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the life of Edgar Allan Poe had been as bleak as
many of his poems. His father had abandoned the family shortly after his
birth, and his mother died of tuberculosis the next year. He was taken in
by the Allan family, wealthy Scotch merchants in Virginia.
While the Allans never formally adopted him, Poe was given the middle name
of Allan in recognition of his foster parents. He had a youth of mixed
fortune: traveling with the family and being well educated, but being
alternately spoiled and brutally disciplined by his foster father. Poe
would attend the University of Virginia for one year before dropping out,
claiming that his foster father had not given him enough of an allowance
to pay for classes, texts, and dormitory.
His first disappointment in love would follow as he learned his
sweetheart, Sarah Royster, had married another man. Poe would leave
Richmond for Boston, stumbling semi-aimlessly with various writing jobs
and unrecognized publications as well as enlisting in the army under an
alias while lying about his age. He did well in the artillery but sought
to leave early, which his commander would only allow if he reconciled with
the Allans. John Allan refused to write back, and Poe finally visited in
person, one day after his foster mother's death. Poe later attended West
Point while his foster father remarried, which began a new feud that would
finally have Poe disowned. Depression struck him, and he purposefully
sought court-martial from gross dereliction of duty.
"This would have changed everything as far as
American literature is concerned. " - reader's comments
while Poe was living with his aunt and cousin Virginia, his brother died.
He turned more seriously to his writing as well as getting work at
newspapers (though he would be fired for drunkenness or lack of productive
work). In 1835, he secretly married his 13-year-old Virginia (she lying
about her age on the certificate as 21), and the family life won him back
his job at the Southern Literary Messenger
. They married publicly
the next year.
Life seemed to pick up for Poe. He was more stable than he had ever been,
and his writing was gaining recognition and making money. It came to an
end, however, as Virginia began showing signs of tuberculosis in 1842. The
stress of his wife's illness drove Poe back to drink, and he became
increasingly belligerent. The Broadway Journal
failed under his
editorship in 1846, and Virginia died in 1847. Poe was devastated.
In spite of tortured mourning, Poe tried to move on, soon courting poetess
Sarah Helen Whitman. They had met in writing before life, Whitman writing
a poem "To Edgar Allan Poe" for a Valentine's Day party he did not attend,
and Poe writing in return. The courtship was a mess from Poe's erraticism,
alcoholism, and Whitman's mother's attempts at sabotage. Despite the odds,
they set a wedding date of December 25, 1848. Rumors that Poe had broken
his vow of sobriety along with Poe's "outrages" drove them apart. It
seemed another melancholic relationship for the Virginia poet.
"If only" - reader's comments
Poe returned, signifying his devotion by smashing a whiskey bottle. In
spite of her mother's pleas, Whitman took him back, though she would watch
his habits closely over the rest of their lives. They were wed in 1849,
and Poe's writing returned as he began the "happy half of [his] life". His
"Raven" had gained sudden recognition, and Poe finally felt vindicated in
his craft. Novels, short stories, and poems surged from his pen. Whitman
was a successful poet in her own right, and the two lived very
comfortably. As he aged, Poe took up a professorship at the University of
Virginia, teaching writing and making great strides in cryptography and
logic as well as his famous satirical commentaries on cosmology and
Poe stands as perhaps the greatest American author of the nineteenth
century, creating several genres such as detective stories, science
fiction, modern heroism, and spirit fiction all the while perfecting the
Gothic horror. His advances in the theories of cryptography helped
establish America as the foremost world power in code-cracking and ancient