Many authors have made great contributions to the world of literature. Mark Twain introduced Americans to life on the Mississippi. Jack London told of the courage of many on the Alaskan Frontier. Another author that made an influence on literature is Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is known as the father of the American short story. To understand the literary contributions of Edgar Allan Poe, one must look at his early life, his literary life, and a summary of two of his famous works. Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809 (Stern xi). He was born to a southern family that was in a traveling company of actors (Marks 2). His father, David Poe, was from a Baltimore family. He was an actor by profession but his family would say he made a career out of drinking, not acting. Soon after Edgar Allan Poe was born, he left his family. Poe’s mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe, was a widow at the age of eighteen (Porges 32). Two years after his birth, she died of tuberculosis (Stern xi). When his mother died, Poe was adopted by John Allan (Stern xi) at the urging of Mr. Allan’s wife. In 1815, John Allan moved his family to England. While there, Poe was sent to private schools which he described as dark, ancient, labyrinths (Stern, Edgar Allen Poe Visitor for the Night of Time 42). In the spring of 1826, Poe entered the University of Virginia. There he studied Spanish, French, Italian, and Latin. He had an excellent scholastic record, but he got into difficulties almost at once. Mr. Allan did not provide him with the money to pay for his fees and other necessities. Poe was confused and homesick. He learned to play cards and started drinking. Soon he was in debt over two thousand dollars. Poe discovered that he could notClint Fiore 2
depend upon Allan for financial support. His foster father refused to pay his debts, and Poe had to withdraw from the University (Haines 62). In May of 1827, Poe enlisted in the army as a common soldier. He did this under the name of Edgar A. Perry (Porges 43). He was stationed on Sullivan’s Island in Charleston Harbor for over a year. Poe adapted very well to military discipline and quickly rose to the rank of regimental sergeant major. After a while, he got tired of the same daily routine involved in military life. Poe wrote regularly to Mr. Allan. He met with Mr. Allan after the death of Mrs. Allan in February of 1829. With Allan’s support, he received his discharge and enlisted in West Point on July 1, l830 (Stern xii). While at West Point, Mr. Allan, who had remarried, continued in not providing Poe with enough money. Poe decided to have himself kicked out of school. Cutting classes and disregarding orders were his solutions (Porges 44). He was court-martialed for neglect of duties in January, 1831, and left West Point the following month (Stern xii).
Poe was great in three different fields , and in each one he made a reputation that would give any man a high place in literary history. Poe wrote great short stories, famous not only in his own country, but all over the world (Stern, Edgar Allen Poe Visitor from the Night of Time 12).
Hawthorne, Irving, Balzac, Bierce, Crane, Hemingway and other writers have given us memorable short stories; but none has produced so great a number of famous and unforgettable examples, so many tales that continue,
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despite changing standards to be read and reprinted again and again throughout the world (Porges 15).
Poe was the father of the modern short story, and the modern detective story (Porges 19). In 1831, Poe succeeded in publishing a new edition of his poems entitled, Poems. Poe was now in great difficulty. He went to New York, but could find no job there. Eventually he took refuge with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, in Baltimore. There he decided to seek employment and make his living by writing. Failing to get attention with his poems, he decided to start writing short stories. Poe competed in a contest for the best short story in 1831 (Stern xii). The prize was offered by Phil-Saturday Courier. Because he did not win the prize, Poe started on an ambitious project. He decided to plan a series of tales told by members of a literary group. He found no publisher for his stories, and entered the contest again in June of 1835. This timehe sent one poem and six stories (Porges 46). His story, “Ms. Found in a Bottle,” won , and he received one hundred dollars for it (Porges 46). Through the influence of one of the judges, John P. Kennedy, Poe became employed as an editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, published in Richmond (Stern xiii). Under Poe’s editorship, the Messenger ’s circulation rose from 500 to 3500. While in Richmond, Poe married his cousin, Virginia, who was not quite fourteen years old. Poe was fired from the Messenger in January of 1837 (stern xii). Poe then went to New York, where he was unsuccessful. In the summer of 1838, he moved to Philadelphia. While in Philadelphia, he worked as the editor of both Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s Magazine (Stern xii). Even though he won a one hundred dollar prize for “The Gold Bug” (Porges 47), he moved to New York. Poe found a job in New York as an assistant editor for the Evening Mirror. This was where “The Raven” first appeared on January 29, 1845. The poem immediately caught the imagination of the public andClint Fiore 4
was reprinted all over the country and even abroad in all kinds of newspapers and magazines, but Poe pocketed only a few dollars for his poems (Marks 2). The year of 1845 was a lucky year for Poe. He published a collection of his Tales and an edition of his poems named The Raven and Other Poems. He also became the editor of the weekly Broadway Journal. Poe broke down when Virginia died in January of 1848 (Porges 49). In 1849, Poe died in Baltimore (Stern xiv). Instead of really living, he took refuge from the physical world in the private world of his dreams-in other words-in the world of his tales (Marks 2).” In the “Masque of the Red Death”, Poe uses his imagination throughout the story. A plague has devastated the entire country. It takes only half an hour for the disease to run it?s course. At first one feels sharp pains and dizziness. Then one starts bleeding at the pores. The disease results in death. Prince Prospero has ordered one thousand lords and ladies to the deep seclusion of one of his abbeys. The building was built by the Prince and is filled with his exotic ornaments. It is sealed from the outside world by a huge wall with iron gates. Inside the building are dancers, musicians, and everything they need in order to stay secluded until the plague runs its course. After six months of seclusion, the Prince decides to hold a masked ball. The ball is held in a suite with seven rooms. Each room is decorated in a single color. The last room is decorated in red. Within this room stands a huge clock that strikes the hour with a heavy clang. The rooms are very crowded for the ball. At the stroke of midnight, a guest is seen in a costume of the red death itself and this frightens the other guests. ThePrince is angered at what he believes to be a practical joke. He orders the stranger seized and hanged from the battlements. Prince Prospero follows the stranger into the red chamber. It is there that Prince Prospero falls dead at the feet of the stranger. The others capture the unknown person in the costume. To their horror they find there is no living form in the costume. One by one they die until no one else remains. Death is king of all (Porges 85). The horrorClint Fiore 5
abysmal darkness, and absolute helplessness befalling the victims are described with vivid accuracy in tales such as ?The Fall of the House of Usher,? ?The Cask of Amontillado,? and ?The Premature Burial? (Marks 4).” In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator visits his insane friend, Roderick Usher. Usher’s house is huge and gloomy. His twin sister, Madeline, gets sick and dies. The narrator and Usher place her in a tomb in the basement of Usher’s house. What they do not realize is that she is still barely alive. Usher keeps on hearing sounds over the next couple of days. The seventh day after Madeline’s death, a bad storm appears. The narrator and Usher open the door of the narrator’s room and Madeline falls on Usher. They both die. The narrator then leaves the house. As he rides away, the house collapses to the floor (Haines 21).
The Dark Genius of the Short Story
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Clint FioreE2Pre-AP8December 2, 1998
Porges, Irwin. Edgar Allen Poe. Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1963.
Stern, Philip Van Doren. Edgar Allen Poe. New York: The Viking Press, 1945.
Stern, Philip Van Doren. Edgar Allen Poe Visitor from the Night of Time. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1973.