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A Biographical Look at Edgar Allan Poe

24 Apr 2013, Posted by Creed Noir in Featured Articles

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. It is therefore the second centenary of his birth. This fact should not have greater importance, but any excuse is good to remind a figure as important as this great author.

He worked as a poet, critic and editor. It is one of the greatest universal masters story short, and precursor of the detective story and science fiction, as well as father of psychological terror. He also helped renew the gothic novel, whose characteristics he adapted to the American reality to be able to approximate better to his audience. Exerted a huge influence on the literature of his and later eras. His influence would cross borders to Victorian England. Many authors such as Kafka, Lovecraft and the French symbolists, among many others, are heirs to his work and his admirers.

His parents were two modest East Coast actors: David Poe and Elisabeth Arnold. At an early age, his life would begin to suffer the hard setbacks that would make him an unhappy being. His father abandoned him in 1810, when he was only nine months. Woes did not end there, as he would lose his mother at the age of two. Throughout his life, the image of his dead mother obsessed him, in such a way that this idea tormented him and came to form the belief that all beauty and goodness was destined to an early demise.

After being orphaned, he went to live with John Allan, a wholesaler of tobacco from Virginia and old friend of his parents, who didn’t even worry about legally formalizing the adoption. Yet he provided him with a solid education. His stepfather’s last name Allan that joined his name would be taken. The family moved to England when Poe was six, due to the commercial interests of his stepfather. This exerted a great influence on him, because it allowed him to see the Gothic architecture that fascinated him. This early trip enabled him to establish contact with the culture of the old continent, because at that time there was a huge cultural difference between both sides of the Atlantic. The young Edgar expressed great interest for classical and humanistic culture, as well as literary creation. All these qualities made John Allan see that it was worth to send Poe to the University.

In the mid-1830s he settled in the city of Baltimore, where he began working as a journalist. At this time he began to develop an interest in short stories, genre in which Poe soon became the undisputed master. After the death of her stepfather, Poe married his cousin Virgina aged 13 in 1836. During this fertile period he directed several literary magazines and wrote abundantly, creating some of his best works, working as a critic and journalist. Despite this apparent calm, his fondness for alcohol and debts gave him continuous problems: the income he obtained for his work and his stories, sometimes substantial, could not avoid that his disorderly life would pass poverty to him and his wife. On the other hand his obsessions and his existential problems got worse over the years.

In 1840 he managed to publish an anthology of stories, although they had already previously appeared in the newspapers: TALES OF THE GROTESQUE AND ARABESQUE, (1839) contained some of his best works, such as the fall of the House of USHER. Thanks to this publication and to win several awards, especially with the famous poem THE RAVEN (1845), Poe gained fame and was able to perform a tour across the country to recite his poems.

In 1845, Poe published his own magazine, the Broadway Journal, although not for long: the misfortune returned to his life in 1847 when his publication broke and his wife, whom he loved dearly, died of tuberculosis. These events aggravated his psychological problems and plunged him into depression, alcohol and drugs.

On October 3, 1849 Dr. James E. Snodgrass found Poe in a state of mental alienation in a tavern, in the city of Baltimore, and dressed in clothes that were not his own. He moved quickly to the hospital, where he suffered hallucinations that were alternating with sporadic moments of lucidity – it has been said often that he suffered from a delirium tremens, but no one knows for sure-. He died after few days, on October 7. The causes of his death are not known with accuracy, but the symptoms of his illness, described by Dr. Snodgrass, were compatible with rabies, which could have inadvertently infected a cat or a dog. In any case, it is known that he had suffered malaria a year earlier, which left him in a precarious state of health, and was faint of heart.

His last words were: “may God help my poor soul”.

In his work Poe combined the lyrical elements with a narrative that reflects the intensity of his psychological vision, within a wide variety of themes in which supernatural elements are current. This multiplicity allows the reader to establish a personal relationship with the works of Poe, choosing what interpretation they prefer to stay: from the literal to the allegorical, the supernatural or symbolic. In his poems, Poe is a vicar of the symbolism that some years later will appear in France – not in vain is in this country where it is best understood the intensity and drama of his work, both as prose and as poetry. It is thus a romantic poet, but begins to close the stage of the romanticism and to open the way to new movements.

Despite the consistency of his work, and probably due to the rupture trace with the above, Poe got a cold reception from Anglo-Saxon critics. It was not until several years after his disappearance when, in the far away France, authors like Baudelaire and Valery asserted the greatness of his work. It will be developed not only as a model, but also as a perfect example of a romantic poète maudit.

Grotesque and Arabesque were terms with whom Poe referred to his own works, especially the most gruesome and supernatural. They are an ongoing exploration of human psychology, as well as a continuous descent into the chasms of horror. One of his most important works is TALES OF THE GROTESQUE AND THE ARABESQUE, (1840) which collected material that had already appeared previously in various papers. They are heirs of the themes of the black novel, which would have be a problem, as for his readers and criticism, Poe followed too much the European style, away from the likes of his country. In these stories the defects of the old Gothic novels disappeared: the long and ornate novel gained the structure of a modern tale, the mannerisms becomes more psychological depth and virtuosity rarely seen in the arrangement of the elements, both linguistic and symbolic. Poe adapts the same architectural setting to the taste of his readers, bringing old European Castle to the spaces of the American continent.

The existence of a romantic movement in America has been widely discussed. Within the different literature in the United States of that era, there were many elements that highlight in favor of the position that if there was a romantic movement. The English Romanticism tended to fantasy and to the recovery of idealized elements of the feudal era. The French romanticism, on the other hand, had a clear intellectual vocation, with certain revolutionary elements. The Germans were devoted with passion for the recovery of their folklore and the creation of a national reality. The Romance in the United States had a number of issues: the legends of their own were the land of the Indians, who were fighting. Their culture of origin was that of the colonial powers against whom they were fighting, but it is this struggle, together with the declaration of independence, which builds the nationalism in the United States, nationalism that is characteristic of the Romantic Movement.

As a narrator, Poe was ahead of his time, while he was creator of innovative literary materials that will be converted into new genres. Developing a great psychological insight that it will be essential for his appreciation of the subsequent readers, at the same time his analysis of the terrifying situations is so thorough, so deep, that reaches the level of symbolism. In some ways it is a spiritual literature, in the direction of the search for the transcendent. What happens is that his spirituality does not seek answers in religion but in pain, death, decomposition and the afterlife; ultimately in the supernatural. Poe is a mystic who did not have recourse to divine revelation. He prefers to work as a browser: delves into the human soul and what she found maps poetic and narrative. His findings are often terrible, but they are always poetic, especially in his narrative: he is more poetic in his stories that in his poetry, because his tales of mystery and imagination make us feel the eternal fade of a world where everything is perishable. However, he is not an allegorical author; never seeks to moralize or teach the reader: Known were his pronouncements about the supremacy of the imagination, his explicit condemnation of the moral intention in the work of art and the moral allegory moved a social conflict and moral to the domain of aesthetics.

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