Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poe's True Following

by Jeanne Matthews
Author of the Dinah Pelerin Mysteries

Everyone who leaves a comment this weekend will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Jeanne's new book, HER BOYFRIEND'S BONES.

Edgar Allan Poe invented the mystery genre before the word “detective” was coined.  His brainy sleuth Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot and everyone who writes detective fiction today owes a debt to Poe’s creative genius. The writers who blog as “Poe’s Deadly Daughters” pay homage to his legacy on a daily basis.

I hadn’t thought consciously about the man for years until I tuned in to an episode of the TV show, “The Following.” 

The plot involves an English lit professor who is obsessed with Poe. As a “tribute” to his hero, he has murdered dozens of women. Captured and sent to prison, he escaped and launched a cult of copycat serial killers. Call me cozy, but psychotic serial killers aren’t my cup of tea. Personal taste aside, I still think “The Following” exploits the element of horror in Poe’s work while ignoring the craft and complexity. It’s true that whenever a woman appears in one of his stories or poems, she tends to be dead. Reading his biography, it’s not hard to see why. Poe experienced a lot of bad luck in his life – persistent poverty, melancholy, alcoholism, and more than a few scathing reviews of both his work and his character. But when it came to the ladies, he was positively snakebit.

His mother Eliza, an itinerant actress, died of consumption at the age of 24 and his father, who had deserted Eliza and their three children, died a few weeks later. Two-year-old Edgar was taken in and raised by the Allan family, but the love of a foster mother couldn’t compensate for the loss of his birth mother. He spent his entire life searching for a substitute. 

At the age of twelve, he attached himself to Jane Stanard, the beautiful mother of a school friend, but she soon went mad and died. His childhood sweetheart Elmira Royster comforted him for a time, but while he was away at school she married another man. Resilient to a fault, he transferred his affections to his cousin Virginia. He married her when he was 27 and she was 13, although he maintained publicly that she was much older.

He idolized little Virginia, but it wasn’t long before “a wind blew out of a cloud” and chilled his young bride, as recounted in the poem “Annabelle Lee.”  While Virginia lay dying of tuberculosis, Poe drowned his sorrow in drink. His spirits rebounded miraculously when he met the “ardent, sensitive, and impulsive” Fanny Osgood.  The two conducted a clandestine love affair until Fanny, too, felt a chill and betook herself to a warmer clime for her health’s sake. With Fanny gone and Virginia coughing her life away, poor lonely Edgar again sought solace, this time in the arms of an author named Elizabeth Ellet. Things were looking up in the romance department until Fanny got wind of the affair and in a jealous snit, tipped Virginia to her husband’s infidelity. If Virginia was saddened by the news, she didn’t suffer for long.  She died at the age of 20.

 Poe continued to write, but his stories didn’t earn enough to keep his creditors at bay.  “Murders in the Rue Morgue” fetched all of $56.  “The Purloined Letter” paid $12 and “The Tell-Tale Heart” $10.  His gambling debts mounted and his drinking grew heavier. He despaired of finding a woman who wouldn’t abandon him, but then along came Sarah Helen Whitman, a writer and poet who awoke in him “an ecstatic happiness and wild, inexplicable sentiment.”  More importantly, this one appeared physically sturdy and mentally sound, not the type to sink into madness or succumb to a chill wind. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t cotton to Poe and Sarah decided that his drinking habit was more than she could handle. She very sensibly declined his offer of marriage.  

Heartbroken once more, he found consolation in the sympathetic company of Mrs. Annie Richmond.  He wrote to her, “My love for you has given me new life.” But Annie had no intention of leaving her wealthy husband for a poverty-stricken drunk and Edgar’s hopes of a lasting relationship were dashed. At the end of his romantic rope, he learned that Elmira Royster’s husband had died and, hope renewed, he hastened back to her and proposed. But Elmira couldn’t put up with his drinking either and sent him packing. 

