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Edgar Allan Poe Biography

Madhavi Ghare Jul 22, 2020
Edgar Allan Poe, the great American writer and poet, who gave the world the first modern detective story.

Did You Know?

The famous poem 'The Raven', which is considered to be one of the best poems of the nineteenth century, was originally named 'To Lenore'. But Edgar reworked on the poem to include the raven, when he heard about Charles Dickens' recently deceased pet raven over dinner.

Edgar Allan Poe

19 January, 1809 - 7 October, 1849
Boston, Massachusetts
Virginia Clemm
First Book
Tamerlane and Other Poems 1827
The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)
The Raven (1845)
First Modern Detective Story
The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)
Edgar Allan Poe was a 19th century American fiction writer, poet, editor, and critic. He was the inventor of modern horror and detective stories. He is most famous for his poem The Raven, and other short stories like The Murders at the Rue Morgue, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Fall of the House of Usher.
Most of his work actually reflected his own troubled and difficult life. He was the only writer and poet, who at that time, made a living solely by writing.

Early Childhood

Edgar Allan Poe was born on 19 January, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, to actors David Poe, Jr. and Elizabeth Arnold. Edgar was the middle child, with an elder brother Henry and a younger sister Rosalie. When he was just a year old, his father abandoned the family, and two years later, his mother passed away from tuberculosis.
After her death, Henry went and lived with his grandparents, and Rosalie was taken in by another family. Edgar was adopted by a wealthy Scottish tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife Frances Valentine Allan from Richmond, Virginia. It is said that Edgar took up 'Allan' as a middle name, and henceforth came to be known as Edgar Allan Poe.


In 1815, Edgar, along with the Allan family, went to Britain, where he attended Grammar School in Irvine, Scotland. He studied there for a short period of time, and in 1817 joined a boarding school in Chelsea, after which he attended the Reverend John Bransby's Manor House School at Stoke Newington near London.
In 1826, at the age of 17, he joined the newly founded University of Virginia, and excelled in ancient and modern languages. But within a year, he dropped out from school due to paucity of funds, and later got addicted to gambling and alcohol.
On retuning home, he faced another setback when he came to know that his neighbor and childhood sweetheart Elmira Royster, with whom he had secretly gotten engaged to, got married to someone else.
He was also disappointed and furious with John Allan for not providing enough money to complete his course, and left the Allans. In April 1827, he went to Boston (his birthplace), where he took up odd jobs to sustain himself.

Career Beginnings

In May 1827, at the age of 18, he enrolled himself in the United States Army as Edgar A. Perry, and in the same year published his first book Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian.
Two years later, he got the news that his foster mother, Frances Allan was suffering from tuberculosis, and wanted to see her before dying. But by the time Edgar reached, she was already buried. After her death, Edgar and John reconciled for a brief period. John even helped Edgar get an appointment in the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Before leaving for West Point, Edgar stayed in Baltimore (his father's birthplace) for some time with his widowed aunt Maria Clemm, her daughter Virginia Clemm (Poe's first cousin), his elder brother Henry, and their invalid grandmother. At this time, his second book Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems, was published.
He entered as a cadet in West Point, and after only eight months he got dismissed due to poor handling of duties. In the meantime, Edgar got the news of his foster father's remarriage. This caused a rift between the two, and finally John disowned Edgar.
After his dismissal from West Point, he went to New York and released another set of poems titled Poems, financed with the help of his fellow cadets in West Point. In March 1831, he came back to Baltimore, and in August his elder brother Henry who was ill, passed away.
While Edgar was in Baltimore, Allan died, leaving him nothing. Poverty struck, and it was now that he entirely focused on writing. In August 1835, he became the assistant editor of the periodical, Southern Literary Messenger, Richmond. But after some weeks, he was discharged when his boss caught him drunk during work.

