Many authors have made great contributions to the world of
literature. Mark Twain introduced Americans to life on the
Mississippi. Thomas Hardy wrote on his pessimistic views of the
Victorian Age. Another author that influenced literature is Edgar
Allan Poe. Poe is known as the father of the American short story and
father of the detective 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” (Inglis 505) “on January
19, 1809” (Asselineau 409). He was born to a southern family that
were in a traveling company of actors (Inglis 505). His father, David
Poe, was from a Baltimore family. He was an actor by profession and a
heavy drinker. 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. Two years after his birth, she died of tuberculosis
(Asselineau 409). When his mother died, Poe was adopted by John Allan
(Perry 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 (Asselineau 410).
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. 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 in excess of two
thousand dollars. Poe discovered that he could not depend upon Allan
for financial support. His foster father refused to pay his debts,
and Poe had to withdraw from the University (Asselineau 410).
In May of 1827, Poe enlisted in the army as a common soldier.
He did this under the name of Edgar A. Perry. 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 (Asselineau 410). 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.
He was court-martialed for neglect of duties in January, 1831, and
left West Point the following month (Asselineau 411).
“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 (Robinson V).” “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,
despite changing standards to be read and reprinted again and again
throughout the world (Targ VII).” “Poe was the father of the modern
short story, and the modern detective story (Targ VII).” “With
the possible exception of Guy de Maupassant, no other writer is so
universally known and esteemed for so large of a corpus of excellent
tales as in Edgar Allan Poe (Targ VII).”
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. 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 time
he sent one poem and six stories (Asselineau 411). His story, “Ms.
Found in a Bottle,” won , and he received one hundred dollars for it
(Targ IX). 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 (Asselineau 411). 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
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 (Asselineau 412). Even though he won a one
hundred dollar prize for “The Gold Bug” (Robinson VI), 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
and 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 (Asselineau 413).” The year of 1845 was a lucky year for
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 ( Asselineau 413). In 1849, Poe died in Baltimore
(Targ IX). “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 (Asselineau 413).”
In the “Masque of the Red Death”, Poe uses his imagination
throughout the story (Rogers 43). A plague has devastated the entire
country. It takes only half an hour tofor the course of the disease
to run. 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. The Prince 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 (Rogers 41).
“The horror 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’ (Perry XI-XII).” In “The Fall of the House of
Usher,” the narrator visits his insane friend, Roderick Usher.
Usher’s house is huge and gloomy (Rogers 20). 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 (Rogers 21).