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Creator of Stories for "A Midnight Dreary" Turns 197

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts to theater performers David and Elizabeth Poe. When Elizabeth died of tuberculosis two years later, however, Edgar was sent to Richmond, Virginia to live with the family of John Allan, a tobacco merchant. After attending school in England and Richmond, Poe entered the University of Virginia, where, in addition to acquiring a reputation as a promising scholar, he accrued gambling debts that led to a feud with his adopted family and forced him to leave school. At eighteen, he published his first volume, Tamerlane, and Other Poems and began a short stint in the army. Another volume, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, appeared two years later. Plagued by financial woes and alcoholism, Poe moved from city to city looking for literary work. Throughout his life, he served in a variety of literary and journalistic careers while still publishing—despite his hardships and idiosyncrasies—poems, stories, and a novel.

In 1840, Poe published his first collection of short fiction, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. This collection was followed in 1845 by Tales, an eclectic volume of twelve stories, including "The Fall of the House of Usher" with its gloomy mansion and nightmarish terrors and the fantastic "A Descent into the Maelstrom." The stories' characters frequently suffer from mysterious illnesses, slip into philosophical musings, and obsess over the horrors of death and the supernatural. Tales also includes three narratives now considered the foundation of modern detective fiction. Set in Paris, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," features Poe's famous detective figure, C. Auguste Dupin. The clever Dupin again aids the Parisian police in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" and "The Purloined Letter."

Earlier in 1845, Poe published "The Raven," a dark, suspenseful poem about a mysterious dark bird that haunts the lonely and paranoid narrator on an enchanted stormy night. This poem and those collected with it in "The Raven" and Other Poems would guarantee Poe fame as well as work for the rest of his life. Poe was one of the first American poets to achieve critical and popular success within his lifetime, and his career became more stable as he lectured and wrote literary reviews more frequently. When his wife died in 1847, however, Poe became cripplingly ill. He recovered partially after finding a new lover and re-immersing himself into Richmond society; however, a relapse of alcoholism while visiting Baltimore led to his hospitalization and eventual death on October 7, 1849.

Poe's Tales and "The Raven" and Other Poems are part of the "Library of Southern Literature Collection", which includes the most important Southern literary works from the colonial period to the beginning of the twentieth century. This collection presents the varied and rich foundation of Southern writing.

Jennifer L. Larson