Major Works

Edgar returned to Richmond, but this time with his aunt, and wife Virginia. He took back his earlier job at the Messenger, promising good behavior. He left the post in 1837 and moved to New York. There, he wrote his first novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, which did not turn out to be successful.
In 1838, he moved to Philadelphia, where he became the assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in the summer of 1839. He published a lot of articles, stories and reviews during this time. He also published the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, which included the short stories Ligeia and The Haunted Place, and the very famous House of Usher.
However, he could not make much money out of all this. The books got mixed reviews, and Edgar's financial problems still prevailed. After a year of working with Burton's, he left to work as an assistant in Graham's Magazine, and later The Broadway Journal. During this time, he won a prize for his story The Gold Bug.
He also published his first detective story titled The Murders in the Rue Morgue, wherein he created the character of C. Auguste Dupin, who solves crimes by the means of a process of deduction. This story was perhaps the first detective story ever told.
This character, later, went on to influence Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the creation of his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. After publishing this story, he invited the readers to send in cryptograms to the magazine, which he would solve and publish.
In 1845, The Raven was published in the Evening Mirror. Although he wasn't paid a cent for it, The Raven created quite a stir. The mere imaginative method of creating the poem became a sensation. His work was appreciated, but his financial status remained the same.

In 1846, the Broadway Journal went bankrupt, and Poe moved to The Bronx in New York.

Famous Writings

Edgar Allan Poe's biography is an account of a great man's life. He gave the world the first detective or horror genre, and created the concept of short stories. Some of Edgar's famous writings are mentioned here.

The Raven

The Raven is a narrative poem published in 1845, and is probably one of the best-known poems of the nineteenth century. It is about a man in distress, heartbroken by the loss of his love, and a mysterious talking raven whose only answer for every question is nevermore.
The narrator fancies the talking raven and asks if he will be united with his love Lenore in heaven, to which the raven gives a reply - nevermore. This enrages the narrator, and orders the raven to fly away, but it does not move. Finally, the narrator realizes that the raven was there to stay.

The Fall of the House of Usher

The House of Usher was published in 1839, and is one of the best works by Edgar Poe. The story starts with the narrator arriving at the Usher house, after receiving an invitation by Roderick Usher who was his childhood friend. Within a few days, the narrator comes to know about the strange illness that Roderick's twin sister Madeline has been suffering from.
When Madeline dies, Roderick decides to bury her in one of the vaults in the house. However, amidst strange and eerie occurrences, Madeline returns from the dead. She kills her brother, while the narrator flees. At the end, the House of Usher splits apart and collapses, leaving nothing behind.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Murders in the Rue Morgue was published in 1841, and is said to be the first detective story ever. This story involves a man who solves the murder of two women. At the site of this gruesome murder, he finds a strand of hair which is not human.
Neighbors claimed they heard a voice, a language, they never heard before. The mystery is finally revealed when the actual culprit, an orangutan, is caught.

The Tell-Tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart was published in 1843, and is still regarded as one of the best Gothic fiction stories ever written. It is about an unnamed narrator who murders an older man for no valid reasons, and hides his body under the floorboards of his house.
But terror strikes when he starts hearing a sound, of which he assumes was the heart of the old man beating. Finally, unable to bear the sound and constant reminder of the crime, he exposes himself to the officers, thus confessing his crime.

Personal Life

In May 16, 1836, he officially married Virginia Clemm, his first cousin and love interest. She was just thirteen years old, and Edgar was twenty-seven. The family had to move around shifting homes, given to the changing employments of Edgar.
Even though his work didn't receive much accolade, he found solace at home with his affectionate wife, whom he lovingly called Sissy. But tragedy struck when Virginia showed the first signs of consumption in 1842. She could not recover completely. The stress of his beloved wife being ill and eventually dying in 1847, led Edgar to drinking heavily.
It is believed that the hauntingly beautiful poem 'Annabel Lee', is about his wife whom he refers to as a maiden, since they never consummated their marriage. Two years after the death of his wife, he courted his childhood love interest and former fiancée Elmira Royster, who was a wealthy widow by then.


On October 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found drunk and unconscious on the streets of Baltimore, in someone else's clothes. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died four days later on October 7, 1849. He was just 40 at the time. Although different reasons were given for his death, the actual cause still remains a mystery.