Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library


James M. Hutchisson
Copyright Date: 2005
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was an American original-a luminous literary theorist, an erratic genius, and an analyst par excellence of human obsession and compulsion. The scope of his literary achievements and the dramatic character of Poe's life have drawn readers and critics to him in droves.

    And yet, upon his death, one obituary penned by a literary enemy in the New York Daily Tribune cascaded into a lasting stain on Poe's character, leaving a historic misunderstanding. Many remember Poe as a difficult, self-pitying, troubled drunkard often incapable of caring for himself.

    Poereclaims the Baltimore and Virginia writer's reputation and power, retracing Poe's life and career. Biographer and critic James M. Hutchisson captures the boisterous worlds of literary New York and Philadelphia in the 1800s to understand why Poe wrote the way he did and why his achievement was so important to American literature. The biography presents a critical overview of Poe's major works and his main themes, techniques, and imaginative preoccupations.

    This portrait of the writer emphasizes Poe's southern identity; his existence as a workaday journalist in the burgeoning magazine era; his authority as a literary critic and cultural arbiter; his courtly demeanor and sense of social propriety; his advocacy of women writers; his adaptation of art forms as diverse as the so-called "gutter press" and the haunting rhythms of African American spirituals; his borrowing of imagery from such popular social movements as temperance and freemasonry; and his far-reaching, posthumous influence.

    James M. Hutchisson, Charleston, South Carolina, is a professor of American literature and southern studies at The Citadel.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-653-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) was an American original—a luminous literary theorist, an erratic genius, and an analyst of the human psyche par excellence. The scope and diversity of these achievements, as well as the compellingly dramatic character of Poe’s life, have drawn readers and critics to him in droves, bringing him a vast popularity that he dreamed of but could never have even faintly imagined. Several score of books have been produced about him, including biographies, critical monographs, specialized studies, and even novels and plays.

    This book seeks to capture the most central of those examinations of his...

  5. CHAPTER 1 CHILDHOOD: Boston, Richmond, England [1809–1825]
    (pp. 3-15)

    November 29, 1811. On the day after Thanksgiving, theRichmond Enquirerprinted a plea for the citizens of the city to lend aid to one of its adopted daughters, Elizabeth Arnold Poe: “On this night,” the paper read, “Mrs. Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance, andasks it perhaps for the last time.” Edgar Poe’s mother, one of the best-known actresses in America, had reached the lowest ebb of a life that had seen its tide turn many times. She had been born in England, the daughter of actors who had...

  6. CHAPTER 2 THE BYRONIC YOUTH: University, the Army, and West Point [1826–1830]
    (pp. 16-30)

    In February 1826, Poe left Richmond for Charlottesville to enroll in Thomas Jefferson’s innovative “academical village,” the University of Virginia. Some sixty miles from Richmond, the university had been operating for only a year. It had been founded by the eighty-three-year-old former president, who envisioned it as an Athens of America, an institution of higher learning unlike any other. Jefferson hoped to create an environment where instructors and students would each pursue the art of learning in a mutual endeavor, a society of scholars whose only commitment was to truth. Relations between students and teachers were close. Jefferson (who died...

  7. CHAPTER 3 BALTIMORE: Early Tales and Satires [1831–1834]
    (pp. 31-45)

    Poe arrived in Baltimore in the spring of 1831 to find a city that prided itself on its energy and industriousness, its forward-looking vision, and its cleanliness and order. Small but comfortable brick row houses lined the well-kept streets. Parks were built around circles and squares with marble fountains and cisterns—a suggestion to Poe, perhaps, of freshness, and of hopes to be fulfilled.

    Poe’s relations, the Clemm family, lived at Mechanics Row, Wilks Street, in what is now Eastern Avenue. The house was almost unreal in its tininess—like a doll’s house—and the Clemms occupied only the top...

