If you'd survey a group of reading Americans and ask them to name a writer whose life was a real downer, it's a pretty safe bet that Edgar Allan Poe's name would be at or near the top of the list.
There's no way around it. The dude had a melancholy existence. But people often tend to think it was worse than it actually was by identifying the man with the narrators of his stories and poems. He was jacked but not that jacked.
(On the other hand, who else could have written stories and poems like that?)
Poe was born in 1809 to David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, both of whom were actors. The father appears to have deserted the family early on and his mother died around his second year.
He was raised although not adopted by John and Frances "Fanny" Allan of Richmond, Virginia. The relationship became frayed as Poe aged. He attended the University of Virginia but had to drop out when Allan refused to pay his debts, some of which may have been gambling related.
He eventually joined the army, where he did very well as an enlisted man, rising to the rank of sergeant major for artillery. When Fanny Allan faced her final illness at the age of 44, from her deathbed she urged the reconciliation of Poe and Allan.
(Note: another significant woman in his life died--major theme.)
With Allan's help, Poe gained an appointment to West Point. He did fine at first but lack of money and quarrels with Allan led to his eventual expulsion in 1831. In 1836 he married his teenaged cousin Virginia Clemm, his "child bride." Clemm was around 13at the time. There's all kind of speculation about the marriage and whether it was ever consummated. Along the way, he published short stories and poems and eventually worked as an editor and critic for several publications.
He lost a third significant other when Virginia died in 1847 after a long illness. During her sickness, Poe once wrote that "I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity."
No wonder his writings are full of beautiful dead women...
Poe also had a drinking problem, although it may have had to do more with quality than quantity. He apparently didn't drink a lot but couldn't handle the liquor he drank. He died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore in Oct. 1849.
Next time: Poe and the critics.
MARKET PLACE OF IDEAS. The right wing in the US has been engaged in yet another hissy fit over the presence of professors in our colleges and universities whose opinions they dislike. A group has been formed to preserve the free exchange of ideas on campuses. Many allied groups, such as the AFLCIO, have joined.
GLOOMY MOOD. Here's Paul Krugman on America's current mood of economic pessimism.
WHO'S RICH, ANYWAY? Definitions can be confusing, as this Washington Post column points out.
UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT. Can you believe this story from AP?
Service members seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan after they received a $10,000 bonus for enlisting are being asked by the Pentagon to repay portions of the incentive money, says a U.S. senator who calls the practice an example of military policy gone wrong.
Sticking with the Poe theme, I call that The Telltale Heartless.
A DANIEL COME TO JUDGEMENT! A NLRB judge has ruled that Massey Energy discriminated against union workers after it bought the Horizon mine in Kanawha County.
UH-OH--THEY'VE CAUGHT ON. Gorillas have been observed using "weapons" against human invaders for the first time. If goats follow their lead, El Cabrero could be in big trouble.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED