Wednesday April 14, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Edgar Allan Poe
On this Day:
In 1841, the 1st detective story was published: Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in Rue Morgue”.
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and of American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story. He is also generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe was the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
Poe was born in Boston, the second child of actors David and Elizabeth “Eliza” Poe. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died the following year. Thus orphaned, Poe was taken in by John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia. They never formally adopted him, but he was with them well into young adulthood. Tension developed later as Poe and John Allan repeatedly clashed over Poe’s debts, including those incurred by gambling, and the cost of Poe’s education. Poe attended the University of Virginia but left after a year due to lack of money. He quarreled with Allan over the funds for his education and enlisted in the United States Army in 1827 under an assumed name. It was at this time that his publishing career began with the anonymous collection Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to “a Bostonian”. Poe and Allan reached a temporary rapprochement after the death of Allan’s wife in 1829. Poe later failed as an officer cadet at West Point, declaring a firm wish to be a poet and writer, and he ultimately parted ways with Allan.
Poe switched his focus to prose and spent the next several years working for literary journals and periodicals, becoming known for his own style of literary criticism. His work forced him to move among several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. He married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, but Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847. In January 1845, Poe published his poem “The Raven” to instant success. He planned for years to produce his own journal The Penn (later renamed The Stylus), but before it could be produced, he died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, at age 40. The cause of his death is unknown and has been variously attributed to disease, alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, and other causes.
Poe and his works influenced literature around the world, as well as specialized fields such as cosmology and cryptography. He and his work appear throughout popular culture in literature, music, films, and television. A number of his homes are dedicated museums today. The Mystery Writers of America present an annual award known as the Edgar Award for distinguished work in the mystery genre.
During his lifetime, Poe was mostly recognized as a literary critic. Fellow critic James Russell Lowell called him “the most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America”, suggesting—rhetorically—that he occasionally used prussic acid instead of ink. Poe’s caustic reviews earned him the reputation of being a “tomahawk man”. A favorite target of Poe’s criticism was Boston’s acclaimed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was often defended by his literary friends in what was later called “The Longfellow War”. Poe accused Longfellow of “the heresy of the didactic”, writing poetry that was preachy, derivative, and thematically plagiarized. Poe correctly predicted that Longfellow’s reputation and style of poetry would decline, concluding, “We grant him high qualities, but deny him the Future”.
Poe was also known as a writer of fiction and became one of the first American authors of the 19th century to become more popular in Europe than in the United States. Poe is particularly respected in France, in part due to early translations by Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire’s translations became definitive renditions of Poe’s work throughout Europe.
Poe’s early detective fiction tales featuring C. Auguste Dupin laid the groundwork for future detectives in literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed…. Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards for excellence in the genre the “Edgars”. Poe’s work also influenced science fiction, notably Jules Verne, who wrote a sequel to Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket called An Antarctic Mystery, also known as The Sphinx of the Ice Fields. Science fiction author H. G. Wells noted, “Pym tells what a very intelligent mind could imagine about the south polar region a century ago”. In 2013, The Guardian cited Pym as one of the greatest novels ever written in the English language, and noted its influence on later authors such as Doyle, Henry James, B. Traven, and David Morrell.
Horror author and historian H. P. Lovecraft was heavily influenced by Poe’s horror tales, dedicating an entire section of his long essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, to his influence on the genre. In his letters, Lovecraft stated, “When I write stories, Edgar Allan Poe is my model.” Alfred Hitchcock once said, “It’s because I liked Edgar Allan Poe’s stories so much that I began to make suspense films”.
Like many famous artists, Poe’s works have spawned imitators. One trend among imitators of Poe has been claims by clairvoyants or psychics to be “channeling” poems from Poe’s spirit. One of the most notable of these was Lizzie Doten, who published Poems from the Inner Life in 1863, in which she claimed to have “received” new compositions by Poe’s spirit. The compositions were re-workings of famous Poe poems such as “The Bells”, but which reflected a new, positive outlook.
