For most Americans, no school education is complete without having read at least one or two literary works from the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. While he wrote many pieces during his lifetime, he’s probably best known for his short thrillers like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven.”
Because Poe seemed to gravitate toward the darker side of life in his writings, most people assume that this prolific author was — to put it politely — a little weird. Part of this assumption is because his arch enemy and rival, Rufus Wilmore Griswold, wrote Poe’s posthumous biography, and he wasn’t kind about it. In truth, Poe wasn’t weird, although maybe a tad eccentric. And here are four things you probably didn’t know about Edgar Allan Poe.
The “Allan” was added later to his name
Poe was born Edgar Poe to two Shakespearean actors who traveled the countryside to perform. Sadly, his parents both passed away by the time he was four years old. This left him and his siblings orphans. The children were split up, and Edgar went to live with a rich tobacco merchant by the name of John Allan in Richmond, Virginia. But this wouldn’t be a happy ending. Although Allan was Poe’s benefactor, he wasn’t benevolent. The guardian refused to fully cover Poe’s educational expenses, causing the young writer to drop out of college. And according to records, Poe was excluded from Allan’s will — even though Allan’s illegitimate child, whom the merchant had never met, did receive an inheritance.
He married his first cousin
Yes, we know, this sounds gross, and given their age difference, the whole thing is highly problematic through a modern lens. But in the 1800s, marrying first cousins and the concept of child brides were not only legal but a common practice. Shortly after Edgar’s falling out with his former guardian, John Allan, he moved to Baltimore and relied on the kindness of his biological father’s relations. One particular aunt, Maria Clemm, took Poe in and treated him as if he were her son. He soon fell in love with Clemm’s daughter, Virginia.
Even though there was a 14-year age difference between them, Poe married Virginia when she was 13 and he was 27. He moved his wife/cousin and mother-in-law/aunt to New York with him. The trio lived in Manhattan and traveled to Philadelphia for a while before settling in the Bronx.
He spent time in the Bronx
Long before DJ Kool Herc put the “Boogie Down Bronx” on the map as the birthplace of hip-hop, it was a sleepy country region that served as the home for a variety of people, including Edgar Allan Poe. In his final years, Poe and his wife rented a home in what is now known as the Fordham section of the Bronx. The couple had moved from Manhattan in the hopes that the relaxed setting and cleaner air would help his wife recover from tuberculosis. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and she died in 1847. After Edgar’s passing in 1849, the city created Poe Park in 1902 across the street from his cottage.
The park served as a popular spot for live events and concerts. It was located on the busy Kingsbridge Road that was eventually widened to reduce congestion. At this time, Poe’s cottage was relocated to inside the park to protect it from any future threats from surrounding redevelopment efforts. Today, the cottage is part of the Historic House Trust and, depending on who you talk to, is still haunted by Poe’s ghost.
He made writing a feasible career in America
While Edgar Allan Poe never reached major financial success with his writings, he did gain substantial fame and proved that being a writer was a worthy profession. Many of his works were published while he was alive, and he even managed to win awards for many of the pieces he penned. By many literary and historic standards, Poe serves as the nation’s first critically acclaimed author. And thanks to his fame, he was able to lobby for better pay as a writer — something that writers today still struggle to achieve.
So who was Edgar Allan Poe?
Poe, much like anyone else, was a complex figure. Yes, he tended to write in the Gothic style that was popular at that time. But just because he gravitated towards darker materials didn’t mean he was disturbed or strange. When you look at the entirety of his biography, his storyline and experiences aren’t much different than many other highly creative people. Edgar Allan Poe was a man who experienced great tragedies and frustrations throughout his life. Yet he turned those pains into source material for a body of work that is still celebrated and studied today.