What?! Poe Wasn’t Always Depressed?!

American Literature, Editors

Rebecca Reese

Edgar Allan Poe has long been remembered as a depressed man who wrote dark tales. Well, this is true, but there are many other things that are not as well-known about this writer.

Poe, his three siblings, and his mother, Elizabeth, were abandoned by his father when he was not even one year old. His mother did her best to support him and his siblings through acting; however, she fell ill, and Poe watched her die, coughing up blood and falling into delirium, when he was only three years old. He and his siblings were then spread across Richmond to families who took them in. Poe was taken in by the Allan’s (where the “Allan” in his name comes from), who were unable to produce children of their own. Mrs. Allan was very kind to him and loved being able to take care of a child as if he were her own; however, Mr. Allan cared not for Poe, and there was a great rift between them. But Poe received a sound education, was taught proper manners, and behaved as a good Southern gentleman.

Poe was even a natural leader and a talented athlete when he was young. When he was 15, he swam six miles, against the current, in the James River; this made him very popular in Richmond. During the same year, Poe’s adolescent first love passed away from brain cancer. Her name was Jane Stanard. Poe was absolutely heart broken and spent many hours grieving at her grave.

Then Mrs. Allan fell ill with tuberculosis. However, while she was sick and dying, Mr. Allan had multiple affairs, but he did not try to hide them. He would even bring the women into their house. Poe was extremely upset about this injustice to his adopted mother and confronted Mr. Allan on multiple occasions. Mr. Allan got fed up with Poe’s nosiness and sent him away to the University of Virginia. It was here that Poe’s imagination ran wild and was discovered by his peers and professors.

However, his adopted father Mr. Allan cut off Poe’s finances, and Poe resorted to gambling to attempt to make some money. This did not go as planned, and instead of becoming rich, he went $2,000 more into debt. In fear of being put in jail, Poe took on a fake name and joined the army. It was then that Poe wrote off Mr. Allan and never turned back.

“After that, he was on his own. He was young. He was a genius. He was broke. And he was out there on his own.” –Arno Karlen

Poe’s poetry was inspired heavily by the experiences of death and abandonment which he could not get away from. It seemed like every time he became happy in a relationship, whether romantic or not, the other party would fall ill and die or be taken away from him. He also used his pent-up anger against anyone who did him wrong, especially Mr. Allan, to fuel the fire in his writing.

One fact about Poe which I learned in this movie was about how much he respected women. He believed that women should be treated with the utmost respect. This can be seen in his relationship with his adopted mother and with his wife (and first cousin), Virginia. He was utterly disgusted by his adopted father when he cheated on Mrs. Allan in their very house; he made it clear to Mr. Allan that his actions were unforgivable and did not respect his wife. With Virginia, he was very kind to her; he would play in the garden with her, taught her to play the flute, and sang songs with her. Even if their relationship was odd and inappropriate, Poe was nothing but a gentleman to the woman he loved up until tuberculosis took her away, just like it did to Mrs. Allan.

I know personally when I think of horror story writers, I assume that they must be people with a horrible heart who do not respect people. But Poe wrote almost only horror stories, and he was a perfect Southern gentleman, at least to women and those did not cross him, until his alcoholism took over his life. When his addiction began to overtake his life, his gentleman-ness was lost. He began to send love letter to multiple women, broke off his engagement with a beautiful woman, and wrote scandalous letters to a married woman. I suppose what could be learned from the spiraling of Poe would be that addiction can change even the most respecting person into the most devious person.

I tend to think that Poe enjoyed satire just as much as I do. His poem “The Raven” made him only $14 during his own life; however, it did make him popular among the children of his town. They would quote lines from the poem to him, and he would say, “Nevermore!” Then the children would run away and giggle, like they were playing a game with their grandfather. Poe accepted this position with honor and would entertain the children’s pleas. He enjoyed the recognition his poem received, even if it was in a satirical way, because I think that he respected satire.

In a similar way, I think he would enjoy the different ways that his poem has been used in modern entertainment. The Simpson’s even produced their own take on “The Raven.” Lisa is reading the poem to Bart and Maggie, and the scene cuts to a recreation of the poem. Homer is the depressed lover, Marge is the dead Lenore, Lisa and Maggie are the angels, and Bart is the raven. Apart from a few interruptions by Bart, the shortened version of the poem in represented well, in my opinion. Any press is good press. That’s what they say? Right?

This satire of Poe’s horror tale reminds me of the movie series “Scary Movie.” I think there are six films now, and they all take popular horror movies and twist them into satirically hilarious stories. Clearly, they had to get permission to use other writers’ characters and storylines for copyright reasons; so, I can assume that the other writers approved of the satirical use of their stories. I would think that satire would even bring more attention to the original films, and, like I already said, any press is good press, I guess.

In doing this extra credit assignment for Poe, I learned a lot more about him than I knew before. I had no idea that he had such a soft heart when it came to the important women in his life. I also had no idea that he was an athlete and also an artist. Poe was quite the jack-of-all-trades, except for the whole making-money-and-keeping-his-loved-ones-alive thing. But hey, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

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