Even so, Poe has also received criticism. This is partly because of the negative perception of his personal character and its influence upon his reputation. William Butler Yeats was occasionally critical of Poe and once called him “vulgar”. Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson reacted to “The Raven” by saying, “I see nothing in it”, and derisively referred to Poe as “the jingle man”. Aldous Huxley wrote that Poe’s writing “falls into vulgarity” by being “too poetical”—the equivalent of wearing a diamond ring on every finger.
It is believed that only twelve copies have survived of Poe’s first book Tamerlane and Other Poems. In December 2009, one copy sold at Christie’s auctioneers in New York City for $662,500, a record price paid for a work of American literature (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Edgar Allan Poe’s nickname when growing up was “Bohemian Rhapsody”. You see, he’s just a Poe boy from a Poe family.
Second, a Song:
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ (27 May 1922 – 7 June 2015) was an English actor, singer and author. With a career spanning nearly seven decades, Lee was well known for portraying villains, gaining recognition for appearing as Count Dracula in a sequence of Hammer Horror films. His other film roles include Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002–2005), and Saruman in both the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001–2003) and the Hobbit film trilogy (2012–2014).
Lee was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011, and received the BFI Fellowship in 2013. Lee credited three films “for bringing me to the fore” as an actor, A Tale of Two Cities (1958), in which he played the villainous marquis, and two horror films, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958). He considered his best performance to be that of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998), and his best film to be the British cult film The Wicker Man (1973). He frequently appeared opposite his friend Peter Cushing in many horror films, and late in his career had roles in five Tim Burton films.
Prior to his acting career, Lee served in the Royal Air Force, where he was attached to the No. 260 Squadron RAF as an intelligence officer where he was a liaison officer for the Special Operations Executive, although he was unlikely to have been behind enemy lines. Following his World War II service he retired from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of flight lieutenant.
Always noted as an actor for his deep, strong voice, Lee was also known for his singing ability, recording various opera and musical pieces between 1986 and 1998, and the symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross in 2010, after having worked with several metal bands since 2005. The heavy metal follow-up Charlemagne: The Omens of Death was released on 27 May 2013, Lee’s 91st birthday. He was honoured with the “Spirit of Hammer” award at the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards ceremony (per Wikipedia).
“The Raven” is a narrative poem by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. First published in January 1845, the poem is often noted for its musicality, stylized language, and supernatural atmosphere. It tells of a talking raven’s mysterious visit to a distraught lover, tracing the man’s slow descent into madness. The lover, often identified as a student, is lamenting the loss of his love, Lenore. Sitting on a bust of Pallas, the raven seems to further distress the protagonist with its constant repetition of the word “Nevermore”. The poem makes use of folk, mythological, religious, and classical references.
Poe claimed to have written the poem logically and methodically, with the intention to create a poem that would appeal to both critical and popular tastes, as he explained in his 1846 follow-up essay, “The Philosophy of Composition”. The poem was inspired in part by a talking raven in the novel Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty by Charles Dickens. Poe borrows the complex rhythm and meter of Elizabeth Barrett’s poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”, and makes use of internal rhyme as well as alliteration throughout.
“The Raven” was first attributed to Poe in print in the New York Evening Mirror on January 29, 1845. Its publication made Poe popular in his lifetime, although it did not bring him much financial success. The poem was soon reprinted, parodied, and illustrated. Critical opinion is divided as to the poem’s literary status, but it nevertheless remains one of the most famous poems ever written (per Wikipedia).
Here is Sir Christopher Lee reading Poe’s “The Raven”. I hope you enjoy this.
Thought for the Day:
Today is another two’fer:
“I think Poe had a mission to tell us what it’s all about. To answer some of the great questions of life.” – John Astin
“I think that Poe is so resonant because he represents that part of us that is in misery or sorrowful or wants to explore the darkness. He wrote a great story called ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ about the instinct towards self-destruction. Poe is the godfather of Goth literature and that whole movement.” – John Cusack
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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