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Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849
New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845.


Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was abandoned by his father and was orphaned before the age of three. Consequently, Poe was raised as the foster son of a Richmond, Virginia tobacco merchant, John Allan, with whom he later had an uneasy, conflict-ridden relationship. Ultimately disinherited by his foster father, Poe — even while composing his fiction and poetry — supported himself financially as a journalist, working and writing for magazines such as the Southern Literary Messenger and the Broadway Journal, among others. Plagued by emotional instability, compulsive drinking, and occasional lapses into poverty, Poe endured a somewhat tumultuous short life, dying in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.

Published in 1845, Poe's Tales marked his second collection of short stories, a literary form many critics credit him with establishing. These twelve tales contain a range of subjects and settings, from the gloomy mansions and nightmarish terrors of "The Fall of the House of Usher" to the desolate Norwegian coast with its frighteningly fantastic elements in "A Descent into the Maelstrom." Characters populating these stories suffer from mysterious illnesses and maladies, frequently slip into philosophical musings, and often remain obsessed with the horrors of death and the supernatural. To a certain degree, all examine what Poe reveals as the psychological undercurrents that pervade human existence.

In terms of popular literature, Tales also includes three narratives now considered the foundation of modern detective fiction. Set in Paris, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," first published in April 1841 in Graham's Magazine, introduces Poe's famous detective figure, C. Auguste Dupin. As Poe's unnamed narrator recounts, Auguste Dupin, through his analytical genius, solves the grisly murder cases of Madame L'Espanaye and her unfortunate daughter. The clever Dupin again aids the Parisian police in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" and "The Purloined Letter."

See also the entry for Edgar Allan Poe from the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture available on this site.

Works Consulted: Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Wilson, Charles Reagan and William Ferris, eds., Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Mary Alice Kirkpatrick

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