The most interesting writers aren’t always the most agreeable people. Sad to say, Poe doesn’t sound as if he would have made a very pleasant companion for any woman. It would no doubt astound him to realize how thoroughly his influence has permeated the culture and how many deadly daughters and sons his pioneering stories have spawned.

Everyone who leaves a comment this weekend will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Jeanne's new book, HER BOYFRIEND'S BONES. 
Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press, including Bones of Contention, Bet Your Bones, and Bonereapers.  The newest release, Her Boyfriend’s Bones, is set in Greece on the Aegean island of Samos.  For more information about Jeanne’s books, visit her website.    


Anonymous said...

Interesting post and now I wonder if his search of the woman he wanted or replacement of his mother made him write so well ---- had to be a truly tortured soul! Thanks for post!

Sheila Connolly said...

Who knew that Poe had such a tumultuous romantic life? (And who recorded all of this?)

If you were making a movie of his life, who would you cast as Edgar? He must have had some sort of charm!

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that so many of us who are pretty well adjusted creatures are so devoted to a man who was so tortured. Well, the crime writer in me is not surprised... Thelma in Manhattan

BPL Ref said...

A sad life made all the sadder by knowing how successful his work really was/is. If he had received even a fraction of both monetary and critical acclaim he has now, his life might have been very different. He's one of the models for the "suffering artist," though, isn't he? The idea that one must be poor and miserable to create great art. I don't watch the TV program in part because I think it does Poe such a disservice.

Sandra Parshall said...

Poe always reminds me of Van Gogh, who is revered now but was reviled during his life. Good post, Jeanne. Thanks for visiting!

Katreader said...

Poe's story is quite tragic. I remember visiting his home in Philadelphia when I was young. I find it so interesting to learn the history behind the writer!

Lois said...

And if you're in the Philadelphia area, it's the last weekend to see this exhibit inspired by Poe's house
Hidden City

Unknown said...
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R.E. Donald said...

Poe's life does seem tragic, but those of us with alcoholics in our past (or present) won't be surprised. My second husband was a brilliant and charming rogue with a similarly unlucky childhood who just couldn't stay away from alcohol, even when he knew it would kill him. Ours was not his first failed relationship, nor was it his last.

I wouldn't be surprised if he and Poe are looking over my shoulder and laughing, passing a bottle of Jamieson's Irish Whiskey back and forth between them as I write this.

Elaine said...

So interesting. Quite a tragic life - I had no idea he was so unlucky in love and life.
Elaine xo

ana manwaring said...

What a wonderful post. I have always loved Poe's work, even reading The Telltale Heart to my ESL classes when class has fallen on Halloween. I'm not surprised that he had a tumultuous life. Many of the great writers lived on the edge--at least the edge of their own devices. Thanks for writing this.

pennyt said...

I knew Poe had lost his parents very young, but didn't realize his love life was quite so tragic. Interesting post = thanks for sharing.

Kathleen Asay said...

Was it charm or darkness that drew all those women to him? And was it darkness or bad luck that brought illness and death to so many? A man to avoid as some of them were smart enough to recognize. Interesting post. Thank you!

Picks By Pat said...

Sadly, much of his finest work was heavily influenced by his own suffering. If he had lived a normal, happy domestic life, much of his art might never have been created. We can enjoy it today, but what a heavy price the man paid to give it to us.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. No wonder his genre was horror.

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Judy Dee said...

Sounds like another character for Johnny Depp to portray. Actually Poe was my first mystery author. I went to the movies by myself at age 8 or 9 and saw Murders in the Rue Morgue. Why I was allowed to do this I'll never know. Maybe so I'd grow up and read mysteries. I did not start reading mysteries (Christie mainly) until almost retirement!

R.E. Donald said...

Don't forget that during Poe's lifetime, death at an early age was a much more common occurrence. Antibiotics weren't introduced until after the discovery of penicillin in 1928. The average life expectancy in 1850 in the USA was less than 40 and figures before that time are not available. I read that life expectancy in large cities was lower than that in rural areas, as well.