite Raven! Christopher Walken reads here.