In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Edgar Allan Poe

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Personal Reminiscences
  • Journals
  • Correspondence
  • Reception
  • Influence
  • Film and Theater
  • Poe Illustration
  • Poe and Print Culture
  • Allusions
  • Poe and Other Writers
  • Poe and the Visual Arts

American Literature Edgar Allan Poe
Richard Kopley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0050


Born to a gifted actress and a less talented actor, Edgar Allan Poe (b. 1809–d. 1849) was orphaned in 1811 and taken in by the Allans of Richmond. Over time, tensions with John Allan grew, culminating with young Poe’s withdrawal from the University of Virginia in 1826 for incurring gambling debts and leading to his 1827 voyage to Boston. Poe published Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), then joined the army, eventually serving as a cadet at West Point, and, after deliberately causing his own court-martial, lived in Baltimore with his aunt Maria Clemm, his cousin Virginia, and his brother, Henry (who died in 1831). Having published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829) and Poems (1831), Poe shifted to fiction, and in 1835 he became an editor of Richmond’s Southern Literary Messenger. He published short stories, poems, and criticism, and he began to write his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Owing to his drinking, however, he lost his job in 1837 and ventured, with his new wife, Virginia, and his aunt (now his mother-in-law), to New York City—where he published Pym (1838)—and then to Philadelphia. In 1842 Virginia developed tuberculosis, his drinking intensified, and his poverty continued—indeed, he declared bankruptcy late that year. Yet, also during the Philadelphia period, he served as a magazine editor and wrote some of his greatest stories. His collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in 1840, and he soon thereafter created the modern detective story. In 1844 Poe and his family moved to New York City, where he achieved his greatest fame with “The Raven” in 1845. Also, he published The Raven and Other Poems (1845) and Tales (1845). But his drinking interfered with his editing the Broadway Journal, and he became involved in literary and legal conflicts. He and his family moved to Fordham, and Virginia died there in January 1847. In 1848 he published his cosmological prose-poem, Eureka, and in 1849 he returned to Richmond and became engaged to a wealthy widow, Elmira Royster Shelton, whom he had known in his youth. But he clearly was unhappy with the arrangement. Exactly what happened in Baltimore is not known, but on 3 October 1849 he was found inebriated and “rather the worse for wear”; he died in the Washington College Hospital four days later. Rufus Griswold, his literary executor, wrote an infamously hostile obituary, from which Poe’s reputation has never fully recovered. Certainly, Poe had his share of mortal frailties, but he also created immortal works of literature.

General Overviews

A wide variety of full-length studies of Poe are available; a selection is offered here. The introductory works are Fisher 2008, Hammond 1983, Hayes 2009, and Symons 1978. All are written with ease, brevity, and clarity. The most rewarding for the new student of Poe is surely Fisher 2008. The ambitious full-length studies are Allen 1934, Hoffman 1972, Quinn 1998, and Silverman 1991. For the authority of its research, Silverman 1991 is clearly the book to read. But Hoffman 1972, with its lively, idiosyncratic interpretation of Poe’s writings, is a delight. And Allen 1934 and Quinn 1998 furnish important and interesting foundational work, which helped shape decades of Poe studies.

  • Allen, Hervey. Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934.

    If its prose is sometimes a bit overheated and the detail occasionally imagined, this volume, which updates and corrects the two-volume 1926 version, is still a worthwhile, spirited, and engaging presentation of Poe’s life.

  • Fisher, Benjamin F. The Cambridge Introduction to Edgar Allan Poe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511816888

    Slender, clear, even-handed, accessible introduction to Poe. This is a very good place to start for its brief and cogent considerations of his life, his context, his work, and its reception.

  • Hammond, J. R. The Edgar Allan Poe Companion. London: Macmillan, 1983.

    A convenient introduction, featuring a brief biography, an analysis of his works in various genres, and handy orienting tools—a Poe dictionary and a listing of people and places in Poe’s works.

  • Hayes, Kevin J. Edgar Allan Poe. London: Reaktion, 2009.

    This brief, recent account of Poe’s life opens with his influence and his participation in literary contests and then takes a more traditional chronological trajectory. The attitude conveyed is a mixture of pity and admiration.

  • Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. 1st ed. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

    Lively, personal, compelling study of Poe and his works, written con brio. The author offers a series of jaunty and provocative close readings with attention to a range of matters, from the hoaxical to the heroic.

  • Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Foreword by Shawn Rosenheim. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

    The classic biography of Poe, written with ample research and evident affection. It includes a generous sampling of the letters and a deft blending of the life and the work. Sympathetic and appreciative, this volume continues to be a substantial contribution. Originally published in 1941.

  • Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

    Thoroughly researched standard biography of Poe, readable and reliable. It ably relates the life to the work but sometimes offers restrained admiration. The approach is psychoanalytic, with a thoughtful emphasis on Poe’s lifelong mourning.

  • Symons, Julian. The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

    This work offers two separate overviews—one of Poe’s life and one of Poe’s works. The writing is straightforward, the interpretation tilted toward the psychoanalytic and without great regard for the academic.

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