  8. CHAPTER 4 RETURN TO RICHMOND: Marriage, the Southern Literary Messenger, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym [1835–1837]
    (pp. 46-79)

    It was a propitious moment to become associated with a fledgling magazine in the United States, for the whole tendency of the age, as Poe would later note, was “Magazine-ward.” The magazine was a relatively new medium in America—created in part by the rapid growth of printing technology and the spread of public education—and was fast approaching its peak, from about a hundred or so periodicals in 1825 to some six hundred by 1850. In New York alone in 1849, the year of Poe’s death, there were more than fifty periodicals, with some half million readers. TheSouthern...

  9. CHAPTER 5 PHILADELPHIA: Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and the Great Tales [1838–1840]
    (pp. 80-107)

    In the spring of 1839 some good luck fell Poe’s way, through the promise of a steady if not substantial income from William Evans Burton, sa transplanted English actor and theatre manager who had gone into the magazine business in Philadelphia. Burton offered Poe ten dollars a week for two hours’ work a day, “except occasionally,” so that Poe would be free to pursue “any other light avocation” and not be burdened by editorial duties. It seemed a fair deal to Poe, and Burton must have appeared to be a reasonable man to work for. His letter offering Poe the...

    (pp. 108-148)

    After Poe had fallen out with Billy Burton, his initial plan was to start a magazine of his own, “The Penn,” to rival Burton’s and everyone else’s. Its chief aim would be to offer “upon all subjects, an honest and fearless opinion.” However, in December Poe became ill and was confined to his bed for several weeks, thus forcing him to delay the launch of the magazine. In February, a sudden financial crisis plagued the Philadelphia-area banks, and money was hard to obtain, thus forcing another postponement. Poe cited these as his reasons for not getting the magazine off the...

  11. CHAPTER 7 NEW YORK: Triumphs and Troubles—“The Raven” and the Longfellow War [1844–1845]
    (pp. 149-188)

    New-York, Sunday Morning

    April 7 [1844] just after breakfast

    My dear Muddy,

    We have just this minute done breakfast, and I now sit down to write you about everything. . . . we arrived safe at Walnut St wharf. The driver wanted to make me pay a dollar, but I wouldn’t. Then I had to pay a boy a levy to put the trunks in the baggage car. In the meantime I took Sis in the Depot Hotel. It was only a quarter past 6, and we had to wait till 7. We saw the Ledger & Times—nothing in either...

    (pp. 189-232)

    The years 1846–47 were Poe’s least-productive period. Embittered by the loss of theBroadway Journaland his never-abating poverty, he slid further into drink, depression, and illness. As he often did, instead of pursuing means that might reverse his losses, he instead plunged recklessly into two ill-advised affairs, one romantic and the other literary, that further damaged his already sinking reputation. One was an affair with one of the bluestockings, a querulous and bitter poet named Elizabeth Ellet. The other was a war of words with the New York literati. By the time of the worst event in his...

    (pp. 233-250)

    Devastated by his failed romance with Helen Whitman, Poe began the year 1849 in not much better shape than he had begun the previous year. In the first months, he foundered emotionally, reaching out desperately to whoever of his lady friends he felt could give him consolation. He turned first to Annie Richmond, making the best of a hopeless situation when he wrote her that he felt unburdened now that Helen had called off their engagement. But Annie was a perceptive woman, and she could see that Poe was merely putting a positive face on what was for him a...

    (pp. 251-257)

    Two days after Poe’s death, on 9 October 1849, Rufus Griswold published a hastily prepared obituary of the author for the New YorkTribune. It was reprinted widely in other national papers, and it did incalculable, long-lasting damage to Poe’s reputation. Writing pseudonymously as “Ludwig” (Wagner’s mad king of Bavaria), Griswold began the piece by misstating Poe’s name, then followed with a damning rhetorical flourish:

    Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The poet was known, personally or by reputation, in all...

    (pp. 258-260)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 261-278)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 279-290)